[All names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals mentioned.]
We wake early the next morning, and I have to confess this: I am the last one out of bed. It is Saturday.
We slept on the floor the night before, and I am feeling it.
But I manage to get up–even though I feel terrible–and brush my teeth and get dressed. Because I am so late, all of the girls, Reuben, and the other members of our group are all together downstairs for the morning devotions. Ellen is just finishing up this morning’s devotion (translated by Reuben) to the girls.
I stumble in, disturbing the reverie a bit, and sit next to my father.
Ellen finishes, and the girls sing, accompanied by Reuben’s seven year old son, Moyiz, who is banging on a battered drum in the corner.
It’s the perfect way to begin a day.
Later, we eat, accompanied by Reuben. Breakfast is spaghetti with hot dogs and hamburger buns. Reuben mixes mayonnaise and ketchup together with his noodles and I do the same. It’s surprisingly good, even though it’s a little bit strange, and the chocolate drink that is served is superb.
And then, one of the women who works for the home brings up a small bowl with Mandarin Oranges.
The oranges are huge, compared to the ones that we have in America, and when I bite into one, my mouth explodes with the flavor. It tastes like an orange on steroids … maybe like what a bite of sunshine would taste like (well, before it burns you up from miles and miles away … but that’s besides the point).
It is definitely the best Mandarin orange I have ever eaten and the best one I will probably ever eat.
We finish, and we help the workers clear off the table and put things away. Juliet and I try some of our Creole on them, and they are so joyful that we have made an effort to learn their language, but at the same time they laugh at our feeble attempts to start a conversation.
We laugh more than we work.
After breakfast is over, we play with the girls, getting to know them a little better.
A few little girls attach themselves to me, and they follow me around wherever I go. I pick up one girl, a three year old, and she doesn’t let go for the next two hours.
Since it is Saturday, Reuben’s wife, Jane, has the day off from working at her job at the bank. She grins and calls me Monkey again.
Of all the names.
Juliet Poe and I spend a little time with her. She’s surprised when I say that she is my sister.
“She is your sister, and I am your sister!” she exclaims, laughing.
“Yes!” I say.
I call her Sister to the day I leave.
Jane goes into the kitchen, and we follow.
“You cut up this?” Jane hands me a very large mango.
I say that I will and she gives me a knife. I start to cut off the skin, but she says, “No, no, no! You will cut yourself if you cut like that!”
She takes the knife and mango from me and Juliet offers to do it.
She does it the right way.
We pass the fruit out to the members of our party. As with the Mandarin, it is the best mango I’ve eaten.
Jane takes a new mango and bites the end off. She gives it to Juliet. “Suck,” she says.
Juliet sucks all of the ripe fruit out of the skin. Jane takes another mango and removes the end of it in the same manner.
“Picture?” I ask, and Jane stands next to me for the selfie. But right before I take it, she puts the mango in my mouth. Yes. In my mouth.
In another hour or so, I am upstairs and my dad, Ellen, and I are setting out the knitting things. We’ve got maybe two dozen straight needles, and we pick out some of the number 8s and set out six or seven balls of cotton yarn.
Ellen is a crocheter and she’s tried knitting before, but she asks me to show her how again so that she’ll be able to help me if I get too busy with one person. And surprisingly, my dad chimes in and asks me to teach him how also. I think that he is joking, at first, but no, he is serious.
I show them how to do the long-tail cast on and when they’ve got that down, they’ve got enough stitches for a good washcloth. They begin knitting. Since Ellen has already knitted before, she picks up on it quick … but my dad … well, let’s just say that he’s got the concept.
Dad keeps on, but Ellen stops, and we ask Reuben to round up some of the older girls and one of the workers so that she’ll be able to help the girls when we’re gone.
And pretty soon, we’ve got a room full of little girls.
And we begin. I can instantly see that the long tail cast on is probably not the best method to teach right now. They are having trouble with all the loops going on. Time to switch tactics.
The backwards loop cast on. Easy enough, but soon, the drawbacks are evident. The girls have casted on too tightly, and when I start to teach the knit stitch, it is very hard for them to stick their needle through the loops. And some of them get frustrated.
Now is a good time to mention that none of the girls speak English very well, and neither does the worker. And the worker … well, she’s left handed, too.
Juliet and Ellen talk, and they decide that now is a good time to bring on something else, to give the girls a break, so Juliet takes them into another room and they make friendship bracelets together.
Most of the girls leave my group, but the worker stays with the knitting.
After a while, Dad asks her her name. She looks at us with a confused expression on her face. Dad looks at me expectantly. How do I say this in Creole? I don’t speak very much of it (just the basics), and What is your name does not come very readily to me.
So I ask, “Kisa ou rele?”
Her face lights up. “Ou pale kreyòl?”
I shake my head, “Tu piti. Pa trè byen ”
“No, no, no! Ou pale trè byen!”
Then she proceeds in English. “I speak Creole, French, Spanish … but I only speak …” She struggles for the words, and when she doesn’t find then, she tuts a few times.
I understand, and so does Dad, and we laugh with her.
Her name is Mari, and we have a good time together, knitting; her teaching us a little Creole, and then me and Dad teaching her a little English.
Mari is a good knitter. Even though she’s only learned a few hours ago, she’s progressed a good two inches and her stitches are straight and even.
I am overjoyed.
It is time for her to go, and she sets down her knitting and looks at me. “Ou se mwen Pwofesè.”
You are my teacher.
Later, after the nightly devotions, Clausette (the oldest girl), Moyiz, and I kick the basketball back and forth like a soccer ball. Ted joins in, and once, later, he kicks it too high, and it gets stuck on the spikes of the fence. We all freeze, as if that will do any good, so we hear it deflate–all the pent-up air releasing slowly.
A thought jumps into my mind full force.
I was happy to be an average American. I was content to know that there are people who live in complete destitution and not really do anything about it.
But now, when I am in a country where poverty is common-place, I realize that everything that I knew was like the ball: now shattered.
I will never be the same.