by Kayla Raymond
Carmesuze was also part of the Starfish program when I took it over in the spring of 2016. Her and Olnite (whose story I told yesterday) were both from the same village, Minoterie. It is Simonette’s neighbor to the east and has a completely different feel than our small, family-orientated, safe-feeling village. Minoterie is a lot more rough around the edges; a couple gangs control the streets and brothels are found on many corners. It’s a much larger population, with most people living in beyond poor conditions. Most of the Starfish participants actually come from Minoterie. We also have a couple hundred students that walk the two mile roundtrip walk to our school from this neighboring village as well.
Anyways, Carmesuze’s demeanor and story is a lot different than Olnite’s. I mentioned yesterday that Olnite never had a victim mentality. Carmesuze, however, kind of did. We loaned her money to buy and resell used clothing; pepe being the Creole word for this type of business.Ever wonder what happens to all the clothes that don’t sell at thrift stores here in America? They end up on the streets in Haiti and make up a huge part of the economy. It’s super common for the open markets to have large areas of pepe clothing. In Carmesuze’s case, she would have gone to a large market in the city, bought a gigantic bag of pepe clothing, and brought it back to her village to resell. I can remember the conversation we had after weeks had passed without her making any payments towards her loan. She explained how none of the clothes she had gotten were selling and she didn’t have the strength to carry them around. That was the first of many more excuses.
I graduated Carmesuze from the program the same time I had graduated Olnite for the first time. Two months passed after the graduation and we were preparing for a new year and a fresh beginning to the program. This would have been the same time we were coming up with the part that would strictly be for business loans. I was doing house visits in Minoterie with Filane, the Haitian woman who leads Starfish with me, and ran into Carmesuze. I could see in her face that she had lost weight as she explained how much her situation had worsened since graduating. She was a single mama to three girls, all middle school ages. Their father did not support them in any way. Anything she had left from her pepe business was finished and she had not been able to save up anything to reinvest in another gigantic bag of clothes. I remember her sharing how scarce the food was and she had no idea how she’d be able to pay for the next year’s school fees (we had paid for the year past since that’s a part of our commitment to the participants in the program).
I can remember the exact dirt path I was standing on as we had this conversation. I can remember the sun scorching my back as sweat dripped down. I can remember feeling defeated. I can remember feeling in over my head. I can remember the thoughts, “this must be what hell looks and feels like.” The face of suffering right there in front of me.
I crumbled and told Carmesuze she could come back and be a part of the program. Filane just shook her head at me as we both knew our program was filled for the new year.
Carmesuze came back and we talked about her pepe business again. She told me all the things she had learned and what she needed to do differently. She also mentioned the demand she saw for infant clothing and I had a lightbulb moment as she explained it all to me. We had an excess of donated baby clothing in our container at Tytoo, so I gave her two large tubs full of baby clothing and we made a plan that she would use all the money she earned off those two tubs to reinvest in buying more. There would be no loan nor debt. It would be a new start.
The second time around went a lot more successfully and by the end of that year, I firmly believed we had her standing back on her own two feet. She was also given a new home by a neighboring ministry, which was a huge blessing and game-changer for her and her daughters.
But, of course this story doesn’t end well, hence her being a part of my graveyard tour. Late this spring she came to me at Tytoo and she had an awful cough. She was still making payments towards a second loan we had given her as she graduated from the program, so I was still seeing her regularly, but this time she just looked different. She visited our clinic and at that point I just assumed it was a really bad cough. But, about a month later, we had a second meeting in the office at Tytoo and this time I knew it was bad. She asked for the money she had given to pay for her loan so she could go be by her mom, who was several hours away from us. It felt like deja vu from Olnite’s decision to go be by her mom just a couple weeks before. She ended up passing away by her mom as well and my guess would be that she died from Tuberculosis, just from her inability to take deep breaths, the cough and even how hard it was for her to talk in the last meeting we had together.
Her death just felt different than Olnite’s. With Tuberculosis, there is treatment and clinics who serve people fighting the disease. With Olnite’s cancer, there wasn’t that. But Carmesuze’s death felt more like her just giving up and who I am to judge if that’s what it really was? Life was so hard on her, but now it is her girls that my heart aches for. I’ll share what happened with them in a blog to come.
For today, I feel like it is just necessary to sit in the grief. The weight. The heaviness.
I’m reminded of Dani, a friend in our expat community, who also lost her life in Haiti this last year. I didn’t know Dani well, but she was a young mom to two little boys and a wife to Kyle. They had lived in Haiti for nearly a decade and she co-founded Petite Palm, a company we carry at Rosie’s. All of those facts – mom, wife, business owner, fighting for family preservation and justice, foreigner yet resident to a small Caribbean island – were all things we had in common. The last couple months of her life, she actually stepped away from work to focus on her family. She was in the process of building a new website, where she held dreams to write and create. A season I feel the Lord calling me to as well. Her courage to step away from busyness and work to focus on family inspires me.
Dani passed away on the Saturday before Easter and the last words she wrote on social media were on Good Friday.
Most of us will gloss this day over. We will look to Sunday. But, can I confess? Good Friday is one of my favorite days of the church year. It’s our invitation to sit in the grief, in the fear, in the doubt, to let them take up space.
Because, Mary, the first preacher of the resurrection, she didn’t know about Sunday. She only knew Friday when she watched her friend being murdered.
John, the one who knew Jesus loved him so, he didn’t know for sure if Sunday would come. Instead, he stood under the weight of grief on Friday.
Everyone, the whole crowd who’d begun to believe this revolutionary Rabbi, they felt it all crash to the ground on Friday. They didn’t know about the rolled away stone yet. They couldn’t see what was coming.
Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. So, we get to live with Sunday, with the hope and joy. But, maybe it would do us all a bit of good to sit in Friday’s grief.
Because, without Friday, we don’t get to be Sunday people, Resurrection people. Without the grief, we don’t get the restoration.