Meeting a Bibliophile on a Street in Cité Soleil

I become less and less materialistic with each passing year, but I cannot deny my love of books.  I like to hold them in my hands, to smell them, to study the ink on the page … I consider myself somewhat of a bibliophile.

Tom SawyerI am fond of saying that my greatest, physical possession is my copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Samuel Clemens.  No copyright appears in the book, but the Introduction by ‘The Author’ is dated 1876.  Imagine that!  I have a copy of Tom Sawyer by Samuel Clemens before he changed his name to Mark Twain.

I consider Les Miserables another one of my gems.  I first read the book – all 1,493 small printed pages of a paperback edition – in 1993.  I was so captured by the narrative that I asked my wife to find me a leather-bound copy with gold-leafed pages as my Christmas gift that year.  She did and we both sat with our delighted children as I opened the package only to find that the copy she purchased for the paltry sum of $75 was in French!  As she verged on tears, I told her it was even more meaningful because it is written in the author’s original language.

I cherish both books and have stories to tell about others, too.

My ‘bibliophilia’ followed me to Haiti in March.  As we walked down a dusty street in Cité Soleil, Tony Sanneh pointed and called out, “Hey, Gene.  You like books!  Check that out!”

gene and old man in haitiSitting in a wobbly chair with his back to a concrete wall was a stately Haitian gentleman reading a book.  I approached him quietly and leaned forward to see what he was reading.  I gestured to turn the cover so I could read the title.  He obliged.  The old man was reading a weathered copy of a French bible, specifically, he read from Corinthians.

french bible“It’s a Bible … in French,” I called out to Tony.

My new friend looked up from his book and asked in broken English, “Are you Christian?”

I nodded.  “Mwen Katolik,” I replied practicing my Creole.

A look of consternation crossed his face and furrowed his brow, “That’s not good!”

I smiled and patted his shoulder thinking it was not my Creole upon which he commented!  “Orevwa.”

He turned back to his Bible and Tony and I walked back to the Haitian Initiative building.

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