Islor’s Red Jump Rope
Two volunteers send a box from the United States. By the time we get to the airport to pick it up, the rats have chewed through the cardboard and many people have picked through the contents and taken the things they want most. It is discouraging but there remains many treasures including a long red jump rope for Islor.
I find her and with, an odd sense of hope, place the jump rope in her reluctant hands. I wonder, for an instant, if she does not know how to jump rope or if she can not believe that this gift is really for her. I realize that I have never seen children jump roping or playing with any toys at all.
I prepare myself to teach her to jump rope but soon it is in her hands and my instruction not needed.
For some time, I can hear them playing jump rope; the soft thud of barefeet on the cement driveway of the birth center.
I can smell the plantain frying for dinner and know that Mona will add sweet potatoes that we will cover with spicy picklies; a relish of cabbage and hot peppers. It is not too hot out and I bask in the goodness of my life in Haiti.
A woman comes to the gate in early labor and I quickly become lost in the work of checking her in and making sure she has everything she needs to be comfortable in the early hours of birthing. I create systems to prevent complications and to protect all of us from heartbreak. I know I am not just protecting the mother and baby but the community and indeed myself. I go through the familiar steps of allowing the mother to stay even in early labor; knowing if it a long way home and she can rest and be cared for at the center. Too many women who were sent home ended up coming in later to report giving birth on the “road” on the way home or on the way back to the center. I tell her to sleep or walk ; to drink water and help herself to a bucket shower. There is no hurry.
But then Islor is running in with tears in her eyes; frustrated and mad. They have taken her rope for the goats. No matter how I explain and ask that the rope be given back, her rope is never, ever returned. I tell people who are suppose to make sure there is no stealing at the center. But it is only a rope and it is only after all a little girl and an orphaned one at that.
Later Islor is banned from the center for stealing. I never heard exactly what she stole but I know that she knows the red rope was never returned to her ; that the words of adults are crooked and broken.
I watch her on the outside of the wall that surrounds the center. She grows dirty and the dress given to her in January; the one covered with bright red and yellow flowers fades and the shoulder strap rips and hangs. She never wears shoes and is out after dark.
When we have an Earth Day Fete, we buy rope for swings in the field we convert into a park for the day. The rope seems very expensive and by the end of the day each piece has broken and some group of children have landed on the ground. It is re-tied and rehung and eventually taken from the children.
In Portland, I see jump ropes left on sidewalks beside chalk drawings and swings that have hung in my yard through twenty rainy winters still strong and able. I see swings hanging by the trees along the city streets for anyone to stop and use. I wonder who makes the rope in Haiti and why it falls apart so easily. I think about the worth of a piece of rope to people trying to improve their lives.
Islor’s mother died when she was very young; one of many motherless children in Haiti. Like many children who are left without a mother, she is vulnerable and develops the skill she needs to survive. She can climb trees to find food and toughens both her feet and her heart.
I see her standing by the graveyard gate, watching a funeral as the children often do. They listen to the bands or the singing and watch as the casket makes its way down the long road. The gates are open and so it easy to stand in small groups and listen to the music. It is a graveyard for the very rich; people no one ever knows buried in a place they know they will never be buried in.
A few feet away a goat is tied to a tree with her once red jump rope. She looks at me and says in Creole, “ I am hungry.” I give her a hug and pretend I don’t understand. Her body stiffens beneath my hands and she looks away.
And that’s when I decide to help Islor build a small herd of goats.