I was standing on a furrow of stripped leaves in a sugarcane field, waiting among the workers as they gathered for the five kilos of rice we were giving each of them.
Something tickled the side of my left leg. I assumed that it was a Filipino cousin to one our annoying pests that spontaneously appear when it is warm and wet.
Without looking, I used my right foot to scratch it. The irritation stopped momentarily, but then started again. I rubbed a second time, but again the itching resumed.
I looked down and saw a woman squatting next to me. She was one of the older workers, her graying hair framed by an old rag veil she wore to keep the cane from cutting her neck. Her face bore the marks of years of sun and suffering.
She didn’t notice me watching as she touched the skin on my shorts-exposed leg. She nudged a worker sitting next to her and pointed as she held her hazel-colored hand next to the winter white of my leg.
She giggled, a low-key infectious laugh that quickly claimed her friend. Then she looked up and saw me watching her. She neither lost her sparsely-toothed smile nor pulled her hand away. She pointed once again to our contrasting pigmentation and gave another wave of laughter that soaked me, as well.
I was thinking, “Now I’m the one who is different — I’m the minority here.” Then they called her name and she went up to get her rice. She returned, grabbed my hand, and said something I couldn’t understand.
Then she picked up her machete and bent over her $3-a-day job.
Still working on the hacienda where she was born, I wondered what she thought of these white people riding in a van, wearing shoes and dressed in nice clothes. People that borrowed their knives to awkwardly cut the cane and sit atop the water buffalo that hauled the stalks. People who took tons of pictures of the relentless, repetitive and repressive work of the field.
But those thoughts didn’t appear to bother her. For her, it was enough to be amused by the difference, to be grateful for the gift, and to be joyful in the presence of the moment.
Psalm 133, begins, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live in unity.” I don’t know what that means today in our fractured world, but thanks to that woman, I know what it feels like.