Safine and Ti Pijon
April 28, 2014
Safine and Ti Pijon are neighbors. They live in Redout, an area just above Trianon on the road from Mirebalais to Port au Prince. Ti Pijon is an older woman, with children and grandchildren in her care. Safine is a mother of eight, but she’s much younger than Ti Pijon. She also is new to the area. She grew up in Boucan Carré, but moved to Redout when she got together with Maxo, the father of her youngest kids.
Safine and Maxo shared a house on rented land, but Safine’s dream was to have a place of her own. She worked hard to build a comfortable four-bedroom house for herself and the kids on the rented land, but eventually decided to sell it piece-by-piece so that she’d be able to buy land, and she bought a small plot, right near Ti Pijon’s house at the end of December. It took her some time to build her new, one-room house on the plot, and in the meantime she and her children slept in a corner of Ti Pijon’s front room. They had gotten to know each other through their participation in CLM, and Ti Pijon had decided to do her fellow-member a favor.
It was a really big deal, because Safine had nowhere else to go. And the friendship they built in the months they spent together was good for them both. If one had food, both families enjoyed the meal. Safine’s children took to calling Ti Pijon grandma, and Ti Pijon’s children behaved as though they had found a second mom.
Shortly after Safine bought the land, her relationship with Maxo degenerated. There was violence, but she managed to throw him out. The final straw was when he had come to Ti Pijon’s house drunk, and fought with Safine there. Safine went to court, and though she eventually decided not to press changes, Maxo and his family had to agree that he would leave her alone for good.
But just after the trial, her relationship with Ti Pijon started to fall apart. Ti Pijon had avoided the trial, and rumors had come back to her that Safine had said that Ti Pijon had come between her and Maxo by telling him that she had been sleeping outside of her home when he had thought she was staying with Ti Pijon and the kids. The fact is that Safine had begun avoiding sleep in Ti Pijon’s home out of fear of Maxo. She would leave her children there each night, and join them after daybreak. Ti Pijon had also heard that when Safine moved into her just-finished house, she had complained to other neighbors that Ti Pijon was saying that she had her own house now, that it was time for her to go.
Soon, they were no longer on speaking terms. And they were each telling their young children not to walk the fifty feet to the other woman’s yard. When Safine started a little trade in homemade doughnuts, she wanted to offer a few to Ti Pijon’s littlest boys, but Ti Pijon grew angry at the older one for accepting the gift.
Their case manager, Hilaire, watched the relationship unravel, and he could hardly believe his eyes. The friendship between the two had been exemplary. It had been the sort one could use as a case study to teach the importance of solidarity among the ultra poor in their fight to escape extreme poverty. And now they showed all the traditional Haitian sign of hostility, short of actual violence. Hilaire decided he had to act, so he asked them to agree to meet with him, and he asked me to come along.
I started the meeting with a little speech. I recounted the history of their friendship as I understood it. I said that we all knew how much Ti Pijon had done for Safine, and that we knew Safine was sincerely grateful as well. Theirs had been a friendship I felt I could talk about anywhere in the world if I wanted to explain the sorts of things that make CLM work. I had come because Hilaire had asked for my support as he worked to figure out whether we could help them repair the breach that had opened between them. I couldn’t pretend to understand where their hostilities had come from, but I hoped we could help them find a better way to move forward. Hilaire then said that we wanted to listen to each to see whether we could figure out what had gone wrong.
Ti Pijon then started to talk. She is a church-going, Christian woman, she explained, so when she saw Safine’s problems, she welcomed her into her home. She had offered what she could, and only wanted to apologize because the fact that her little shack had only one door made it necessary for her to enter the front room, which she had given over to Safine, anytime she wanted to go into or out of her house. She was sorry.
She had supported Safine even to the point of caring for her kids at times when Safine was on the run, hiding in other neighbors’ houses to avoid Maxo’s drunken rage. The night after their last fight, he had insisting on sleeping in Ti Pijon’s house with his children even though Safine had fled. Because Ti Pijon has no husband, she decided she had to move into a neighbor’s house for the night to avoid any appearance that she had spent the night with Maxo.
Then she had heard disturbing rumors. Safine was, she heard, putting her down behind her back. Safine was blaming her for the end of her relationship with Maxo. Ti Pijon would go as far as exchanging greetings with Safine, and she would do her neighborly duty if Safine or Safine’s children were sick. But they could never be friends again. As it stood, she had not decided to stop saying, “Hello,” to Safine, but Safine had stopped saying “Hello” to her.
I asked Ti Pijon not to say “never.” Haitians say, “demen pa pou nou.” That means, “Tomorrow does not belong to us.” It’s a way of saying that the future is not in our hands. I told her that I was happy she would agree to exchange greetings with Safine, and that for the rest she should just follow where her heart guides her.
Safine spoke next. No one could claim, she said, that she had forgotten how much she owes to Ti Pijon. But things had changed. Ti Pijon had listened to rumors, and let those rumors come between them. Ti Pijon had begun avoiding Safine, and had instructed her children to avoid her and to stop playing with Safine’s children as well. She was not the one who had said that Ti Pijon had come between her and Maxo. She was glad to be rid of the guy. It was Maxo who had blamed Ti Pijon. She had not claimed that Ti Pijon had said that it was time for her to move into her own house. She had said that another neighbor had told her so. She could never forget what Ti Pijon had done from her, but she had heard from another neighbor that Ti Pijon had said Safine shouldn’t talk to her anymore, and so she had stopped saying “Hello.”
Hilaire listened to them respectfully, but then he started to speak again. He said that he would always talk to them with the greatest respect. Ti Pijon could easily be his mother, and Safine his sister. But he had to tell them that they were both in the wrong. They had let a bunch of ill-meaning neighbors spoil their friends by listening to rumors when they should have been listening to each other instead. “Yo di,” or “They say,” was coming up in everything that they said. Yo di that Safine had complained that Ti Pijon had spoiled her marriage. Yo di that Ti Pijon had said that Safine shouldn’t greet her anymore. If the two of them would stop listening to rumors, they might go back to being friends. And they both had experienced just how valuable the friendship could be.
The women listened. They scowled, but they listened.
And finally something must have happened inside Ti Pijon. She had been sitting with her back turned distinctly in Safine’s direction, but as they rose, she grabbed Safine around the neck and started tickling her. “You like tickling me, now we’ll see how you like it.” The two women were laughing and crying at the same time.
Hilaire had to stay with them for their regular weekly visits, but I went off. When I saw him that afternoon, he said that Ti Pijon had shown up at Safine’s house with food before his half-hour with Safine had passed. His peace mission had been a success.