òfelen yo -a memory of Haiti

While lying in bed tonight, I was suddenly overtaken by a very vivid memory from my time in Haiti. That’s the way of these memories… they creep up on me when I least expect them and I can’t shake the emotions they carry with them. This one in particular is one I re-visit most often. I am sharing this story with the hope that doing so will help me get some sleep tonight.

On my first trip to Haiti, we found ourselves with a free afternoon. After working the full day building in the hot Kodok sun, we opted to spend the evening at an orphanage in a nearby Port-Au-Prince neighborhood.  When we entered the home we visited the baby room first. Twelve of us in total, each with a baby or two in our arms, felt overwhelmed by the sight of these little ones. Some docile newborns, some active nearly one-year-olds.  The room was full of giggles, cries, laughter, smiles, volunteers, babies, soon-to-be adoptive parents… and hope.

Following our sweet time with the babies we continued on our tour of the orphanage. The next stop was the toddler room. Upon entering the toddler room, the difference was abundantly clear. These children, mostly with disabilities, scratched, clawed, bit, kicked, and crawled over their fellow housemates to get to us. Children without working limbs used other toddlers as leverage, crawling up our legs, desperately wanted to be held… craving a moment in adult arms. The desperation was overwhelming.

Admittedly, I couldn’t handle the toddler room for very long.  I shook myself free and found a quiet hallway, taking a moment to gather myself. I noticed a bed at the end of the hallway and approached it slowly.  There I found a young girl, I’d guess she was around 12. I later learned she had cerebral palsy, which is what made it impossible for her to talk with me, or to swat away the mountain of flies collecting on her mouth, in her eyes… seeking moisture from her body.

Eventually, I made my way outside to where the older children live and play. I saw a group of pre-K aged children playing under a clothesline. As I slowly approached them, a group of older girls quickly rushed from the dormitories.  They spoke to the little ones in harsh hushed Creole, and the group retreated to a bedroom, closing the door behind them.  As if a wave passed over the courtyard, children began to follow suit, until the entire group of school aged children had vanished from sight.

Some time later I spoke with the director of the home. She explained to me that once the children reach a certain age, they don’t want to see visitors.  “Everyone wants to adopt a baby.” she said. “By 7 or 8 years old these kids understand the reality… no one wants them.” And so, most of these children will stay in the home until they turn 16, at which point they will head out into the streets of Port-Au-Prince on their own.

I think this memory comes to mind with such frequency because I cannot make sense of it. How do i reconcile with this reality? In what universe is it ok for a child as young as 7 to accept as his or her reality that they are unwanted? This isn’t a circumstance unique to Haiti. The same things happen down the street from me, in my country, and in others. How do I continue to place my faith in a power that would allow this cycle to continue? What can I do? Well, you can’t save the world. True, maybe, but can I do something? What are the causes? Solutions? And why? Why? It always comes back to why.

There’s no conclusion to this story… just many open ended questions. Unlike my typical silver-lined posts… this one comes from a place of non-reconciliation. Some aspects of humanity are tougher to take in. And as such, I continue my trip round in round in an endless circle of thought.