Sherri Gragg

Juggler of words and children…collector of pottery shards

White Mom, Can You Not Speak?

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way…….”      Psalm 46:1&2

gateAlmost immediately upon leaving the airport we pulled into the Port-Au-Prince version of rush hour gridlock. There are no rules of the road in PAP other than: He who is biggest or fastest wins.  Occasionally, one will see the remnants of an ancient yellow line stretching down the center of heavily worn asphalt, peeking through faintly like some archaeological find from centuries past.  These lingering vestiges of transportation law however, are wholly ignored.  The traffic is a living thing, morphing into whatever gets the most drivers where they want to be the fastest.  At times, what would have normally been a two lane road held three lanes of traffic, the vehicles on either side of me only inches away.  People and animals stepped into the flow of traffic at random but the drivers never slowed.  All around me, dark faces stared curiously at my pale, foreign one.  To say the least, it was harrowing.  I prayed a lot and held my breath a lot as well.

Finally, we pulled out of the congested center of the city and began our jarring ascent into the mountains on a dirt road riddled with potholes, washed out spots and huge puddles.  We slowed and the driver turned into a short driveway and stopped at a large metal gate.  We had arrived at the orphange’s guest house where I would be staying with my girls during the visit.  The driver blew the horn and the gate opened to reveal Emmanuel, the keeper of the guest house.  As I stepped out he took my hand, kissed me on the cheek and spoke to me in English.

 “Welcome, my sister.”emannuel

He carried my bags inside and showed me to my room which was simple but meticulously clean.  There was a bathroom attached.  After we placed my luggage on the floor I turned to him and asked the only question that mattered…..

“Emmanuel, are my daughters here?” 

“Yes, sister.  They are downstairs.  I will take you to them now.”

At the time, there were a group of babies and toddlers living in the basement of the guest house.  The orphanage director explained to me that some babies just didn’t do well in the orphanage environment and that she had separated this group out, of whom my baby Roseline was one, in an effort to give them more concentrated care.  Claudine, who had been separated from her sister upon their arrival, lived at the orphanage but had been brought to the guest house earlier in the day to await the arrival of her “Manman”.

My heart pounded wildly as we began to descend the wooden steps.  At the bottom, I found myself in a basement area that was divided into several rooms.  The rooms were lined with bunk beds, the mattresses bare.  There were a few small babies in cribs and toddlers running everywhere, one of whom began to scream in terror at the sight of this strange tall, white woman before her and began to cling to the leg of her caregiver.  I recognized her as my daughter, Roseline.  Then, before me staring with solemn face, was Claudine.  Her hair hung in micro-braids and I noticed immediately that she was wearing the pink and white gingham dress I had sent her for her fourth birthday.  I was at the same time pleased to have the opportunity to see her in the dress and dismayed that she had grown so little.  She was a five year old in a 3T dress.  I thought she was absolutely beautiful and could not believe I was with her at last.

She hung back hesitantly as I knelt down before her.  Emmanuel instructed her in Creole to go to me and I took her into my arms and spoke the Creole words I had memorized for the occasion:

“Ou tifi mwenmenm.  M’renmwen ou.  Ou tres belle.”  (You are my little girl.  I love you.  You are beautiful.)

A shy smile flickered across her face and then disappeared.  Roseline continued to scream in terror.  Emmanuel graciously had compassion on my predicament and went and took her from her housemother and told me he would take us where we could get to know each other privately.  I took Claudine by the hand, and stopping to grab a few toys on the way, we made our way to the roof where we could catch a late afternoon breeze.

 Roseline ceased crying but sat lethargically in my lap as I tried to engage both her and Claudine.  I showed them the toys I brought but there was no response.  I brought out my digital camera and took a self photo of the three of us and showed Claudine.  She glanced for a moment and then looked away.first pic

Then, she began to cry.  It began as silent tears streaming down her face but as I attempted to offer comfort, her cries rose into a mournful wail.  Nothing I did helped and I did not know the words to talk to her about it so, I was forced to just sit near her and rub her back.  Eventually, the tears ceased and she rose to look at the toys that littered the rooftop.

 She would have nothing however, to do with me.firstpicro

Emmanuel came to call us for dinner and let me know he would be leaving for the evening and replaced by the night watchman.  He led us to the dining room where the I found to my surprise the meal was spaghetti with marinara sauce and salad.  Roseline sat in my lap and Claudine begrudgingly took the chair beside me.  I offered her food and she turned her head away from me, refusing me even a glance.  I began to eat and simultaneously feed Roseline who ate hungrily but then vomited.

Finally, Claudine’s hunger and love for spaghetti, won out over her distaste for my companionship and she ate.  Throughout the meal, if her gaze met mine she would turn her head away, avoiding my eyes.  When the meal was over, she rose and left the table, then turned around and came up to me and said the first words I understood.  (I had studied some Creole but understood little.)

“Maman Blanc, eske ou pa kab pale?”  (White Mom, can you not speak?)

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8 comments on “White Mom, Can You Not Speak?

  1. totaltransformation
    March 5, 2007

    No problem, glad I could help.

  2. mama2roo
    March 5, 2007

    So glad you’re comments are back up.

    Sherri–as I read this, my stomach began to hurt and my heart break…just thinking about how to even prepare for the first time you meet your children and all the emotion/confusion/longing/fear…I don’t think I have the heart for it, especially all alone in a strange place. (what a blessing the spaghetti must have been that day!)

    On a side note–have you thought of publishing this? I mean without changing a single word, image or thought. I am at the edge of my seat waiting for each “chapter” of your story to unfold.

  3. Josh
    March 5, 2007

    I was going to post a comment about the C.S. Lewis quote–which I really like–but I have to say that it appears that this story would make a good book. I tuned in for one post and a comment and found myself almost through the top two before I knew it. Wow.

    Josh
    “…the word of God is not bound.”
    –2 Timothy 2:9

  4. everydaymiracle
    March 6, 2007

    Mama2roo:

    Thank you so much. You are always so kind.

    As far as the story…..I actually began this blog because one of the things I have written is a children’s book based on the first article in this blog “Hair” and I would like to get it published. The publishing industry is very hard to break into these days and I was hoping the blog would give me an audience that I could use to market the book myself and do on demand publishing of it. (I don’t know if that makes a lick of sense….) (Oh, my…there was the southern girl coming out in me! Yikes!) I also write meditations and hope to began another blog with those. The first meditations would be from my time in the adoption journey and therefore entitled “Treasures of Darkness: Meditations in the Wilderness”

    I did not really know what direction to take the blog but after praying about it decided I should begin by telling our story. I don’t know what, if anything will ever become of it.

    Thanks so much for reading! You honor me by investing your time to read my writings.

    Blessings,
    Sherri

  5. everydaymiracle
    March 6, 2007

    Josh,

    Thanks for your kind words! I will be visiting your blog later this afternoon to see what is new. If you like C.S. Lewis, there is another quote today.

    Blessings,

    Sherri

  6. honeybeautiful
    March 8, 2007

    they look bi-racial sure they are good luck with your family you are beautiful

  7. everydaymiracle
    March 8, 2007

    honeybeautiful,

    We are not sure why our daughters are so light skinned. It is a bit of a mystery, actually. Thank you for your kind words.

    Blessings,

    Sherri

  8. Amiyra
    February 9, 2008

    I think your entire blog is beautiful and your family sounds wonderful. You have a wonderful heart and I wish more people would consider adopting children from anywhere, because there are so many in need of good, loving homes. I also must say I am impressed by your level of commitment to your daughters, so many well-meaning people do or say harmful things when they do not take the time to consider cultural implications.

    By the way, (Mainly directed at honeybeautiful’s comment) Black people all over the world come in all shades, sizes, and textures. Many times there are people (my siblings and I) that have the same parents but inherit different genes. I am an Anthropology and History major- all of life began in Africa and all those geographical changes came later and we are still evolving into what we will look like tomorrow. Beyond what you think you see, the only real differences between us are what we make them.

    ~Muah~ Besitos!

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This entry was posted on March 4, 2007 by in adoption, Christianity, family.
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