I want to share a story with you, a story of a woman who shared her story with us. I don’t want to share any commentary or opinions about it. But I just want to share it because I think within it there is something important for each of us to consider. Or maybe multiple things that are important for each of us. Or maybe none of the above but it will at least show you what just another day living here in Haiti might be like sometimes.
So there was this lady that came by the house the other day while we were cooking supper and they said she was crazy. As she walked across the field towards the house they warned us that she was crazy. And it was clear when she got there that she was indeed troubled. I think that’s what we’d say from an American perspective. We’ve got lots of gentler, less direct ways to say what Haitians would just call “crazy”. And we certainly would have used one of them to describe this woman. But there’s no beating around the bush here. “She’s crazy.” Pure and emotion-scathingly simple. Her braided hair was disheveled but not out of control. She was wearing a faded cobalt blue moo-moo with big pink flowers on it. Protruding out from her stomach underneath the moo-moo was something angled and sharp like the corner of a box that she had tied around her belly.
She approached us at a normal pace, as any neighbor might do while walking by. But she wasn’t from around here and no one knew why she had shown up, so we all watched with caution as she came up to us while we sat around the cooking fire and she began telling her story. She wasn’t looking for trouble and she wasn’t looking for charity. She seemed to simply be looking for people willing to listen to what she had to say.
“No one knows my suffering.” She began with her story, seeming almost unsure if those were the right words to use. “He betrayed me and entered into the gay life.” Of course I started filling in the blanks in my head assuming that this woman had a boyfriend or even husband that eventually, after years of lying to himself and her, accepted the fact that he couldn’t really love a woman. Now she was hurt and confused and now she was telling people about it searching for some sense of reason or at least consolation to ease the betrayal that she felt. But obviously I don’t know anything about psychology, because I was wrong.
“He was my only son,” she clarified. “And I wanted the best for him. When he was old enough I sent him off to the Dominican Republic to try to make life better. When he came back to me he wasn’t the same. They’d made him gay.”
Now she knew she had a captive audience from my friends sitting there with me. At first, Haitians wouldn’t want to hear about another Haitian being gay because it’s easier to stay in denial of that reality and it would give them no reason for sympathy towards the woman. But if it gives them another reason to hate Dominicans, then they’re interested. Then both the man and the woman become victims and they’ve all been symbolically wronged as Haitians. So the crazy lady began to preach.
“God tells us that men aren’t meant to be with men! He made us, women, to be with men! Ooooh, my son! He betrayed me. Now he’s lost. I haven’t seen him for weeks. Have you seen him?”
We hadn’t seen him, not that we knew of. He was out there somewhere, wandering, probably searching for a place to feel safe and accepted. Now she was wandering just the same, searching for him. As long as he’s still in this country, I doubt either of them will find what they’re searching for.
“He’s run away and I can’t find him! My only child!” She paused and looked up at the sky as if praying for a moment. Then back down at the ground where the girls were sitting. “So, what you cooking?”
No one said anything as she walked over towards the pot on the fire. Before she got there though, she paused right in front of me. She first glanced at me out of the corner of her eye then turned to face me straight on and stuck her hand out in front of me.
I was so puzzled by everything that had just happened that I didn’t react. I just stared at her hand and tried to let my mind catch up to the moment.
“It’s okay,” she said, “I’m African and you’re African, so we can touch each other.” Then she pushed her hand a little closer to my face.
I looked up into her eyes and she looked straight back at me. The girls by the fire, now behind her, snickered.
Although, clearly, neither of us were African, there was still some sort of genuinely beautiful truth in what she had just said to me. Especially since Africans are ridiculed here just as much as gays, the mentally handicapped, and Dominicans, but she chose to call us Africans to express our shared humanity. Just as I started reaching out my hand to connect with my fellow African, Bebe, the father of the family at the house there, came out of the field to where we were and said, “They’ll eat you up here!”
With that the woman took off running but stopped at the back corner of the house and turned around to look at us all again.
“Really?” She asked.
“Yes! They’ll devour you!” Bebe said again.
Then she turned again and ran through the field behind the house to the next neighbor’s house, to see if they’d seen her son, maybe to search for more Africans, to tell her story once more.