I got to participate in a pretty intense conversation the other day. Sarah has a visitor, Marita, staying with us for about a week right now. She's half Canadian and half Haitian, and has spent about 12 months total in Haiti over the last couple of years. She sounds pretty fluent in Creole, which was partly what allowed for this conversation to come about. A teenage girl who occasionally comes by Sarah's place was hanging out there with just me and Marita (this is Marita's first night joining our little community). Marita shared some info and light stories about her parents and where they live, and suddenly this teenage girl started to open up about all the horrors she's suffered in her life. It seems like she saw a chance for some long-needed, open sharing, and maybe it was made easier by the fact that she doesn't really know Marita or myself. She spoke in Creole, of which I could only catch bits or "jists," but Marita generously translated as this girl told her story. Let's call her Sally, just for the sake of simplicity and anonymity.
Sally's mother and her uncle died when she was 10 years old, both killed by their brother. (It came out later that Sally's other uncle used voodoo magic to kill his siblings, so I'm not sure exactly what that means. He's not an axe murderer, though, if that's what you were thinking.) I don't remember how her father died, but it sounded like he was already out of the picture long before that. Apparently, this evil uncle of Sally's is obsessed with getting ahead in the world, and full of greed, so when Sally's generous mother kept giving things to those in need and helping others, he felt that she needed to be eliminated...
Sally then moved in with her cousin in Port Au Prince, who was about 30 years old and married with 4 young kids. She lived with them for a couple years, and was violently violated and raped by her older cousin when she was 12 or 13. It wasn't clear to me whether this was happening during much of the time that she was there, or just right before she left. The raping left her pregnant with her cousin's/rapist's baby (at 12 or 13 years old), so she fled and returned to Jacmel where her sister lives. At some point, thank goodness, she found Sarah (or Sarah found her), and started to get some care for the pregnancy. Her sister seemed to have decided for her (although she was quietly compliant) that the baby would be given up for adoption, but it eventually became clear to Sarah that Sally wanted to keep her baby. Olive Tree Projects collectively made a plan with her that would help her take care of this baby, generously offering time and resources. When the time came to deliver, the baby was born but its skull was too soft and wasn't fully formed - it was essentially already a vegetable by the time it was born. They were unable to save the baby, other than keeping its heart beating and lungs breathing long enough for Sally to hold it for a few minutes.
You think enough awful, traumatizing things have happened to Sally yet? (I struggled to hold back angry and sorrowful tears as I heard this long tale unfold.) Well... she said that she has been violated a few more times, and a couple of men have tried to rape her. From how she told the story, it's clear that she (rather necessarily) has been growing up into what will be a very smart, strong woman, after going through everything she has suffered and survived. It sounds like the one thing that makes her the most sad, that hurts her the most, and to which she links the start of this unending awfulness, is when her mother pass away. She said that sometimes, she just feels so angry and hurt that she wants to end it all, or walk into the street and stop looking at the cars... This comment concerned me, and I let Sarah know just in case, but from everything else she said and how she said it, it sounds more like she's going to somehow come out of this stronger and smarter than many women. I have a lot of hope for this girl, and I wish with all my heart that she can begin to love and value herself again. She was showing us photos from a few years ago, before she was raped, and said that she used to be so pretty. Now, she said, she's fat and ugly. But she just doesn't yet see that she's a lovely, beautiful, strong, intelligent, talented, young woman!
I'm so glad she is involved with Sarah and the people of OTP, because it seems to give her a safe space that she might not otherwise have. Her sister doesn't seem to invested in helping her out much, and her uncle has done nothing for her (other than take her on a tour of his HUGE house without offering her a place to stay when she needed one). I doubt Sally would want to spend much time with the man she believes killed her mother, anyway.
After we heard this long, winding, twisted tale, Marita and I thanked Sally for sharing with us and tried to lift her spirit up. I think she'll be ok, but it really hurts me to know that these kinds of stories are anything but rare, both in Haiti and throughout the world.