One glance at the old man in a lawn chair on the sidewalk of downtown Les Cayes, Haiti was all it took. I have a thing for documenting the elderly and I knew he had something to say- what with all those years watching the world go by. I ran up to him, introduced myself and snapped a few photos with my iPhone, then ran off to do my work and said I hoped to see him again. Two weeks later, I was still thinking about him so I went back to the neighborhood and started knocking on doors until neighbors pointed to his. His wife answered, a bit suspicious at first. “No offense,” I said, “but I just really want to know what it’s like to grow old in Haiti. Can I have your husband’s phone number?” A few days later, Henry and I sat on the sidewalk together conducting an interview as the world watched us.
His story did not disappoint. He is a Haitian with U.S. citizenship. His meager social security payment would not begin to cover his costs in America and he doesn’t want to be a burden to those children living abroad, so he has retired a few blocks from where he grew up. “Do you have a Haitian pension?” I asked. He laughed. He said his Haitian pension is the property he rents out to someone in the country, and the occassional remittances sent from family in Washington, DC or back in Port-au-Prince, not because he asks for it but because they insist it’s their duty. Henry had been in exile in the United States AND Cuba, in fact he spent a year in that neighboring tropical island in historic 1959. Since returning nearly four decades ago, he has done just about everything, including working as head of the Les Cayes Soccer League, which won him a photo with his hero, Brazilian Soccer Legend Pele. Henry and his wife have a rooster in the back of their downtown dwelling, a Haitian flag, a few comfortable armchairs, and youthful romance that has lasted more than 50 years, probably because they giggle at each other constantly. Oh how I wish I had more time to hang out on the sidewalk with Henry.