HAITI WORKS - PEOPLE WHO WORK
We step clear of debris and…well, debris! ...towards their space, their tin and cardboard structure in the neighborhood known as Delmas 6. Zanda and I will share floorspace with them tonight.
Marline moved to Delmas 6 after her the home she shared with other family tumbled on Jan. 12. She doesn’t have much to say about her family, just her mother passed long ago. And who is left?
Delmas 6 is not a tent city; rather, it is a huge cluster of tin, wood and cardboard shanties, in the style of the favelas of Brazil. There actually is ventilation, a small window, it lets in some light. And air. At night, it and the door are closed. She keeps a fan going – for me I think.
There’s a bokit for treated water, with a cover. There’s someone to fetch more. He’ll get 5 goudes, which is maybe a dime or 12 cents depending on the exchange rate. I don’t do the conversions anymore. I’m living on the local economy, so to speak and as it were, now.
There’s some aluminum glassware that works to keep drinks cool, actually. There’s a stack of kivets (basins) of various sizes – some for laundry, some for bathing and some for peeing in at night or whenever. I have given up about toilet paper – it is BYOP or forget it.
In front of me is a narrow bed and it is immaculate, a pink cover pulled taut across its length. I stand and wait – I don’t want to mess it up, but there’s no place else to sit…I want to do more than sit! I want to flop, spread out, release the heat and sweat and grime somehow. But the sheet is too clean.
There’s a table crowded with sparkling dishes stacked in front of a kerosene lamp (empty) and an electrical cord hangs limp, invitingly, from the ceiling. Do I want to charge my cell phone? You bet!
A television blares from the remaining wall – the image is fuzzy and the noise staticky. Marline apologizes and tells me I’ll be able to watch the World Cup (Brazil!) at the place on the other side of the wall, in full color, wide screen, from a neighbor’s bed.
Marline says I need a pedicure – just lookit those dusty grungy blan feet! Ugh! Can I do this? Can I, in all good conscience, in the midst of this squalor beyond squalor, have a PEDICURE? Are you kidding?!
She takes command: I must sit back on the bed, pull of my sandals, drape my legs over the edge. Now, stand in the kivet of warm sudsy water her friend brings us. The friend says 200 goudes. Marline explains to me the price, says I am supposed to negotiate from there. Dazed, gritty, tired, too tired, must I ? wondering – I don’t want to insult or take advantage, or drive the market up – I say, “Cent goudes.” Marline says I did well!
I soak. And I must say, this is the best $2.50 I spent in 5 weeks in Haiti! Wow!
Friend Edna is washing my feet. I am ashamed at how dirty and crusty they are but I close my eyes and pretend I am back in Palo Alto and this is happening. I comfort myself: Someone is earning money thanks to my feet. I try to tell myself this is NOT NOT grotesque. This is capitalism, entrepreneurship, in action. This is paying decently for decent work. This is ok. Breathe.
Later I marvel at the brown polish – the only color she has, it will have to do – looking garish but getter than nothing? – on stubby oh so white toes, at the end of the sun tan sandal marks. Brown?! On them, with their wonderfully brown, beige, gold, black, maroon feet, slim, thin feet, it looks great. Mine, brown looks like a mistake, on my elephant feet.
But. I feel MUCH better and much cleaner. Don’t even have to bother with the cup and bucket routine now.
Marline is finally satisfied and I get to ask: How much? I am studying the cost of living here, after all, or rather, as I like to quip, the cost of surviving. I get to ask: So how much do you clear in a day? Is this where you always set up shop? How much for a shoe repair? How much to shine boots? I want to stay, watch, learn more, ask more questions but Marline decides enough is enough and steers me away towards the gate where she and the other textile workers will soon start their long day. It is 6:45 a.m. and I will have a huge hot godet of Haitian coffee and biskwit (hardtack in my personal lexicon).
We have not yet got the news of Maxo’s death.