Saturday, May 26, 2012

Basket of Cherries

It’s only 10:35am in Haiti, and the day has already been extremely eventful. Since the first half of our trip revolves solely around the Centenary Module, we are attempting to throw the students into as much of a cultural experience that we are able to in 14 days. And if there’s a way to do it, it’s at the market.

Much laughter could be heard from the back kitchen at the Cambry Guesthouse this morning when it was explained to the cooks that our large group of light skinned 20-something females were wanting to explore the country market to purchase the things on our hosts’ grocery list. They agreed, and each item (along with its French name and estimated cost) was written down on a piece of recycled paper then tossed into Dr. Lawrence’s hat. Then the process of haggling was explained and slightly practiced before the drawing began. And the question lingered silently in the common room….Who would have to buy the turkey.

Cheese, eggs, Clorox, peppers, onions, garlic, raw chopped up goat, and more. Each student received their commission for the next couple of hours, and we climbed in the back of the off-roading pickup to head to the Biggarrouse Mache.

There’s nothing discrete about us when we arrive somewhere.  We arrive with the aroma of a target, along with our struggling creole skills only coupled perfectly with the Goude stuffed in our socks and our lack of knowledge of where to find what. The teenaged merchants follow our groups of four who have quickly split up and taken off into the layers of booths. They call after us in loud, monotoned descriptions of what they are selling and why we should buy. “Nou gen pa bezwen, mesi!” We have no need for that, thankyou! We must find goat.

My small team was made up of me and Amanda and, thank God, Mia…the cook. She had put on her finest dress for our outing, so of course we felt pretty underdressed. Haitians stay so clean, the greatest of mysteries.  Who knows how we would have returned to the truck if it weren’t for Mia. We approached the section of the Market toward the far back where the fence line began where the meat was stored, both the live and the…well…sellable.  If this doesn’t qualify as intercultural experience, Centenary, give these girls their money back. The dismembered hooves were stacked on the corner of the butcher block tables, under the canopies made of NGO tarps. Fresh goat heads with opened eyes were organized where each seller stood as they negotiate the different pieces of whichever animal was most recently deceased. Warm, exposed, raw meat would be disturbing if we were uncertain of its freshness. But alas, we are not. The childlike screaming of the goats tied by one hoof toward our right awaiting the fate of the knife and the dollar let us know that we are getting a new product. A silver lining, I suppose.

Our “cashier” was a larger dark woman with a black and white striped tshirt barely peeking through the tribal wrap she had strapped above her chest. She leaned back when she haggled, butcher knife in hand waving about as she flung drops of blood on the old mutt that lounged by her side. What a movie moment we were having.

She gave Mia a price, which Mia laughed at. One trick we had yet to be taught in the art of market negotiation: The “you gotta be kidding me” laugh. And Mia bare handedly pulled and tugged at the different parts of the animal, pointing to the cuts that we would be paying a fair price for. And finally, we walked away with a very heavy bag and 100gds extra.

Eventually the rest of the group made their way back to the truck where our live turkey sat resting lazy and terrified beside the box of soap we had purchased to wash our own clothes today.  He’s been named Phil, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing him again.

A debrief of the students’ experiences followed our grocery drop-off, and now rest is taking place before we delve into removing the awful stains from our worn clothes.

Three things were significant about the Biggarrouse Machet for me, as I watched the small white clusters cling to old brown paper and scurry from booth to booth asking, “Where are the eggs?” in Creole. 1. How huge is it to edify the Haitian’s culture by demonstrating that we want to learn, as fumbling as we may appear at first. 2. How nice the dense crowd was in general in their greetings and offers of direction. 3. How metaphors of hope can be found in the most routine of places if your filter is set right.

And by that I mean…The market has a general haze of grey-brown when you glace across. The dust and mud from the worn ground is mixed in with old dirty trash and animal droppings. The tarps are old, the poles are drying wood, and the sacks are whatever plastic bag was able to be found. But my gosh, the colors of the fruit and the vegetables! Piles and piles of white rice, and cantaloupe sized grape fruit. Leafy spinach and sharply colored carrots. And while ducking through the ropes and poles of these stands covered in mounds of vibrancy, a lady approached us with a large wide basket balanced still on her head. She lowered just long enough for us to see the hundreds of deep red cherries, and then she was again on her way.

In the smallest of ways, I hear Haiti say, “See. Things grow here, too.”

A very memorable experience, one surely to be not easily forgotten. Now for clothes washing, or at least an attempt. And then more rest before our early morning church service, followed by an unplanned Haitian soccer game. 


“…out of chaos, life is being found in You…”

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