Juggler of words and children…collector of pottery shards
“There.” I said to my husband “There is Haiti.” Just as I had strained to see every detail a small airplane window could provide on my first trip a month before, he now did the same. Within a few minutes, the plane bumped and roared to a stop and we gathered our backpacks to make the descent onto the blistering tarmac. The familiar smell of something burning greeted me and we made our way towards the same group of musicians playing by the entrance to the airport.
He was nervous. Who could blame him? Haiti is not often on the front page of the newspapers in the U.S. but if one has an interest in the news from Haiti, it can easily be found on the Internet and all of the news from the previous month had been negative. The U.N. peacekeeping force was regularly exchanging gunfire with armed gangs in Cite de Soleil. Carjackings were epidemic. The political process was in constant upheaval and controversy, and kidnappings for ransom had become alarmingly common. One new disturbing trend was the kidnapping of children. A few weeks before we landed in Port-Au-Prince, a female missionary had been stopped by men in official police uniforms who promptly kidnapped her three children. Increasingly, in the capitol city, it was difficult to know whom to trust.
Michael and I made it through customs and retrieved our luggage before making our way to the exit. We gripped our bags tightly and braced ourselves for the onslaught of men shouting and gesturing at us, all of them desperate to carry our bags for a fee. This time, however, I did not see anyone with a sign bearing our name. We walked a short distance away from the crowd, but the driver was no where to be found. After several moments, a gentleman came up to us and announced he was there to take us to our driver. Michael asked if I had ever seen the man before, and I had not. He had called our driver by name however, and we took our chances. Soon we were on our way to our girls.
True to my promise to Claudine during my first visit when she asked, “Maman Blanch, eske ou pa kab pale?” (White Mom, can you not speak?”) I had spent every possible moment of the last month studying Creole. Now, I was anxious to see how much progress had been made. I conversed briefly with the driver who informed me Roseline was still at the guest house but that he would be retrieving Claudine after he left us at the house.
When we arrived at the house, we were joyfully greeted by Emmanuel who was smiling even more broadly than usual. “You are speaking my language!” he said. He took us inside and we dropped our bags in our room while he went downstairs to retrieve Roseline for us. We stood at the top of the stairs waiting for them, and then there she was. As soon as she saw me, she began screaming. Emmanuel chuckled and placed her in my arms as she fought like a tiger. She was scratching and hitting, doing whatever she could to get away. In the months after she was home and clung to me day and night, Michael would laugh and reminese about the moment when she “tried to rip my head off.”
Soon she quieted, and returned to the stoic, somber state she was in during the first couple of days of my previous visit. The nannies had pierced her ears and in my absence, the right one became terribly infected. I constantly had blood on the shoulder of my shirt from it. She was also still having diarrhea. Within moments, she had soiled the dress she was wearing and when I changed her clothing, tears came to my eyes as I realized my two year old child could still wear a size 3 months onesie.
We settled into the living room to wait for Claudine. When the van arrived, we could see that she was already crying. She so resisted being led into the house that the driver had to carry her. I handed the baby, who began screaming again, to Michael and began to carry the fighting, crying Claudine to our bedroom where we could have some privacy. I sat her down on the bed and she quieted enough for me to introduce her to her Daddy. Soon, she was playing and laughing with him but she wanted nothing at all to do with me. I comforted myself with the knowledge that she was resistant at first during my previous visit but had warmed to me after a day or so.
That is what I told myself.
That evening after dinner, the orphanage director came to drop off the girls’ papers for the visa office and give us an update. We had most of Roseline’s papers for the appointment but Michael would need to go with the driver after dropping us off at the visa office to collect the medicals. We rejoiced with the news that the birth certificate issue for Claudine had been resolved. We still did not have a passport for her however. The director had been promised it that day but the employee she sent to the passport office had run into trouble. The man who was supposed to print it found upon looking through the paperwork that our power of attorney had never been legalized. It was a minor detail. The same document had already made it through multiple steps in the process, including Haitian court! It was a good enough excuse for this man, however, to refuse to print the passport. By the time the employee reached the director to give her an update, it was too late in the day to do anything about it. The plan was that the passport would be obtained first thing the next morning and brought to us at the visa office.
After she was gone, we put the girls to bed and took a moment to huddle together on the bathroom floor to pray before we collapsed as well. We pushed the twin bed up against the double bed and all piled in together. Despite my exhaustion, I was awakened several times throughout the night to the smell of diarrhea. Each time, I rose and changed the still sleeping Roseline by flashlight.
The night wore on. Dogs barked. Roosters crowed. Frogs sang. Babies cried. Rain fell. Sleep mingled with prayer and morning came.