A crowd had gathered and there was clapping and laughter. The Haitian people can be exuberant and a little loud, and it’s contagious, so we had to see what the fun was about. There was a little girl in the street, maybe 7 or 8 years old doing a little dance and singing. The song didn’t make sense, it was just repetitive and sung in a silly voice. She was dancing in a slightly suggestive way and an older man had stopped his truck to watch. A few people threw coins. I was bothered by the scene, there was not innocence here, something was off. She finished singing and the crowd laughed. But it wasn’t a friendly, fun laugh. This was jeering, they were now pointing and making fun. I started to take in more of the scene- the little girl was dirty with a tattered dress and matted hair. Her clothes and shoes wouldn’t be fit for wear at home. As I continued to just watch my mom launched into action.
My mom has taught me incredible selflessness and bravery. She does what’s right, even if she is made fun of in the process, even if it could be dangerous. She immediately sensed that this little girl was in danger so she swooped in to protect her. I stood back to watch. Mom took her by the hand and asked her name, “Nadjia”. Mom walked her across the street and into our front yard. The crowd dissipated, but a few of our Haitian friends followed close behind, obviously concerned with what my mom, known as “mamabo” in Haiti, would do.
That day my mom made a lifelong friend, but more importantly, she became an advocate for a girl that desperately needed it. It was time to eat so we all joked that Nadjia, “monte bon chwal”, rode in on a good horse– just in time for lunch! As we ate mom spoke Creole with Nadjia and we watched Nadjia relax, like we can only do in the presence of friends. After lunch mom found a new dress for Nadjia in one of our donation bins, I watched Nadjias smile just light up as she touched the pretty dress. Then mom found shoes, little girl’s black patent leather dress shoes that an American girl probably wore on Easter Sunday then forgot about. You know, the shoes your kids wear once, you find them a year later-too small, and there is nothing left to do but donate them.
Mom showed Nadjia the bathroom, with a shower, and asked if she wanted to take a bath. Nadjia nodded her head faster than I’ve ever seen a kid agree to a shower! Looking back it was probably her first ever shower, an inside bathroom with a shower is very uncommon in Haiti. Nadjia showered and washed her hair, applied scented lotion that mom gave her, then came out in the new dress. Mom combed and braided her hair and Nadjia beamed. She looked beautiful.
Mom was teary eyed as she packed a care package up for Nadjia to take home- peanut butter and bread, a few other snacks and the pretty lotion. We asked Nadjia to come visit again, and bring her mother- my mom wanted to meet her and keep in touch with Nadjia. During all this our Haitian friends watched skeptically. They were side-eyeing us, I could tell they were concerned about something yet they wouldn’t come right out and say it.
Nadjia walked away from the house in her pretty dress, swinging the little bag as she walked. I saw the tears in my mom’s eyes as she lost sight of her. I understood the tears, I know that feeling too well- hopelessness. Sure we helped make that day better- food, a bath, new clothes- but what about tomorrow? What kind of life was Nadjia going home to? And why the singing and dancing in the street? There was so much more to the story that we would soon learn. Read the rest of the story here.