Oranges and Granola
The tall catholic church stood gleaming against the grime of the street.
Women crouched on their heels hawking fruit across from the church. The most beautiful fruit. More beautiful than could be found inside the adjacent supermarket. More beautiful fruit than in any supermarket in all of Haiti.
The only good thing about the supermarkets with the wilting produce was the air conditioning. It was almost worth it to purchase a single soft apple or brown tinged banana just to cool your forehead against the glass of the soda case. Relax from the heat for a few seconds.
Trying to negotiate fruit for Haitian Gourds, stuttering creole numbers around the air in front of your face, was like trying to roller skate with three wheels on a gravel street. Awkward. Difficult. And you only hurt yourself in the end.
The fruit women needed the extra 50 cents more than I could ever imagine needing it. They wore monochromatic pencil skirts and bright colored tops. Some with bras. Some without. Some nursing babies. Some bent over with age, missing teeth.
Leaning over the fruit hawkers you could glimpse into their world, briefly. Babies crying. Smoke from open fires cooking rice, wafting past you on a journey to the heavens. Someone bathing upright in a tiny bucket glimpsing their underwear through old fashioned soap suds. Plastic bags on the ground amidst the broken concrete rubble of the public street. Odd triangles of light shafting through bright red Digicel umbrellas.
Arcing your body from an acute angle backwards to an obtuse angle reverted you back into the vision of the church and the supermarket. Back to air conditioning and everything you ever knew as a human being in the first world.
Eventually a bag of oranges found its way into my hand. Trudging back to Hotel Doux se Jours, back to the patio upstairs, back to the rainbow mural that was unfolding onto waxed, blank canvas amongst a group of American artists.
I was alone.
Walking down the street, away from the hotel.
I encountered the same two boys I had seen throughout the week. Without the gift of language, I beckoned them into the hotel with me. They followed at a safe distance, unsure.
The hotel was more of a tree house than a formal building. Following a narrow path and climbing up a ladder, landed you on the outdoor patio adjacent to my tiny room that I shared with two other artists. The boys followed me up the ladder, closer now. They stopped at the edge of the walkway, which more closely resembled a gang plank on a ship.
I never felt more like a stalker molester in my life.
Again, I beckoned them closer.
No language to be exchanged. Nothing I could say to ease the discomfort in the air.
The boys hesitated. Then followed me. Once inside the dark room with the evening sun setting behind us, I motioned for them to sit on the bed. I began rummaging around suitcases. My hands surfaced with hand sanitizer jugs, a bulk bag of granola and the bag of oranges I had purchased several days before, from the fruit ladies. I handed the loot over to the boys.
“Mesi madame. Mesi anpil, anpil.”
They hot footed out of the room, across the gang plank, down the ladder and back onto the street.
A day or two later, though in Haiti it felt like weeks later. A women, I never seen her before, overtook me on the street. Her hair was wrapped in a scarf and her dress was shapeless, non-descript. Hard living was etched on her face as if you were viewing a human through a lace veil. When she took my hands in her hands, I could feel the soft person she was underneath her hard living skin.
She began to thank me profusely with many Creole words I just didn’t understand. Words marching around. Her eyes searched mine. More words. The meaning wasn’t lost, I understood. She was the mother of the two boys I had given fruit, granola and hand sanitizer to a few days before.
Can you imagine being that grateful for so little?
That moment put my entire life into perspective. And continues to shape the person I would like to become.