Sunday, October 11, 2009

Megamart and the cockroach war

Megamart is a fascinating international version of a Sam’s Club or Costco. You have to have a membership card to be allowed to shop, and you can buy products in quantity. But they have many unfamiliar brands and labels from all over the world. Some are from South America, but French products are also popular. There are even a few labeled in the Arabic alphabet.

I bought a few packages of sponges, all of the generic dandruff shampoo they had, about 20 bars of soap and 24, count ‘em, 24 aerosol cans of roach killer. I ended up paying about what I might have expected to pay in the States. Most things here cost more than we are used to paying, as everything is imported.

We brought our loot back to the house and I had the older boys help me carry it all in. They actually love it when I give them chores. It makes them feel useful and important. Then Manno, our groundsman and janitor, and Manmi Lis, now head of the house, went to war. All the cabinets in the kitchen area of the house were thrown open. The skittering of hundreds of tiny feet was audible, and the walls seethed with motion, and the battle was on! I had to leave the room quickly, and I herded the kids out with me. Over my shoulder I called a warning to Lis and Mano not to inhale too much poison, but I think they failed to hear me in the frenzied joy of killing hundreds of roaches at the touch of an aerosol button. We cheered them on from the doorway. The carnage was unbelievable. There was literally a coating of dead roaches on the counter and floor when they finished, and hours later they are still limping out of crevices and falling from the cabinet doors. There must be well over a thousand dead in the one room. I’m trying hard not to think about just how much company I undoubtedly have in my own room right this moment…

I got to spend the afternoon just relaxing with the kids, which is what I like to do best. They are amazingly inventive with the limited number of toys surviving at any given time. Three scooters whizzed back and forth between the backyard and the front. Smaller children played games of pretend with dolls and small toys under the tables. A large group of mixed ages and both sexes played with the one jump rope they have not yet destroyed from the last missions group. In the background a group of rowdy older boys played some sort of very complicated ‘police and bad guys’ game with squirt guns. As today’s high was 98 degrees with 100% humidity, I was very tempted to join their game. The older and quieter girls retreated to their bedroom upstairs to color, draw, look at books, and play with dolls.

I braided a few girls’ hair, and Gertride and Beattha gave me thick cornrows twisted up into a bun at the back. Generally I need to remove their creations before I leave the house. Tonight I went out to a restaurant with a really beautiful hairdo by American standards. Every girl whose hair I did not braid today wants hers done tomorrow. Sure wish I had more time and less arthritis!

Our current number of 30 kids and 8 to 10 staff members seems to be a really good ratio. I’m noticing tremendous improvements in the respect for each others possessions and better overall order and discipline in the house.

I don’t quite understand how this is, but I am the boss of this house. I am younger than Manmi Lis by quite a bit, I’m a foreigner with very mediocre Kreyol, and I never tried to assert authority when I began visiting Haiti, but there it is. I guess that can be advantageous. If I ask for something to be done, it does seem to happen even in my absence.

On my last trip, I noted that the children were eating their food with their hands, unattended and uncorrected. I told my nannies that it embarrasses us all when the children go to the hotel and eat like pigs. That made them laugh. I asked that someone sit in the dining room at every meal to enforce some sort of table manners. Granted, lower socio-economic class Haitian are not greatly concerned with table manners, but they do know how to use utensils. Six months later, at least one person is in attendance at every meal, everyone but the smallest or most challenging kids are using their spoons, and those who do not are corrected.

I’m really pleased on two levels. The kids are learning better manners, and it’s hard to bully or tease anyone with a nanny looking over your shoulder. More importantly, I’m living in an orphanage in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and I’m worrying about table manners? We are so blessed! I will not write about some of the other orphanages I have seen in Haiti, or what my colleagues have described in other countries. Let us just be grateful that we are able to be annoyed by someone eating rice with his fingers.

As usual, I can’t begin to imagine anything to work on with the care of the kids at Jamie’s House. It’s better than the daycare any of you will be able to find once you bring your children home. The only better place is at home with a permanent family.

Here at BRESMA II, I feel that we need more meat and that the kids need to be eating fresh fruits and vegetables each day. We need a lot more shoes (they go through them so fast!) and I’d like to throw some of the clothes into the rag bag. We’ll need to replace them. Our big issue remains simply the slow speed of adoptions. Some of these kids have been waiting here far too long.

It’s getting late, so I’m off to take my cold water bucket bath. The light in the bathroom is broken, so I’ll wash in the dark. I suppose that is an advantage, because then I won’t be able to see any of the roaches I am absolutely sure are waiting for me. I’m sure they’ll want vengeance for their fallen comrades.

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