Way back in 2000, my best mate Bethy and I traveled to Haiti. I still have a photo of the trip, more than a decade later, tacked to my desk here at the office. Also posted by my desk is this little beaut, which I snapped outside an orphanage in a small village.
It says, “I can’t afford to be idle.” I love that phrase. I love it so much that I have kept this same photo within reach since the day I developed it. You know, with that thing we used to use called film. I love it so much that, after moving to college and losing it temporarily, I decided to have it tattooed on me, lest I should ever lose it again (which is fairly likely).
I have gawked at this photo for hours over the last 11 years. I know every inch of it. At least I thought I did.
Today, I was staring blankly at it while stretching in my chair, when I realized I had never troubled to translate anything else written on the wall. I “studied” French in high school and college, and I know that “vend” means “to sell,” and “ici” means “here.” So I always assumed the other words were an advertisement for something. Like soda or…goats. I don’t know.
Anyways, I went to Google translate, plunking in what I could make out on the photo. Do you know what it says? Do you know what I have stared at, blindly, for 11 years? it says, “suffering sold here.”
I wanted to cry. Right there in my little cubicle, with my fan blowing softly, the sun peeking gently in my window, and Antiques Roadshow playing in my headphones (keep your comments to yourself). All I could do was stare at those words for like, four minutes straight. And once again I was struck by how blind I can be to the troubles of the world around me, even when I think I am looking with open eyes. Eleven years of being blind to the real message on that photo. I guess I’m just issuing a challenge, folks. Let’s open our eyes. Let’s take a few minutes to dig a little deeper than what is obvious, to ask the extra question that may bring about a new truth. I’ll start.