Blink once. Blink twice. Blink once. Blink twice. I played my morning ritual game for a few minutes before finally rolling out of bed, rubbing my eyes, and daring to look at the time.
Okay, that’s not too bad, I thought to myself. I glanced over at my roommate, still fast asleep. It was always considered a victory to wake up before her. It didn’t happen often so I gave myself an internal high five.
I whipped a pair of shorts and a tank out of the bureau, slipped them on, and hooked up my ipod for my daily run. The morning anxiety was already beginning to course through my veins, my brain ready to take me captive at the first sign of weakness as I stole out the front door, running at full speed, and slowly whisking worry and concern outwards into nature one foot at a time.
The usual strange stares from the locals accompanied my run, despite my efforts to avoid populated areas. It’s not like I could blame them – it was blisteringly hot and humid. No one in their right mind would be trying to run in this kind of heat. I did my best to ignore the puzzled and concerned faces that flew by and stayed focused on the trail in front of me.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8…1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8…
I arrived back at my flat exhausted and thirsty, but satisfied. Another day, another win. I jumped in the lukewarm shower, decorated myself in a pretty yellow sundress, and practically danced out the door towards town.
It was Saturday. And that meant that most of the young folks would be hanging out in the circle playing games, relaxing, and sharing some of the fresh local fare cooked on-site by a few of the restaurateurs. Bobby was running the cabana today so I was free to enjoy one of my favorite events since moving to the island nearly 3 years ago.
As I neared the circle, the smell of grilled meat, bamboo shoots, and palm fronds was palpable. I closed my eyes and let my senses take in the increasing sound of joyful chatter, the delicious odors of food and incense, and the feel of the burning hot sun threatening to ruin my tan. I walked in between a few tents into the circle, glancing around at the tables of handmade jewelry, bags, and bathing suits. As always, I had to stop at my friend Raul’s table. He always had the most beautiful stones set in necklaces, bracelets, and earrings; a true artisan.
“Well hello Syd!” Raul cried.
“Hey, man,” I responded, “How’s business?”
“Always wonderful, my darling. Always wonderful.”
I grinned at him. His positivity was infectious.
“One of these days I will be able to make a contribution to your business, Raul. Your pieces really are divine.”
He smiled and turned to greet another customer. And just in time – I heard frantic screams behind me from a familiar overly-enthusiastic voice.
“SYD!!! OMG, Syd, there you are; I’ve been looking for you everywhere!!”
My smile spread ear-to-ear as I turned around and immediately began jumping up and down at the sight of my dear, dear friend Mahalia.
“EEEEEEEEEEEK!!” I screamed as I jumped into her arms, “When did you get back you little twit?!”
She roared with laughter, “What do you think, I’d wait longer than 5 seconds to come find my beloved?!”.
I wanted to cry. I had missed her so much during her 4-week trip to visit her homeland, Haiti. She was such an adorable human being – smaller and shorter than me, but larger than life. She’d spent most of her life in the states like me, but was an incurable travel-addict. She settled here not long after I did, making regular visits to her homeland in an attempt to give back. Her dreds bounced up and down as she grabbed my hand and literally hopped her way down to a group of kids lazing around the fountain.
“Hi guys!” I chimed, waving at several friends I knew and a few I didn’t. This is how things are in Mwali. It had me quite terrified when I first arrived; the way complete strangers would kiss me on the cheek or ask probing questions in our first conversation. But I had come to embrace it. It was a beautiful thing to build a rapport with another so quickly and so trustingly.
“Ok, Mahalia, give it up!” one of the boys I didn’t recognize cried. “Let’s hear about Haiti!”.
More than happy to assume the spotlight, Mahalia dove into stories about her service trip to her homeland: bringing food to those who had none, working with medical teams to provide healthcare, aiding in the establishment of infrastructure. I had such great admiration for her. She was truly devoted to helping her people – so much so, in fact, that it appeared she had forgotten to change before coming home.
“So Mahalia, are those scrubs a fashion statement, or are you planning to perform surgery on one of us?” I teased. She glared at me.
“Yes, well, Miss America, even you ought to know that there is no better way to fly internationally than in a comfortable pair of scrubs!”
The laughter and joviality was contagious. I lay down flat on my back on the side of the fountain, enjoying the dribbling mist as the conversation ebbed and flowed from Haiti to someone’s university studies to the best recipe for Hawaiian chicken. And I remembered how much I loved this island with its eclectic transplants from all over the world.
I closed my eyes at the thought, allowing my mind to wander into it’s own world of wonder. I turned my head to the side, opening my eyes to get another good look at the fountain that was showering me with such delicious cool water – and there he was.
My eyes jumped open and I leaned up on my arm to get a good, inquisitive look. Yes, it was him, I was sure of it. On the other side of the fountain, sitting in a chair by himself was the boy. The boy from the cabana – and suddenly I knew why he had caught my eye. I recognized the red cloth wrapped around his arms and the shiny rock adorning his forehead on a headband. I was wrong about his age – he had to be 14 or 15 years old – but what on earth was he doing here? No one else seemed to notice him, much to my surprise… but I realized he had managed to assimilate in some small way: sitting just below his belly was a pair of Bermuda shorts.
Of course, shorts. With all the crazy garb one sees around these parts, a boy in a pair of shorts certainly wouldn’t stand out. I stared at the savage little boy, sizing him up. What was he doing? His eyes darted around nervously as he sat, as if he had lost someone of importance. Where were his parents?