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Tears in the Dust
Tears in the Dust
Blink. Blink. Blink. Eyes sting with smoke.
Inhale. Lungs fill with the fibres of decaying flesh and disease.
Listen. Ears ring, noise pounds into my skull like a drum. It is deep, it pounds, pounds, pounds, it never stops.
I walk, treading the callous, crumbled roads, going nowhere. My feet are bleeding, yet I am numb to the pain. I am used to it. The paving is wounded with wide and hollow gashes, the old smoothness shattered. The tarmac is hot, heated by the blazing furnace of the sun, which is just sitting, watching us. It is staring at me, its powerful rays embracing my raw skin, the inflicting burns lashing against my bare shoulders.
I wear a dress of simple black; it is my only dress. My feet bare the elements, naked. I carry a cloth bag, containing the little I own: my sandals, half a stale loaf, a few sentimental possessions, and the tools of my trade.
I clutch in my hand a woven bracelet, clinking with charms that protect me. It is red and blue, the colours of my country. I peel my fingers away until the metal charms are radiating like mirrors. I stare for a few moments, re-affirm my grasp, and pray, silently and desperately.
I close my eyes and can see the rubble, the destruction and the desolation. A flashback sends blood-curdling terror hurtling through my mind and body, pricking angry, frightened tears.
I feel the sheer violence of the thuddering ground, the petrified adrenaline shooting through my veins. I see my three sisters, flailing, screaming, terrified, pleading, ‘Bondye Ede m' nou! God help us!’ I see my father panicking, clutching my little brother Eliysha; shielding him from the debris pouring dryness and pain on our heads. The roof of our little home caves completely, and the walls collapse, disintegrating, crushing each member of my family; killing them all. Every member except me - I survive! Somehow, I’m alive! I bear only a slash to my arm and bruises to my body.
I do not attempt to drag the corpses of my family from the wreckage, for they have been completely smashed; every bone in each of their bodies is surely broken. Blood has formed a pure, silky scarlet patch around each of the bodies, where their limbs have been torn away and their faces mutilated unrecognizably. I cannot bring myself to look anymore upon this unjust horror.
The whole scene before my eyes begs only one question. It is a simple, effortless question, though it is one that so many ponder, and yet have been unable to answer.
My name is Dadou Nene, and today I am wandering the streets of Haiti, alone and bereft. I have truly lost everything: my family, my home, my innocence, my dignity. Nobody can truly understand my pain unless they have been through such devastation, suffering and violation.
Can you know what it is like, to have no real home, sleeping only in temporary shelters, suffering the indignity of assault and rape? Can you really know what it is like, to live for four days with only bread-crumbs in the pit of your shrinking belly? Can you imagine how I feel, working endlessly at petty jobs to scavenge a few worthless notes in the blistering heat from dawn until dusk? Do you really know what it is like, to only drink disgusting soiled brown water from a ditch on the roadside? Can you really understand how I feel, when sometimes I have to sleep the nights on street-corners fearing for my life as armed men roam in gangs?
I open my eyes, locate a patch of shade, and sit beneath it, taking a long, deep drink of water from my plastic flask. I lower it from my thirsting lips, and scan the swirling scene of colour before my eyes. I see so many people, a haze of chaos. Little children carrying bags of rice and dried beans under their arms, women with babies slung around their backs in cloth slings struggling along with slopping pales of water; market-traders selling raw meats buzzing with black flies; skinny young boys and girls chasing flea-ridden mutts, giggling with excitement, exhausted labourers toiling under the oppressive heat, hauling piles of debris to clear the streets. Realistically, it will take decades, at this lethargic pace, to clear our roads completely of the ruins of the earthquake and its aftershocks.
With the clearing of the wreckage and waste slowly more bodies are being unearthed, imagine, a year has gone by and still the workers are locating even more crushed victims of the earthquake. Every day I see wailing relatives tearing out their hair as they are enlightened to the condition of their separated family members. All grieve in different ways. Some accept the closure, as I have done with difficulty. I have witnessed others claw at their flesh and sink to their knees in the dirt and beat the ground in rage, rage which quickly dissolves into the flooding of tears. It used to make me feel so sad, now I think my heart has hardened like stone, for I see such happenings as the norm.
My chest tightens as I absorb air into my lungs, air that is filled with poisoning smoke and dust. I bend my head between my knees but with great difficulty because my belly feels so empty with hunger yet so full and heavy with child. I do not know who fathered my unborn baby, for countless times men have forced themselves upon me. I worry about how I will deliver my child, the hospitals are full and the camp workers too busy with the victims of the Cholera outbreak to aid me in the birth my baby.
I rent a single mattress and blanket - well I have been doing so for the past fortnight - in a cramped hostel room which I share with an older, reservedly private woman twice my age. Her name is Johanna, and she has thick, black braids and a bitter tongue. She has asked passively the date when my time is to arrive, I say I do not know, she grunts, stares at me as though I am a whore, and returns to dealing with her own business. I only pray that she will help me and my child when I am ready to birth.
My wretched room lurks with scrawling cockroaches. The tiny creatures make such noise during the night, it is unbearably annoying. Johanna will rise gruffly from her mattress, stamp the filthy little beasts with the sole of her calloused foot, curse, and will flick the juices of its blood off her foot like dirt of the road. I shudder; my baby too shudders painfully in harmony with my fear. I dislike the humidity of the night, for my sweating and sickness becomes utterly intolerable. I lie awake, for the pleasantness of sleep often eludes me.
The street suddenly becomes quiet, deathly silent, all I can hear is the awkward shifting and whispers of chatter. A high-pitched screaming has frozen every single individual’s blood along with their limbs. It seems to have originated from further up the street. I bring my head up sharply, and follow the startled gazes of every man and woman and child, just standing, waiting, their bodies motionless. Soon the silence snaps, and the shuffling of feet echo as the crowd parts respectfully and miserably into two separate lanes. The middle of the road is now clear, desolate, and cold. A bier, carrying the hefty, lifeless carcass of an older man, perhaps in his forties, is being slowly manoeuvred by two white aid workers. Trailing behind is most probably his wife, dragging herself along the road, scarlet blood trickles from her knees and elbows which have been cut open by the rough ground. Tears stream her face uncontrollably, her throaty howls are haunting ones of pure sorrow and helplessness. Four young children creep silently behind their grieving mother, petrified and dumbly astounded. My soul reaches out to them, their father and husband has evidently been a victim to the Cholera sickness; their source of income has gone with him. Mutterings return to the mouths of the Haitians, quickly they re-capture their rhythm, and once again the street regains its craze of noise and chaos.
I try to forget what I have just witnessed, though another permanent scar has been inflicted on my brain adding to the many already branded there, so this will make little difference.
I sigh, unzip the folds of my cloth bag, and set out my tools beside me: a fork-tongued hair comb, a pouch of fine elastic bands and pretty, gold patterned beads, and a small tonic bottle filled with natural oil. I holler in my loudest voice, ‘Cheve trese! Braids cheve Nan tèt! Vini pou bon biznis; Braids! Hair Braids! Come for good business!’ My yells fade into the natural commotion of the street flooded with the pounding of footsteps.
I kneel carefully, pain writhing through my stomach as I arch my back. A plump, middle-aged woman with a beaming smile and sweat-glistening cheeks squats nimbly in front of me. I ask her what she wants, she tells me to surprise her, she jokes, says that anything will do as long as her hair is neat and tidy. She makes a few tedious comments, occasionally inquires of me, but otherwise is politely silent as I begin to braid. I have always thrived when it comes to dressing hair, for it is a skill that serves me well as employment.
I carefully rub the slick lotion into the woman’s scalp, and rub the oil through the roots and mid-length strands of woolly black hair. I comb the knots from her dishevelled blunt tresses, ensuring I remove the dead lice and flakes of skin. I section the greasy hair with my fingers, and I begin to braid, the sun shifting the cool shade off my body, and shining dazzlingly bright upon my head and back.
I relax, murmur a melody to myself, and feel the pleasurable radiance of heat upon the exposed flesh of my neck.
Suddenly I jolt violently, excruciating pain grips my abdomen. I scream hysterically, unaware of the presence of concerned individuals gathering around like a pack of wolves surrounding a weak little sheep. Tears stream my cheeks as though floodgates have released torrents of water.
My time has come.
Perhaps this new life will bring new hope.