Black skin and deep brown eyes. The 7.2 earthquake in Haiti forced her into a tent. The tent is constructed of tarps, sheets and whatever she can find. Each tent pressed up against the next. A rug on the floor and two sin- gle beds side by side, a walking space between. Jeanette lives with her cousin, Mariana. Two women, thin, but not unhealthy, smiling. As I talk with Jeanette, Marianna prepares to bathe her- self. She takes her clothes off, but I see nothing but a shin, a thigh, and the strength of her fore- arms. She shields herself with a clean yellow towel. How soft and bright the yellow is against her black skin. She holds a bucket with clean water and a bar of soap. She steps just outside the tent. She washes, still wrapped in yellow — water splashing, calming, cleansing.
Three men sit just to hand outside of the tent. They turn their backs to Marianna out of respect? This is her moment of solitude, but not quite, because I am watching. As she’s washing, her beauty is luminous next to the earth, the mud on the ground just outside her tent. A woman tries to maintain her dignity and command respect.
Four years later, I am in the south of Haiti running Haiti Projects. I gather with our staff of 85 women and we discuss work, their work. They tell me what they need — new sewing machines, a generator, a raise. I listen. I feel that sense of dignity that Marianna held, but there is a difference. These women are not grasping for dignity, they have it. They are in control of their lives, they speak their minds and speak of the future, and they help me understand what is needed in order for us to work together for the success of the artisanat and of Fond des Blancs. At the end of our meeting, they ask to pray for Haiti Projects. We bow our heads and they sing in unison “How Great Thou Art.” I am humbled, proud, and in awe of the impact of the artisanat, this work and these women. Who is helping whom to learn the meaning of dignity?