Ewode began coming to the Project Esperanza house we first began renting in Puerto Plata at the end of 2006. I can't remember if we met him during the street census of the summer of 2006 or not, but do remember him from November 2006. During January 2007, he was one of my students for the two week tutoring program we ran. He became a member of the residential program we started at this point a few months later as he was familyless, essentially homeless, and receiving schooling for the first time in his life.
He did well although he was very headstrong, didn't want to get up and go to school some mornings, and fought with other boys on some occasions. But he was also very sweet and willing to please at other times. I remember him often using his money he had earned shining shoes to make juice and carefully divide it among others.
He stayed in the home until December 2007, so about a year. At this point, the home had moved into the country, and although he enjoyed searching for crayfish in the creek with the other boys and did well in school, he missed city life and he especially, apparently, missed a girl in Padre Granero, the community where he had lived before entering the home. He, like Willy, had spent years working in someone's home and being a part of our residential program broke him away from that and showed the possibility of a different life and future. But in December 2007, he made the decision to go live in Padre Granero, which many people attributed tothe girl he missed there.
|Supesta 2007 with "Ewode" present.|
After leaving the home, he often asked me for help with rent and food but I, of course, had to refuse since he had voluntarily left the program where those things were provided, along with schooling. But he did stay a part of the soccer team that included boys in the home, boys in the streets, and boys doing their best to rent a room among others, usually in Padre Granero. Some boys who were working in homes as, what truly can be called a slave, in a system called "restavek", engaged in the soccer team. So I continued to know him and see him grow through the soccer team. On an athletic note, Ewode was always a key player on the team as he is a very agressive defender. Also, we began doing timed mile runs which, the distance may be off slightly, but he was one of the fastest, always finishing in less than 5 minutes!
Ewode was in a relationship with the one girl for a number of years. At some point they broke up and I'm not even sure if she is still around. Then about two years ago, I would say, I started always seeing him in Montellano in the barrio Saman where we partner with a grassroots community development organization and have some good friends. He told me that he had a girlfriend there and had left Padre Granero to live there. I should mention that both of his parents are deceased. I also began always seeing him not far from our house at a gomeria where he found a job. This is where they repair tires that have been punctured by a nail, etc. He was always there working and I was very happy for him.
Then one day he came by our house and let me know that his girlfriend was pregnant. He began coming by to update me and then let me know that he had lost his job. I don't remember why he said he had lost it at the time but I recently asked why again and will share later on in the post what he said. He began worrying with the baby coming and having difficulties paying for the ultrasounds, etc. I began helping him a little with this. He updated me on his search for work but he hadn't found anything yet.
He brought his girlfriend by a few times before the baby came. She was a bit quiet and reserved but I enjoyed talking with her and them together a bit. They let me know that her mother had started to really discourage their relationship.She had, initially, encouraged her daughter to live with Ewode at age 15 and Ewode was 19. This was when he had his job. Now that he had lost his job, she was always talking bad about him, etc. This also upset him.
When Jilande, his girlfriend, went into labor, he called me to let me know that they were at the hospital. He later called me and asked me to go as he was worried that the docors weren't properly attending her and there were communication problems. So I did go. Her mother was there as well and I met her. I talked to the doctor and he said he would check Jilande soon. He did and then explained to me her dilation, which I explained to Ewode. Things were progressing fine and he felt better. I gave him some daipers and some of Maraya's 3-month clothes for the baby girl, who they named Angelina.
They brought her over to our house shortly after the birth and she was, and is, of course, adorable with a full head of hair. I, (or Project Esperanza, rather), continued to help them a little and thoroughly enjoyed sharing what I had learned through motherhood as far as breastfeeding, the best products to use for skin irritations, and all of that. In all things, Jilande was a bit reserved and Ewode was more vocal and encouraging and directing Jilande, although at times he was also playfully mean in an immature way and when I saw this, I advised him not to do that.
Before I went to the U.S. and Canada on November 1st of this year, he came by frequently to tell me that Jilande's mother was giving her lots of advice to leave him and he could not find work. She had actually had him arrested, along with the partner of her oldest daughter who was also unemployed, as many Haitian men are. He was not given the reason of his arrest and this country is quite ridiculous and corrupt in that way. Police are easily paid off to serve people's personal wishes. Many people who work in the justice system are, of course, frustrated with this, but I think they think that it is a problem that is bigger than them and they wouldn't know where to start to combat it.
When both Ewode and Jilande visited and talked to me about this, I confirmed that it was Jilande's mother who wanted Jilande to live with Ewode in the first place. They confirmed. I also learned from our friends in Saman that Jilande's father had quite a good job working with a mission or non-profit organization in Haiti, but was also not around much for that reason. Ewode and Jilande wanted to live somehwere else and asked me to help them with the deposit money they lacked to rent another house/room they had found in another neighborhood. Had it been only Ewode who had come to me, I don't know if I would have helped in this way, although I would have definitely felt bad for him. But since they both came seeking help, I wanted them to have the freedom to have their family without Jilande's mother who I had determined to be quite the fine feathered friend and really had lost any respect for. So I helped them with the deposit money they lacked, which was about $25 US. An ultrasound here, by the way, costs about $6 or $7 US.
Then, days later, Ewode came to tell me that someone had broken into the new home and stolen the bed, while they were not there. People had told him that Jilande's mom had sent someone to do this. Such continued persecution caused them to come back to the easiest and cheapest place they could rent, which was back in their old neighborhood. Ewode pleaded for help to get a new bed. He would sleep on the floor but wanted Jilande and the baby to be on a bed. I could not help at this point and went on our trip to the US and Canada. He talked the owner of a used bed into selling it to him with the promise to complete the money at a later date. I helped him complete it when I came back.
When I came back from the 26 day trip, Ewode visited and let me know that he had been arrested again while I was gone. This time there was a judgment where Jilande's mother was present as the accuser, although she wasn't accusing him of a crime, but was just trying to get the police to force the two to break up. I had never heard of such a thing but didn't doubt it for a minute. People here who have never seen a justice system that is more... just... will threaten each other with the police as though the police are their employees. Ewode went on to tell that when the police questioned Jilande, she pleaded for them to release him and said that she did not want to split up with Ewode. The police then, told her mother that they could not hold him any longer, and let him go.
I was pretty shocked upon hearing this. Again, the big factor is that Jilande pleaded on his behalf. I realized that her mother felt she could do this because he didn't have family to defend him and this made me feel quite defensive. It was especially sensitive since the two have a baby together and Jilande's mother gave Ewode no value in that. She thought he should be thrown out and disposed of because he was not able to bring in money at the moment.
I talked to Ewode again about living further away from Jilande's mother. I asked him again about searching for work. He updated me and told me who he had talked to and what they had told him. It sounded like he did have some leads, but nothing had come of them yet. I encouraged him to look for a house in the community where we live or somewhere else far away from Jilande's mother. She was entering too far into their relationship. He agreed.
From this point on, Jilande's mother did not let up on Ewode. She was obviously paying the police. He became afraid to go to his house as whenever she would see him, she would immediately call the police and come after him, at which point he would run away. He mentioned at this point that he may just move on with his life and give Jilande to help with the baby when he had it. I asked if that was really what he wanted to do. Wouldn't it be difficult later on when she may end up with another man? I knew that this critical point would have an effect on his future as well. If he did not stay with her, he may likely get into a relationship with someone else quickly, out of the desire to have family, and that would get him more used to the get togther, then break up, rather than the stay together and work through. This get together, break up, would be harder on himself and the kids that would come out of it, for sure. He said no, this was not what he wanted to do, but he felt as though he had no choice with her mother and the police intervention. I, again, encouraged him to do all that he could to move away from the mother.
He slept in Padre Granero for one week and found a house..or more so a room, to rent, but had not given the deposit money yet. He kept trying to get in contact with Jilande to tell her that she could come with the baby and they could live in Padre Granero. An owner of a gomeria in the next town over was going to give him a shot at a job. Things were looking better. He got in touch with Jilande and she came with the baby to Padre Granero to meet him.
That evening, he showed up at our house with baby Angelina. He said that Jilande told him that she was splitting up with him and that she was now into prostitution. He was heart broken. His friend had confirmed that she had spent the night out the night before and left the baby with her mother. He then went on to let me know of the difficulties they had had over the past month. Jilande's mother had been encouraging her to go after a "blan". "Blan" means white in Haitian Creole and this is how many Haitians here refer to foreigners. The community where Jilande is from is just a few miles away from a town called Sosua, the town to the east of Puerto Plata, and although Puerto Plata has its fair share of prostitution as well, in Sosua you will often see a 60-year-old white foreign male with a 20-year-old, (give or take 5 years), local female. When I travel from Puerto Plata to the US, I often overhear conversation between such men coming home from vacation about the beautiful women they have interacted with on their trips. But I could go on for pages about what I have seen this do to families and the absolute threat and insecurity this causes among couples.
So Ewode told me about the past month and how Jilande's mother had given her transportation money on many occasions to go to Sosua. They had a physical fight over it one day and Jilande had started to become estranged. Now she was telling him that she no longer wanted to be with him, when just a month before, she had pleaded to the police to let him go and that she wanted to be with him, despite the weather vane will of her mother. He had told her that if she was in prostitution and didn't want to be with him, that was her choice, but he was taking his baby. This night, he told me that he would go with the baby to his brother's in Santiago. Or he would go with the baby to find family in Haiti. I told him that he couldn't travel with her without any source of income and not knowing if he would even find a place to stay. He asked me if I would take her.
Now, I felt a bit like Gandalph in the Lord of the Rings when Frodo first had possession of the ring and tried to hand it to Gandalph. Okay, so this is quite a bit different but there are some similarities. People living in extreme poverty sometimes offer you their babies. This has always made me sad because I see that they are in defeated positions in life and the opportunities they should have available to them are just non-existent. I always tell these mothers that the baby will miss his or her mother and vice versa, and the baby needs his or her mother, trying to show them their value despite being in extreme need. But I will admit that in more recent years, after having my own babies and getting into the mothering groove, when someone offers me a baby, I really want to accept. I really want the little gift to be a part of our family and to live life alongside our biological children. Of course I learned with Ebo, who I never did dedicate a post to, that it is hard to foster a child and have him as a part of your family, and then have him move back in with his mom or grandmother. It is hard on your family. I would prefer that if the situation comes up again, that everything is arranged from the beginning for an adoption, rather than me being a free five month long babysitter, also supplying food, daipers, and all of that, for a child who often has dysfunctions due to the lifestyle of the mother, absence of the father but presence of various men, as was the case with Ebo. Anyway, we did it for God.
So when Ewode asked me to take his baby, it was tempting, and had that been the right solution, I would've done it. I did talk to Jireste about it, but the best solution, I knew, was to try to help repair the family. Ewode ended up having Jilande come over. They spent three days, I believe, in our house. They came over early and stayed until late but slept in Padre Granero. These are the day that I referred to in the first paragraph of this post, which were more recent when I began writing, but now a few weeks have passed and I am just now able to complete the post.
Jilande's mom had obviously strongly influenced her and sent her down a path that was quite disruptive to her life with Ewode. They needed time to get back on track. Ewode forgave her but just wanted her to stay with him through good times and bad. She didn't agree to get back together at first and was fearful of threats from her mother. She was acting quite off as well. First of all, her clothes were much more revealing and she had an attitude that she didn't have before. Over the few days her attitude faded away a bit as she saw that we were trying to help. But I think she was very frustrated and confused. She even hit the baby once and was saying hateful things. She also had believed things her mother had told her. She believed that her mother had caught Ewode kissing her cousin. Ewode said that these accusations were ridiculous and I assumed that they were further attempts to estrange Jilande from him, as she obviously didn't want them together. She left the baby with Ewode and returned to her mother's house.
Ewode brought me the baby while he went to work as the man had called him and asked him to start. When he arrived at work, he was told that the police had come looking for him. When he returned, telling me this, I had a feeling that that job opportunity was lost and realized that Jilande's mom was really doing him a huge injustice. The boss told him to come back next week when he resolved his family issues, but I had a feeling that he would no longer give him the job. Meanwhile, Jilande's mom was calling Ewode, saying that she and Jilande were waiting for him and the baby at our house. I was at the English immersion pre-school which is where Ewode had left the baby when he went to work. Before returning to my house, we set a court date at the proper facility.
I wasn't planning on talking much to Jilande's mom when I saw her. She and Jilande were waiting behind our house. Ewode held the baby but let Jilande's mother hold her for a bit. I thought that he should not have done that, as I assumed it would result in some sort of struggle where the baby was involved. And I was right. She smiled at me and waited for me to speak to her but I just looked at her sternly. I forgot who spoke first but she quickly began asking what she had ever done to Ewode. I reminded her that she had him arrested and had the police after him. She denied it. I then asked Jilande if she had not, herself, told me about that. She replied that that had happened a long time ago. Her mother then stated that yes, that was something of the past. I mentioned that the police were still after him. She blamed that on Jilande, saying that Jilande was sending them after him. She said that she did not have anything against him but he does not listen to her. He needs to listen. I didn't ask for examples, because I didn't want to talk to her too long, as I had already seen that she was not respectful of the truth. She went on to say that the baby is for her, for Jilande, and for Ewode. I let her know that the baby is not for her. It is for the mother and father. She enters too much in their relationship. Had she not sent Jilande to live with Ewode willingly.? She then said, "I can't support Jilande!"
I said, "She's your child. You can't support her?"I could only imagine Jilande's confusion in all of this.
She said to Ewode, "Look what you've done! You did this! Look what you've made ´blan´ think." I let her know that he is allowed and encouraged to tell the truth. She approached me and tried to hold my face and shoulders to look into my eyes as she spoke. I stepped back and asked her not to do that. I had seen a woman recently do this to a man in an argument where she spouted out lies concerning her receival of pay, trying to convince him that I was not paying her for a time she spent teaching rather than she was not paying him for transporting her. As I said the truth, she continually grabbed his face to look at her as she counteracted my truth with lies. If I was him, I would have slapped her. Words should be enough and people should have limits. Anyway, I wasn't about to let her try to hold my face and shoulders in that way. So I stepped back and headed inside. She yelled at Ewode more, blaming him.
She then said she was leaving, called to her daughter, and started heading toward the road with the baby. Ewode ran after her and they struggled over the baby. He came out of the struggle with her. Jiland cried and punched Ewode in the back a few times. I let them know about the court date. In the two days before the court date, there was lots of continued discussion between Ewode, Jilande, and her mom, but by the time of the court date, Jilande had decided to live with Ewode and she seemed to be less influenced by her mother. She told the judge that she wished to live with Ewode so he did not grant either one custody. He said if they are not to live together, then they should return so that he can grant custody to one party. He confirmed that Jilande's mother has no right over the baby, but the two parents do. He also advised her to not live too closely to her mother or spend too much time at her house if it was affecting her relationship with Ewode. While Ewode was telling the judge what had happened, he was asked why he had lost his first gomero job. He replied by saying that Jilande's mom had called his boss... Jilande cut him off and said, "Because you were with my cousin!" A discussion broke out and the judge asked him to move on but I realized that this brainwashing and intervention was the reason for him losing his first job as well! Then again I can't say I know all of the truths of everything, but it seemed quite fishy to me. And through my observations, it appeared as though Ewode cared for Jilande more than her own mother, but on top of extreme unemployment, especially for Haitians, was facing persecution from her mother, who seemed to have issues of her own.
I/Project Esperanza helped them out with deposit money for a new place (two months rent which was about $40 US) and then helped Ewode out a little to repair a motorcycle so that he could start working as a moto taxi. The owner would let him use it if he would repair it and maintain it. As I had predicted the boss who had asked him to come and work had already given the position to someone else by the time he returned and things were settled. So with the moto, things are looking better for them now and I am hoping that he will be able to generate enough income, Jilande will have patience for that, they will be wise, etc.
He calls me sometimes to update me or just to check in. The other day, before he had the moto, he called me several times before I could call him back. When I did call him back, he let me know that Jilande had been crying all day. She didn't even want to breastfeed the baby. He asked if they could come over tomorrow. I agreed and we set a time.
When I came home around noon, the little family was there waiting. Ewode often is the one holding Angelina and the main reason why I have helped him so much rather than saying, "You left the program where you could've received housing and schooling. Look at Willy. He's learning and helping a lot and not running around and making babies!" is because he has shown quite a lot of love, committment, and effort. I have been concerned about setting the wrong example to someone like Willy and younger boys in the home so that they aren't encouraged to bail out on education early and start families before they are prepared, but have also wanted to give them a chance, as I don't judge him for leaving the home and program when he did, and do believe that babies are gifts from God. We can only work to build a better program for the future where needs are more fully met and boys are more engaged to stay where they are receiving an education until they are good and prepared.
When they visited that day, I talked to Jilande a little about why she was crying, but I knew it was just because she was transitioning. Her mom had apparently been telling her she would give her x, y, z if she would leave Ewode and also had been advising her to go after a "blan" where if she were successful in that, she would've imagined being more pampered. So she was just transitioning and being emotional. We ate lunch and then after lunch, I observed that they were uncomfortable and talked quietly between the two of them. I imagined that they were thinking of whether they should stay or go. When would they come again? How welcome were they?
At this point I decided to ask Ewode if he still played soccer. He said that he sometimes does. I asked if we started Gro Supesta again, would he be involved. He replied with a strong yes. I asked Chinaider, who was sitting nearby, what he thought. He also was excited about that. I asked Jireste what he thought. He was still at first. Ewode said, "She's asking you what you think, man." He gave a stern nod where he hides his smile under a stern face. I am all too used to this face.
So it was decided. Gro Supesta hasn't been fully functioning since the summe/fall of 2011. "Gro" means "big" in Creole. When it comes up, I let them know that they are now old and can play on different teams, but I would like to focus more on Ti Supesta ("ti" means "small") where we invite boys from the streets to get involved so that they have that community, at least. I would like for them to help with Ti Supesta, but don't think Project Esperanza can still be responsible for Gro Supesta. I saw that there was sadness over the end of Supesta, as they saw it. I didn't say it had to end, but felt spread thin to take much responsibility over it. But after going through this battle with Ewode and Jilande and observing them after lunch, after a day where Jilande couldn't stop crying, and knowing how that feels myself as things can be depressing with so many stressors that life with kids and a husband with so little opportunity brings, I realized that it was too early to let go of Gro Supesta. Gro Supesta is a family that all of us need. So it must continue. Viv Supesta!
Thank you for reading, God bless, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year! We ask for prayers for this new year for Ewode, Jilande and their baby Angelina, as well as for our family - Mommy (Caitlin), Daddy (Jireste), Ilayas, and Maraya. And the boys in the home who are out back doing a sewing lesson right now - Willy, Enso, Chinaider, and Junior. Here is a Christmas joy video where Ilayas, Maraya, and Junior share their Christmas joy, despite a lack of presents and tree.