I start the new year my way, spending the afternoon walking around the Quarter and photographing. I see the heavy dark clouds engulfing me and I know the rain will find me, but I’m not worried. Someone will always welcome me into their home to stay dry. Today, it’s Sylvia’s children. The melodious ping of the rain pounds the iron sheets roofing as we hunker down. Six of us sit beneath the dim, single 40 watt bulb, in a windowless 10x10 room, luxuriously decorated with white, Chinese manufactured lace. The lace covers two walls completely and the other two walls partially, adding a feeling of refinement not typical of a slum that lacks even a basic sewage system. The children’s eyes are focused on the Spanish soap opera on their compact color tv, except for little Daniel’s. He sits beside me focused intently on this unexpected visitor.
The stale air, confined space and minimal lighting, unleash ginormous, unstoppable yawns from me. Daniel, who is studying my every breath, yawns in unison. An 8x10 framed portrait of Sylvia hangs on a wall, a portrait I took of her when I treated the four women who make up the PHH leadership team, to a three day safari. A woven mat covers the floor, and as my eyes adjust, I see the peeling, muddied paint, peeking from beneath the lace tapestries. Not unlike ourselves, the lace serves to add a mirage of elegance to what would otherwise be a drab existence. We too, festoon lace or other decorative trappings to disguise the broken, damaged and less appealing parts of ourselves. Some of us are just more skilled at concealment than others.
With growing confidence, little Daniel gently draws lines with his fingers across my leg, tentatively looking up and giggling at his bravery.
Double stacked college-sized refrigerators rest on a pallet with a poster of the alphabet hanging beside it. A relatively new electricity box is proudly mounted to the adjacent wall, fueling the television and the single light bulb. A foot pedal sewing machine is in the corner, a reminder that electricity is not guaranteed. An animal chart, 20x30, is partially hidden by more white lace. An oversized china cabinet is spilling with elegant glassware and chinaware waiting to be regally presented to a visitor.
Grace, 18, sees my eyes taking in the space. With pride, she unexpectedly says, “To get good things, you must be patient.”