Every morning, I bypass the coffee served on base to go out to the street to buy sugar cane infused, Haitian coffee. (The coffee is so good it deserves a blog post of its own – stay tuned.) One morning, I saw two boys huddled together in a corner. As I approached them, they started to whisper and hide whatever it was they were doing. Given my inquisitive nature (that’s a polite way of saying I’m nosey), I walked over to see what was going on. I saw a lighter in one of the boys’ hands, so I asked why he had a lighter. The boys’ friend, in an attempt to absolve himself of any culpability, told me that Didi was playing with fire. I told Didi not to play with fire because it was dangerous, and tried to confiscate the lighter. The friend said the lighter was his grandmother’s, and that he would get in trouble if he didn’t give it back to her. So I agreed to let him keep it, but told Didi that if I catch him playing with fire again, I’d tell his parents.
With my piping hot cup of coffee in my hands, I started to make my way back to base. I saw the boys still huddled in the corner. When I walked over, I saw a small fire. Didi’s friend told me that he told Didi not to start the fire, but he did it anyway. I reminded him that I said I’d tell his parents if I saw him playing with fire again and asked if he thought I was lying. He smirked and said yes. So I asked where Didi lived. His friend was more than happy to lead the way.
Coffee still in hand, I followed behind Didi’s friend, as he led me through an alleyway, down a dirt path into a woody area and across a creek to Didi’s house. At one point during the walk, Didi pushed his friend into the bushes to prevent him from showing me where he lived. That convinced me that I was doing the right thing by going to talk to his mother.
When we reached Didi’s house, his friend, who apparently lives next door, ran over to his grandmother, gave her the lighter and told her that Didi was playing with fire. I went over to Didi’s mom, who was sitting in a chair washing clothes, and told her that I saw her son playing with fire and asked him not to because it could be dangerous. I also told her about him pushing the other boy into the bushes. She thanked me for telling her, and told Didi to sit down. I’m not sure what happened after that, if she reprimanded him or not, but I felt like I had done my part.
When I finally made it back to base, my once piping hot cup of coffee was lukewarm. As I sat and drank it, I relayed the story to Jessica, and began to wonder out loud if I would have done the same thing in the United States. Probably not. Not because I don’t care about children in the States, but because the attitude of their parents is often quite different. In Leogane, random people are allowed to spank your child if they see them misbehaving. Children get spanked in school. If a child steals, they are essentially shamed, as the whole community reprimands him or her. I could just imagine the reaction of some moms if I showed up to their home unannounced to tell them that their precious little angel was misbehaving. I don’t exactly think I’d be welcomed. But perhaps I’m wrong.
Since that day, I’ve seen Didi several times. At first, he refused to acknowledge me. He’d either put his head down and keep walking when he saw me approaching, or he’d simply ignore me when I greeted him. But lately, he’s been waving and smiling at me again.