Sunday, August 21, 2011

Good-bye, Shoebox. Hello, Teacup.

Leaving Angel Missions meant leaving the Shoebox because it is rented by AMH and serves as their office. As soon as I decided to resign, I started looking for other housing options in the same neighborhood. I am deeply connected to the community of Delmas 91 thanks to the earthquake and to the 2 years that I lived in the Shoebox, connected in a way that most foreigners can’t be, connected in a dual-dependency where my neighbors rely on me for medical care and school sponsorships and I rely on them for security and a helping hand around the house. I wouldn’t leave this neighborhood unless absolutely necessary.

One of my neighbors, an older woman named Tita, has lived in the tent city since the quake. Her house is intact, but she was initially afraid to move back in and later realized that by staying in the tent, she could make some money off of her home. I treat Tita’s high blood pressure every month and on one of those days, she showed me her second floor apartment. It was a mess but I fell in love with it and told her I wanted it.

Before I left for Chop Point, I gave Tita a deposit on the apartment and instructions to let Edjour work on the plumbing and get the house generally ready for my return. But when I talked to Edjour throughout the summer, he told me that Tita was refusing to let him go near the place. A week before I was due to fly back to Haiti, he informed me that Tita had decided she didn’t want to rent the apartment to me after all. What a delightful surprise!

So I flew to Haiti homeless. My friend Dorothy had generously offered to let me stay with her while I figured out a living situation, knowing that I might be with her for several weeks, so I went to her house for my first night. The next day, I marched up the hill to Delmas 91. Flanked by my knights in shining armor, Bill and Edjour, I confronted Tita. After an hour of arguing during which Tita kept insisting that I pay her $600 more than our predetermined price and I kept insisting that I couldn’t and wouldn’t, Bill simply said, “Listen, you promised Kez this place and she is moving in. What time should we be here tomorrow morning?”

At 7:30 the next morning, we found Tita outside the apartment with a strange man. She claimed that he had stopped by that morning completely coincidentally and offered her a higher price for the apartment. I cannot describe the arguing and the reasoning and the raised voices and the frustration that ensued. I know I shouldn’t be surprised by this after almost 4 years of experience in Haiti, but it blew my mind that a woman who is my neighbor and who I’ve treated for free for 18 months would work so hard to cheat me. I kept repeating to her and to the man, “You promised me this apartment 4 months ago and you accepted my deposit. What are you doing?!” She seemed completely unmoved but after an hour, the man gave up and left.

Hoping to not give Tita another chance to back out, Bill, Edjour, my friend Katie, and I simply walked into the apartment to start moving me in. It was dustier than you can imagine and full of Tita’s belongings. “Give me 4 days,” Tita tried to convince us to leave. “In 4 days, I’ll have everything out and the place will be yours.”

“Tita, you’ve known for 4 months that I was going to move in and you didn’t move anything. Why should I think that in 4 days you’ll do it? We’re here now and we are moving me in.” For the next 4 hours, we carried boxes and furniture to the basement. Christada, Manezda, and little Jessica helped us while Tita sat in the kitchen and yelled abuse at us. One minute she would be all sweet, telling me how much she loves me, and the next minute she would be screaming at me to not rush her and to treat her belongings more lovingly! At one point, she stormed out of the house yelling to the world that Kez was going to put all her stuff out on the street, something which of course I had never said and would never do.

When everything was moved, I tried to give her the rent money that I owed her. Bill and Edjour had left for other work and I realized that I didn’t have a witness so I asked her to wait while I called Bill to return. At this, she snatched the money and ran out of the apartment, deeply insulted that I would want a witness present for the exchange of a large sum of money. I grabbed the money and pulled her back in just as Bill arrived. We counted the money together but Tita refused to take it. She acted as if she was so hurt by my need for another person that she wouldn’t rent me the place after all. I gently told her that the witness was for me, so that when I give an account to my friends in the States, I can have someone attest to how my money has been spent, but she was so worked up that she wouldn’t listen. I gave up, walked out and sat in the street. Bill stayed with her and after 20 minutes, he worked his magic and got her to take the money. He even convinced her to let me put my own lock on the apartment door and to give me a copy of the key to the outer gate.

The next morning, my 4th day in Haiti, I moved all my personal belongings in and I spent that first night in the apartment. Ironically enough, since those 2 nightmarish days, Tita has been perfectly civil to me. She hasn’t given me any trouble at all and has even come to check in, make sure I have water and electricity and that the fridge is working. Oh, Haiti.

But now that the drama is over, I’m thrilled to be here. I left the Shoebox and now I’m living in what I call the Teacup because of its rounded pink walls and china-like tiles in the bathroom and on the porch. The Teacup has an open balcony where my plants can live and an enclosed roofed porch area where I can do laundry and store things. Inside, I have a large living room with a hideous red couch and matching chairs. The dining room/kitchen is also quite large with ample storage space. My bedroom feels huge and has 2 wonderful windows that create a pleasant cross breeze. And the second bedroom gives me space for a pharmacy and first aid station.

Everyone has come to help in one way or another. The girls have swept and mopped. Mardochee scrubbed the hall and kitchen walls till they look freshly painted. Christine helped me set up the pharmacy. Jeff swept and mopped again. Tweedledee and Tweedledum carried boxes for me and helped me buy a new mattress and box spring. Beberto is building me a stand for my stove. Alix’s wife washed all my dusty rags and clothes. Two of my youth boys brought me fruit today and Christine brought me a dozen avocados. Through it all, Edjour has been my hero, helping me in one way or another nearly every day since I got here.

You will notice that I’m still missing a few essential items such as chairs. I recently acquired a little stove but I don’t have the gas tank for it yet, so I’ve been living on cold food only. Tita is doing work on the third floor apartment so we can’t set up my rooftop water tanks yet; honestly, I want running water eventually, but for now, I don’t mind spending an hour every week hauling water upstairs from the cistern and filling my water barrels. I’m just very glad to be in the neighborhood and to not be homeless anymore!

1 comment:

Mama Beth said...

I love it, Kez!! And I can't wait to get my hands on it!

What's wrong w/the couch? I think it looks better than the ghostly coverings. No slipcover is going to work on that furniture. Let's work w/it -- throw pillows, soft fleece blanket to snuggle in...

Start thinking about what you want done (besides furniture rearranging) and what you want brought from US.

Measure for curtains? Tablecloth?