He lives with his family in the sprawling, congested community of Carrefour where over half a million people live. Carrefour was devastated by the earthquake—the concrete houses pressed against each other in any available space in the area suffered tremendously, so that the rubble from every other house spilling into the streets makes the already treacherous, narrow unpaved roads an obstacle course for drivers. Carrefour, unlike downtown Port-au-Prince, is often quite green with breadfruit trees and mango trees. It is like many of the poor working-class areas of the developing world, city-places that have become a chain of intimate villages where people try to make their worlds habitable and beautiful.
When I first meet him on the verandah of the home of Joel Sainton, an itinerant preacher who leads a grass roots agency that seeks to assist people living with HIV/AIDS from a Christian perspective, the young man is among a group of people living with HIV/AIDS who have agreed to be interviewed by me about their lives. The boy is 17 years old. His face has the soft features of someone much younger. There is barely a hint of a mustache, and his eyes droop, heavy with thick lashes. He is a thin boy with expressive fingers, and he speaks with slow deliberateness. He has come with his mother and his younger brother. All three are HIV positive, the boys having contracted the disease at childbirth.
The young man, dressed in a too-short pair of trousers and a loose blue shirt, sits in a corner quietly, staring at us. He has a rag covering his face and I wonder whether he has toothache. In the humidity, his forehead is pimpled with sweat drops. When it is his turn to be interviewed he breathes deeply. He was nervous as the mike was attached to his shirt. Then he begins to speak, responding to my question with a confident "bon" —making it clear that he understands what I am asking.
He speaks in a slow and deliberate manner. It is as if he has been given the questions long before this meeting and he has had time to prepare his responses. But it is not so much that the responses seem rehearsed in the way that some seasoned interviewees appear to be rehearsed, what I am seeing here is someone who has thought a great deal about these things and is now ready to talk about them. He pauses for long periods to find the right word. When he does, his eyes drift to the ceiling, contemplating, moving words and ideas around in his head, and then he finally speaks with a seriousness and intensity that arrests you. It is as if he has been longing to tell this story, to say the things that have been on his mind. By the time he is finished, I am hard pressed to contain or even understand what I am feeling.
"The most difficult for me is, well it's good that I have the ARVs, I have my medicine. But the problem is that sometimes I don't have enough food. I need to eat and I don't have enough food. And when I need to go to GHESKIO to get my medicine I have to walk. Why do I walk? It is because I don't have enough money to pay for the transportation, for the taxi.
"So what happens is that I have dark moments, moments when things are dark, and I consider this my biggest difficulty. One other difficulty for me also is I don't live in a very big house and I don't have a big place to play and I live in a very limited space and so when there is a problem in the family and people are arguing I can hear them and not only my family but even when the neighbors are arguing I hear, and lot of bad things and I feel bad.
"They ask me to take one pill; one in the morning and one in the evening. I feel that if I need to take these medicines, I need more milk in my nutrition, I need more milk and more protein. I would like to receive more milk, protein and food from those organizations that give me the medicine. Sometimes I feel weak and I feel headaches. It is like my head is spinning around, I feel I am upside down. Sometimes I feel back pain and pain all over my body. And also I cannot bathe with cold water because I suffer from my lungs.
"When I wake up in the mornings I have several questions crossing my mind. First of all, why do I take those medicines? Is it for life or is it going to cure me? Do I have to take them forever? Sometimes I hear on the radio that they have sent other medications and I don't know why I don't have access to those things. And those pills that I take in the mornings, they have powerful effects and I feel that sometimes when I take them I feel I am going to fall down. It's my concern. Sometimes I take the medicine and I ask myself if I am not going to fall down.
"GHESKIO is not too close to my house. It is located in downtown Port-au-Prince and I live here in Carrefour and it is a long way from where we live. When I go to GHESKIO, when they talk to me it's okay. They talk to me in a good way. I can say that I have a lot of information from GHESKIO. And sometimes they ask me if I don't have sexual relationships with women.
"Sometimes I think they make mistakes about the way I am supposed to take my medicine. Sometimes I have a lot of problems and a lot of dark moments. When I need to go to GHESKIO and I pay the taxi driver to drop me I am afraid people around me will know why I have to go to GHESKIO. I wonder, God, do I deserve to be sick? Why am I sick? Is it because of my mother? Is it something that I took from my mother?
"And at this time I am depressed and I cry. I cry a lot and I think a lot about it. And a few moments later I am happy, and then I cry again. I think a lot about what's happening to me and what has happened to me. You know I am still the responsibility of a parent—I am a minor. Sometimes I think, well, how do they do it? They don't work. How can they supply food for me and food for the house? They do a lot for me. I cannot take care of myself. I cannot supply what I need. Sometimes I think about the bad that I have done, because sometimes I really do bad things.
"For the moment, to be honest, if God could give me a car, I could be a taxi driver so I could go around and have enough money for my supply. Because sometimes when I watch television and I see those artists, they look like they have a very wonderful life, and when I watch them on television, I feel bad inside of me, it's like it's attacking me, and when I see like a simple rapper and he was just someone like anyone else and then he became very famous, why can't I be the same? I would like to be a famous artist, a great singer and a great painter. I would like to draw images for people.
"I would like to sing, but to make a song I need to feel it inside myself. Sometimes I need to be happy; when I am happy I can make a song. I will take a joke and make a song. Sometimes I will hear a story or read a story and I can make a song of it. I would like to pursue my dream, but most of the time the people I talk to and meet try to dissuade me from my dream; they want to turn me from my dream and what I have in my mind is not what they have in their mind. I would like to know when I will be able to meet you."
It is hard not to think of my own 17-year-son who is a senior in high school. I see the way that both young men are trying to get comfortable with their bodies as these bodies grow, and change. They are still in that in-between place of being boys and men; the latter is a challenge that they place on themselves, but one that don't quite understand. They are pretending to be men, deepening their voices, considering weighty matters, observing and understanding more about what is happening with adults than they even want to, wondering when it will not feel so much like an act. But they know that they are boys, that they are dependent on their fathers and mothers, and yet that this covering will not be there for ever. This is the nature of growing up. But when I think of this young man, I think of the burden he carries. The questions of his mortality are not casual. He knows that he is alive because he has the antiretroviral drug available to him. But he also knows that his family is struggling to feed him, and he worries that without good nutrition, this drug which he must take for the rest of his life may become more of a burden to him than a help. He has dreams. He has dreams. He has dreams. But he is not sure what these dreams mean, what being a singer means, what driving a taxi means.
This young man is lagging behind academically, but the adults around him notice his deep sensitivity to the world and to the things around him. If there was ever the cliché of an artist, this is it. He is full of questions, and as I sit there listening to him, deeply impressed by the weight of these questions and their sophistication, I feel intensely my complete helplessness at the fact that I have no answers for his questions:
"I wonder, God, do I deserve to be sick? Why am I sick? Is it because of my mother? Is it something my mother has given to me?"
Photos for this post shot by Andre Lambertson.