Credentials

A woman sits on a broken stretch of sidewalk underneath a hollowed-out bank building in Port-au-Prince. She sells fruits for a pittance – bananas mainly – in much the same way she did before the earthquake hit. Toil is creased within the folds on her face. Her life has been one long staccato measure of military coups, regime changes, and natural disasters. She has weathered them all the same way the banana tree has: by swaying with the currents. Bent, but never too far. Lost a few leaves, but hung on to the vital fruit.

A journalist passes by on the hunt for a good story. Perhaps a “people piece” for the second page of the paper. Glancing down at the hunched form of the fruit seller, he toys with the idea of featuring street entrepreneurs like her and how the disaster has derailed their fortunes. He buys a banana; presses a fresh note into her palm. He casually asks her how business has been in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Memn. Same.

He presses on, inquisitive. Surely, prices have changed? Supplies are thinning? Her previous customers either dead or fled to the countryside?

She tilts her head up at him and gives him a wry smile. All true, she admits, but changing nothing. With cool focus, she details the way it works here, in the poorest nation of the Western hemisphere.

The journalist, dumbstruck, sits cross-legged before her like a sponge as she relates state policies of providing massive subsidies to foreign grain stock while charging high tariffs to locally produced strains. How the proliferation of foreign-owned multinational agricultural types has driven small-scale production deep into the ground, employing newly destitute farmers virtually for free. How the speculation in food prices has pulled even the most basic staples like rice and corn cruelly out of the population’s outstretched hands.

A toddler at a Robert Munsch reading never sat so transfixed.

After getting up and dusting off his khakis, he looks upon her, unblinking. The fruit seller hands him a bunch of bananas. Green, she says, to last you the week. From one worker to another. He offers to pay, but she gently brushes his hands aside. He sputters his thanks and ambles away with one last backwards glance.

It all makes so much sense to him. His suspicions, these jigsaw pieces lacking coherency and connection, fit when guided by the woman’s words. Ideas that, through years and degrees in economics and politics, had never quite added up.

That night, he calls his wife, and asks her to pull their daughter out of private school.

With a photo of demolished Regent Park buildings by plastictaxi.

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