Gaz blan

I had a great idea. Not brilliant, but pretty good. The swiftly rising value of the dollar would surely drive the price of gaz blan, or kerosene, up soon. Other prices were and would be rising. Serious inflation is a real danger. I myself, however, was focused on kerosene. The absence of electric lighting where I live makes us depend on it.

This was my idea: I would buy three full gallons today-normally we buy only one, because a little goes a long way. I’d get it all at today’s price. Mèt and Madanm Anténor both liked the idea. We share our kerosene, so we’d all save. Only later did I think about how little we’d actually save: probably less than a buck. Only later did I wonder when I’d begun thinking like some Coeur d’Alene survivalist: squirreling away my stash of essentials to hedge against what might come. These were my thoughts in retrospect. At the time, the idea seemed really good.

So I collected three empty gallon jugs, and took them down the mountain with me. We don’t generally buy kerosene up on the hill, especially larger quantities. I go down to Petyonvil or Delma, and lug it back up. I stopped by the Texaco at Delma 83 on the way down to the office. I figured I’d leave the kerosene at the office for the day while I went off to do some work. I could pick it up on the way home.

But it wasn’t that simple. When I got to the Texaco, they were out. They had had a delivery that morning, but I was unusually late getting down the mountain, and by the time I arrived at around 10:00, they had sold it all. But that wasn’t so serious. The guys at the station said more was on the way. If I came by later, I’d be fine.

So I spent the rest of the morning working in the office, then went another mile or so down Delma to meet with a group of community organizers for the afternoon. Erik and I left that meeting just after 4:00, and headed up the hill. I went by our office to pick up the empty gallons, and walked the five minutes to the Texaco.

The kerosene hadn’t arrived. It would be there, I was told, by 6:00. I should come back. I thought for a minute. If I waited until 6:00, and could fill the jugs then, I could probably get home around 7:30. I hadn’t ever arrived quite that late, and I didn’t relish the thought. It would be dark, and I would be lugging what would be for me a lot of weight, so my footing on the path would be that much harder. I’ve fallen a couple of times recently, and though I haven’t been hurt, little scrapes get infected easily here, and that’s more of a nuisance than I need. On top of that, Madanm Anténor would surely worry, because she was expecting me to arrive by 6:00. So I caught a ride up to Petyonvil. I thought I’d try to buy the kerosene at the Texaco there instead.

They too were out. They said they thought that Delma 83 was the only place to find it. I doubted that was true, but I certainly knew no better. So after a brief little sulk, I headed back down hill. I got to Delma 83 at about 5:30. After reminding me that he had said the kerosene would arrive at 6:00-the way he put it made me feel as though I was being scolded for coming too soon-the guy working there pointed to the full-size eighteen-wheel tanker truck struggling to get into the lot. There it was. I should wait.

At 6:00, the driver was still trying to get the truck into the lot. Mostly by yelling at the station attendants. Since his last trip to the station, a Coca-Cola® truck had left a large locked metal box, filled with cases of Coke®. The box turned what was a tight squeeze into the station for a truck as big as the gas truck into an impossible one. After several efforts to move the full box, by manpower and by four-by-four, the attendants busted open its locks with a hammer, and emptied it out case-by-case. Then they moved the empty box.

By now, it was 6:15. The gas truck started to pull in as soon as its driver was done yelling at the attendants. That took a couple more minutes, but soon he was in. It took a few more minutes for him to yell at the attendants enough that he was able to start filling the station’s underground tanks, but really not too long. He started with the diesel tank.

Now it was almost 6:30, there were more than twenty of us waiting for kerosene, and no indication that he would start on the kerosene tank anytime soon. I started to calculate travel time, and I would hardly be able to make it up the hill much before 8:00 even if I got my kerosene immediately. Not very likely.

So I gave up. I took my jugs back down to the office, and headed back up the hill empty-handed. I would, as it turned out, be able to fill them late the next morning. When I got to Ka Glo, the folks were a little surprised at my late arrival. They enjoyed the story I had to tell.

I spent a lot of the three hours between 5:00 and 8:00 thinking about how I was being inconvenienced. I must admit I was feeling pretty annoyed. But I left the station at 6:30 because I figured I could go a night without reading. Others there waiting could not give up-not if they wanted to eat: They would be using the kerosene to prepare their own and their children’s food. What was annoying to me could threaten their health, their well-being.

But I was annoyed. It’s funny how petty we can be.