Emma came with me out to clinic on today. After lunch we see one of my favorite patients- AnneRose. When we aree done with her therapy, we walk out behind the clinic to where her tent sits. It’s one of many blue-tarped tents with “Samaritan’s Purse” written in white letters all over the tarp. Her tent is in the front row and sticks out because they’ve created a “porch” out front by extending cloth three feet in order to be able to cook underneath it. We walk inside and feel the temperature rise, but today is a cool day. It’s much hotter than I prefer but not unbearable. We walk in past the cloth that hangs as a partition dividing the tent so two families can live there. AnneRose tells me that on her side, she lives with her three younger sisters who go to school. I realize that AnneRose is the source of income for her sisters. She tells me that there are eight people who live in the other half. The tent as a whole is about six feet high and ten feet wide. AnneRose’s side is shorter; about nine feet wide. The other family has the longer half, about 24 feet long. On AnneRose’s side there lay two beds. One bed is made of cement blocks with a few layers of cardboard on top and a sheet. The other, considerably smaller, is a wooden pallet with an air mattress that has no air in it and a sheet. We sit down on the beds. I look around and see a line hanging above me that holds underwear and a few shirts. At the end of the bed are boxes that house their clothes. Sitting out are a few hygiene products- soap, shampoo, deodorant. AnneRose smiles and says, “Li pa bel,” meaning, “it’s not pretty.”
I don’t want to agree with her, but I can’t lie either so I say, “But soon you will get a new home.” I know that two men who come to Lifeline regularly have recently decided to purchase a Lifeline home for AnneRose after seeing the conditions that she lives in. “Even when you get your new home, there will still be a better home waiting for you in heaven.” It’s silent for a few minutes as we just sit there, AnneRose ashamed of her living conditions but glad we were with her, and Emma and I processing the moment of reality we were taking in. There’s only so much we can say with my Creole which is improving, but limited nonetheless. So we begin to talk about something we all understand- pop music: Celine Dion, Maria Carey, Beyonce, and Shakira. We begin to sing “My Heart will Go On.” After that I mention Beyonce and say, “tout fi isi pa gen ménage,” which means, “all girls here don’t have boyfriends”- my best attempt at translating “All the Single Ladies”. We laugh and all put our fists in the middle of the circle and repeat, “tout fi isi pa gen ménage!” “My sister!” AnneRose says grabbing my hand. Then looking at Emma and grabbing her hand says, “My sister!” and pulls us both onto her bed.
We all lay down together with AnneRose in the middle. Still holding our hands, AnneRose brings our hands to her chests and looks at both Emma and I and says, “Mwen remenm ou anpil, anpil, anpil!” (I love you so, so, so much!) I ask her if she sleeps well, fearing I knew the answer. “No,” she said as though it wasn’t a big deal, rather just a fact of life. “Gade” (look) and she pulls up the air mattress and points to all the ants crawling around. She acts out that they bite at night when trying to sleep. I ask about when it rains; she motions that it drips in through the tarp and runs in under the tarp. It’s been rainy this week, and I can tell that that ground inside the tent is damp. We continue to lay there. Part of me hopes that I can fall asleep for a little bit so that I can wake up sore and barely begin to understand what she must feel every night. We have only been laying there for about five minutes, and I can already feel the discomfort of two boards from the pallet and the gap between them. We lay there; I don’t know how long; it seems like ten minutes, but maybe it was only two. I listen to every sound I hear around me in tent city: a metal spoon stirring in a pot, a basketball bouncing, music playing through a speaker far off in the distance, a child crying, feet shuffling on the ground, a goat bleating, a mother speaking words to her child I don’t understand.
Soon this precious six year old face walks in. It’s AnneRose’s little sister. She just arrived home from school. She greets us all with a hug and kiss and then halfway hides behind the cloth partition and strips her dress off so she can put on shorts and a tank top. A few minutes later, another sister of about sixteen years walks in holding a black bag. She too greets Emma and me with a big smile and a hug. She reaches into her bag and pulls out three packages of Rika chocolate sandwich cookies and hands one to each of us. Emma catches the eye of the littlest sister and holds out a cookie to her; she grins big and walks toward Emma and takes the cookie, and then sits down on Emma’s lap. AnneRose says to her, “Chante yon chant.” In her raspy, soft voice, she begins to sing to us. Emma tells me that this is the same girl that she met the first day she came out into tent city to pray with people. She latched onto Emma that day and is loving Emma just as much today. We finish our cookies and tell AnneRose we need to get going. AnneRose gets up with us and walks us out of the tent back toward the gate of the compound. As we step outside the tent, the cooler air and breeze hit us. “Thank you so much, Sister,” I say to AnneRose, “Mwen remenm ou anpil.”
Hours later, I’m laying on my bed in my dorm room. I have two fans blowing on me, a pillow, and a sheet. I’m exhausted but comfortable. I drift off to sleep thinking about AnneRose sleeping on her pallet.