The Barterer - a Story from Haiti
This story is based on a real happening when I lived in Haiti.
“Shew, I’ve never been so hot!” Zach swung a leg over the top of the mesh metal side of the pickup truck bed and dropped lightly down.
“Or so tired.” Mike jumped down beside him. “Sure glad it’s Friday and we get a little break for two days.” The rest of the work team found places on the truck bed and they waved goodbye to the chorus of “Blan! Blan!” from the children surrounding the half-built clinic.
The pickup edged into the throng of traffic—motos, many carrying at least three passengers; decorated tap-taps with standing room only; buses declaring “God is Good” on the top of the windshield; cars of every make, model, and repair status.
“Wow, will we ever get back to the compound?” Zach looked out at the improvised six-lane highway. “I don’t think I could ever live here. Get me back to the good old US of A.
“One more week is all we got,” Mike said. “I think it’s kind of fun to experience a different culture.”
“Sure.” Zach shrugged. “Hey, there’s one of those guys selling drinks.” He pointed toward a man weaving in and out of the creeping traffic. He carried a bucket supported by a string that went through two holes and around his neck as a strap. “Hey! Man!” Zach waved his arms and the man ran over, jumping onto the truck’s bumper.
“Toro,” Zach pronounced distinctly. “I want a Toro.”
“To-wo.” The man grinned and nodded, fishing the energy drink from his bucket.
Zach rolled his eyes at Mike. “I don’t think any Haitians can say their r’s.” He turned back to the man. “How much?” He held up his wallet.
“Twent-y five goud,” he said.
“How much is that in American money?” Mike asked.
Zach shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t care. I’m thirsty. And,” he said, patting his wallet with a wink, “there are lots more where these came from.”
He pulled two limp, dirty bills from his wallet, a twenty and a five, handed them to the Haitian man and accepted the drink.
“Mesi.” Zach practiced his new Haitian word.
This pleased the drink vendor and he nodded, his yellowed teeth gleaming against his dark skin. “Padekwa.” He jumped off the bumper into the creeping traffic, hoping for more sales.
“We’re going to go the lookout above Pourt-au-Prince and a few other sightseeing places. You’ll have a chance to buy souvenirs. Then we’ll get pizza and come on back,” John, the group leader announced. “Truck’s leaving in half an hour.”
The boys scattered and the cooks hurried to get breakfast cleaned up so they could enjoy the day outside the compound’s walls.
Armed with water bottles, sun screen, and wallets filled with gouds, the group headed for the mountains where the air was cooler.
“What are you going to buy?” Mike asked Zach as they wandered past booths of souvenirs.
“Don’t know yet. Maybe a machete.” Zach motioned to the pile of machetes in handcrafted leather cases.
“Come look. Come look. I give you best price.” The vendor stepped out and motioned for the boys to step closer. “You buy from me. I give you best price.”
“How much?” Zach asked.
“One thousand goud.”
“John said that’s like $25 American,” Mike whispered.
Zach frowned and shook his head. “Too much.” He turned and started to walk away.
“Wait. Wait. You say price.” The vendor motioned eagerly for Zach to come back.
Zach tilted his head to the side and studied the pile of machetes. “400 gouds.”
“Oh, no, that not enough. I work hard to make these. Good quality.” The Haitian man ran his hand over the leather cases. “Just for you, I give it for 800 goud.”
“Pshaw,” Zach said, dismissing him with a wave of the hand. “That’s way too much. 500 gouds.”
“Sir, I need to feed my family,” the vendor said. He thought for a moment. “600 goud.”
“Nope. 500 goud. I’m not paying anymore.”
“600 goud? That’s my best price.” The vendor wrung his hands.
“Nope,” Zach said, and walked away.
A short distance down the street, the vendor called out to them again, “Come back.”
Zach looked at Mike and shrugged. They turned back. “550 goud? That’s my best price. My children are hungry.”
Zach shrugged and shook his head. “I said 500 gouds is the highest I’ll go. Take it or leave it.”
The Haitian man thought for a moment, then nodded. Zach handed over the money and picked out the machete he wanted.
“Ha, what do you think of that!” Zach bumped fists with Mike. “Got it for half of what he first said.”
They joined the others in the work team who had started gathering by the truck, ready to move on to the next place.
“How much did you pay for your machete?” Zach asked Todd.
Zach smirked and held up his prize. “500. You just have to be firm with these Haitians.”
“Anybody hungry?” John asked. “Bale in and we’ll get pizza and coke for lunch.”
“Yeah, some good old American food again,” Zach said. He grabbed onto the cage as the truck lurched out onto the street and passed a donkey loaded with bunches of bananas. “I’m so hungry for a BK double stacker. I think I could eat them every night for a week.”
“Wow, that would get expensive,” Todd said.
“Ah,” Zach shrugged, “you know what they say about money. Easy come, easy go.”
The group waved to the souvenir vendors watching them drive off. Zach waved to the machete man, then pointed to his purchase and gave a thumbs up.
The vendor pulled out his lunch, a bit of leftover rice in a tin can. He took a bite, then slowly waved to the departing truck of tourists.