Street Merchants

June 17, 2020

It is mid-morning and the sun is already high and bright. The heat of the day is building steadily and is hotter than most people would find comfortable. A rooster crows, bellowing from the street below and echoes off of the tile on our covered porch. The sound fills the space as if the bird were sitting right here with me. I watch as the palm trees dance a slow waltz in the light warm breeze and I close my eyes as I enjoy a fleeting moment of relief from the wind on my sticky skin. There is a familiar smell of burning from the adjacent street that hits my nose and brings me back to the present moment.

The street is buzzing, full of life happening before my eyes. Two young girls walk arm in arm, stopping to buy a bag of charcoal from the man on the corner wearing a large straw hat. Motorcycles, cars and bikes fly by, taking advantage of the nicely paved street which is an uncommon luxury amongst the many dirt and rock covered roads.

I admire all the street vendors, walking through the neighborhood calling out with a melodic song the contents of their basket, box or wheelbarrow.

These street vendors can be heard all throughout the day, selling a variety of items ranging from food to brooms and electronics. You will see people poke their heads out of their homes when they hear a street vendor, called a “machann” in creole, selling the garlic they require to finish dinner or the new phone charger to replace the one that recently broke.

I think back to the last few years that I lived in the US and laugh to myself as I reflect on how I tried so hard to get in my 10,000 steps each day (yes, I actually had to try to fulfill this goal). I wonder the number of steps each of these vendors take in a day. I imagine that they exceed 10,000 steps within the first few hours of the day, putting forth maximum physical effort with little thought to the actual number of steps they are taking. The goal of the vendors is not how many steps they can take but how many things they sell so that their family can eat that day. I have never had to walk countless miles per day in the hot sun to put food on the table and, in all honesty, I have never had to worry about having enough to eat. The weight of this realization, this privilege, rests heavy on my shoulders.

I sit for several moments with my thoughts when, from around the corner, appears a woman walking with a large basket full of produce balanced perfectly on her head. The basket is full and it looks heavy but she gives no indication of straining as she glides gracefully along the street.

Then with a slight turn of her body, I’m shocked to realize that not only is she carrying this giant basket around in the heat of the day but she looks to be at least about 8 months pregnant.

Mesmerized, I watch her till she disappears down a nearby alley. My curiosity has me wondering, who is this woman, this fierce warrior, traversing the streets everyday? What hopes and dreams might she have? If she could share a part of her world, what would be revealed? I imagine a beautiful tapestry unfolding, representing her life through the careful weaving together of her stories and experiences.

I imagine vibrant colors and patterns pieced together with edges worn and frayed, a consequence resulting from the daily challenges of poverty and political instability that she knows intimately.

I have so many questions and I realize they will go unanswered. However, the one thing I can say is that this woman represents just one of many dedicated people who walk countless steps each day with the determination and strength I have come to admire in the Haitian people.

*Haiti’s street merchants work long, hard days, yet normally earn just enough income to survive. By supporting a Thrive Ansanm student you provide them with a chance to build a future where they can not just survive but thrive.

by Bethany Gray

Beth is the creative director for Thrive Ansanm, and she currently lives in Haiti with her husband Josh and their son Koa.

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