Pierre was my companion on expeditions through villages, on the streets, and in markets. He patiently translated for me even though I suspect he couldn't always understand me. "Slow down!" He'd smile, as I chattered to someone through him. We meet with vendors, guys selling fresco and cokes on the streets, the children who surrounded me hoping for gum and money. I'd drag him to coffee makers who were on every corner. They would squat besides little gas stoves, their steel pots peculating coffee up through steel filters. I loved the coffee which was served black with a lot of sugar. The strong flavor laced with licorice was like no coffee I had ever tasted. Pierre worried the whole time I drank, worried that I would get malaria.
Initially we talked very little about Pierre. Perhaps because he was shy or maybe because, raised as a Pentecostal, he was aware that we had to be very careful about our relationship. But we started to spend some time alone, talking. I learned that he wanted to go to the US to learn English, maybe go to college. His mom had raised him alone. He had no brothers or sisters. He began to learn English as the mission school attached to the church his mom joined. He had always lived in Port Au Prince. He had a lovely voice, very deep and smooth even when he spoke in slightly broken English.
A few days into our trip, the mission leader's wife cut her eyes at me. "I think our translators are in love with Ginger." She announced, her voice tight and dry. The other adults looked at me, concerned. I blushed, embarrassed and angry. These adults warned us that Haitian men would be interested in us only to secure green cards. And there was always the underlying suspicion of female/male relationships.
But there was a part of that blush which came from falling a bit in love with Pierre. There had never been even the slightest touch between us. But I felt Pierre's presence as physical as a touch. I knew how he smelled, and when I closed my eyes could reconstruct him. But underneath this love was the horrible suspicion cast by the adults. Their prejudice, their assumptions about Haitian men, their assumptions about me, clouded what I felt.
That night Pierre and I went for a walk. The retreat service was over, and we just walked on the beach. It was all very exotic to me...rather like one of those romance novels my mom read. But it was also not because Pierre was black and I was white. Pierre came from a country devastated by years of colonization, corrupt politics, and extreme poverty...and while I was far from rich in the U.S., my nationality created a tension between us. Before I went back to the room, Pierre gave me a business card with a photo on it. I don't know why he gave it to me.
When I arrived at breakfast the next morning, there was only one translator. I could not see Pierre. It quickly came down that Pierre had been fired. Angry, I approached the mission leader and his wife.
"Why did you fire Pierre?"
"We only needed one translator." the mission leader said, his eyes already beyond me to the man he wished to suck up to.
"But Pierre needed this job so he could pay for his classes." I told them.
The mission leader's wife narrowed her eyes at me.
"There was no reason to pay extra for something we did not need." She said quietly, and waiting until her husband left, "I advice you to be careful. These men are not boys. And they do not want to marry American woman out of love."
"Pierre wasn't in love with me!"
"Maybe not but you were in love with him."