There he was, halfway up the road to the new orphanage the first day I returned to Haiti. Jameson has an internal compass that points right to my heart. I wrote about Jameson here on 12/11/2010, and as I prophesized, I ran into him again in Haiti this January.
Jameson was taller and thinner, though still more robust than most of the other children of Haiti. He jumped into my arms and Abby took our picture. He smelled of damp earth, his scalp covered with knots from lice or some other tropical delicacy, his bare feet a Kandinsky collage of cuts and scrapes caked with mud. His eyes, which I recalled as pure white around the iris, evidenced that trace of yellow common among Haitians. But his smile was wide as I remembered. We marched up the hill to the orphanage site, his arms around my neck, his hips and ankles wedged against my waist.
Haiti is full of children. Almost forty percent of the population is under 15, and since many of them are not in school much of the time, they amble everywhere. Although the infant mortality rate has been cut almost in half in the past twenty years, to 48.8 deaths per thousand (135th in the world, the US is 33rd at 6.3 deaths per thousand, per UN World Population Prospects), the healthy fertility rate of 3.17 births per woman will ensure that Haiti is full of children for the foreseeable future.
By most measures the lives of Haitian children are improving. More children are in school, more are immunized (75%), and only a small percentage is officially malnourished. Still, compared to American kids, Haitian children are small for their age, quiet and subdued. I cannot help think is due to a lack of stimulation, both in terms of nutrition and life experience.
Except, of course, Jameson. He has boundless energy and likes to engage / rebuff other children with the frenzy typical of any American school yard schemer. The first day he was filthy with mud, the next day he showed up at the site in clean shorts and a button down shirt. The next day again he was again in a rag, while the fourth day he was shiny clean and proclaimed he was going to the carnival with his parents. Just as his appearance changes, so does his demeanor – solicitous then bullying then taciturn. He doesn’t have a cohort of friends, like many of the children who move as a singular mob, yet other children are keenly aware of him. He is a figure cunning, awe and respect.
There were seven ’blancs’ at the site and within a day each of us had our own cohort of Haitians who trailed after us. Most of the children gravitated to Ross, a recent college graduate with an easy manner and a huge carton of lollipops that he doled out. At 6’-6” he could swing several little Haitians around at once; a sort of human jungle gym. Jameson took whatever lollipops could be had, but he did not trial after Ross. He was ‘my Haitian’, which was fine by me.
Jameson asked me for a drink from my water bottle. Haitians are renowned for their ability to go without water. After the earthquake one survivor was found stuck for 24 days. Most anyone would have died from dehydration by then, but Haitians rarely drink water, never between meals, and have developed camel-like capacity to go without fluids. The water bottles we Americans strap to our belts are just another humorous thing about ‘blancs’.
But Jameson, being bold, asked for a drink and I gave him one. ‘Thank you Jesus!’ he shouted as he gave the bottle back to me, a typical Haitian response to just about anything. I told him Jesus had nothing to do with it and, being a quick study, Jameson never mentioned Jesus to me again.
Once or twice he asked me for money. I told him no and he shrugged. A Haitian who doesn’t at least ask a ‘blanc’ for money isn’t worth his salt, but my rejection didn’t dampen our camaraderie one bit.
I did give Jameson a book. My niece and her toddler boys had sent a crate of books for me to deliver to children in Haiti. Jameson got Ferdinand the Bull, one of their favorites. Through the week I saw different children studying different books. Ownership is a pretty fluid concept. Children pick something up, use it as they will, drop it, someone else picks it up. One might think that with so little of their own, possessions might be precious, but the opposite seems the case. They have nothing and they get by; things that fall their way are welcome but they don’t become attached.
And that is how Jameson is with me. On the last day I gave him a hug and said goodbye. He ran off, waved one last time. I expect I’ll see him the next time I am in Haiti. Hopefully, taller, stronger, and just as mischievous.