She has her whole life in front of her. But from where she’s standing, her future looks bleak.
She’s standing in Anse à Galets, Haiti, a coastal city on the island of La Gonave. It’s where her family lives.
Sand like powder lies inches thick on the roads of eastern La Gonave. Dust flies with the slightest breeze. The island people are even more poor than the rest of Haiti. Jobs are few. The children fortunate enough to go to school don’t know if they will be able to finish.
Likely outcomes are working in the local market or finding work across the bay on the mainland.
Agriculture on La Gonave is a struggle if it exists at all. Water is scarce, but the dusty island is framed by the brilliant azure of the Bay of Gonave. And the shoreline draws us foreigners when we visit.
The beach is devoid of sand. Instead, broken shells mix with bits of glass and other refuse. Visitors and locals alike swim in the water there. The foreigners wear shoes.
Dejean Bianerie was on the beach with her cousins on January evening while I was there with a group from First Presbyterian Church, Atlanta. She’s 12 and not impressed by much. She didn’t seem impressed with another bunch of blans walking around the beach, but she put up with me while I took photos of her younger cousins. She let me take her portrait.
Her, with her eyes cast down. Her with a look of insolence.
Her trying to pose like she’s 21. That didn’t work.
She’s a girl.
Then I handed her my camera. It’s a Nikon D5200, no great shakes as cameras go, but it looks good. And to most people unfamiliar with a DSL camera, a little intimidating.
She’s not intimidated by much.
After one glance at me, I think to confirm that I meant for her to play, Bianerie looked over the camera, placed her right index finger to the trigger and lifted the Nikon to her eye. Soon her cousins Menieka and Cindee were posing for photos, and Bianerie went to work.
When she wasn’t shooting photos, she stood watching. The mix of Haitians dancing to music on somebody’s phone. Another of her cousins. Her 2-year-old nephew, Jensen, sitting on a stranger’s lap.
And me. She watched me. She took my photo. And she listened to my directions.
I visited the beach again last week. While the group I was with swam in the water, I sat on the rocks. Watching. Waiting.
I heard her before I saw her. I turned and there she was, greeting me with a slight smile, already reaching for the camera.
She’s a girl. She has her whole life in front of her. But she’s in Haiti where opportunities are few and they only go to the lucky and strong. And for the young women, the pressures are strong to give in – to settle in with a guy and — ready or not — start a family.
She’s a girl. She has a gift. She is bright and strong. If I have anything to do with it, she will be one of the lucky ones.
After all, she has her whole life in front of her.