Monday, August 2, 2010

Basic Needs Part 1 - The mystery of the Schoolmaster’s Brown Leather Oxfords


“Haiti was a land full of people without shoes, whose people walked the dusty roads to market in the early morning, barefooted ones tending the rice and the cane fields...All the work that kept Haiti alive was done by people without shoes.’

Kids, everyone, in barefeet. Playing soccer even. Very alarming to blans, foreigners, visitors as much today as in Langston Hughes’ time. Shoes make the man, it seems in Haiti – Haitians are very conscious about what is – or is not – on their feet. The feet of country folks, moun ki travay te – who work in the fields – have thick calluses that almost serve as leather soles, You can tell if a person has or has not worked in the fields by the breadth and thickness of the soles of their feet. Next time you are in Haiti, rural Haiti, have a look.

So, what you might pay for a pair of sandals, is 100 to 150 goudes - a cheap, plastic pair that will go the distance was obtained for 100 goudes. Randy used these to flop around “upstairs” and get out of her tennis.

What you might pay for tennis shoes new-ish or slightly used - 500 goudes, about 12 bucks. Your children must have tennis shoes or closed shoes to attend school. Multiply by however many children and add to cost of school

For used leather shoes – 150 HD to 750 goudes – that’s the price you could pay in the city for closed shoes, oxfords. Everyone has to have a pair of these, the better to go to church with, or other important meetings, or perhaps even work, for the 30 % or so (how do they know this?) who work or have jobs requiring such shoes.

On my last Sunday up in the mountains, I admire Dieudonne’s soft brown leather closed shoes, with nary a speck of dust nor mark! They look like they were made in Milan. This really starts me wondering. And it must have really bugged me, as I had just hiked up a grueling steep bunch of corn and bean fields to make it to watch The Game. We are sitting up in Sonny’s shack, a 4 foot closet on the way to Mon Bouton. We are about 10 or 12, packed onto the bad and chairs around a 4 inch black and white TV – it is the FINAL of the World Cup and nobody here is Dutch or Spanish but they all care, wanna be part of the history that is about to be made. Spain dances across the soccer field, doing ballet with the ball past the astonished Dutchmen who get a red card.

The walls of Sonny’s cell, er, room that is the size of a cell, are plastered with Haitian newspapers for decoration. The headlines and advertisements for Barbancourt Rum, for cell phones, for celebrity events and discotheques in elite Petionville add more than a bit of color.

I am sweaty and guzzling the remains in my water bottle. Dieudonne and I and half a dozen teens and kids sit on the bed and hang our feet over the edge.

I look down at Dieudonne’s shoes and wonder how an impoverished schoolmaster from these mountain parts came to own such shoes?

A gift he tells me. Someone bought them for me as a gift and gave them to me. A gift? And they knew your size? How did that happen? Really, I want to know. They look awfully expensive, by any standards.

They know my size, it is always the same size, he says. His explanation: So they bought these and gave them to me.

I don’t know whether to believe him or not. Another mystery from the mountains of Zoranje.

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