I was raised with the many stories that comprise what we know collectively as the "American Dream." We grew up watching Cinderella go from washing pots and pans to marrying the prince. We watched transformations after transformation as Beast turned into a prince, pumpkins turned into coaches and mice into coachmen. We were shown the power of love with kisses that could awaken sleeping princesses. We believed that one could move, transform, have dream and have those dreams come true. In the Bible, we were taught that babies left in baskets could be kings and a carpenter could inspire a new religion. We knew the story of the Good Samaritan and of the brother who came home and was forgiven. We knew that people could make mistakes, bad mistakes and find love and redemption. These were the stories we were raised on.
We read Dickens and other English authors and clenched our fists as we hoped they would find their true family and be saved from a life of poverty and get enough food and school. In modern cinema we cheered on a host of female actresses who overcame poverty and oppression. These films won Academy Awards and became a part of our collective conciousness.
Somewhere, inside us, we believed that Cinderella was possible. People without legs could run marathons and the blind could read and the deaf could communicate with beauty and grace.
My country, flawed and imperfect, taught me to believe and even when this basic premise of American society failed, someone would come along and make it right and we would in time see our mistakes even if it was very, very hard and took considerable effort.
Here in Haiti, I believed that Mylove could be that story. She is smart and tough and full of passion. In the few months I have lived here, she had a baby and two weeks later lost her husband to cholera. She lived withe her mother who has not walked in 12 years and her older children. She gets up in the morning tend her garden plot, looks for castor beans to make castor oil and then begins her daily hustle to support her family. In the midst of this, she did not see that her two year old daughter was starving to death. If she left her in the hospital, she had to stay with her,and no one could care for her mother or the children. We could have helped but the grandparents came and took her to the countryside and she died.
Still, Mylove has other children and she can not give up. My friend who volunteers here, decided that she could teach her to pull the files in the morning. We would ourselves pay her a small salary and teach her skill and keep her form doing something not safe and she could bring the baby. She came dressed up ready for work and did the job perfectly. She shone.
After two days, I was told that I had brought great shame to the clinic by having her train there. I was told you have to go to school to learn to pull files one hour a day. I was told that I had disrupted the entire order of Hatien society and that the clinic could be closed because of my actions. What would people think if they someone like Mylove collecting names and pulling charts.
I was told that this was the American Way and not the Hatien Way. We do not do on the job training for clerks ever.
Mylove's body became hard and tense, as it was at the funeral, when we told her she could not train here. Hard and tense and ready for the next blow.
Who stood beside me in her defense as rocks were thrown against a woman who perhaps had done the unthinkable to feed her children ( and perhaps had not ) ? No one but me and the friend who was training her.
I have not recovered from this blow but what I know is that opportunity for everyone is not a fairytale or simply The American Dream. It is a universal right embedded in the dignity of the human spirit. All people can better themselves and all people can lend a helping hand, whenever they possibly can.
And so I hear the words of the little red haired orphan, Annie, singing "Tomorrow, Tomorrow" and I know that I have not given up on Mylove and will think of something, somehow.