Monday, October 24, 2011

What I learned from Eko

This is Eko. He's one of my favorite people in the world.  Eko is 24 and has down syndrome.  He went with me pretty much anywhere I went throughout the week.  I learned so much about joy from him last week in Haiti.  The closest he's ever been able to pronounce my name is "Kame"

Eko has a way when he walks into a room that he makes everyone feel important.  He walks in with joy radiating out from him (most of the time), walking up to each person and giving them this special kind of Eko hug and pronouncing each person's name in a way that sounds sort of like their actual name.  If you hang out with him long enough, you learn to understand him. Speaking creole seems to helps - which I don't.

Tom informally adopted him when he got to Verette and has helped him learn to communicate more clearly, and given him a place to hang out.  Tom has also unofficially donated his entire CD collection to Eko, who will sit for hours listening to music, and singing along with everything from James Taylor to worship music.  One of my favorite moments in Haiti was driving through the streets of Verettes with just Eko and I.  He wanted to start singing a song, "Come, now is the time to worship" so I joined in.  You had a tone deaf guy and a down-syndrome guy who doesn't understand most of the words singing a worship song at the top of their lungs together.  I'm sure God smiled as he put cotton balls in his ears.

"Tout mon konnen Eko" in Haitian Creole means "Everybody knows Eko", which they all seem to in the town of Verettes.  You'll be driving through the streets and you'll hear a random "Eko" shouted out as someone recognizes him. If you drive by the police station, you see the local police yell out his name.  Kids in Haiti are no different than kids in America, and some of them can be mean and it kills me to see them being mean to Eko.

Eko has a great sense of when others are getting into tough situations and will redirect you away.  Sometimes it's because I can't understand what's being said, sometimes it's because he thinks I'm doing something dangerous.  I reached out to pet a horse and he grabbed my hand back and demonstrated that the horse could bite my finger, by putting his own finger out in front of the horse.  A group of teenagers were being rude to a woman in our group, and Eko grabbed her hand and led her away.

Tom explained to me that the Haitians don't understand sarcasm.  I'm pretty sure Eko does - at least he gets me and he never failed to make me smile when I saw him.

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