On Saturday mornings, you can usually find me at Plaza Playtime – a weekly organized playtime for local children that includes activities such as coloring, jump rope, chalk drawing, and singing and dancing. Despite the stress and chaos that comes along with hosting as many as 40 kids, it’s the highlight of my week. Over the last few months, I’ve gotten to know many of the “regulars,” including the troublemakers. One of those so-called troublemakers is Johnny.
Whenever the children would sit down at a table to either draw or color, Johnny would take a crayon and draw a line through the pictures of the youngest children while saying, “Li pa bon.” It’s not good. This would immediately result in tears, followed by me shouting at Johnny “Pa fè sa ankò. Si ou fè sa ankò, map mete w deyò.” Don’t do that again. If you do it again, I’ll put you out. Of course, he’d do it again, and of course, I’d escort him off the premises (after having to chase him down first). Every time this occurred (about three weeks in a row), I thought about having Johnny “banned” from Plaza Playtime out of sheer annoyance. But something about his actions told me that perhaps he was acting out because he needed attention.
One Saturday, when Johnny was misbehaving yet again, I asked him to leave. As usual, prior to asking him to leave, I gave him a couple of chances to redeem himself. But he continued to misbehave, so I asked him to go. This time I didn’t feel like chasing him around, so I just stood in one spot and asked him to leave. Over and over again. Just as I was about to ask a local volunteer to escort him off the premises (just to make sure he understood and couldn’t feign ignorance because my Creole isn’t that good), Johnny raised a sling shot in my direction and began to make threatening motions with it. A few of the other kids saw this, and they immediately ran in his direction and said, “Ou fou? Pa tire Christa.” Are you crazy? Don’t shoot Christa. In a matter of seconds, nearly all the children at Plaza Playtime were running after Johnny, chasing him off the premises.
A couple of days later, I saw Johnny walking along Rue Belval. When I said good morning to him, he walked past me and didn’t say anything. This happened several times. Then one Saturday, Johnny returned to Plaza Playtime, and of course he misbehaved again. This time, there was an incident over a toy gun. I finally decided to get to the bottom of things, and asked Johnny a little bit about his home life. He told me that his mother died and he lives with his father. He doesn’t go to school because his father doesn’t work, so he can’t afford the tuition, uniform and books. He then asked if I could pay for him to go to school because he’d like to go. Given my financial situation, I had to tell him no. He lowered his head and said okay.
After that brief conversation with Johnny, I hoped that maybe we could move forward in a positive direction. But still, whenever I would see him on the streets of Leogane, he wouldn’t speak to me. Then finally one Saturday, he returned to Plaza Playtime. I was genuinely happy to see him, and told him that. He smiled and said that he was happy to see me too. I put my arm around his shoulder and asked him what he wanted to do, and he said he wanted to play with a yo-yo. So I gave him one and he just stood near me and played with it.
I didn’t have any problems out of Johnny that day. Not one. And I haven’t since then. I’m not sure what exactly caused the change in his behavior. I’d like to think that I had something to do with it, but it doesn’t really matter if I did or not. I’m just glad that he seems to have turned a corner. Now, I just need to get him into school.