While we stay at St. Vincent’s guest quarters, our meals are provided by four women who work in the kitchen. The food is delicious and plentiful. Many times we would remark to one another our inner pangs of conscience at eating so well in a country where many people go days without a decent meal. However I have come to accept that our Haitian hosts enjoy taking care of us, much as we would show them generous hospitality were they to visit our homes. Of course, their resources are much more limited, but such is the way of hospitality in Haiti.
I had asked our team members to bring small gifts for our hostesses, perhaps things they can’t always get easily for themselves, like lipstick or scented soap. On our last night, after supper, we brought out our small offerings. Included in the array of cosmetics and hand lotion were a set of purple t-shirts from the Maccabi games at the Memphis Jewish Community Center, as well as a set of decorative Christmas towels with reindeer stitched onto them in gold thread. Our Haitian friends wanted to know why there was a shoe on the purple t-shirts. A lively discussion ensued when Dixie, who is deaf, wanted to know what kind of animal that was on the towels. The other three cooks are Marie Carmelle, Madame Marc and Elvie. Marie Carmelle speaks about 20 words of English. Madame Marc is the mother of Pere Sadoni who is the priest in charge of St. Vincent’s, and she and Elvie speak only Creole and French. My son, Adam, by this time had learned about 50 words in sign language. His vocabulary was limited however, since he had been studying a Xerox copy of a children’s sign language dictionary, and he only had the pages for A-M. Adam tried to explain to Dixie what the animal was, but since he had no sign for reindeer, the best they could come up with was GOAT. So I tried to talk with Marie Carmelle and get a more accurate description of a deer with horns. Total bewilderment. I enlisted the help of Jiselle, who speaks French quite well, and she tried to get the word for reindeer out of Madame Marc. After 10 minutes of intercultural and multilinguistic exchange, with the Americans EARNESTLY trying to convey the image of the animals that fly through the air and lead Santa’s sleigh, we were told the word must be “Cabrit”. In other words, “Goat”. Rudolph, the red nosed…..GOAT.
PS I brought Adam a Sign Language dictionary for Christmas. He now knows the sign for reindeer. I’m still not sure it will mean anything to the Haitians. Anyway, I prefer the image of the Christmas Goat.