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Leeanne Leary
MSM Class of 2017

(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.


Market Ė Waste Ė Babies Ė Tents and Tarps Ė Peanut Butter Ė Bread Ė Red Hands - Love

The path was the same as always.

Walk out of the gate, turn left, make the first right, and head to the market.

Walk through the market, donít get hit, turn left at the second chicken stand.

Wind through the concrete buildings. When you get through the buildings, youíll end up on a hill of waste, donít fall down this hill. Turn your feet sideways at an angle perpendicular to the rest of your body, shimmy down the mound.

Okay, here is where it gets difficult. You have now made it to the ravine, and now you must cross it.

The ravine may have an inch of still water or a few inches stirring. If the water is still, you are in luck. There are rocks prepositioned every day ready to be crossed. If the water is flowing and the waste is moving, just be careful. Donít fall in the water.

I say water as a euphemism for a liquid that more closely resembles oil in color and manure in odor. I say donít fall because you put yourself at high risk for an infection, and then you waste a week in bed.

Once youíve crossed the ravine, you have arrived, at the ravine. A little confusing, I know.

"The ravine" is the blanket term for the tent cities that line the waste ravine.

With no trash system, all waste gets piled and then burnt in man-made ravines, and the result is waste streams, also termed "the ravine."

The ravine that you have just arrived at is a tent city, and the poorest area in the capital. This tent city holds a hundred thousand Haitian people, all of whom own a tarp that has been carefully staked overhead, creating the image of thousands of small tents from an aerial view, hence the name.

Every day I followed this path, arrived at the ravine, made one stop with the Little Angels team right outside of the tent city, and then entered.

On one particular day, late in December, the path was the same as always, until we entered. I arrived at the makeshift church in the back of tent city and sat down on the single wooden bench. Sampson caught my eye first. He was wearing an oversized undershirt and nothing else, and ran up to me and jumped on my lap. I laughed and set down a bucket of vitamins as I saw him stumble as he ran, while others, young and old, peered past their blanket doors to see what the commotion was about.

Sampson was one of the first to enter the baby feeding program years earlier. The program, officially named Little Angels, was created to address a malnutrition rate of above 80% in babies ages 0-3 in this particular tent city. Now, with daily vitamins and two meals a day, the recorded malnutrition rate is below a miraculous 20%.

He jumped on my lap and my arms wrapped around him.

"Hi, Sampson" I said.

He turned quickly to face me and grinned baring his two teeth with the gap in the middle and said in Haitian, "Hi. Oske nou ka jwe jwPt la sou men?" In English, "Can we play the game of your hands?"

I laughed more and looked to my right as the team started to set up the food buckets in anticipation of the hundreds of children who would soon be arriving once they realized the time.

I looked back at Sampson, rolled my eyes, "Amann." Fine.

He laughed quickly, jumped down and disappeared. He ran to get two of his friends who would inevitably also want to play the hand game.

They came back, announcing our arrival as they did, and families started to pour out of their tents. Sampsonís brother Lerjard wanted to go first so I held my hands out and grabbed his before laying mine carefully on top on his. As soon as I felt his hands twitch I started to pull away, but I was too late, as always. I lose this game every single time. Every time they slap my hands and they turn a darker shade of pink every time until they turn red and we have to stop because I canít endure the agony. Iím weaker than my young friends, by far.

He hit my left hand first, looked at me to make sure he could keep going, laughed and spun around before grabbing my hands again. We were just getting started.

Meanwhile, moms, brothers, and sisters started to arrive holding their babies. They stopped once to get a daily vitamin, once more to pick up half of a hardboiled egg and a piece of peanut butter bread, and then once more to fill their own metal bowl with hot soup.

Over a hundred babies came, some held snugly by their mothers while others were drug along by a sibling not much older. At the end of it all, only about 45 minutes later, my hands were both bright red, the boys were satisfied, and there was a little bit of food left over. Although Sampson was one of the first boys in the program, he had long ago aged out of the program and now attended school where he got one meal every day. This day was the last day of Winter Holiday in Haiti, so school had been out of session for ten days.

Sampson realized that we were about to leave for the day, and started to grab his friends by their forearms and wander away. First, he looked back and smiled and said to Sherry, the cook, "MPsi pou manje fanmi mwen," Thank you for feeding my family. As he always had.

Sherry smiled and asked him not to leave. We have extra today. She handed Sampson the remaining half of a single hardboiled egg and told him she loved him. His eyes brightened, slowly at first, and he turned to call his friends back. "Rete tann!" Wait! He shouted. They came back as Sampson started to break the egg half into three, almost even, pieces. With all of the care he had, Sampson broke off the pieces and handed them to his friends, they took them, thanked the team, and turned to walk away, Sampson grabbing Lerjardís hand as James tucked the egg away, probably for later.

I turned quickly to my right to look at Jen, who was sitting a few feet down from me. From the ground I stared at her with no words. I know these kids. I know their birthdays and families, their likes and dislikes. Iíve spent days on end watching them shriek as they watch my hands turn red simply because theirs wonít do the same, and they believe they have found the only difference between us. Yet, Iím in awe. Iím completely shocked and humbled and curious all at the same time. This child, my Sampson, just split half of a hardboiled egg with his friends, not because he had to or was asked to, but because it was natural. He didnít hesitate, but also before the egg was in his hand he was shouting at his friends to come back. There was no hint of selfishness, no expectancy, and no greed. I donít know if Sampson had food that morning before he came, but I know that he had not eaten every day of this 10 day break. I know that he often felt hunger like I never have, and never will, and he, an eight year old, taught a lesson that morning that the world could use, and I can only think to attribute it to love.

I turned to follow the rest of the cook team back home, hesitating only for a second as I tried to process, and then followed the same path back home.

The path might have been the same as always, but the day certainly was not.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary