Saturday, February 1, 2014

Feeding starving children -- on the sly

Reginald's response to me
 the day after we met
Part 4: Haiti Chronicles

The sun has set on my first day in Desab, and it's dark where we eat, tucked way back in the one-floor medical clinic, away from the ceaseless stares.  Many Haitians, especially the children, watch us constantly through the exposed Rebar at the front and side of the clinic. And many of them are hungry. Not just for dinner. But forever.

So it's more comfortable for us to eat out of view.

Our first meal is yummy spaghetti  with triangles of fresh bread from the village bakery.  As we eat, we talk, engaging in an impromptu Stone By Stone team building meet-and-greet, a time to talk about our expectations for the week and expose our concerns. We talk and eat. 

And then, there are leftovers. In a country as hungry as Haiti, how can we toss out leftovers? We have too little to feed the village. And there's no refrigeration to stow what's left.

Julie has a plan. We don't feed the village, she says. We feed the smallest.

So she walks into the staring crowd and peels away the littlest ones, handing them off to me.  I walk them back through the dark to the corner office where we just ate. One by one, I lead eight kids back to plates heaping with spaghetti, forks and chunks of fresh bread. Each time I encourage them to "pataje" (pat-a-jay), Kreyol for "share." And seven of them do. Lovingly. Sweetly. Gently.

But not all eight.

Reginald in his school uniform. Anyone willing
to sponsor him in school? Talk to me. I have
the details.
The eighth is Reginald, who has grabbed a whole plate  of spaghetti for himself. He circles the plate with his arm, creating a shield against hungry invaders. As Reginald inhales the spaghetti, the starving little boy he's supposed to share with looks at me, pleadingly. DO SOMETHING, his eyes scream. Then he watches Reginald's feeding frenzy in silence. As do I.

It's the oldest of the smallest, a little girl, with a take-charge attitude, who commands Reginald to "PATAJE, PATAJE!" shaking her fork at him. And when he doesn't, she, too, looks to me to fix things. To take charge.  To be the adult.

To force a starving little boy to share food.

"Pataje, Reginald," I say, gently. OK. Wimply. "Pataje."

He clutches the dish even tighter and scowls at me. "PATAJE!" I bark, trying to sound serious and beginning to lose my compassion to his insolence. I grab hold of the plate and find myself in a tug-of-war with a little starving child over a plate of spaghetti. (This is unreal. Please. Tell me I did NOT just try to take food from a little starving child!)

My heart screams NO NO NO! This baby is hungry. LET HIM EAT! 

Reginald must hear my heart, because he senses my weakeness and steps up his battle. He locks me in a power-struggle stare, stiffens his shoulders. Frowns. I do the same.

Then, I win. I guess.

I gain access to that plate of spaghetti, grab an extra fork and hand it to the starving chid who's witnessed my assault on this other starving child, this starving baby, this child who just needed food.

When they are finished, I collect their plates, forks and delightful "mesis" (thank yous).

Reginald refuses to give thanks. Instead, he stomps  to my side, grabs my hand, does that power-struggle stare again, and, without even a hint of resignation, demands, in English, "Give me water."

"Water," he repeats, insists. "Water."

Julie, who I discover knows this child nearly as well as she knows her own, shoos him away with a fervent "ale, ale," (all lay, all lay!) go, go!  He plants his fists on his hips.  And stares at her. She rolls her eyes. I grin.

He's a little hellion, she says, kind of like the town bully. He's not just hungry. He's a brat, a rascal, a scamp. He's a little boy in need of boundaries. I see him differently now. I imagine him with a sling shot dangling out his rear left pocket (if he had pants on) and a frog in the right.

"Ale!" she snaps and points to the door. Finally, he stomps out without his water. But he's  got my attention. I'm sure we'll go head-to-head again.

Part 5: Look who's sleeping in MY bed

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