A Family Story for a Blustery Day

I have not been blogging lately. My dear friend, Jill, just called me out on Facebook. That’s what dear friends do. They call you out when you are hiding.

The truth is, I don’t know what to write to you. I am falling out of love with the sound of my own voice. My internal machinations seem less interesting to me than they have. For the past week, they just seem exhausting.

So, a family story.

Two years ago, Grant wanted to make something for his dad for Father’s Day. He had decided on a drawing on a t-shirt. He picked out a green t-shirt and a black Sharpie for his work.

His first attempt produced nothing but frustration.

“I ruined it!”

“I can fix it.” Haley rushes to his rescue by trying to fix the word “dad” which, he was right, did not look quite right. “There. It’s better. See?”

“No, it’s not right,” Grant said, scratching through the word in anger and frustration. “It doesn’t look like a present now.”

Tina grabbed her purse.

“Come on, Grant. Let’s go get another green shirt.”

Grant reluctantly gave up his anger and frustration. He always gives it up reluctantly. He holds on to bad humor as if he needs some sort of satisfaction of a global acknowledgment of his justified anger.

“OK. Throw that one away.” He doesn’t ever want to see it again.

“We’ll take care of that later, Grant. Come on. Let’s go.”

They return twenty minutes later. New green shirt, which Grant completes to his satisfaction and wraps it up for his dad. As he is wrapping his gift, Tina works off to one side on the other green shirt that she has not thrown away after all.

“Nice work, Grant. Your dad will love that.”

“I can’t wait to give it to him.”

Tina hides the other green shirt for later. She gives him his moment with his triumph of his shirt.

The next week, when the kids return. We are all getting ready for bed. Tina emerges from the bedroom wearing the cast off green shirt Grant had been unhappy with as her pajama shirt. Haley is the first to speak.

“Is that the shirt Grant made for daddy?”

“No,” Tina responds. “This is the shirt he made for me!”

As we look at the shirt, we notice that Tina has colored in a heart over the scratched out “dad” and written her name in red below the heart. In mostly Grant’s writing, the shirt reads “Best Tina ever!” Don’t dare think otherwise. P.S. Can I have a cup of coffee?”

Grant protests, but his heart isn’t in it. Tina’s over the top sense of humor, which I am always afraid will push Grant over the edge, delights him in a way he can’t resist. Try as he might to hold on to his indignation, he can’t. He protests…but laughs with us at Tina’s cheekiness.

Tina wears the shirt when we have the kids. It is mostly not even noticed now by anyone but me. But it still makes me laugh.

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Haiti, A Wide Road and Two Boys

At the top of the hill above the camp is the MASH unit style tent hospital. A wide dirt road runs in front of it, scored by the hundreds of vehicles that have passed this way over the two years since the earthquake bringing medical supplies, workers, volunteers and the sick and injured. There is not any other traffic on this road as it dead ends shortly after the hospital at what used to be the helicopter landing pad.

I met Elius and Thierry on this road (I have changed their names). We all do eventually, the volunteers. These boys are as familiar on that road as the doctors and nurses. They live in the tent city below the hospital and spend much of their free time hanging around that makeshift clinic above the camp.

Neither speaks fluent English, or much english at all really, yet both are extraordinarily comfortable around strangers and strike up conversations with more ease than seems possible given their life. It is clear that NGO workers have been a fixture in their life.

Elius appears to be the ring leader…maybe of everything. He pursues language with a thirst that I have never seen in a child his age. He speaks bits of five languages…the languages of the UN soldiers permanently stationed in the camp where he lives. When I first met him a woman in our group told him she was from Pakistan. His first question to her, in English – “What is the language in Pakistan?” and then “Do you have an Urdu dictionary you can give me?” He is as proud of his collection of foreign language books and dictionaries as he is of his new soccer ball, which he protects to the point of obsession. He is chatty and curious. I love the fact that every single interaction with him leaves me exhausted from the work I do answering questions.

“What are you writing now?

“Does your son eat plantains?”

“Do you have a car where you live?”

He always grabs my arm, conspiratorially, and leans in close as he asks me things. He is unlocking the secrets of the world. Every question brings him closer in a way I do not understand.

Thierry is quieter. His angelic face adds to the impression that he is some kind of spiritual puzzle to figure out. And, perhaps he is. But he is also mischievous and fearless…he boldly asks me for money to purchase books for school and academic contests. And I always give it to him. Always. I know I am not supposed to, but when he asks, I am a mom and he is a kid who clearly needs a new pair of shoes. Badly. I smile broadly the next day when he shows me his beautiful new Croc knock offs.

Thierry is completely captivated by my camera. He and I fell into a routine…he lets me take pictures of him and then I hand him my camera for him to take pictures himself. I always sit, far longer than I had intended, on benches made of solid sandbags stacked under a tarp, and I watch him and the boys that follow him around to see what he is doing with this giant monster of a camera. While he wanders around with it snapping mostly useless shots of motion blurred dogs and cars, I rest. And this is really the deal we have struck, even if it is only me who is aware of it. There is nothing I can do here at the camp without my camera and there are times when I need to just feel the body of the group here without a camera between us.

Learning that moving the camera creates a blur...

Over time, he improves and toward the end of my three months, I can usually count on three or four decent photos from the hundreds he shoots. He gets some interesting angles as he sits with friends and when I give him a task, like moving up through the crowds at church and get pictures of the little girls in the choir, he boldly moves in and gets those shots and more. I am able to sit with him, look through the shots and tell him the story I see in what he has taken. He beams.

Theirry's photo of the church

It’s funny how little I anticipated their impact on me at the time. While living your life, you do not stop to think “These moments will define so much of my experience here.” But they do. And, as I remember them guiding me through the camp to the church or the market, I wonder what kind of options there are for them there. I worry about the fact that Elius is smart as a whip and a natural born leader. Most of the easy options for a child like that involve doing things that are not legal or safe. Thierry’s angelic looks are becoming a handicap as he slips easily into the hearts of the international aid worker community and the recipient of their easy money…because the problems in Haiti are too damn big for one person to solve, but $10 for textbooks is doable. And I am not the only one who starts to feel protective around these boys.

They were on my mind as I boarded the plane for home. I imagined bringing them here with me and wonder even today if coming to America would be better. The opportunity we have here comes at a cost, which I did not really understand until I lived somewhere else. But the point is moot, I cannot bring them home with me, even if I could discern if that would be better for them. But knowing that doesn’t stop the wondering.

xo,

Kimberley