Wrapping up my last conference of the week, I mentioned to my student’s mom that this afternoon he had been showing his friends where Haiti was on the map.
Overhearing this, I had mentioned to him that one of the teachers that he sees around the school is married to a man who was born in Haiti. His face had lit up when I told him this. At the end of the day he had gone right up to this teacher, but then stopped short, looking at her, and said incredulously, “You’re Haitian?”
“No,” she had said, “but my husband is.” A lengthy conversation followed…well, as lengthy as you can have when it’s Friday afternoon and people are scurrying for their buses. I had been listening in, so I overheard my student drop this little throwaway as he headed out the door, “One time, when I visited, I was in an earthquake.”
Several hours later, as I met with his mom, we had talked a lot about her dreams for her son, about how she hoped that he would take his opportunity in this country and work hard to make the most of it. “I came here, and I was poor. I did what I could. I work hard, but I’m just trying to set things up for my kids. I’m just makin’ it, barely, but my kids, they can really make it. They can go to college. They can become somebody.”
I could hear her determination. At the same time, though, there was worry. “But we got no safety net. These other kids, they lose their parent, they got money to get by. If I die, I got no savings. My kids, they’re on their own. That’s why I tell them they’ve got to work hard.” I felt the urgency. Her world was fragile, and she worried that her son didn’t see that. Her son thought he was just as secure as his classmates. She thought he took some things for granted that hadn’t been granted at all.
At the end of the conference I asked about his earthquake comment. “Was it the big earthquake?”
“Oh yes. Yes it was. He was there with my mother. I was back here. He went there and he was in a big brick house, where some of my family lives. He was one year old. That day he was with a young woman. She was working for the family. She was watching him when the ground started to shake. She panicked. She got so scared she ran out of the house. She left my baby inside. Then another young girl…she was just a girl…I still see her…we try to take care of her…she realized my baby was in the house. She ran into the house…into the house…and my boy, he was in his chair, and he was like this…he’s so smart. He was one year old and he was like this,” she motions to show how he leaned forward, balancing in his chair and holding onto the front rim of the table part to keep his balance. “He was like that, when the girl came in and pick him up. She ran out of the house. The house didn’t fall down, but the wall next to it, the big brick wall between the two houses, it crumbled.”
She stops and takes a breath. “She was so brave. I’ll never be able to thank her enough.”
I’m nearly speechless. “So, were you able to get in touch with your mother?”
“No. Not for three days. I tried and tried. I was going out of my mind. His father, too. We were crazy, we were so scared. Finally, we got a call from my mother saying they were all okay. Well, not all. My mother, she lost her best friend in her whole life. Their whole family, nine people. They all died. My mom, when we finally see her, she looked like a skeleton. Her face was so sad.”
“How long did it take for them to get out?”
“Oh, long time. The army, the U.S. Army flew him home. I heard that was happening. I said to my mom, you go to the army. You tell them that my baby was born in the U.S. He’s American. And that worked. They put them on a plane, a cargo plane, and they fly him home.”
“Wow,” I say, “He was a survivor when he was only one.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” she says, “I tell him God saved him for a reason. That’s why he has to make something of himself. He has to do something great.”
I have to believe he will.