Thursday, January 20, 2011

Haiti: My Best Friend Reggie

Without a doubt, the best part of my Haiti trip was meeting my new friend, Ysemaille’s ten-year-old son Reggie. Reggie is the sweetest child imaginable, and smart and thoughtful too. Once when we were riding in the truck together, he noticed me squinting to read my cell phone screen in the glare of the direct sunlight. Without any prompting or fuss, he carefully cupped his hands around the screen so I could see it clearly. How many adults would be so considerate?

Reggie got a Checkers and Tic-Tac-Toe game for Christmas. Checkers is a bit too abstract for him just yet, but he took to Tic-Tac-Toe like a fish to water. We played for hours. Reggie speaks Creole, understands French, and speaks a bit of French unless he’s feeling shy. I speak French and understand (some) Creole. We communicated in a combination of the two languages. The only word of either that you really need to understand the following dialogue is “gagner,” which is the verb “to win:”

Petra (placing my second white piece on the tic-tac-toe board): Mets les trois pieces en ligne: ca fait gagner.
Reggie (putting a black piece in the left corner, blocking my two white pieces): Voila, Reggie blocke, Reggie a gagner?
Petra (placing another white piece in what I have correctly assessed as a futile attempt put three pieces in a line and win the game): Pas encore, mais…
Reggie (putting down a third piece): Ah! Reggie a gagner!
Petra (tickle-tackling Reggie with cuddles, reducing him to delighted giggles): Oui, magnifique! Reggie a gagner perfectment: Formidable. Tu as gagne mon coeur aussi.

Tic-Tac-Toe was only one of the activities we did together, though. We played on the computer when the internet was up, typing out our addresses and sending emails to the USA. He’s fascinated by addresess. Another day I gave him a tour of my tent, and he helped me make my bed. He especially liked my pillow, which I do have to admit is quite nice. Later I asked him to comb my hair (of course, everyone is fascinated by my hair), which he did so gently I was amazed. Then he went to get the hair oil from the bedroom, to comb it through mine as his dad does through his (I thanked him and explained that white people don’t usually use hair oil).

The day we took his stepmom to the airport, he couldn’t believe I wasn’t going too. The whole way to the airport, he kept asking me, “Aux Etates-Unis?” which means “to the United States?” and was his abbreviated way of asking me if I was going home. I told him no, I’m staying with you for a while longer. On receiving this answer he would assume I’d misunderstood the question, wait long enough to be polite, and repeat it.

Perhaps my favorite day with Reggie was the day we drew pictures of our houses: first his own, then mine. We carefully chose the colors and noted all important elements: door, window, porch, chairs, lamp, hill, and sky. As we drew he exclaimed “quell belle maison!” which is “what a beautiful house!” His delight and pride in his house (and his drawing) truly touched my heart. Seeing where Reggie lives, most people in the US would barely see a house much less a beautiful house. But Reggie’s pride is understandable, as his house is undoubtedly the nicest in the neighborhood. We taped our beautiful drawings up around the beautiful house, and sat down for another game of Tic-Tac-Toe.

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