Blog post by Rose M, a Kindness Investor from Forest Park, IL.
Today I cheated and gave away $20. That’s because the first encounter so annoyed me I had to find something to leave a sweeter taste in my mouth. It was my first lesson in detachment, I think, because clearly I was attached to how the gift giving made me feel.
We’re in Barbados today. I went on a bike and swim excursion. We were taxied by Mike, a local, to the highest point on the island. Barbados is a lovely island, well-festooned with bougainvillea, ginger, and other flowers. So even though we were passing many homes just as poor as on the previous islands, I was lulled into a sort of stupor by the colorful displays and couldn’t bring myself to take any pictures.
Mike taught us that half the homes here are made of cement, and the other half are wood. The wooden houses are called chattel (meaning “possessions”) houses and slaves used to be called chattel. When the slaves were emancipated, some of the former owners allowed them to build houses on pieces of land they owned but the owner could evict them at any time and take possession of whatever property could not be taken away. So the former slaves learned to build houses from wood which could be taken apart in a single day and carried elsewhere.
Our bike ride was a six mile downhill trip. We saw a beautiful waterfall and the country club where Tiger Woods was married. Then Mike picked us up and drove us to a local beach. On the way, we passed some of the richest real estate on the island. He pointed out one particularly exclusive condominium community called The Sands. I asked him if anyone famous lived there. He replied, “They must be famous if they have $18 million to buy a condo.”
Our beach was a tad less upscale but seemed popular with locals and tourists alike. The was a bar and small restaurant at our beach and when we pulled into the parking lot, I saw a woman standing by the open hood of her taxi, testing the radiator cap to see if it was cool enough to take off. I wondered if she would be a good person to give my ten dollars. It was not what I had intended. I’d left the boat thinking I’d like to find some teens. I had a hunch they would have a pretty interesting response to a ten dollar bill. But I decided a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush and, once we’d embarked, I sought her out.
At first Monica thought I wanted a taxi. Lots of taxi drivers were standing around, hopeful as sparrows flitting around the edges of a picnic. I explained I was part of a project called the Year of Giving, and wondered if it would be ok to give her ten dollars. I could tell right away Monica was a wary sparrow as she had a look in her eye that said, “What’s the catch?” I assured her there were no strings attached. I would just like to know what she would do with the money, and maybe take a picture.
“Well, ten dollars doesn’t buy much,” she said. “I couldn’t hardly buy a pack of coke with that!!”
I was taken aback, not only by the cost of coke, but by her lack of pleasure. I soldiered on bravely, and enquired into the cost of food in Barbados. “Oh, yes! Food is very expensive. You can buy one small bottle of coke for $2.25. That’s all.”
“So what will you do with your ten,” I asked after handing her the bill.
“Oh, I’ll buy something to eat I think,” she said nonchalantly. I had a feeling she was really hungry. I tried to engage her in more conversation, but it was like pulling teeth. She told me making a living as a taxi driver was great in the winter, but in the summer it was very hard. In the summer you get maybe one cruise ship a week. So she has to budget her money carefully to make it last all year. She also told me she owned her cab, and that she was responsible for all its maintenance. When I saw her earlier with the hood of her car up, she explained she was just checking the radiator.
Monica is 67 years old. I asked her when people retire. She said 65, but she couldn’t afford to do it. She is single with no kids. She was clearly one tough broad, and I think not a little jaded by a career of ferrying around rich visitors to her island. So maybe my ten wasn’t as appreciated as much as I would have liked. On the other hand, maybe the real gift for her was to be able to speak frankly about how it felt to be under-appreciated and under-tipped, expressed so well in that little snipe, “Ten dollars doesn’t buy much.”
Well, I left Monica and toddled off to the beach for a bit of a wade. We had less than an hour and I decided to spend it walking and praying the rosary. My Lenten observance this year is to pray a rosary a day. I decided to offer it for Monica. I’d like to say my motives were pure, but I think a part of me was hoping I could strong-arm God into changing her attitude. But I have to be honest—as I sit here writing this, I think I’m the one who got the attitude adjustment!
The bonus ten went to Clare. I found Clare at the end of the beach—well past where most of the tourists hung out—sitting splay-legged with a bucket between them. She seemed to be peeling some thing which she dropped into the bucket. I was so taken by her I grabbed my camera right away and shot a few pictures, trying to include what looked to be a makeshift outdoor home a little ways behind her. Too curious to resist, and still a little fed up with Monica, I approached her.
“What’s your name,” I asked.
She gave me a toothless grin and replied, “Clare.” Well, that got me. I love St. Clare, St. Francis of Assissi’s first female follower. I’m born on her birthday, as a matter of fact.
“Clare,” I said. “I love that name! Is that your home back there?”
“Yes, it is. I’ve been living there twelve years now. No one else lives with me. It’s all mine. I got a dog. She’s big with babies right now.” All this in a rush, and straightforward as a child.
“What are you peeling there,” I asked noticing that her hands were badly damaged.
“Onions. Them are potatoes back there and a couple of eggplants. I have a friend in town who is a professional and when he has food that’s just a little old he brings it out here for me.”
“Clare, what happened to your hands,” I asked. She explained that fourteen years ago someone had thrown a bottle into her house which exploded—I assume a malatov cocktail—and her house was destroyed. She got out but over 95% of her body was burned. The culprits were never found. I wondered why she was here and not with family. According to her, her family lived on another Island, and she’d come here when she was twenty years old, over 40 years ago. She didn’t want to go anywhere. This was home.
She also said she had a son in New York who was a “big police sergeant” but he never sent her money. That was the only time a shadow of a frown crossed her face. Otherwise, she was ebullient and her eyes sparkled with diamonds. My mind wanted to charge her with a diagnosis of mental illness, but my heart saw she had a radiant energy that made her shine with a resilience and joy which I and Monica, in our relative states of wealth, lacked. It was a reminder to me to be grateful for my blessings, meager as they sometimes seem.
Before the fire Clare used to work on the plantations. Her job was to cut and carry sugar cane on her head and throw it onto the trucks which carried it away to turn into sugar. Now she still feels useful. “I help the tourists now,” she exclaimed.
“How do you do that?”
“I keep the robbers away. They see me sitting here knowing I’m watching the beach, and they leave people alone.” She took obvious pride in her volunteer position.
By then I was kneeling in the sand with her, searching through my backpack looking for my money. I wasn’t going to bother explaining what I was up to. I just wanted to give her ten dollars. I found it and gave it to her. She stuffed it in her bra and with sincere gratitude said, “God bless you!”
“What will you do with it, Clare?”
Clare had a watch on her left wrist and I noticed the time was getting short. Standing, I told her I had to go. With her permission I took a few pictures. Finally it was time to leave.
“Wait! Before you go! Tell me your name!”
“Rose,” I said. “Like the flower.”
Taking my hand, she said, “I love you, Rosie.”
“I love you, Clare.”
And Monica, you crusty old broad, I love you too.