“Blanc, blanc, blanc, gimme one dollah, one dollah”
We were missionary movie stars. Children were grouped all along the fence of the field where we had landed. They watched us and posed for our cameras. They were hungry to see what the plane was bringing them today. My pockets were full of starlight mints and “cheeclay” as the children called it--gum.

Except there was one little boy, punier than the rest, standing away from the other children. His posture expressed that he was unimpressed by the “blancs”. He just stared away from us as if we didn't matter. The other children scurried with the enthusiasm of chipmunks gleaning their precious rations of missionary mints, missionary gum and missionary hugs. “Blanc” which technically translates as “white” is what all non-Haitians are called, including me, in spite of the chocolate hues of my skin. But my one friend didn't seem at all interested in our missionary love offerings. I strode boldly toward him, unwrapped a stick of Wrigley's Polar Ice gum and placed it at his lips. Like a baby bird, he dutifully opened his mouth, accepted the gum still avoiding eye contact.

“Jesus I'm hot!” announced one of my fellow missionary mates.

“Well no duh,” I thought turning away from my new friend, then prayed to God I hadn't responded out loud. “We are closer to the equator here than in Kentucky,” Once again I prayed to God that I had not spoken out loud. I rejoined the other missionaries. A river of sweat poured down my back. I was beyond annoyed at all of the whining an complaining I had endured from my fellow citizens. I was learning first hand the definition of “ugly Americans”--our arrogance, our impatience, our sense of entitlement, our egos, our inalienable right to freedom of speech which of course included whining and complaining and lest I forget, loud boisterous laughter. I thought I was a very docile and tolerant person but I almost pimp-slapped one of us at the crowded Port-au-Prince airport when one of my fellow Americans announced, “Oh how they smell.” Another of us responded loudly, “They don't use deodorant in 3rd world countries. Here tap on some perfume--there that's better” I remember how I innately stepped over a little and tried to blend in with the aromatically beautiful Haitian crowd around me.

“It's soooo hot. Aren't you hot Yolantha?” Again the complaint of the air conditioned privileged was registered. “You make me hot just looking at you.”

I wear all of my clothes on missionary trips. Enough clothes for 10 days. This allows much more room for food and Vacation Bible School supplies in my luggage. My mission fashion statement always caused the other missionaries to look at me as if I were crazy. “Aren't you hot with all of that on?” whined one of my compatriots. I heard my grandmother, “If you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all.” So I chose not to respond. My grandmother had been a cotton picker in the deepest south of Texas. She always wore a t-shirt and a long sleeved man's shirt to pick cotton. She taught me an old slave tradition-- if you wanted to stay cool, dress in layers. The layer closest to your body would become drenched with sweat and keep your body cool. I chose silence over sharing this tidbit of slave trivia knowing all of the extracurricular explanations that this line of conversation would birth.

You'd be amazed at how many of God's tools (crayons, pencils, Bible crafts, matchbox cars, erasers, granola bars, and Lil' Debbie crackers) you can get into a suitcase if you opt to wear all of your clothes. I also knew the discomfort was well worth the end result of feeding and educating children in need. I didn't want to appear judgmental of the other missionaries and the way they packed, so again, I opted to remain silent.

Our extreme heat sensitivity compelled all of us missionaries to herd under the one lone tree at our makeshift airport. There we stood sucking up its meager shade. The Haitian children humbly stood in their sun, letting us missionaries bask in the shadow of their tree.

Smiling at the children smiling at me, their first African American female missionary, I noticed that my little boy was no longer in sight. A leaf floated to the ground. I looked up. My poker faced friend, smacking on his gum, had climbed the tree. He only wore a shirt so he leaned forward in a feeble attempt to hide his nakedness. He stared down at me, his childness imprisoned in his blank stare of hopelessness. Was I losing my touch? Never had I been in the presence of a child for more than 15 minutes that I couldn't' evoke a smile. So at 50 years of age, I hiked up my 3 skirts and climbed the tree. My silent friend was shocked. He burst into a gigantic smile that swallowed his eyes and captured his face. His eyes popped open when I landed beside him. Shocked, he swallowed his gum. Out of sheer impulse, I whacked him on his back. The gum reappeared.

The other missionaries froze in mid conversation. I ginned like the Cheshire cat of Alice in Wonderland and said to my fellow Americans, “Yall are gonna help me down aren't you?”

In pure American male fashion one of the men responded, “You got up there on your own, you're on your own to get down.” They all laughed. I had a dilemma.

The New Testament story of Zacchaeus and the sycamore tree rushed to the front of my brain. I remembered the song we used to sing in Sunday School as children. “Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he. He climbed into a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see. Then as Jesus passed by his way, Jesus did say--Zacchaeus you come down from there, cause…I'm going to your house today. For I'm going to your house today.”

Sniggling and giggling my new friend and I sat perched in the tree eyeing one another. With a swift rustling of leaves, my new buddy jumped to the ground. He lifted his bony emaciated arms toward me, offering to assist me down. With the grace of a donkey, I let him help me, doing my utmost not to squish him. Safely back on mother earth, my would be knight in shining armor squatted at my feet, in a protective watch, chewing his gum, grinning from ear to ear.

We waited for the trucks to arrive and carry us missionaries on up the mountain. I prayed briefly, “Oh God, Zacchaeus wanted so desperately to see Jesus that he climbed a sycamore tree. When your Son saw, Zacchaeus' determination, He called the man down and spent time visiting with him. A visit that changed the man's life. Oh God…I am humbled by this challenge.” What will be the outcome of my visit? I saw the dust in the far off distance. The trucks were coming. “Later God, Amen…”

“I'm so hungry.”

I couldn't believe that came out of one of the missionary's mouth. My secular side raised up again I felt like grapping the missionary by the earlobe…I looked at overly healthy us, then at the bloated tummies, ribbed upper torsos, and pipe cleaner arms of the children crowed around us like statuesque trophies of emaciation as they stood in the sun sucking on missionary starlight mints. I looked at the obesity of our missionary team, spraddled around the tree breathing hard, fanning with our huge plantation straw hats in the shade. I took 3 steps and stood in the sun with the children. I began to hum…Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he, he climbed into a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see, for the Lord he wanted to seeeeeeeeeee…

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