When Abner, Benaja, and I arrived in Latanye, it was midday. We had left Matènwa late in the morning, hoping to observe an afternoon session at the literacy center meeting. We hadn’t been down to the Latanye center in a month, and wanted to check on its progress.
The ride down the mountain and then westward along the coast takes about two hours. On one hand, the current dry season means that the deep pits of gooey mud that make the trip so challenging whenever there’s been rain have disappeared. On the other, the flour-like dust is now inches thick all along the road, and it both chokes you and covers you. For one reason or another, the trip is hard any time of the year.
Latanye is Benaja’s hometown, and the first news we heard when we got there was that his mother was leaving that very day for St. Marc. One of her sons-in-law died suddenly several weeks ago, but she had been sick at the time and, so, hadn’t been able to attend the funeral. Now that she was feeling better, she was anxious to see her daughter.
Sailboats leave Latanye every few days for St. Marc or Arkaye, on the Haitian mainland. Their departure times are irregular. They depend on factors like the wind, the current, and the speed with which they load. We rushed down to the beach to try to catch her before she sailed.
As we got to the shore, the boat was pulling away. I thought that we had missed our chance. We stood waving to Koyotte, Ben’s mom, from the shore, and cursing our timing. But soon Ben was talking with a fisherman, and a few minutes later he and I were sitting in a leaky dugout canoe, paddling into the bay. Abner chose to wait on the beach.
We rowed out to the sailboat, and before I could finish paying my respects Koyotte was handing me a thermos full of hot coffee. When Ben got to her – he was in the back half of the canoe – she handed him a large bag of roasted peanuts, some salted and some covered in sugar. Then she sent us on our way.
We made it most of the way back to the shore before the canoe began to sink. The waves weren’t anything to speak of, but they were more than enough to swamp a vessel already taking on water through a half-dozen or so small holes. Especially since my awkward lack of balance had us dipping to one side or the other every few feet. A beach full of spectators had a lot to talk and laugh about as they watched the two of us wading through waist-deep water, fully clothed, with our precious coffee and peanuts carefully held above the water that was drenching us.
Koyotte had not known that she’d see us that day, so the coffee and peanuts were not waiting for us. She was, however, faced with a sailboat ride to the mainland that might take anywhere from eight to twelve hours. She was at the mercy of the wind and the current, so she couldn’t know when she’d arrive. Not only that, but her daughter probably did not know that she was coming. Telephone communication with Latanye is almost impossible. So Koyotte didn’t know when she’d be able to eat again. The coffee and peanuts were her snack.
But she decided that it was more important to her to give her food to her boy and his friends than enjoy tit herself. She was doing what she could, in a very tight spot, to receive us in her home. I can’t be certain whether she was acting out of her love for her son or out of her strong Haitian sense of hospitality. I suspect it was probably both.
She may have gone hungry that day, or she may have found a fellow passenger willing to share. I don’t know. But her gift was not lost on us. It made for wonderful snacking as we sat through the hot afternoon, waiting for the late-afternoon literacy meeting, our clothes hanging in the hot seaside sun.