By Heather O.
Born and raised in the province of Maissade, northwest of Port-au-Prince, Madame Dentes Delfoart followed rural tradition and replaced her name with that of her husband, Dentes, along with the honorific “Madame”. She makes ends meet by doing what she calls “a little selling”, which means she operates a sort of convenience store out of her storage shed. Mme. Delfoart, 41, seems to never stop moving. Busy days become busy nights, and throughout, her house draws a steady stream of visitors–both family and friends. Food isn’t plentiful, but she is able to scrape together enough to feed anyone who happens to be present at mealtime. Having joined the neighborhood Pentecostal church in 1985, both Dentes and Mme. Delfoart attend services regularly and consider themselves deeply religious.
EXCERPTS FROM INTERVIEW:
How do you spend your day?
When I wake up, I wash and make coffee. My husband goes to the garden and brings in some bananas or potatoes, and I make food for the day. I give beans to Fifi and Lucianne [her daughter and her niece] to put in the fire and they cook the food. Fifi and Lucianne are the ones who wash the clothes. Before, I used to do it.
What takes up most of your time?
My business. What I do most of the day after I feed the children is go out for many hours into Hinche [the nearest town] to buy things for my business–for my selling from my home. If I have nothing else to do, I take a rest.
With the business, does your family have enough money?
I do not have enough money to take care of my life. Just yesterday I was trying to find someone to lend me money to go to Hinche to buy things for my business. But our family is not poor–not really poor. When we are fine, we are fine; when we are not fine, we are not.
Did you ever go to school?
I have no formal education. My mother could not afford to send me to school, but she taught me to sew and cook and clean the house, and how to go to the river for water and tend the garden.
When you look back at your life since that time, what’s your proudest accomplishment?
That I joined the church and regularly pray to God.
Do you have a specific hope for the future?
That Jesus will come.
What would you change about your life if you could?
I cannot change my life.
You lived with Mr. Delfoart for a long time before marrying him.
Yes, I didn’t think that I would get married.
It is the man who decides to marry the woman. If a man does ask for her hand, she can accept. I wanted to be married, but as long as Dentes didn’t ask to marry me, I couldn’t get married, because a woman never asks a man to marry.
Is your life now with Mr. Delfoart what you expected at the time of your wedding?
I thought I would marry this man, and that we would love each other for life and die together.
Is your marriage happy?
Yes, I am happy. I love him very much.
NOTES: Women fill some powerful roles in Haitian society, such as Voodoo priestesses, traditional healers, and midwives, though men hold most of the political power. Women provide primary health care to much of the population, and deliver 80 percent of the babies. Giving birth is a marker of adulthood for women, and new mothers are often waited on hand and foot for weeks.
Haiti is incredibly poor. More than 40 percent of couples don’t get legally married; they simply can’t afford the wedding expenses. A scarcity of jobs has left many men unemployed, and since household duties are define as women’s province, women do the bulk of the work, including small-scale marketing of produce. Although low-wage manufacturing is dominated by women workers, Haitian law does give pregnant women the right to three-months of company subsized maternity leave.
Interview and notes by Maggie Sterber
For Friday: Pama Kondo and Fatoumata Toure, co-wives who live in Mali.