Thursday, January 28, 2010

Yon Ti Moman. Only a Little While.

Times are tough up in Chicago. I'm broke, jobless, and it's GD EFFING freezing.

Yesterday I was feeling so panicked about money that, mid-job searching, I jumped up from my computer and started running around my apartment like a madwoman, collecting all my spare change. I dug through every purse, every bag, every coat. I picked up pennies off the floor. (Seriously, my whole life, there's always been change on my floor. When I was in high school, anytime my dad would walk in my room, he'd start picking up the change on the floor and lecturing me on the value of money. Maybe I should have paid more attention.)

I dumped all the change in a tupperware container, not including the $12 in quarters I found (laundry money!). I had another container full of change in the trunk of my car. So, clutching my tupperware jars of change like my life depended on it, I took my broke ass to Jewel and used the Coinstar machine. Some of my change got rejected because it was so dirty from being in my car for the last decade, but all in all, I had $52 in change.

Hallelujah! I'm pretty sure the cashier thought I was batshit crazy, because I handed her my voucher with a huge grin on my face. But you know what? I didn't care. I was 52 bucks richer. And right now, for me, that's really something.

Then today came. By mid-afternoon, I'd reached a pretty record low. I had no more change to collect. Rent's going to be due again soon. Damn, was I feeling sorry for myself. I headed toward the Loop to apply for a serving gig, because I needed to feel like I was really actively doing something. (Other than applying for the umpteenth job online, that is.)

Filling out an application turned into getting interviewed, and I actually left there with my hopes up. (Keep your fingers crossed for me!) So, I hop on the train to go back home, and start reading the latest New Yorker. I always read "The Talk of the Town" section first, so I flip there. 

The story I read first starts with this line: "My cousin Maxo has died." Immediately, I'm sucked in to this article (without even realizing until I finish that it's written by Edwidge Danticat). It turns out the author's cousin Maxo was killed in Haiti when his house collapsed on him during the quake. She continues, writing about Maxo and his life in Haiti. He sounded like a wonderful, unique person.

I'm so enthralled by this story that I'm pretty much oblivious to the fact that I'm still on the train. By the end, I'm teary eyed, holding back full fledged tears.

Here's why:

The day that Maxo’s remains were found, the call came with some degree of excitement. At least he would not rest permanently in the rubble. At least he would not go into a mass grave. Somehow, though, I sense that he would not have minded. Everyone is being robbed of rituals, he might have said, why not me?

By the time Maxo’s body was uncovered, cell phones were finally working again, bringing a flurry of desperate voices. One cousin had an open gash in her head that was still bleeding. Another had a broken back and had gone to three field hospitals trying to get it X-rayed. Another was sleeping outside her house and was terribly thirsty. One child had been so traumatized that she lost her voice. An in-law had no blood-pressure medicine. Most had not eaten for days. There were friends and family members whose entire towns had been destroyed, and dozens from whom we have had no word at all.

Everyone sounded eerily calm on the phone. No one was screaming. No one was crying. No one said “Why me?” or “We’re cursed.” Even as the aftershocks kept coming, they’d say, “The ground is shaking again,” as though this had become a normal occurrence. They inquired about family members outside Haiti: an elderly relative, a baby, my one-year-old daughter.

I cried and apologized. “I’m sorry I can’t be with you,” I said. “If not for the baby—”

My nearly six-foot-tall twenty-two-year-old cousin—the beauty queen we nicknamed Naomi Campbell—who says that she is hungry and has been sleeping in bushes with dead bodies nearby, stops me. 

“Don’t cry,” she says. “That’s life.”

“No, it’s not life,” I say. “Or it should not be.” 

“It is,” she insists. “That’s what it is. And life, like death, lasts only yon ti moman.” Only a little while.

The article ends there. I urge you to read the entire thing.

Talk about perspective. I felt like such an ass. What's the worst that's going to happen to me? I have to move back home? Give me a break. The people in Haiti could only be so lucky to have a home right now. I have a roof over my head. I have food in the fridge. I have electricity. Most importantly, I know where all my family members are right now. In Haiti, people can't say these things. And yet, they're not moaning, "Why me?"

I'd be lying if I said that that question had never crossed my mind about my current situation. Why me? Why can't I find a job? Why?

I sat on the train, reading that last line over and over. "'That's what it is. And life, like death, lasts only yon ti moman.' Only a little while."

When I got home, I had a voice mail from my brother asking if I'd checked my email. Turns out, the RedEye agreed that yes, I am a major broke ass! I'm one of the chosen ones. I couldn't believe it.

I'm taking all of this as a sign. Good things are sure to come, as long as I keep some perspective. Either way, there's always something to be thankful for. And I won't be broke and jobless forever.

Yon ti moman. Only a little while.

For more info about Haiti and what you can do to help, check out the special report I wrote for The Media Consortium about the crisis, or donate to Wyclef Jean's charity, Yele Haiti.


  1. I had my own "reality check" earlier this week. We we're low, we're still so much higher than many. And don't forget, we've got room in the 'burbs if you need it. :)

  2. My thoughts exactly. :) Do you think Eli will mind sharing a room with his "Auntie" Al?