I wake up in Pedernales, held together by bare threads. I am both repulsed by the air-conditioning, and grateful for it. My body doesn’t take well to the heat. I am tired in ways that more sleep won’t cure, and the sun is so brilliant outside it is impossible to sleep any more. With all that aside, we still have to cross the border and be in Sadhana Forest Haiti before it reaches 4pm.
Our goal is to cross the border by 2pm. I have a difficult time comprehending, like my brain has shutdown from the sensory overload while still swimming in it. So, when a young boy of about eleven years age approaches us as we're about to embark on our final errand-run before crossing the border, my mind was barely processing .
The boy speaks in Spanish. I don't understand everything he says, but from what I gather, he is from Port au Prince. His parents were killed in the earthquake. His grandmother’s legs were crushed under fallen rubble – he saw many people lose their limbs. He says that his brother was without an arm, that he lost his brothers along the way, that he sleeps on the beach where the mosquitos find him. He shows me his arm, there isn’t an inch of his body that isn’t covered in dried up mosquito bites. His eyes, lost and hurting, speak louder than his words, and I feel it from deep within.
I listen intently, he talks quite slowly with the raw edges of emotion. With my awakening vocabulary on-call, I scramble for the right words to say to him. I ask about his hand, which is bandaged. He says he got hurt protecting a girl from a group of guys.
I’m speechless. Rob calls my attention, “What is he saying?”… “We really don’t have time, we have to keep going.” My brain is slow and my heart is a mess. Rob reaches in his pocket and gives me some pesos to give to the boy who pushes his hand out to refuse. The boy repeats that he gets eaten by mosquitos on the beach. I ask if he’s hungry, he nods just slightly. I tell him…. I can’t tell him what I want to.
I want to give him a bottle of bug spray, but the only bug spray we could offer him, without putting ourselves at risk, is full of D.E.E.T. and I don't feel comfortable handing off poison. I want to give him some food, and let him feel safe somewhere where he can sleep with a mattress and pillows under a roof, but I feel as helpless as he does. He stands there like gravity, he doesn’t want to be touched and he doesn’t want to be moved. He just tugs at his shirt and looks down. So I tell him it is possible, it is possible. Because that’s the only thing I know how to say in Kreole.
As we walk on, I remember Rob saying that we will probably be seeing a lot more like this, and we’ll have to be tough because we can’t help everyone, even though we may want to.
To be sure, I am not the most reasonable person, and sometimes I resent even my own leadership. Perhaps it is the anarchist in me. In the tropical sunshine, Rob and I sit on the roadside and share a mango, the messiest food we could have chosen. I am miserable in the heat –frustrated for not knowing how to work with the boy’s needs, nor how to communicate my compassion. What was I expecting? I’m at a loss, and caught between moral and ethical decisions that I hadn’t fully considered theoretically. So in the moment, I fester and bruise from the inside.