(2/2017) As part of the Honors Program at Mount St. Maryís University, I am working to complete a senior research project. For this project, I chose to engage in a study of creative nonfiction, a relatively new genre with no standing definition yet, and its place in the poverty narrative.
Creative nonfiction is just what it sounds like: telling absolutely true stories, creatively. This genre opens the doors for history to be told a little differently than before. This genre upholds the idea of nonfiction, striving for accuracy down to the smallest details and the spoken word, but strives to fit into a narrative format. For the project
itself, I am writing a series of creative nonfiction essays about my experiences in Haiti in an attempt to study this genreís capacity for telling these untold stories and revealing a little about this world. This is the first in a series of four essays.
Jean Pierre has a Mama, he has a Mom, and he has a dad. He has a house mom, a house dad, and 36 house brothers and sisters. Jean Pierre was born in the ravine, and given to the Rev Home three weeks ago.
The home was established in 2008 after the flooding in Gonaives that destroyed their orphanage and killed most of the villageís residents. Then, 16 children were brought to Port-au-Prince and given a home in the extra classrooms of Christian Hope and Learning School, thus establishing Christian H&L School Childrenís Home. That number of 16 has grown to
36 over the last eight years after the 2010 earthquake and various individual tragedies. When ownership of the Christian H&L School changed, so did the name, becoming the Rev Home. Rev means dream in Creole.
At 17 months old, Jean Pierre makes number 37. He is the youngest to ever come to the home, and so he has his own nanny, known as Mama. Mama sleeps most of the time that Jean Pierre is awake. So JP has taken to wandering the courtyard of the home with a look of mischief paired with joy in his eyes, finding entertainment in one of his brothers until one
of his sisters comes, scoops him up, and takes him away to feed or play. Nikkelange, an 11 year old girl who is also new to the home by only a few months before JP, has taken a particular interest in JPís every need. She carries him with pride in her eyes that is almost unfitting of a pre-teen. He has learned, in the past three weeks, that his finger fits perfectly into any
ear that comes within his reach and that in this home he will get as much food as he needs, a sippy cup will save his clothes, and if he sticks out his bottom lip to the right girl, he will get a little extra of anything he needs.
I am scooping the last bite of potatoes into my mouth when Lucilla walks into the room with a look on her face that makes me put down my food and turn in my chair. There are seven of us in the room, a makeshift kitchen on the second floor of the school, 20 steps down the road from the home. She walks directly to Jenn and whispers a few hurried words in
her ear before grabbing her arm and dragging her from the room.
"Whatís happening? Whatís wrong," I mean to think, but find myself saying out loud. Something has to be wrong.
"It must be one of the kids," Someone says absently, maybe in response to me, but more likely a thought that slipped out.
The possibilities were running through all of our heads and were endless. For the next six or seven minutes, the five of us who remained shared possibilities and worries in the form of murmurs as we waited for Jenn to return.
It could be a shooting.
It could be an election riot.
It could be a fight.
It could be nothing.
It could be about anything.
Jenn walked back in to grab her phone. It was Jean Pierre.
Jean Pierre had come to the home because his family could not afford to feed him. That was all the information that had been given. That night, we learned that Jean Pierreís father was a leader in the Voodoo community and Jean Pierreís mother was currently sitting at Rev Home with charred clothes and burned legs desperately pleading for her son, Jean
Pierre. She cried that she had no choice, her husband, and JPís father, requested that he come back. He was waiting for both of them.
That night, we all went to bed concerned, with worries that were waiting and unconfirmed, but there was one thing we could do. The next morning, we added a stop to our Baby Feeding route. The cooks had been able to find out where Jean Pierre lived, and we stopped there last, with enough soup and peanut butter to last him until the next day. I waited
about three steps behind as we approached the door. His mom came to the door with a tired look on her face and Jean Pierre on her right hip. She exchanged a few words with the cook, but I donít know what she said. I looked immediately to Jean Pierre who had his finger in his own mouth and sweat running down his face. His eyes werenít lit and he cried painfully as he wrestled
himself down to the ground.
I knelt and reached out one hand as he stumbled my way, but the next second he was gone. I looked up to find his father had scooped him up with one hand and was shooing us away with the other. We left, quickly, nervous, but satisfied that Jean Pierre had enough to eat for the day. We walked quickly to report back to the whole family, especially
Nikkelange, who were waiting at the gate to find out how their baby was doing.
The day was filled with the same questions, asked over and over again as they sought reassurance.
"How did he look?"
"Did you give him his vitamin?"
"Is he okay?"
"When will he be home?"
We got through the day answering these questions the same way, "fine, yes, yes, soon," and then deliberating over dinner that night as to whether are answers were honest or not.
I woke up the next morning planning to repeat the day before almost exactly. We got to the ravine and the whispers and murmurs started. Soon, we were hearing them clearly, Jean Pierre was gone. The father had taken his wife and son and fled the ravine overnight.
They were gone.
He was gone.
And nobody was saying anything else. Once that message was clear, there was silence. We were not supposed to, or allowed, to know where they went. The people standing in front of us holding their babies were torn. They were torn between loyalties, between their concern for our baby and their natural inclination to protect their own. So out of respect,
we left. We walked away and today when we walked through the gate, our answers were not honest.
"Heís okay," I whispered as I walked into the home, grabbed Lucilla, and walked down to the school.
As soon as we shared the news with the Haitian staff, they made a beeline for the ravine. I realized then, Jean Pierre was their baby, too, even down here at the school where he had visited maybe once. He had more moms than I realized, because Iíve never seen a flurry of concern quite the same as half of the schoolís staff, teachers, and families
hearing the news we brought.
An hour later, they all returned. I donít believe they meant to look the way they did. I believe they meant to look determined, but they looked grim. They walked in and my stomach dropped. I made eye contact with Rosemarline, a second grade teacher, and she quickly looked away, turning towards Edmond who was sharing the news.
"There is to be a ritual tonight. There is nothing we can do. We donít know where the ritual is. There will be a child sacrifice. We will try our best to find out more. Right now, we need to pray."
I have no power in this moment, in this situation. There is nothing I can do. Iím trying not to cry as I feel a hand on my leg. I canít look up. I canít help.
There is silence only for a few moments before Edmond sits himself on a desk in front of all of us, looks up at a tile in the ceiling, and begins to pray.
He prays in Creole first, and then in English.
He thanks God first, and then asks for help.
He thanks God for JP. He thanks God for all of the children. He thanks God for information, for hope, for community. He thanks God out loud over my quiet and begging thoughts. Then he asks for protection. For a miracle. He asks that God give guidance to those Voodoo leaders who are currently resting for their ritual later that evening.
Everybody takes turns, and nobody moves for nearly an hour. Soon, we have to get back to work, but in these moments every ounce of effort that Iíll be able to give for the entire day is focused on these words, "Please protect our baby."
The silence broke and we all went back to our tasks, avoiding every question and shielding 36 children from the truth that Jean Pierre would more than likely never come back to them.
Two nights later as I sat on the steps in the front of the home with Camilla on my lap, braiding the front of my hair, we heard a knock on the gate. It was dark. Typically, we donít stay out after dark. All the kids were either in the yard, bathing, or in their rooms, so whoever was knocking on the gate was probably just someone coming up from the
school. I yelled for one of the boys to go to the gate as there was another knock. James walked out, asking over his shoulder if we wanted to play cards, and peeked through the opening in the gate.
He turned back to me quickly, whipped around, and unlocked the gate.
Jean Pierre was perched on his motherís hip.
I stood up and yelled for Lucilla. Camilla screamed and ran to get the girls.
I ran down the steps towards JP and wrapped my arms around both of them.
I yelled for Lucilla again as we walked to the steps. They both needed help, bandages, and food. Jean Pierre was covered in dirt and urine but wasnít bleeding or burnt. His mom had burns running up her back and no longer had hair. She cried out in pain as she sat on the first step, and handed Jean Pierre over as James ran down the street to the school
to raid the pharmacy.
As James cleaned JPís motherís back she told us what she did. The afternoon of the ritual she ran away. She was told by the Voodoo priests to go fetch water. She told us that as she went to fetch the water, she didnít start running until she got to the pipe. She didnít feel like she could run away until she got to the pipe because she didnít know where
to go. When she reached the pipe she realized she had somewhere to run to.
The night she brought JP back to us, she was taken to a domestic protection mission shelter. She visits Jean Pierre at the home about once a month. Jean Pierre learned, that night, that he has 36 brothers and sisters and a family who will stay up all night just to hold him and pray over him. That night we all learned that miracles do happen.
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