As he handed me back the passport, un-stamped, my body and mind went through total cognitive dissonance. “I have to prove to him that I am Haitian” I thought to myself as tears slowly rolled down my cheek.
Living on the other side of the island for over 20 years did not help the fact that my creole was now a third language to be learned. The little creole I learned, I acquired from the handyman who worked at my house as a child.
I learned Spanish fluently, and since the other side of the island is Spanish, I was surrounded by it and therefore, did not lose it.
Haitian Creole on the other hand was a completely different story.
I remember sitting in a truck when I was around 4 years old. I bumped up and down as the dirt road windy over the hills and mountains as I approached my new home in Haiti-the home away from the only home I knew, the orphanage. I could only speak Creole then. I had no English, no Spanish…just utterances of Creole.
I was four years old but yet, walking had yet to be part of my everyday life. Later, after going back and researching my orphanage and speaking with people who cared for me, and knew of me, I was told that there was a handful of children who rarely saw the light of day. They were stuffed into a small dark room with no more than 1 meal per day, and no place to use the bathroom. I was part of that handful. And this is why the “normal” growth process did not apply to me-or none of the other abandoned children in the small dark room.
“If I don’t speak to the officer at the counter, he won’t let me into Haiti, and I NEED to be there. My lawyer is waiting for me” I said to the man who accompanied me back to the counter after being denied entrance once.
“Mwe pa pale Creole anpil pase que mwe te crie lote bwa”. That is what I could muster up. My creole was nowhere near good or satisfactory, but that seemed to be enough to let me in. I was hoping……
I asked my readers to answer the following questions to get an idea of where they are on the adoption journey. I figured it would not be fair to get info from you only, so I went ahead and answered the questions too…because I too am in the process of adoption.
1. Why am I adopting?
I want to be able to travel with my daughter. She has been living with me for the past 8 years and though I have legal guardianship of her, it is not enough in the eyes of the US laws to travel. So adopting her opens the world to her.
2. Who am I adopting? My daughter came to me at the age of 4. Her mother was desperate and left two children at my door step. I cared for the two kids for about 4 months when I realized that I no longer had the funds to raise both of them. At the time I was fostering 2 other children too. The youngest one returned to her biological mother but the older one refused to go. She had a strong temperament. In that instance I had to make a life long and life-changing decision. If the older one was to stay with me, it would be a forever thing, there is no “going” back. She is young enough for me to make a huge impression on her life. I told her several times that she needed to go back to her mother. She cried and cried and cried, knowing that she would go home to no electricity, a one room house (everything in one room) and dirty drinking water. She told me she did not want to go. I gave her a few days to think it over. Yes, at 4 you wouldn’t think that decisions like that can be made by a child but she surprised me. 8 years later, she is now 12 and is not the same person I took in at 4. I am adopting a 12 year old Haitian girl.
3.What do I hope will occur once I adopt? Once I adopt I will carrying with what my life has been like with her. Since she has already been with me, I am not really waiting for her to “come home to me”, I am just waiting to be able to show her more of the world.
4.What are my plans for family blending? For us, family blending happened the minute she was dropped off at my house with her little sister. I had two older children, a seven year old and a twelve year old. I had been raising both those children since real young and my daughter was entering into a new world with a lot of new wonders. She spoke the Spanish language as did my other two children so adjusting culture/language-wise was not hard. Learning to speak English came three years later. She listened for the first three years and then one day, just opened her mouth and started speaking it. If you were to speak with her today, you would think she was African American. Blending was a bit more simple but there still were many issues-bed wetting, using the toilet in places other than the toilet, hitting, scratching.., crying. Hiding food, sneaking food. Eating so much that she would throw up minutes later. It took some times to work with her on these issues. Once she realized that there will ALWAYS be enough food, those issues began to clear up. She was also fascinated with electricity 🙂
5. How do I keep my Haitian child’s Heritage and traditions alive? To be honest, this is the toughest question I will probably ever have to answer. Being Haitian myself, it is quite embarrassing to think that I was not able to pass down my own heritage to my Haitian kids. Then, I realized that it is not about fault. It is about what do I do from here on out? So I got to thinking. I hired a Haitian woman (several years ago) to watch my kids while I was at work, and once they got home from School. That way they would hear haitian. The issue here was that living on the other side of the island, everyone speaks spanish so even that plan didn’t work out too well. Then as my daughter got older, I offered to pay the lady I hired more money if she would ONLY speak haitian creole to her. That didn’t work either because by then (child was about 8) she had already lost all creole. As a black Haitian(raised by Americans), I did not speak creole to my children because I myself was not confident enough. I try to keep the heritage alive by reminding her who she is, how beautiful it is to be black and haitian. I also get super excited when she has culture events at school and we get to go all “haitian” on her classmates. I’m not quite sure what that even entails. You have to understand the history of haiti and its neighbor to fully understand why Haitian kids deny their heritage, adopted or not. I didn’t want that to start to happen to my daughter but believe it or not, it did begin to happen….and it was scary. It took me back to when I was 8 years old.
6. Can I help them maintain their Creole (for kids 5+) or can I teach them Creole (for babies+) Helping my daughter maintain creole will be hard but I have made steps towards it. For us, we both study french. We use Duolingo.com and she does a two lessons a week on the weekends and when she is on holiday, she does a lesson a day. She enjoys it but because she is not hearing it spoken, she is not really picking it up as much as I would like her to. Soon we will move to the Center of the country and I am hoping that i can enroll her in a French/Creole public school where she will be surrounded by children of her color, nationality and birth language.
If you have not answered some of these questions publicly or emotionally, I feel it is important to at some point. I will continue with my story on the next post! Thanks for reading!!