I had an interesting chat last night with a woman. I had seen her for the past two days at the hotel and she made an immediate impression. She was hard, and seemed to be far from happy. She kept to herself and smoked a lot.
It was the end of the day. A good day for me. We worked with 15 girls from the Art Creation Foundation For Children. We did our little gig to inspire strength and community through art. They taught us a few lessons, and hopefully we taught them a few. I was sitting under the grass roof searching for an internet connection and scrolling through the pictures from the day. I was feeling very full and happy.
Isabella sat at the next bench speaking French to Christophe, the proprietor. I couldn’t understand a word, but her message was clear. She was frustrated. Not at Christophe, at life.
When Christophe got up he turned to me and said “So I heard you were painting on the beach yesterday, tell me why you are here?” I shared a brief synopsis of Mighty Fingers and he was off. She caught my eye “So you’re into art?” she said in English. “Yes”, I am, I replied. “So then what? You come here and you do your thing, and then what? You leave, and what… what?…what have you done?” she blurted and waived her hand, as her whole body swayed in frustration. “Hmm, she speaks English, and she’s a little scary, and she’s talking to me” I thought. “Well,” I stumbled working to defend and reason at the same time, “I hope the kids we spent the day with had some fun, pinpointed a few areas of inner strength, and realized that there might be more alternatives than they had considered before”. “Phff” she waived at me again and slammed back in her chair.
She went on to explain her life for the past four years. She had been working in the tent cities in Port Au Prince with the Canadian Red Cross. She recounted an immense amount of details about where, when, with whom…the outside and inside politics involved in Haiti, the US, France, Canada, and how we all had raped the country of its independence, how we had set up systems that left Haiti dependent on our continued support based on profits, instead of returning them to a system of self reliance. After four years in the slums of Port Au Prince, she felt that the aid we brought was more damaging than beneficial.
The day before an email notification had come in from the UN advising all travelers and personnel to avoid the Port Au Prince area that day due to Independence Day demonstrations that were working to oust the current president. They accused him of pocketing aid dollars instead of getting them to the people and not holding scheduled elections. We were directed to avoid Port Au Price. She was likely directed to get out of it. And here she landed, to consider the last four years of her life, and the sweat and tears that she had put into them. All of it, about to end because funding had been cut off. Her duty was to return to PAP and tell the 14 out of 45 Haitian employees that were left, that their jobs were about to end, along with hers.
In a flash, I got it. She spent the last four years of her life living in a hell that most of us could never imagine, and she was about to get sent home. In many ways it would be a good thing for her, and she knew it, but she struggled intensely with what would happen to all of these people that she had worked so hard to help survive. She was directed to walk away. So many people were being directed to walk away, and the thought of it had her questioning every effort she had made… “and then what, you leave, and what… what?…what have you done?”
My place here is simple, and as she pointed out – temporary. While her stay was longer – still, it was temporary. We are all temporary. If I can spread some kindness and creativity while I exist, than I am happy. I cannot do it all, but I can do something. I think that if everyone who can do something does something, then all of our ‘somethings’ add up. I think that if the leaders we elect work for their people rather than their benefactors we will all be better off. So simple in theory, so complicated in execution.