CARREFOUR — This morning a man walked into the school carrying a small tree over his shoulder. He had a tumor in his groin area that was hard not to stare out. He gently placed the tree down and limped away.
The school staff picked it up, placed it in an orange bucket, and put stones around it to keep it standing straight. It took me a few minutes to realize that this was the school’s Christmas tree.
Mona and two men I recognized from my last trip to Haiti quickly began decorating the tree with pink ribbons, red and green yarn, construction paper bows, balloons and stuffed animals. They found pieces of white paper and white cardboard and made a skirt around the tree.
Mona had a few bags of toys she began to dig through. A bag of used toys from Old St. Andrew Episcopal Church in Bloomfield, a bag of Beanie Babies from someone in Chicago, and a suitcase full of toys from Creedible. Mona smiled and chuckled as she dug through the bags, like they were bringing back memories.
“Every year we have a big festival and give toys away,” she said. “This is the first time in the school’s life that we don’t have much to give away.”
When school ended, and the students had their daily warm meal, all 138 of them gathered near the tree to perform their Christmas program. They sang Christmas songs and performed short skits and then one-by-one lined up for their present. (It’s weird to get mosquito bites during a school’s Christmas play).
After the students left I heard someone call my name. I turned around and saw Ribert Pierre peaking over the school wall. I met Ribert in February and have talked to him weekly ever since. He lives in Gonaïves now, which is about three hours from Carrefour. Rent in Carrefour was too high and he and his family were forced to leave. He took a bus and a tap-tap to come see me, but couldn’t stay long because of threatening clouds hanging overhead.
“I’m get scared because of the rain,” he said.
This summer a hurricane destroyed the tent his family was living in. Ribert has had bouts of illness since the earthquake, including typhoid. He’s better now, but said he still gets headaches and stomach aches. He can’t find work. He speaks at least three languages and has a college degree, but his visa and passport were lost in the earthquake. For now his hope is to see Haiti back on its feet again.
I’m sad that it’s already almost time for me to go home. Besides my chat with Ribert, and small conversations with Mona and Jean Ellie, I’ve done a lot of observing this trip (the language-barrier will do that). I don’t know many people who I can be with, not speak to, and still laugh and smile so much. The inside jokes we had with Jerah (not correct spelling) in February still carry on. I’m just now getting to know Cadet better and Vladimire, both men who work at the school. And I’m getting to know Jean Ellie and Mona in a new way and can say with confidence that the world would be a better place if there were more people like them in it.