Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sheets and Plywood

Walking in, I pass two grandmothers washing clothes and two preteen boys simply sitting. The group of men are assembled to the left, over a dozen, immediately their attention is on me. They stand up and start salivating, starving beasts. I glaze over them until my eyes meet one, a smooth-skinned glorious lady sitting by the column. My face and hers rejoice, mine with a sense of relief. I feel safer with them around. This is their home more than mine and they know the norms, the language, and who to trust. I go directly towards her and sit in front of her, with our knees interlocked closing the conversation for us.
As we begin our conversation they begin to surround us, attempting to gain strength with their numbers and their size. As we sit, they stand, closer and closer, interrupting our conversation with attempts to speak Spanish, French, English, and insulting me in Kreyol. The “owner,” not the pimp (the ladies pay rent and keep all their earnings), pushes my shoulder, I continue my conversation with the magnificent being in front of my eyes. The man raises his voice and pushes my shoulder again. Lourdette raises her eyes, with them asking me to acknowledge him, I look up and the man demands something in Kreyol, although I imagine his command I tell him I do not understand. Another yells, “Que le dez un beso!” The owner puckers his lips. I turn my head and continue to converse with Lourdette. The men feel the loss of power and we can sense their irritation rising. The owner places a chair to my right and eyes fix on me. The man tells Lourdette that he wants to be part of the conversation; I look at him and tell him that I came to visit the “madames.” The men start saying loudly, “Sorti blon,” “leave white one, you don’t belong here.”
Lourdette smiles at me and invites me to her home. We stand up and walk through the men to a tin room with one hallway with doors with letters painted on them. Plywood divides the room into six sections big enough for crib mattress and a tiny night table. Lourdette unveils the sheet used as a door to reveal her home. Hers is the nook farthest from the entrance (more importantly, exit) in the right corner. As we walk in men enter and block the door. We continue and start our conversation in whispers. She shows me the condoms we gave them earlier and opens one and grabs a candle. She demonstrates while explaining in Kreyol that if they do not put on a condom the men have to leave. I ask her if they respect the rule and she responds yes adamantly. She goes on to tell me about her seven year-old daughter who lives with her aunt to whom Lourdette sends money to maintain her. Her daughter is preparing for her first communion, to be held on the 19th of May. Curious to know if she still receives communion I inquire, she nods, my smile grows. “It gives my spirit strength,” she replies. A handful of rocks fly over us, landing on the sheets that protect us. She yells at them to stop and I continue the conversation keeping my eyes tenderly in her gaze.
The men’s aggravation grows with the continuous lack of attention. Their means of intimidation begins to have its affects on me, but I refuse to show it. I am attentive to what I can use to defend ourselves since there is no means to escape. She tells me about her family and how she misses her grandmother. She’s been working in the club since February 7th, but has been maintaining her family financially for a year outside of the house, in the same industry. In the middle of our conversation she leans over and kisses my cheeks and hugs me with bliss. I am her guest. This repeats itself as stories are shared and our legs interlocked on the small mattress. The second batch of rocks cascades over the sheets. I look at her and listen to her telling them to stop. The oppression before my eyes nauseates me. “Do they scare you?” I ask. “Non,” she replies devoid of the smile I have grown accustomed to. Her assertion of courage strengthens me.
Less than a minute later she invites me to visit Ingrid’s home. Ingrid, the lead prostitute, demands respect from all, carrying herself with elegance with her twisted natural hair and her thirty-two years. Not knowing whether this is Lourdette’s attempt to protect me or if she simply wants to visit Ingrid, I agree. We leave the sheets and plywood to themselves, walking through the hallway towards the light. Outside I pay attention to a 12 year-old boy washing his feet and ignore the men roaring for le blon to leave, we walk passed them towards the right of a smaller tin structure separated in three with a letter accompanying each door. When we arrive to the last door Lourdette calls Ingrid on her cell phone to make sure she is not working. With only tin and plywood dividing us I hear Ingrid’s response, “I’m sleeping, come back later.” I ask Lourdette if she wants to continue talking, she smiled and says, “Allez. No, go, come back later.” “What time?” “Four.” I kiss her plump cheeks and turn around.
Not acknowledging the men, I pass the 12 year old boy and the two grandmothers still washing clothes as the two preteen boys simply sit. Leaving the steel doors I ask myself if my response to the salivating men was too passive or if it was more effective than assertively addressing them. Although they oppress and their acts disgust me, I know they starve for Love, of whom I am called to be a vessel of. I pray for wisdom and will be back at four.
O Love, that You may bless me indeed
and enlarge my territory,
that Your hand be with me,
keep me from evil,
and that I may not cause pain.
With you,


  1. I understand they are beloved children of God, the women and the men, yet, I fear for your safety. I wonder why Zaloa and the sisters don't go with you. There is power in a group. I continue my prayers for all of you. I watched a documentary about an orphanage in Haiti and I kept hoping to see you. God bless. Happy mother's day. Neida

  2. Luisely, You had a lot of courage to go by yourself and you also have a very good guardian angel! I hope that you always have a "back-up" plan when you are in an environment that is not safe. Do you carry a means of self-protection such as mace? Maybe, next time Zaloa will go also. I keep you and your work in my prayers. God bless and much love to you and the ones you serve.

  3. The amount of protection that was afforded to you on this day alone is mind-blowing. Your faith is awe-inspiring and your courage is staggering. I am speechless.

  4. Me hace recordar a ese poema que escribiste creo que en creative writing class you know you know :)
    tu hermanita