I taught all day at the seminary, five hours on my feet. It was hot and humid and I was exhausted as I made my way through the muddy street back to the mission compound where we were staying. I heard the cries of children – “blanc! blanc!” – as tried to push my way through the crowd.
By now I had learned to largely ignore their shouting. Give one a bit of money, or some food, and soon a riot would break out as children and even parents clamored for a gift. I felt a bit guilty about that, but what difference could one person make in the face of overwhelming poverty on such a huge scale?
I stepped over the open drainage ditch and turned the final corner that led to the mission. Forced to wait for the crowd to clear a bit, I paused, and felt someone slip their little hand into mine. I looked down and saw that it was a young child – a boy. He looked to be about five or six years old. His stomach was distended, his hair a kinky orange tint – signs that I had come to recognize as malnutrition. He looked up at me and said two words: “peanut butter.”
They might have been the only two English words he knew. And, surrounded as they were by a cacophony of Creole and French, they struck my like a hammer blow. I knew what he wanted and, as he accompanied me back to the mission, I formulated a plan.
Arriving at the mission, I asked the gatekeeper to tell him, in Creole, to wait there a moment. I hurried to the kitchen and found a plastic spoon and a jar of Jif. Plunging the spoon into the golden butter, I twirled it around several times creating as large a “peanut butter popsicle” as I could. Holding it in front of me, I made my way back to the gate where the boy waited with hope.
When he saw the peanut butter-lathered spoon his eyes grew wide and he smiled. He took the spoon and said, “Merci.” Thank you. I expected he would shove it in his mouth, but instead he spun around and began running.
Puzzled, I asked the gatekeeper what had happened. He was obviously hungry, so why didn’t he eat. The gatekeeper replied simply, “He is taking it home to share with his family.”