Happy Birthday, Dushi.

January 25, 2013 — 6 Comments

A few months ago, we moved several minutes away from where we used to live, so we don’t see Alice very often anymore. As I wrote in my last post about her,  Alice’s mom is in Curacao illegally from Jamaica, and doesn’t work. Her mother’s boyfriend is also illegal, and works in construction. My boyfriend and I remembered that Alice was celebrating her 9th birthday this week, and we wanted to try to do something nice for her. Since my boyfriend had to work that evening, I decided to drive to our old apartment to surprise Alice and say hello.

“No esta aki,” our old land lady said. She told me in half papiamento and half spanish that Alice had gone out for dinner for her birthday. I said I would come back another time, and turned around to drive away. Down the road, I saw Alice and her mom walking up the road. I honked and hopped out of the car. Once Alice recognized me, and with a long squeal she started running down the road to give me a hug. Well, half a hug anyway, since Alice had a white cast on her right arm.

“Happy Birthday Alice, I’ve missed you!” I said,  “Um, what happened to your arm??”

“Oh, a kid at school pushed me and then I fell–like this, and then my bone went like—this!!” I winced as she basically demonstrated a pretty nasty wrist break. She asked me where my boyfriend was, and begged me to go see him at work at the hotel restaurant. I obliged, but only if her mother would allow it. Her mother said yes, but not before asking, “Do you think your boyfriend could have clean job for me?, I need money, yuh know.”  I knew that without papers, my boyfriend’s job couldn’t hire her. I said I would ask anyway.

“Alice! You look so pretty,” I said. “And your feet have grown!”

“Don’t you think she’s getting fat?” Her mother said. “She eat tooooo much.”

“No,” I said, while inside I wondered why this woman never had anything nice to say about her kid.  “I think she’s 9 years old and growing.”

As we were driving, Alice was updating me on her life since we left. She said that now, she has absolutely no one to play with. She said her grandmother from Jamaica was also living with them in their tiny 3 room apartment.

“Everyday, I wake up and I ask if you guys will come for me,” Alice said in the car.

That broke my heart. “Everyday? Really?” I said.

“Yeah, ehh–vverryday”, she said with her green eyes sparkling. “You guys told me that you would teach me diving in your pool!” We did promise that. “Just get that cast of yours off,” I said.

Alice also told me that that day wasn’t her real birthday. “I was really born on the 3rd, but my mom said to tell people today was my birthday.” My heart broke again. I was reminded of the fact that she is undocumented.

When my boyfriend Alice her when we arrived, he gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. He surprised both of us with ice cream, smoothies, and grilled cheese sandwiches. We sang “Happy Birthday” in English and Dutch. Alice told everyone at the restaurant that we were her stepparents. I let her play Disney games on my computer. Honestly, I was dead tired from working and running errands all that day, and I wouldn’t have minded calling it a night, but my boyfriend said, “Let her stay as long as she can. She probably hasn’t had something nice for herself in a long time.”

Sure enough, Alice told me later, “I didn’t get anything for my birthday, except for McDonald’s from my mom, and now ice cream and a day with my stepparents,” she told me in between games at the restaurant table. I had to sit next to her to help her with some of the games, as her English reading was so poor, she struggled with a lot of the simplest words.

A few hours later, I dropped Alice back off at her house. Later that night when my boyfriend and I got home, he seemed really quiet.

“Do you think we could adopt her?” He seemed really serious.

“Babe,” I said. “Alice has a mom. And plus how would that work? She technically does not exist. How do you adopt an unregistered 9 year old? Also, ummm…never mind the fact that we are absolutely not ready to be parents!” I hated to sound so defeatist, but really, what could we do? We aren’t her saviors. We can’t be.

“Well,” he said slowly, “Its just, with everything she’s gone through, she’s such an amazing person. I just wish I could help, to help surround her with people who love her and will spend time with her, to help her to read. Seeing her today, I just want to help give her a better life, a life a person like her deserves.”

And my heart broke for the third time that day.

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6 responses to Happy Birthday, Dushi.

  1. 

    Real! True Caribbean reality, story full of heart. To the point and good to read, thanks!

  2. 

    Full of heart. Your boyfriend has an amazing heart and so do you. Are there support organizations for (illegal) immigrants on the island.

  3. 

    Your boyfriend has an amazing heart. Are there support organizations for undocumented people like Dushi on the island?

  4. 

    What a powerful experience, Karen. A similar incident happened to me in Belize. I met a 10-year-old boy there, DJ, who was the sweetest, most lovable child ever! It became apparent, though, that his caretakers didn’t feel the same. Every day they punished him for the smallest infractions – most of which were no fault of his own. In fact, he was the house whipping boy.

    Within a week of being in the country, I developed a strong connection with him, and desperately wanted to “save” him. I reported his guardians to the Department of Human Services, and tried to contact his school. But the social systems there, as in most countries, is overworked and under-supported.

    Sensing that, I made all these grandiose promises that I would try get him to visit the US during his summer vacation months (despite being a broke graduate student, and not researching the US’s policies on sponsoring an unrelated minor internationally). Like your boyfriend, I also considered adoption.

    From this situation I feel that I’ve learned some valuable lessons. First, adults have a duty to cautiously inquire, intervene, and follow-up in cases of suspected minor mistreatment. (But I imagine it’s very tricky with undocumented persons.) Also, we ccan’t always be their “saviors,” especially when it’s not within our power, jurisdiction or resources. Mistreatment of minors is a thorny subject and it’s difficult to intervene as an unrelated adult. Second, children remember promises – and we best not make ’em. At the end of the summer, him and I exchanged letters by mail, and I even sent him a care package filled with books and treats. Still it became evident that I wouldn’t be returning any time soon, and he wouldn’t be visiting me in the US. Eventually, the correspondences died. I haven’t spoken to him in over a year.

    It’s been almost two years now, but hopefully I’ll see him again soon. I’ll follow up with his family, schooling, etc. At best, all I can help him do is to realize when he is being treated right and wrong.

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