Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Peanut Butter Boy

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.”

No comments: