Shaina smiles widely with big dimples.
“Are you afraid of dogs?” she asks me.
“No,” I say. “Can you do this?” I stick my tongue out and curl it. She twists her own tongue sideways, tracing her lips, her teeth. She laughs as she tries to curl it like I do.
“Can you do this?” She asks me back, puffing out her cheeks and making her eyes wide. This is the conversation I have with a four year-old.
Sarita pulls her aside and examines her forehead. In the top left area her skin is grayer than the chocolate brown of the rest of her face. Shaina and her sisters have all had parasites, and became very sick from them.
Learning this, I realize that perhaps I shouldn’t have let them take bites from my fork a few minutes ago. But like most things in Haiti, I figure it out just a bit too late. No matter. What has passed has passed, and at this point, there is little I can do.
Nap swiv, as they say.
I’ve had issues being a foreigner lately. They tell you to not drink the ice, to not walk alone, to take your Doxy, to watch what the other foreigners and ex-pats do to know if something is safe or not. Some of this is well-informed, but some of it is hard to swallow. Sometimes it’s the most tempting thing to take off the flak jacket, to take the motorcycle taxi like everyone else, to swallow the ice whole. To share the fork with someone. To live like you live here, and not just visiting or temporary. Otherwise, you will never be able to shed the foreign smell that seems to follow you wherever you go. People don’t even need to look behind them– they already know you’re there.
Today my friend Ysmaille took me to the market in Petionville. I’ve been in busy markets before, but I’d never seen anything like this. It was like the market I knew all too well in São Tomé, but fifty times more populated. Here you are literally dodging, within inches, oncoming cars while you step over a heaping bowl of raw meat that an old man is hunched over, and ducking ever so lightly so as to not tip the massive containers balancing on everyone’s heads. For someone who has never quite experienced a market chaos as intense as this, it was like a video game. I found myself squeezing in areas I’d never squeezed before, leaning my body at weird angles, jumping out of the way at just the right second.
Ysmaille had originally suggested I stay in the car. But he knows me well for two weeks. He knew there’d be no way to stop me from joining him.
Walking through the market was actually quite exhilarating. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. I could also see why Ysmaille, a market expert, had been sent to do the cheese shopping, rather than just anyone.
Sometimes being a foreigner sucks. You know you stick out. You know people are judging you. You begin to respond to blan rather than your own name. Just one of the white people. You avoid people begging in the streets, expecting them to look at you and assume you are rich. You make generalizations of their generalizations.
But sometimes being a foreigner is awesome. It gives you an opportunity to be known. People recognize you. They appreciate you even more when you reach out, when you try to speak their language, when you are open and sharing and honest.
Anyway, you can’t just be from everywhere. You are bound to be foreign to something at one point or another.
When I come home, Shaina and her three young sisters squeal with excitement. They can see me in the darkness– my light skin reflects the moonlight. They all show me their fingers. The nail polish I painted just a couple days ago is already peeling, no doubt from the day’s mix of labor and play that often involves rough, dusty surfaces and streets. I can’t offer them much, but the polish helps. We are very different, but we all have multicolored fingernails.