Our next three days in the villages surrounding Mombin Crochu gave us all so much to think about…
In Logat, Elio opened his home to host one of our workshops. Made of hardened mud, painted white, with bright blue doors and hung with sheer blue curtains, the home was obviously well cared for.
Sardined tightly inside, 18 of us teetered on small wooden chairs with woven seats. The floor was hard-packed dirt. As the voice of the group rose with an opening hymn, I watched a chameleon walk across a rafter above me. He stopped mid-stride and his throat bubble out, like he was breathing deep, preparing to sing along.
Children peeked around corners, giggling and watching what we were doing. Once they saw my camera, everyone wanted their photo taken. They were delighted to see themselves in the small viewing window. Most have never seen a photo of themselves.
They do not know how beautiful they are.
I hope to find a sponsor when I get home – someone or a business that will finance the printing of these photos and ship them back to AMDH for distribution in the communities. (Anyone with any contacts? Ideas??)
Rather than have us use the outhouse, Elio offered his bedroom and chamber pot to us female ‘blans’. His bed was neatly made, the pillowcase pressed, clothes hung around the walls. It felt like an invasion of his privacy, but he seemed proud to offer, even insisting on emptying the pot for us. When Liz objected, he said, “You are guest in my home, this is what I do for you.”
During the workshop, when I asked if there were any questions, one man looked me directly in the eye and said, “Are you coming back? Can you come back and give us more training?”
What could I answer? My heart crunched. “I don’t know.”
(This became a common request…made at every single workshop to come.)
At the end of the afternoon, one man prayed, “Thank you, God for this beautiful workshop. May we continue to write our stories so that our children’s children will know who we were and what we did on this earth.”
This has turned out beyond our wildest expectations. Every group has a different dynamic, and certainly not everyone takes to the writing, but in each group are a few that work so hard to put their words on paper; and most seem elated and empowered by the opportunity to speak their stories and words out loud.
And they see how writing can give them something proud to hang on to. How their own words can be a gift to those who come after them.
I think this is extraordinary. Day after day, I struggle with it, feeling totally ineffectual and just hoping that what comes out of my mouth is useful. And day after day, I hear simple words that amaze me.
In Mombin Crochu, a tiny woman of about my age dressed in a smart black dress and hat, stood and spoke with harsh vibrancy about the mistreatment of women…about their hard lives and what they sacrifice for their families. “God did not mean women to endure this misery,” she said. Her voice was strong, her presence imposing. She was a natural orator. She spoke her words like poetry. When she wrote of her mother’s death, she had to stop, the tears began flowing.
I saw in her a woman who could move mountains, who could be an advocate for women, who could possibly gather the stories of women. (She’s the lady on the left, below.)
As the day went on, when I asked them to write about dreams, this is what they wrote:
“I dream of giving my mother a concrete house, so she can be happy.”
“I dream of having a bank account.”
“I have a business idea. I want to buy a donkey so I can start my own business.”
A serious young man who never smiled wrote that his dream was to become doctor, so he could help heal people in his community.
A tall lanky farmer – an older man – spoke of his dream to send his children to school, but he didn’t know how he could ever make the extra money it required in his lifetime.
Another work-weary farmer who quietly and painstaking wrote his few words with the utmost care spoke of a similar dream and how to do so would put a ‘song in his heart.’ By the end of the workshop, he had fallen asleep. I wondered what time he had awoken that morning; how far he’d walked to be here with us…what he would think about as he made his long walk home.
When he left, I reached out to shake his hand, “Mwen konten wey ou.”
I am so happy to meet you.