GLA's volunteers, romantics and cynics alike, celebrated Saint Valentine's yesterday. There was lots of food, there was a movie and there were games. Most of the party-goers were still partying until past mid-night.
Haitians really don't buy into commercialized celebrations and so it comes as no surprise to me that February the 14th is not a significant date on their calenders. What does surprise me, in light of several conversations I have had with the nurses and nannies lately, is the faith they put in romantic love.
'Miss Susan...' the tone in Miss Magalie's voice suggested she needed my help with something. I looked at her expectantly. '...Do you have a boyfriend?' she asked.
What? The answer was easy enough (I do not have a boyfriend) but the question caught me off guard. Miss Magalie smiled knowlingly. 'You need one. You can't live without one.'
'Why do you say that?'
'Cherie, you are too old to be without a man,' she replied with a warm, joking authority. 'I'm going to start looking for a boyfriend for you.'
'Miss Magalie, you don't have a lot of time,' I joked back, 'I'm leaving soon.'
'When are you leaving?'
'February the 26th. '
'Oh...' Miss Magalie was thoughtful for a moment. '.....Then I'm going to pray for you.'
'Infidel!' I declared, 'You are obviously chasing all the ladies, not just me!' This sent my tiny boyfriend and all of the nannies into a fit of giggles.
'But Susan,' Marie began, 'All Haitian boys are like that.'
'Yes,' she said. 'Maybe they have a wife, but they will have girlfriends too. And children with the wife and children with the girlfriends' Rose was smiling but she was also absolutely serious. I frowned. 'That's not good.' It was of those moments when you hear a hint of sorrow in another's voice. You read their story in their eyes, and you sense, just for a moment, the weight of a burden you have never had to bear.
'No, it is not good,' someone agreed. 'Do you get men like that in Scotland?'
'Yes, we have some men like that.'
'Well, in Haiti we have many,' Rose observed.
'And if the men all have children with many different women, the men can't possibly support them all.'
'Exactly!' Rose exclaimed. 'The men come and they go.' I didn't ask why Haitian women put up with that. I think I get it - before there are children, there is male attention, and male attention flatters women everywhere. And afterwards, so long as the errant husband or boyfriend returns to you with some money to feed your hungry children, you probably are not going to ask questions.
One of the senior nannies was sitting quietly in a chair. She looked drawn and she was regarding me with an expression that came close to resentment. 'You don't like our conversation?'
'No, ' she answered, and her face softened, 'but that is because what you are saying is true. All of them,' she said, indicating the babies in the room, and beyond the door,' have been affected by infidelity. They are here because their Mothers can't provide for them. 'And,' she added, 'many of us are here [working at the orphanage] because our children need to eat, and their father's do not take care of that.' She sighed, looking resigned but determined. 'We wouldn't leave our babies if there were another way.'
Despite all that they have told me about how relationships work, I know of at least two ladies here who are praying that I will find my Mr right. I also know of two young Haitian ladies who are in new relationships. They are soul deep in the newness and excitement of it all, and their friends and workmates, even the older women, who, given all they have seen and experienced. might be justified in cynicism and resentment, are rejoicing with them.
I find myself thanking God, for all our little boys here who will go to stable families, and learn to love by the example their Fathers set.
But more than anything, I pray that the children of Haiti, those who stay and those who go, will always remember and be inspired by the sacrifices their birth families have made for them, their labours and that phenomenal endurance. If their lives have been touched by poverty and infidelity, they are all ready marked with great love.