Sunday, December 13, 2015

Keeping Oliver

Oliver's Dad stares at me with helpless grief.  He says, "The baby cries at night without his mother's milk."   His other children cling to his hands and pants and gather tight around him.

He is not the first father to hold out a motherless baby and plead for help.   He is not the only father, in Haiti, to consider adoption and then keep his baby.  Oliver's father hands the baby to the translator and then takes him back.  This goes on for several days.   The older women do not want him to go but he seems to lean towards letting him be adopted; to offering this one child a better chance.

One evening, he consults with the priest and the priest, who has shown no prior concern for the mother or baby or the community's well being, says the baby should remain in the small hamlet.  And in this way,the fate of baby Oliver is decided.  There is no plan for who will give him formula, watch him while his father farms or how he will go to school.   His chances of living in Haiti, are perhaps 1 in 10  but without a mother, they are far less.  

There is nothing more we can do.  I make lists of supplies for future volunteers to bring but even if they bring emergency formula or liquid vitamins, I am not sure they will make it up the trail to where he lives.   I amanita sure who is paying attention.

I tell the father "rice milk with Hatien rice - not white rice."  I tell him carrot juice at least once a week and many yams and sweet potatoes.   I say, "Not just white rice."   I give him vitamins to mash up into his food.

On the long way back to Portland, I am waiting at a hotel for a ride and meet a man who was adopted as a young child by an Australian family.  He came back to find his mother.  His adoption was not easy.   He has found his birth mother and is building her a new house and trying to help her village.   His children swim in the pool.   I listen to the Australian grandmother tell the story.  It was not easy for him to  know his Hatien mother gave him up for adoption.   He's struggled with his identity and felt he had to find her.  He was not a good argument for adoption.  Some would suggest structured sponsorships so that children can stay with their families but still attend school and get food at a school canteen.  There are other ways, they would argue but none of those existed in the Oliver's small hamlet.  It was adoption or stay where he was.    

I think of my adopted daughter from Cambodia.  Her older sister sent her to the refugee camps on the Thai border.  It was dangerous journey. There were land mines and no one knew what would become of such a small girl.  Most of her large, extended family was dead.  There were no parents and  her sister was just a teenager.  And so she made the journey from Pahl Pot to a refugee camp to my family.  Years later, when we return to Cambodia, I am harsh in my thinking.  I think, "You could have kept her.  What were you thinking sending her through land mines to a refugee camp.  " I do not say this but I think it.   I think she has mistreated my daughter but had she not sent her away, she would not be my daughter.  I believe this daughter dwelled in my heart for all my life; that she was placed in my arms as sure as any child I gave birth to.   She is a grown woman now and can return to Cambodia and see her sister.   Her sister says, "It all turned out" though now I am sure she wishes she had her sister full time in Cambodia.   Perhaps,as she observes, this woman who is too American, she has regrets.  There were years of separation; years with no contact.  Years she did not know if her sister was alive or dead.  

The translator only wants to take baby Oliver to Port-Au-Prince.  It is a few hours away and yet because the priest says no, the father says no and returns to his house with the baby.

When I go up to their house, the father offers me a chair and I sit in the sun. Baby Oliver melts into my arms.   He puts his small head agains my chest and breathes softly.  His hair is red now; the color of malnutrition but he is okay.  I tell him he is going to have to fight to live.  

I tell him, that although the world has some pretty bad "spirits" it also has more good spirits.  I tell him sure there is greed and some downright mean people, but there is more good.  The sun is filtered through the chestnut tree.  It is time to harvest the chestnuts and the men are busy getting them ready for market.   The light falls on his face.   His big, happy. Haitian family is standing around us and everyone's talking and laughing and out on the road farmers are singing as they return from work.

"Hold on" I whisper to Oliver.  "Hold on to all this goodness; to the songs and stories and the people who love you. Hold on."  

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