Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Crisscrossing my cultural divide

Julie Rumo poses Elimene and her husband for a wedding
photo in front of their home in Desab, Haiti

Haiti Chronicles Part 7

We're walking down, down, down a mountainside to visit Elimene and her family so Julie can take pictures.

Special pictures.

Elimene just got married and Julie Rumo, a board member of Stone by Stone, and a professional wedding photographer, wants to take pictures of the newlyweds. So after dinner, we hike down the mountain on narrow paths -- one-person-at-a-time narrow -- on a journey that crisscrosses my cultural divide.

There are no sidewalks, no street lights, no cars, no roads, just  this winding, gutted, stony path littered with animal droppings and with animals, with donkeys, chickens, roosters, goats, mules, cows and occasionally people herding them home.

These animals exist to be eaten. They free range throughout the village, foraging for food. Of which there is little. Even for the people. So these animals are essential to life here in Desab.

We arrive at Elimene's, an elaborate structure for these parts, tucked inside a weed copse. And then she emerges from her Haitian home looking like an American bride, all dressed up in a beautiful white satin gown, a few sizes too big, but lovely. Her husband steps out, too, in his rented tux. Together, they model my world.

Elimene's daughter points to the dangling chicken
While Julie engages them in their poses, their front yard fills with onlookers.  I notice a young woman  has a chicken -- a live one -- she's holding by the feet. OK. I cross that divide again. The bird dangles down to her thigh. Every now and then, its head bangs against her hip as she walks. 

I know it's alive. It flutters now and then. My heart breaks for that bird. I want to set it free. But I remind myself that these people are hungry, and if they start changing their hearts toward these animals, everyone would starve.

So I look away and engage in the situation, watching Julie take pictures. Yet I keep glancing at that poor bird, like a loose tooth, I mess with it until it hurts.

The sun is getting low, so we have to leave. But Elemene asks us to wait. Still dressed in her American gown, she hops into her Haitian barn and emerges with THAT CHICKEN! And hands it out to us. OK. Back across that divide. 

Elimene offers a chicken in payment
This poor, dangling bird belongs to Julie now, as payment for her services. 

A great sacrifice, we understand, but panic sets in.

Is Julie expected to tote this upside-down, suffering bird back up the mountain? Then kill it, pluck it, butcher it and eat it? And if she doesn't, will Elimene take great offense? If we do take it, will anyone see us set it free? And will it REALLY be free?

I can see streaks of red rising up Julie's neck, into her cheeks. She's close to the edge. I can tell. She grabs her backpack, opens it wide, I guess hoping they'll stuff the bird in there and not expect her to touch it. 

Elimene laughs and turns the bird over to her husband. And through a series of gestures  mixed with more laughs and a few English words, we learn she'll do all the prep work because she's coming to our house tomorrow to cook THIS chicken for dinner.

Haiti Chronicles Part 8: Eating in Desab 

1 comment:

Lynda Harries said...

Nancy, these tales are disturbing and poignant and difficult and beautiful all at once. So well written (and so well lived!).