Melissa’s Sob

By Susan D’Aloia
Saying goodbye to the Haitian people I worked with in Carrefour, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, proves inevitable. A few days before the end, I think of the participants through the aspects of their lives I have come to know. Building three-dimensional connections take time, experiences and even minor conflicts in order to build trust. I recall how Teddy, a nine-year-old boy, makes a Warrior3 poise in yoga -- sticking his tongue out in intense focus every time he stretches his body. His mother, who attends closing ceremonies, shares how sad her son was the night before because the program had to end.

I think about Fara, 10 years old, who vacillates between taking care of her three-year-old brother in workshop when he gets fussy, to fiercely making decisions about her particular project’s design. Calvin and his friends embrace competition as they master the game of ‘Set’ with Mark, one of the translators. And Roosevelt, the core translator I have worked with, tells me anecdotes regarding the hospital and community. I too learn a bit more about his family and his girlfriend.

On Saturday, many of us attend church on the hospital grounds. Afterwards, packed inside the tap-tap, the funky colored bus for transportation, we say goodbye. Melissa watches us. Melissa, during workshops became intermittently feisty, passionate and demanding; as well resigned, frustrated and shut down. This is not such an unusual fluctuation for the universal teenager if one exists. This Haitian teenager’s trajectory, however, along with her surrounding peers, proves rife with overarching economic obstacles so to survive day-by-day. Today, Melissa wears a scowl, her hands on her thin hips staring down the tap-tap. I say her name and a goodbye. She looks down and walks around. She lifts her head again and my eyes meet hers. Then she sobs, looking down again.

I negotiate Melissa’s sobs, considering various degrees of the obvious and the mystified. A program where she experienced success, which also served as a space where she could be annoyed, joyful, frustrated and celebratory, has come to an end. Loss begets loss, as any human being can attest. Her sobs ring the joy and pain of life. They too ring of overarching injustice.

The arts team I have worked with -- Chia-Ti, Kiyana, and Maureen -- feels special to me. They comprise heart, soul and dedication. Melissa, Teddy, Calvin, Fara, Mark, Roosevelt, and the other Haitians we worked with, too are special. They are filled with heart, soul, dedication and a desire to embody these principles through action. They want to make art and create change. Upon creating an interactive “puzzle” of Haiti as outlined by Maureen, participants colored index cards with a broad black stroke on one side and a number on the other. Through a coordinated grid, the collection of designed cards formed a colorful poster of Haiti ornamented with symbols from life.

The follow up activity sought youth’s commentary, on what they loved about Haiti and what they wished for it. Loves: The food, the flag, the music, the people. Wishes: End the misery, advance, end the misery, create jobs, end the misery, make schools, more schools, more beauty…

So Melissa’s sob has come to encompass this ache, too, the ache of these collective wishes as communicated by the youth in workshop. My own thoughts around the political economy of Haiti, the Global South, and the territorial battles of disaster relief, will find their place in my conception of Haiti in the weeks to come. Melissa’s sob, for now, monopolizes my thoughts. This depiction communicates my goodbye and my gratitude to Haiti and the Haitian people.

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