“Come on, it will be fun. You can work on your tan latter.” Susan tugged on her husband’s sleeve.
Mike and Susan had only been in Haiti for three days, but already they were in love with the white sand beaches, azure colored crystal ocean, and tropical frozen drinks. However, Susan wanted to get a taste of the island life beyond the tacky tourist trap they were staying in and had finally managed to drag her husband inland to an open Market Place. It was the Friday before the big Carnival and the scene was a veritable buying frenzy. The bizarre was about a mile long, consisting of open booth type shops that lined both sides of the dusty main walk. The shops were made out of plywood and corrugated tin sheets that looked like they would topple over in a stiff breeze. There wasn’t an object on Earth that couldn’t be purchased here if you knew were to look or who to ask or at least that’s how it seemed to Susan.
Walking along the main street Susan admired the brightly coloured cloth that was for sale. This was the first place she had seen the islanders in a rush. Everyone had an agenda and an apparent schedule to keep. The din was unbelievable. Merchants were yelling at buyers and vice versa. Children were running loose every where she looked, most of them were keeping busy by stealing anything that wasn’t firmly nailed down.
“That’s a very generous offer,” Mike said to a tall island man that had approached him “however, I don’t think she’d ever forgive me.” Mike and the stranger laughed and then the new comer went about his day.
Susan had just caught the tail end of the conversation. She eyed her husband suspiciously. “What was that about?” She asked, even though she was sure she didn’t want to hear the answer.
“Nothing,” Mike replied innocently “just a business proposition.”
“I don’t like the sound of that.”
“Apparently it is a common assumption that everything here is for sale.” He added with a catty grin.
“I see, I hope that doesn’t include me.”
“Well I suppose that depends on whether the price is right.” Mike laughed at her indignant expression. “Don’t worry, Susan, I would never sell you. It wouldn’t be fair; the buyer would have no idea what he was getting himself into.”
Susan decided to dismiss the comment rather than continue the banter. Mike was acting entirely too playful for the accountant that he was, and this conversation could only lead to trouble. She turned her attention back to the busy market scene. Apparently there was some kind of zoning laws here. As they walked further the themes of the tiny shops changed. Now instead of clothing it was turning more towards jewelry and art.
The art work was amazingly colourful. All the paintings had the same basic style behind them. Everything was brightly coloured with deep reds and bright blues. One of the larger paintings was a rendering of the market its self. Susan went over to it for a closer look. Looking from the portrait to real life the shocking contrast could clearly be seen. The basic structures and landmarks in the painting were the same as in reality. However the painting was full of lush green trees and finely dressed people calmly strolling about.
Looking around the only trees Susan could see were stunted from the lack of water and gray from kicked up dust. Most of the people hustling about wore tattered clothing and argued emotively with each other. The whole scene was a tribute to the true poverty of the tiny island. The real Market Place was a far cry from the brightly stylized art work. The painting seemed to represent what foreigners, and until now herself, always visualized island life to be. The truth however wasn’t nearly so beautiful.
Mike and Susan continued to walk along the shoddy stores. They watched the exchanges and the general bustle. As they were watching crowd the crowd was watching right back. They didn’t get very many tourist down this way. It wasn’t as if the foreign pair exactly blended in.
“Now there’s something you don’t see every day.” Mike stated gesturing at a large woman who was walking towards them. “At least not in Indiana.”
The approaching woman appeared to be wearing a white coat. Susan thought it odd that she would be wearing such a heavy outfit on such a hot day, but other than that it didn’t seem unusual. As the woman came closer Susan decided that her eyes weren’t as good as the used to be. The ‘coat’ was made out of feathers. Not just feathers, but whole live chickens that the woman had tied to herself by their feet. Every once and a while one of the trusted up birds would desperately try to fly away, but to no avail. Susan reasoned that it was an economical way to bring birds to market, even if it was a bit disgusting.
As they walked further on past the jewelry the scene tended more towards hardwares. It was like a giant open air K-mart. However the scenery wasn’t the only thing changing, the smell in the air was transforming as well. The pleasant scent of perfumes was quickly giving way to the over powering scent of animals and rotting flesh.
Soon they found themselves in a traditional island meat market. There were rows of fish out on tables with their glazed eyes baking slowly in the harsh sun. The sounds of chickens clucking could be heard everywhere. One place had large green iguanas that had actually been stapled to pieces of cardboard so they couldn’t escape. The napes of their necks had been cut open so that you could see the quality of the muscle. It was absolutely horrifying and enough to turn even the most cast iron stomach.
Susan was about to ask Mike if they could turn back when something caught her eye. Since there was no refrigeration the meat for sale (that wasn’t still breathing) was hung on large hooks out in the open. They were covered in black masses of hungry flies. One little shop didn’t seem to be having the same insect problem as the others. Susan paused briefly and watched the woman who was tending the large chunks of cow, pig, and what appeared to be a skinned dog .
“No flies!” The large female store keeper called out. “No flies on my meat!”
After a few seconds the woman darted her eyes about nervously. Then she quickly reached under the counter and whipped out a can of what appeared to be Raid. She hurried to give the meat a thick coating of insecticide before throwing the can back under the rickety counter. She then proceeded to boast the fact that her product was fly free.
There wasn’t a health inspector on the planet that wouldn’t have had a heart attack on the spot. Susan was a medical doctor herself and was nauseated by the fact that this woman had probably been slowly poisoning people this way for years. What was even worse was that no one seemed to care.
“Buyer beware.” She muttered to herself.
While she had been stopped Mike’s attention had been drawn to a goat that was tied to the supporting pole of a near by shop. Susan had seen plenty of goats in her life, but this one was different. It was black with a white face, which was nothing unusual. The odd feature was the fact that it had four horns sprouting from its head, two on each side. One pair of horns pointed up and the other down.
“What’s that?” Mike asked the apparent owner of the animal.
“Dat’s a goat, mate.” He responded simply. “Don’t get many of dose in da city eh Drongo?”
“I know it’s a goat, what’s wrong with its horns.” Mike was unperturbed by the man’s odd ethnic slur.
“Nothen’s wrong, she’s just born dat way. It happens. Ya interested?”
“I wouldn’t have any idea what to do with her.”
“I’m sure you could dink of someting.” The man responded with a wide grin and an overdone wink. His honest laughter boomed above the general din. “Four horned goat, good with Black Magic.”
“Black magic?” Mike said suddenly interested.
“Yeah.” The goat owner pulled out a bottle of spices with a semiprofessional label that said ‘Black Magic Seasoning’. “Good stuff, all da best spices in da Caribbean.” The man laughed again. He loved it when tourists came around.
“Maybe later.” Mike agreed laughing with the man.
Susan wasn’t about to join the conversation. She looked around at the street again. Unlike the rest of the market the road here was muddy instead of dusty. She noticed with disgust that the mud had not been formed by rain. The moisture in the soil was caused by animal blood from the freshly killed cows, pigs, and goats. They did the slaughtering right here so that they wouldn’t have to carry the meat to the stores, and of course live meat doesn’t tend to rot. All of that blood had run off into the street and mixed with the dusty ground. How anyone could even think about food in the diseased market was beyond her. She suddenly appreciated the sanitary grocery stores back home.
Susan was distracted from the gory scene by something tugging at the ankle of her khaki pant leg. Looking down she discovered a young puppy had a hold of her pant leg and was determined to shred it with his tiny milk teeth. He was a tan mutt with a white stripe on his nose and large paws that signified he’d grow up to be a good size dog. For now however he couldn’t weight more than three pounds and most of that was contained in a big round belly. Susan crouched down to the dog’s level. She balanced on the balls of her feet to avoid the bloody soil. Wrapping her hands around the dog just behind his front legs she gently lifted the animal up off the ground.
“And just what do you think you’re doing?” She addressed the dog directly.
The little suspended dog went into full Ecstatic Puppy Mode. His playful bark was his only explanation for his guilty acts. He kicked his muddy back feet trying to get purchase. His little pink tongue darted in and out as he strained forward in a vain effort to lick her face. He seemed so intent on his goal that Susan brought him a little closer and allowed him to briefly lick her cheek. She laughed at the ticklish wet contact of his velvety tongue.
“Dace!” A little native girl with beads in her hair called above the general din of the crowd. “Dace! Da...”
At the mention of the name the puppy’s floppy ears perked up. Susan looked up. Still low to the ground her eyes met with the girl’s. She stood about ten feet away and was just staring nervously at Susan. She couldn’t be more than five or six years old.
“Is this little Dace?” Susan asked politely. She turned the pup around so that he could see the timid child. Having spotted his girl the puppy’s tiny whip like tail wagged so hard that his whole lower half wiggled in uncontainable excitement.
The girl nodded slowly and came a few steps closer. She glanced around to make sure no one was watching. She grabbed up the hem of her dirty yellow sun dress exposing her legs to the knee and her muddy bare feet. She tightly held on to the cloth in her little hands for courage. The girl came a few steps closer and hesitated again.
“It’s all right.” Susan said smiling reassuringly. Dace barked his encouragement.
After one finale glance around the young girl bravely walked up to Susan. Susan held out the pup who at this point was having so much fun that every muscle in his tiny body was writhing under his oversized skin. The girl took the offered dog in her tiny hands and tucked him under one arm. Dace proceeded to feverishly lick the underside of her jaw.
The little native child hadn’t taken her dark eyes off Susan’s bright blue ones the whole time. The pair stared at each other for a moment when an errant breeze untucked Susan’s shoulder length hair from behind her left ear. The girl was startled for a second. She forgot all about the dog that was still trying to lick her skin off and just stood there frozen. Her attention was now transfixed on reddish blonde strands that hung down a few inches past Susan’s chin. The little girl impulsively put her hand up, but she kept it to herself.
Susan followed the girls gaze to her own hair. She managed to suppressed her laughter. She cocked her head to the side so that her hair draped down a bit longer. The little girl took the motion as an invitation and hesitantly reached out. Her whole face lit up as she gently stroked Susan’s soft hair. She had never been this close to a tourist before. She’d certainly never felt hair like this, it was so silky and fine. Her own coarse hair was neatly braided down in intricate corn rows that extended down to her shoulders. On the end of each tight braid was three colourful beads that were secured in place by a small ball of tin foil.
“Kasha!” A feminine voice rang out. It was the same tone that the girl had used to hail her dog. “Kasha!”
Kasha turned her head and scanned the crowd for her mother. Having spotted her she waved and turned her attention back to Susan. She smiled brightly exposing a set of brilliantly white teeth that gleamed out of her dark face.
“Tank you.” She chimed cheerfully. Suddenly unafraid she wrapped her free arm around Susan’s neck giving her a quick hug. This also gave Dace the perfect opportunity to make sure that Susan’s face was clean with a frenzy of inspection licking.
“You’re very welcome.” Susan returned politely. She matched the child’s smile with one of her own.
Kasha wrapped both her arms around little Dace and trotted off to her mother. Satisfied that her child was in still in the area she had already turned back to her business of purchasing dinner.
Mike had watched the whole exchange without comment. Susan had a special touch with children. Every time he witnessed her interactions with them he was forced to think about what an excellent mother she would have been. He tried not to think about it, but the still birth of their baby boy always came back to him all the time. They had never tried again, it had been over five years but the pain was as clear as yesterday. Neither one of them had the heart to try again or even to adopt.
Lost in thought Mike hadn’t realized that Susan still hadn’t moved. She was still balancing on the balls of her feet low to the ground. She was watching young Kasha playing with the ever exuberant Dace at her mother’s feet. They darted in about the woman’s skirt hem and generally did a good job at entertaining themselves. Her mother was haggling with a merchant over a trusted up chicken that was clucking pitifully.
“Yeah.” She acknowledged as she got up. She rubbed the dog drool off her cheek with the back of her hand. Susan took a brief look around at the open meat market. “Let’s go, Mike. I think I’ve suddenly decided to go vegetarian.”
They walked back to the brightly coloured hotel. However the island had lost its charm. The tropical frozen drinks of the hotel bar didn’t wash away the bitter taste of island life in Susan’s mouth. Under the pink paint and rattan furniture of the tourist trap lay a culture born of the descendants of abandoned slaves and blood thirsty pirates. A culture dying under the weight of its own poverty. The results of which lay in an open market for an unseeing world to see.