Friday, August 20, 2010

My Trip to Haiti -- Part V

The picture that caused a broken heart
Day 5 -- Tuesday, August 10, 2010

When I woke up Tuesday morning I made the mistake of reading email, mostly hoping to hear from my family.  Unfortunately, there were a few fairly petty work emails that really struck me the wrong way.  Between how ineffective I had been feeling the day before and these, I went quite quickly into a funk.  I went into the bathroom and stood under the shower and cried.

After breakfast, it was time to go out to the gazebo and get ready for the morning assembly.  This day, a little girl who I didn't remember at all from the day before decided to attach herself to me.  She liked having her picture taken in a variety of poses with a variety of people, and also enjoyed telling other people where they should stand and what they should do while I took their pictures.  When the assembly started, she carefully made sure I had a chair and sat down beside me with her chair (and leg) touching mine.

The kids sang their morning prayers and then sang the same welcome song they had sung the day before.  Three new volunteers had arrived the night before from a different project, and they needed welcoming, too!  I should mention that this welcome song has motions to it and involves standing up, sitting down, shaking hands and various other things. 

My little shadow for the day felt strongly that I needed to participate in this, but of course I didn't understand most of the words to the song.  This was not of concern to her.  She stood me up and sat me down, grabbed my hand, and, at the very end of the song when they sang "we're glad you're here" she kissed me on the cheek.  At this point, I started to cry.  I couldn't help it.  The whole scene just struck me as so touching, and I had gotten off to such a rotten start that morning.

Today Amelia and I were not given time to work with the kids in our group.  Instead, they were learning a particular way to braid string to make straps for sandals.  The counselors showed each of the volunteers how to do it and we each took turns practicing.  Once we had it, we were sent to teach it to the kids.

Those of you who know me know that handicrafts are not exactly my strong suit.  I could do the braiding . . . sort of.  Add to this the fact that while I had learned to do it with four strands, kids were coming over to learn who had been given six or eight strands, and I hadn't the slightest idea how to braid them.  Plus, of course, I didn't really speak the language.  I'm embarrassed to say I did a lot of demonstrating a step or two, badly, and then giving the string back to the kid and hoping that he or she figured out what to do.  Some of them did, most of them didn't.

After lunch I was extremely tired and my mood was lousy, so I went and took a nap.  I then went out to the porch and, almost immediately, Daniel and Christopher showed up.  They wanted to play cards and Doodle Jump on my iPod.  We frittered away the rest of the afternoon hanging out, drawing and playing.

I asked the boys to draw me pictures of their houses before the earthquake.  Then I tried to find out what had happened to their houses, but this was easier said than done.  As it turns out, three years of high school French included very few of the necessary vocabulary words to discuss earthquake damage.  However, pantomime holding my hands apart vertically and then slapping them together worked well to convey the concept of a house collapsing, and Daniel said his house had indeed collapsed. 

Christopher said his house had not collapsed, and also was not broken.  This seemed somewhat unlikely given that he was living in a tent on the property.  I asked him what had happened to his house.  He stood up and started shaking, first to the right, then to the left, then forward, then backwards, saying, "Il fait comme ça, et comme ça, et comme ça . . ." ("It goes like this, and like this, and like this . . .")  I'm still not exactly sure what happened to his house, but it was pretty funny!

The high point, such as it was, of the evening came from a man who also lives on the property named Jean.  He had been watching me and Daniel after Christopher went back to his family, and he was starting to make me a little nervous -- he clearly was watching pretty intently.  Then he said, "Je t'aime," ("I love you") and then something else I couldn't quite catch, and then he told me I was beautiful.  Then he said, in English, "I said I love you.  You did not say you love me."  Given the cultural and language barriers, I really couldn't tell if he was goofing around or actually trying to pick me up.

Better to be safe than sorry, I always say, so I went into the house and got my little photo album with pictures of my family.  He looked through it and asked how many children I had and commented on how good looking they were (and who was I to argue?).  Then he came to a picture of me with my husband, and his face fell.  He asked if I was married.  I said yes, for 18 years.  He asked if I had gotten married as an infant.  Then he again told me he loved me and I was beautiful, and again said something I didn't understand.

At this point Daniel started to laugh uncontrollably, and all kinds of ideas were racing through my head about what Jean, who loved me and thought I was beautiful, was trying to tell me.  I offered to go get Amelia to translate, but he was insistent that I not.  This only made me more suspicious.  Finally, when it was time for dinner, Amelia walked by on her way into the house.  I flagged her down and asked her to find out what Jean was trying to tell me.  They talked animatedly for a few minutes, and then she whispered to me, "I'll tell you later."  My curiosity was certainly piqued. 

After dinner, I pulled Amelia into our room and asked her again what Jean had said to me.  She said, "He likes the way you keep yourself and your body after two children."  No wonder Daniel was laughing!  Amelia said she had registered her disapproval with Jean, and he never tried to say anything more than hello to me for the rest of the week.

Tomorrow:  Assessing the Damage


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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