Friday, April 02, 2010

Heard in the Street

The other day a man from my parents' church (which we're attending while we're here) mentioned that he had seen me out walking and had honked at me, and then felt embarrassed because he thought I'd think he was flirting with me. I laughed and said that at my age I don't assume that. What I must have assumed was that the honk was unrelated to me, since I don't remember the incident at all.

In Haiti, though, men do flirt with me on the street. A couple of times a week someone will say to me, soulfully, in one language or another, "I love you!" Yeah, sure you do. My favorite incident of this was when I was nine months pregnant. As I lumbered down the street like an elephant, a man approached me and told me that he would very much like to marry me. He would, he assured me, raise my baby as his own. I declined the offer, which perhaps had more to do with the fact that I was about to enter the US consulate at the time (and thus clearly had access to such things as visas) than with my personal attractiveness, but I have to admit that it was not entirely unpleasant to be appreciated in my enormous state.

I find that people in Haiti are inclined to express what they are thinking out loud to strangers (though maybe that is just in my neighborhood). For example, there was the time that someone commented that my adorable, beautiful baby (whom I was carrying) looked like a little monkey. That one was worth it for the look on the guy's face when I told him off (in a very loving Christian way, of course). The people around hurt themselves laughing, and ribbed the man mercilessly for not knowing that I understood Kreyol.

One day as I walked home from school, someone yelled at me in English, "I hate you! You're stealing my (expletive deleted) country!" That one hurt. I thought about it for a long time. Stealing it? Was that really what people thought?

But the one I really like to think about is the day I passed a huge bus. It was a holiday - I can't remember which one - and a beach trip had been planned. People were starting to gather at the bus. One of them called to me that I should come too. I smiled and said, "Thank you," but added that I wouldn't be able to join them. As I continued, I heard someone shout in Kreyol, "Gen plas pou ou!" There's room for you.

When I walk down the street in Haiti, do I represent the streets of gold in the country of my citizenship? Of course. Am I a source of amusement because of the odd things I say and do? Frequently. Do some resent my very presence in Haiti, as a foreigner? No doubt. But for the most part, Haitians make me feel that there is room for me.

I miss that now. Everyone here has been welcoming and friendly, but this doesn't feel like my life. I'm not a foreigner here, but I'm just visiting. There's a place for me in Haiti, a place that is empty right now. Gen plas pou mwen.


Janet said...

You're a sinfully good writer, Ruth. You make me miss Haiti too, and I've never even been there.

JenniferJ said...

Love this post :)

Ruth said...

Thank you, Janet. That means a lot to me because you're such a great writer yourself. I long to help people see Haiti the way I see it.

Jessica said...

I agree with Janet! This made me smile and want to cry at the same time.

Ruth said...

Jess, thanks for your visit and for all your comments! I hope you are enjoying your new baby. Wish I could meet her.

Walking to China said...

That was beautifully written. I've been reading your blog for many years and it never fails to move or inspire me.

Ruth said...

Jennifer, for some reason I didn't see your comment until just now -- thanks!

Walking to China, thanks for introducing yourself! I'm enjoying your blog too!