I spent a peaceful few days at HFC before returning to real life in Delmas. The kids were great, especially the girls. It’s amazing to me to remember how rough of a beginning we had; on my first solo visit to HFC, the girls terrorized me because there were a few of them who teased me mercilessly and because they all seemed so self-conscious when I was in the room. We could have lots of fun together, but we also had painfully awkward times that included long silences or the girls whispering to each other and then laughing. Back in those days, my Creole wasn’t that great, so I assumed that they were laughing at me. They probably were, but I know now that it wasn’t with malicious intent. They were just being shy. In the past year though, the girls have gotten much more comfortable with me and I have gotten thicker skin. They don’t freak out when I appear among them and I don’t take it personally when they look at me and giggle. Well, they don’t do the look and giggle thing nearly as much as they used to and I understand so much more of what they’re saying that I know when something is said to tease or when it’s just said.
On top of that, the girls who used to play hot and cold with me have gotten much more temperate. Nounoun, Jessica, Carmelle, Lovely, Childa, and Guerdine have all gone through periods of love-testing behavior, but they have been completely normal with me on my last few visits. It’s been a refreshing change to know that when I walk through to give out good-night kisses, not one girl is going to refuse me.
A few highlights from my visit:
I got to take the boys to soccer at Marantha for the first time in ages. 22 of the boys marched up the hill with me and Marie Maude for a 45 minute soccer game until we got kicked off the field by the groundskeeper. Apparently our contract with Maranatha has expired and we need to write up a new one. It was definitely worth it though, even for 45 minutes. Duckhein had not been allowed to play since he broke his wrist last summer but he played this week and scored 2 goals. It was wonderful just to see him on the field again and he was in his element. I also got to meet the boys’ new soccer coach, Diawa Nicholas. According to Duck, Diawa will really make them work, not just sit and watch while they scrimmage against each other.
The kids have choir every Thursday afternoon with Samuel, one of the leaders from Bataillon. This week they were singing “Give Thanks” and “He is Exalted” in English. The girls sounded great. The boys…well, at least you can hear them, which is more than I expected. From where I was sitting, the only people I could see who were singing the whole time were Jacques, Acheley, and surprisingly enough, Dorval and Miscardet. Miscardet singing!?! Amazing. I have to assume that the boys up front whom I couldn’t see must have been carrying the tune (Job, Drisk, Mathurin, Jude, Renick) because the volume near me was very low. You can’t really blame them. I mean, how many 16 year old boys do you know that want to be in a choir?
I met with the three boys that my friend and I are sponsoring. They each received enough funds to pay the entrance fees for school as well as the first few months. At Christmas, I will try to pay the rest. For a while, those boys have called me “Big sister” since they are 18 and 19 years old. On Thursday though, Jude looked at me shyly and said, “Keziah, I’ve wanted to ask you something for a long time. Can I call you ‘Mom’?” After I recovered from my laughing fit, he asked me another questions: “Is there something we can get you to say thank you?” Well….
On Friday, Jude and Tiken showed up at the pension with a bag full of 30 mangos! I have never been so excited to see a piece of fruit in my whole life. I took a few for myself, set aside 4 for the boys, and shared the rest out with the girls. Emmanuel took the boys’ mangos and distributed them following my orders to Dorval, Wilson, Miscardet, and Samelo. When I walked into the boys’ house that evening, Dorval immediately stood up, walked over to me, kissed me on the cheek and said, “thank you.” I was impressed. I would expect that from many of the other boys, but Dorval…wow. Then I noticed Samelo and I asked him a simple question. Next thing you know, Samelo and I were having an actual conversation! For the first time in 2 years, Wilderson “Samelo” Degraff was doing more than just respond tacitly to my questions. He was actually talking, with a smile on his face too! And the next day, he actually approached me to say hello instead of just walking by like he normally would. It’s official, folks: mangos have magical powers.
The girls taught me a song that Jeanine wrote. It’s simple but really pretty and the words are great. A rough translation in English:
You have loved me so much
That you sent your only son to die
For me at Calvary.
That love is so great
It cannot be measured.
Even death can’t separate me
From the love you have for me Lord.
The girls are studying Matthew in devotions but when I led devotions on Thursday night, I shook things up with a lesson on Psalms. I taught the girls how to read the psalms like a prayer directed to God, how to translate the words into Creole to understand them better, and how to use the words of the psalm to pray about specific situations or needs in their lives. Instead of having one person pray out loud, each girl opened her Bible to a psalm and prayed it. It was a beautiful cacophony of 30 different psalms being prayed.
I was sitting in my room with a bunch of the girls, writing letters. Nehemie looked up and said, “You first came here on the fifth of May.” I just stared at her. She was right; my first trip to HFC ever, I arrived on May 5, 2006. And she remembered that? Impressive. Another impressive act came from Jessica when I was helping one of the girls write a letter in English. As I dictated words in English, Jessica corrected the girl’s spelling errors and fixed her grammar. I was very proud. Jessica also taught me a new word in Creole. I caught her calling little Cindy “stupid” so of course, I scolded her. She looked hurt and asked me what I thought stupid meant. I explained what it is in French and in English and she shook her head. “In Creole it means you like to make noise.” The other girls nodded. Oh, OK. In that case, I agree: Cindy is stupid.
At soccer the ball had gotten kicked out of bounds and the boys were waiting for the ball to be retrieved. Drisk, the goalie, grabbed the crossbar and swung from it. Bernadin came in for the kill. And there was Drisk, hanging from the crossbar in his boxer shorts. It was the cleanest pantsing I’ve ever seen.
Mikerlange and Nounoun were great. I must have played 2 or 3 hours of osle with Nounoun. I am hopeless at osle but Nounoun had mercy on me and let me throw twice before handing the bones over. I got better by the end of the week, but not much better. Mikerlange was just always around, not talking much, but always smiling. There was one occasion when I chased her around the courtyard 3 times and all the way up to the roof trying to beat her with a sandal. I can’t actually remember why. I also chased Bernadin up the boys’ stairs and around their roof a few times. I do recall that was because he kept turning the lights out in the room where I was talking with Emmanuel and Renick. The fun thing about chasing Bernadin is that when he finally surrenders, we usually end up having a good talk. In fact, I think he purposely provokes me so I’ll chase him and he can get alone time with me. Sly fellow.
On Saturdays, all but a handful of our kids have school. I watched a movie in the early morning with Nelcia, Merline Jean, Cindy and Wislandy. Then Cindy and Wislandy and I made a dozen paper airplanes and threw them at the older kids as they came upstairs for recess. In the mid-morning, I went to the boys’ house and made airplanes for James, Michle, Adler, and Ernso. For a while they raced them, seeing whose plane hit the far wall first. Then we switched to target practice. When the planes got boring, the boys showed off for me, doing gymnastics all over their courtyard. We were jumping rope when the older boys started coming out of school.
On Saturday afternoon, Peterson and I brought the little boys and some assistant coaches to the girls’ house for soccer practice. Peterson warmed them up and split them into teams. James and Ernso have improved immensely since we started running soccer practice for them a year and a half ago. I wish they could have practice when I’m not around, but no one else is willing to supervise it.
The boys are taking good care of Michle. He has definitely been lumped into the NLL boys group with Adler, Ernso and James, probably because he is only in first grade. The older boys are working with him on his schooling so that he can catch up quickly. I saw Daniel teaching him Bible verses one day and Drisk working on French with him another day. I love how our kids take their role as big brother and sister so seriously.
We have 2 other new kids around the pension. Sophie and Klivens are siblings, family friends of Dr Bernard’s. They had been living at his house in Tomasin while he put them through school, but like Michle, they are joining Marion G Austin school for the year and living at Mme Lazar’s. All the kids love them. 18 year old Sophie seems to have fit very smoothly into the older girls’ circle, and 14 year old Klivens appears to be friends with everyone at both houses.