Second Mile Haiti

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

The things you sometimes hear when your car breaks down.

I'm sort of good at procrastination. And by that I mean that I am extremely good at being wildly productive while doing tasks of very low priority in order to avoid doing something less-enjoyable of significantly greater priority.

Sweeping, sorting photos in Dropbox "for the organization," and writing blog posts are a few of my go-to tricks when I want to avoid doing something. Oh and if you ever need a tutorial on "how to discover pure musical genius on You-Tube," I can help you out there too. It's another one of my hidden talents.

Tonight, I'm not writing an overdue paper for a class I may or may not regret having signed up for in the first place. Please don't tell the professor. (Just kidding, it's a great class!)

And with that I bring you a story about a mom and a girl that are sort of inseparable.

I want to write about this mom today. We call her Lovelie. 

Her daughter Loudjina is 17 months old. 

She’s been doing this every day for 17 months. And we’ve seen her everyday for almost 2. If she ever gets tired of holding, feeding, loving, and kissing her daughter I've never seen the evidence. 

Each and every movement means something. Their day together is like dance. They are incredibly in sync.

Loudjina is exceptionally communicative. And her mom can elicit a response with ease. She can calm Loudjina in seconds. Loudjina might be upset about not having Tampico... or milk... and mom can distract her by talking about her dad. Or laying next to her and joking with her about how she won’t let her momma off the hook, not even for a second. Her mother's words calm her. Her expression turns peaceful. She is still. She is content. Her mom's presence causes her to forget about whatever was hurting her or making her upset. 

It's sort of incredible to watch actually. It’s not like your average 18-month old who finds comfort by being scooped up in a soothing embrace, only to wriggle free after a few moments and waddle back to the play place. Although, I don’t deny that Loudjina definitely finds comfort in mom's arms. This is most evident in the way she lies silently in her mom's lap, while balanced awkwardly on the side of her head, a process necessary so that her wounds can be cleaned, assessed, and re-dressed. It's awkward, but she doesn't cry and she sometimes sleeps. She trusts that her mom won’t let her fall. 

But more than just being held, Loudjina’s relationship with her mom is very much a face-to-face one. She cries and mom is there. Mom talks to her. She squirms. She waves her hands. She rubs her head. She knocks on the bed where her bottle is located. She taps on her tummy when she is hungry.

 And when all her other needs are met and all she needs is mom, she puts her hand by her lips. I think that means, “mom, can you just come close to me?” 

On Tuesday... Loudjina’s mom had an appointment at the local hospital. She is 8 months pregnant and was getting some lab tests done. We expected Lovelie to be gone from 7 am - 3 pm so her mother, Loudjina's grandma came to stay with her while she was away. Loudjina wasn’t a happy camper. Well, things started out okay at first. Since it was Loudjina's dad that drove Grandma to our facility on a moto she got to spend some face-to-face time with her papa; there's no a better way to start the day! But after dad left, she started missing mom. She wasn't making it easy on Grandma. I decided to go ahead and do her dressing changes. When I finished, Grandma offered to keep Loudjina resting on her side for awhile to relieve pressure on the sores. This is an important part of wound care, I was totally on board. Loudjina was not. 

This is the part where I would like to stop and tell you a million reasons why I love and respect Loudjina's grandmother. But talking about her would likely extend this post far beyond an acceptable length so I will limit myself to just one reason. Let's just say, she cares about the people in her family, a whole lot. Her newest grandchild is a 6 week old baby boy. She personally takes him to the hospital once a week for casting appointments. The baby was born with bilateral club feet. Routine casting is the prescribed course of action; first weekly, then bi-weekly, and finally monthly. She went to three hospitals before arriving at one that could do the casting. It takes almost an hour to get to this hospital and it costs an arm and a leg to get there. But, I'm pretty sure she would stop at nothing to make sure this baby gets a chance to walk. She's tenacious. She cares. 

Unfortunately, Loudjina didn’t really see or appreciate her Grandma’s patience and sincere desire to help her heal. She was just upset about lying on her side. 

Apparently, when mom came back from the hospital Loudjina straight up "told on" on Grandma. She brought her arms to the sides of her head to indicate that Grandma had "forced" her to lie on the sides of her head. Oh the drama! When Dad came to pick up his mother-in-law, they all laughed about it. Whenever Dad, Mom, and Grandma are together all they do is talk about Loudjina.

So Loudjina missed her mom.  But something tells me that Lovelie missed Loudjina just as much. 

All day today she kept saying, “I can’t leave you, can I?” “Not even for a day.” 

She would follow this with: “I’m going to have to make you forget me, aren’t I?” 

But of course she doesn't really intend to make good on her threat. She says this with her faced smashed as close to Loudjina’s as is physically possible. 


I shared an interesting moment with this mom on our way to the land on Monday. Our truck had a bit of a malfunction just after I picked the pair up from their house. We hadn’t made it more than a hundred yards, but the car was no longer drive-able. 

Before long a swarm of people engulfed the car. First one, than 20. And they weren’t interested in me. 
There were a few comments about my foreign-ness. And a few helpful suggestions, like “go buy gas, blan!” 

Which was funny... I don't know much but I do know how to tell whether a car needs gas, And that was not the problem.

But I didn’t respond to the 'blan' comments because the real reason they were peering into the windows and then running off to tell their friends had nothing to do with me. Most of the people knew Lovelie. They had even seen Loudjina before, when she and her head were both much smaller. But others had simply never seen a child like Loudjina.

In fact the majority of comments revolved around the fact that Loudjina appeared to be so much like a "normal child" in so many ways.

“Oh my, she has beautiful hands!” 
“She has such long hair!” 
“Her body is so normal, it’s not even small!” 
“It’s just her head that’s big!” 
"She's a beautiful child!"

But then the comments started to get a little too "up close and personal" for Lovely’s taste. 
She started giving some responses that made Loudjina seem like quite the little miracle. 

“I thought she was boy! She’s a girl Love?” ...”She’s always been a girl.”  True  
“She holds a bottle?” “yes, by herself.”  True
“She eats???” “yes, totally by herself.”  Mmm... not totally true
“Can she sit?” “yes, I help her sit.” A bit of a stretch. 
“Does she talk?” “yes, she says Mama and Papa.” Nope. Not true at all! 

I turned around and winked at her when I heard that one. Loudjina doesn’t talk. (However, she does enjoy her food quite loudly, which in terms of volume is much the equivalent of talking). But these neighbors, mutually uninterested and too interested, didn’t need to know that. So, maybe she told a few un-truths. Frankly, I’m kind of glad she did. These people were asking what felt to her like annoying questions about a child, her child, whom she sees as nothing but normal. She painted a perfectly "normal" picture of her daughter, a picture she sees daily, for people who wouldn't understand her value by any other definition. 

I’m afraid the chatter didn’t stop there. We were waiting for at least 30 minutes before my “help” arrived. 

A few of the remarks were simply unhelpful, and rude.  
Like, “you should go the hospital with her.” Brilliant! 
Or,  “why didn’t you just throw her away in the city?” Awful. 

Yes. Someone really did say that. 

And mom’s reply was sassy and pointed. “Why, because she’s a problem for me?”

The people surrounding our car were some of Cap-Haiten’s poorest. People move to this particular area when they cannot afford any other place to live. And our car broke down directly between “the Project,” a block of one-room homes that were been built by a charity organization, and a garbage pile the size of a swimming pool. This area is known for flooding and there is substantial rainfall this time of year. Navigating the dirt paths and the deep puddles is challenging. Let’s just say that wasn’t my first time being “stuck” near Lovelie's house. I'm almost convinced that the nasty mud pits are precisely why the garbage trucks which normally patrol the city wisely avoid this area.  Getting stuck just wouldn’t be worth it. Many generations of poverty were present in the crowd. Grandmothers, standing next to teenagers; both, with babies on their hips. It was nine o'clock in the morning and our car was surrounded. Neither work, nor school, compelled them to be elsewhere. 

So...not overly surprisingly, in this setting it may be more than a fleeting thought for some people, I suppose, to dispose of a child that everyone is telling you won't live anyway. Especially, when the future they speak of would most assuredly be more of a strain on you and your living family members that anything you could possibly imagine surviving. And you've survived a lot. So there's that. And not to mention, the enormous pressure you feel by people who are likewise stressed and traumatized by life's hard knocks. They are telling you that you will not, and should not have to, survive mothering this child. It will be too hard, they say. 

To be fair, the guy who made that final comment was a sarcastic teen, not more than 20. But these same messages can come from dads, grandparents, older sisters, noisy neighbors, and family members who expect to be heard and heeded...

Loudjina and Lovelie have been staying with us during the weekdays for 8 weeks.
Loudjina is growing. Her wounds are slowly changing and healing. We are pursuing surgery.
If the thought of giving up has ever crossed mom's mind, it hasn't shown.

One woman (one of the first to come over to the car) left her spot in front of Loudjina's window to give others a better view. She moved to the driver's side and was standing quite close to me. I could hear her clearly. “This life...” she said shaking her head, simultaneously burdened by and thankful for it in the same breath. 

“God gave me two healthy kids," she acknowledged. "It could have been another way...” 

It was as if seeing her neighbor, pregnant, and seated with a visibly heavy, disabled child lying across her lap and drinking from a bottle with two "beautiful hands" had brought her face-to-face with the uncertainty of motherhood and of life itself. Metaphorically, it was heavy. Of all the comments I heard that morning, I was probably most touched by hers. 



Today...four days after the incident, Lovelie brought it up again. 

“Did you know that those people we saw on Monday, were the same people that told me to throw her away?” 

"...I would never."


  1. Loudjina is very beautiful.She is a blessing to all. No mother would be great enough to have Loudjina as her own, but you, Lovelie!

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