Raker Man

The tropical sun was intense but from the shade we sipped Pina Coladas and stared at the blue Caribbean. A vacation in the Dominican Republic! We staked claim to a favorite cabana and by afternoon were chatting with beachside neighbors. Diane in the next cabana knew a lot about the area and in the balmy breeze we compared notes on favorite restaurants as we enjoyed the beach.

The next hot day while eating lusciously ripe strawberries I caught sight of the trio working in the sun. We’d noticed the daily routine of these three whose job it was, apparently, to clear the beach each day of seaweed washed up during the night. They were a motley band in ragged clothes. Locals in need of work I supposed, and hard work it was. Each day they scoured the beach, raking and hauling debris. An older worker lagged behind. The effort it took to push a loaded wheelbarrow through soft sand slowed him down. He usually raked alone, stopping often to wipe sandy sweat from his face. He has to be thirsty I thought, as I sipped cold coconut water.

On the following morning, just as I devoured a heaping bowl of chilled watermelon, I saw the old raker man diligently working over the beach. Mere yards from chattering sunbathers, clattering dishes filled with tropical delights, and Mimosas clanking toasts to vacations, this old barefoot man in torn pants worked silently. Unnoticed. Head down as he worked, I waited for him to look up.

He looked up. I waved.

Puzzled, he stared at me and returned to his work. He has to be hot I thought, as the waiter served our Pina Coladas.

I took a sip of mine. It tasted like guilt.

“How much do you think he’s paid?” I asked Francisco and nodded towards the raker. Before he could answer I heard a groan from the next cabana.

“Well, don’t you give him money.” Diane yelled. “He’ll get lazy. Anyway he’ll never even thank you.” With that, she told the waiter to hand her a magazine, brush away the sand stuck to her back, and bring lunch to the cabana so she wouldn’t have to get up.

Judging me over her magazine, Diane said nothing.

“That’s hard work he’s doing.” I continued with Francisco.

“Well, don’t tell him.” Diane yelled again. “He’ll whine about having to do it and he’ll never even thank you for noticing.” With that, she told us she was staying on vacation an extra week because she was sick and tired of the rigors of her job.

Staring at me over her calendar, Diane said nothing.

I watched the raker struggle with another load of seaweed. He sometimes tripped and fell as he shoved the heavy load down the beach. The ceviche and slices of fruit the waiter set down in front of me looked nice, but I couldn’t eat them.

Days passed and I continued to wave to the raker each morning. He eventually waved back and towards the end of our vacation he even waved first. I never saw interaction of any kind between him and anyone else on the beach. Was this man invisible?

“Is it ok to give him some money?” I asked Francisco. I’d hesitated to do so, less from Diane’s comments and more for fear I would offend the man.

“It could be a tip. How much would a little cash mean to him?” I continued.

“It would mean the world.” Francisco responded.

Diane yelled to us. “Well, he’ll become a beggar if you give him money. Like I said, he’d never even thank you!”

On the morning of our final day I saw the raker as usual, head down, combing the sand. For reasons I’m not even sure of I’d still not given him a tip and I was sorry about that. I mentioned my regret to Francisco, but it was our last day on the beach and I had no cash with me.

“I have cash.” Francisco said as he rifled through his bag. Happy, I think, to bring an end to my weeklong obsession on which I’d taken no action!

As the raker’s work brought him nearer the cabana, he and I waved. This time Francisco stood and waved too, then motioned the man to come over. Clearly perplexed by this new routine the raker slowly left his wheelbarrow and approached us. We quickly realized he spoke absolutely no English but in an awkward conversation consisting at various points of Spanish or French, we learned he was Haitian and had come to the Dominican Republic in search of work. He was in the middle of a rough and miserable time.

Francisco held cash towards the raker and pointed at me. “He wants to thank you for working so hard to keep the beach clean.”

The raker stared at the cash and I waited for him to smile. Instead, he stepped back and threw his hands over his head. Oh no. We’d insulted him.

He looked back and forth at us, his eyes filling with tears as he stepped forward to shake our hands. He shook our hands for several minutes before even touching the money which he very slowly took from Francisco’s hand. He spoke rapidly the entire time. I don’t know what his mouth said but his face said thank you. He wiped his tears and returned to the wheelbarrow. We sat back down fighting tears of our own.

“Well, now you’ve done it.” Diane yelled over the heaping plate of lobster on her lap. Butter dripped from her chin. “He’ll be back. He’ll be back ten times today begging for more! Did he even say thank you?”

I just shrugged my shoulders at her. I was sure the man was thankful but I had no idea what he said.

With a disapproving look, Diane said nothing.

Francisco and I returned to our Pina Coladas. I sipped mine, a bit tastier now, and watched for the raker. If he returned I hoped Diane wouldn’t notice. Silly me. Still, it was the end of the day before she got the chance to say she told us so.

“I knew it!” Diane yelled.

I looked in the direction of the half-eaten drumstick she pointed at the beach and saw the raker running towards our cabana.

“He’s going to ask for more and never even say thanks. Not once.” Diane said smugly.

The raker stopped in front of us and leaned down. Knowing he knew no English we waited for him to say something, anything. From the next cabana, Diane waited too.

The raker leaned a bit closer. “Thank you.” he said in English.

Before we could respond, he smiled and ran back down the beach.

Diane said nothing.

Stuart M. Perkins

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120 Comments

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120 responses to “Raker Man

  1. Wordless!!
    Thank you Stuart.

  2. caprilis

    Should I ever go on vacation and see workers like these I will be sure to tip them, your words are powerful…thank you!

  3. That was beautiful!. I believe in karma and i think Diane will have her’s coming. Not that I would wish anyone ill. We all owe it to ourselves and everyone around us to first be kind.
    Again, lovely story thank you for writing it.

  4. Nicely told. Not all of them require tips. But a friendly acknowledgement of anyone’s existence usually is enough.

  5. I love this story – human kindness is never wrong. I did the same thing on holiday once, and at the end of the week the man in question brought me a gift to say thank you. It’s a treasure that has outlasted the memory of the vacation.

  6. This moved me tremendously. I feel your compassion and the raker man’s dignity in coming back to say thank you in English. Diane’s take on your kindness is petty and demeaning. Excellent coupling of Diane and her enjoyment of food with her disdain of raker man.

  7. Please don’t come to Africa – it will break your heart

  8. All my work is in emerging nations. You hit a nice balance of dignity, respect, and kindness. Sorry we Westerners don’t take enough time to learn that the universe doesn’t revolve around us and our superior understanding… Thanks for this.

  9. beejayge

    What a wonderful story, full of great imagery, made me smile, laugh and shed a tear. Beautiful.

  10. Absolutely beautiful story, Mr. Perkins! Absolutely beautiful!

  11. It’s great when a know it all like Diane learns a simple lesson about human nature. Hopefully she will learn to appreciate the efforts of the people who make her life comfortable. Great post as always.

  12. Gratitude and compassion…eloquently told. Reminds me of the story of the ten lepers that Christ healed, and only one returned to express gratitude for the gesture of loving compassion. I don’t know how many tears were shed in that sole leper’s story, but I would think that they were of equal magnitude as the old raker’s…and Christ’s. You have a wonderful heart, sir, with a truly remakable gift of story.

  13. Christina

    Beautiful!

  14. Get right in scene here and never let go. I love the sentimentality of action, setting, and dialog.

  15. Beautiful story. “I took a sip of mine. It tasted like guilt” Absolutely priceless.

  16. Thank you for the beautiful story.

  17. Catherine

    I’m crying.

  18. Wonderful post. My son recently returned from the Dominican and posted pictures during and after his trip. I want to go and I’m grateful for this insight no matter where we see workers. Your kindness is an inspiration.

  19. Ginni J Poole

    Stuart Perkins….. this was the most brilliant of all of the gems you have written! And everything you write is such a jewel! Thank you for this today…. my heart is full and my face is wet with the overflow! Blessings to you!
    Ginni Poole

  20. Ginni J Poole

    Stuart Parker…. this is the most brilliant of all the gems you have written. Thank you so much for this today. Your beautiful story filled my heart and now my face is wet with the overflow! Blessings!
    Ginni

  21. I do love this story! We all need compassion and optimism.

  22. Reblogged this on Sunshinebright and commented:
    A lovely story of kindness and respect for a human being down on his luck.

  23. “The comparison between the writer and his friend/ work colleague – Diane – is a crucial element of this story. Many people underestimate the power of empathy and the pull it exudes to spectators/ readers. There are many types, characteristically, of people populating planet earth but this story – a crucial excerpt on general life – compares the two most archetypal characters: The empathic soul and the selfish me, me, me personality, a: prototype that has steadily taken over the world and, made a complete and utter mess of it. Your Allan Sugars, Donald Trumps and Cristiano Ronaldo types. They have bullied and belligerently encouraged the more empathic personality to become more like them, in order to survive the competitive elements, of The Real. Thanking you for a most beautiful story.” Henry York,

  24. Compassion, kindness and a little help go a long way with those less fortunate. Thanks for sharing a good lesson.

  25. Pingback: I Felt Like “Not Enough” – rising

  26. lifewalkblog

    Diane sounds like anew entitled spoiled brat. I’m glad I don’t know her!

  27. very touching. such a wonderful piece. makes me think about how often we take things for granted and not feel grateful for what we already have.

  28. Thank you for the reminder to be open and generous to those who have far less than we do, through no fault of their own. Another excellent story, Stuart!

  29. We experienced similar moments while living in Costa Rica although it was usually someone selling trinkets on or near the beach. Over time we eneded up friendly with one in particular. I doubt they were in quite the same physical condition as your beach friend but a struggle to survive is relavent to all. When we had guests visit us there, we always waited for Rafael to stroll by before encouraging them to buy. He always had good quality wares and a great “deal”. PS I would have had a hard time not stuffing a banana in Diane’s piehole..congrats on your restraint. You’re a good man Stuart.

  30. I know DIana sounds kind of…jaded, but frankly, a stressful job in corporate America WILL do that to you. It can eat your soul and replace it with cynical darkness.

    The tip didn’t just bless the worker. It hopefully pushed the “reset” button for Diane. And maybe this vacation, and what she witnessed, actually did what a vacation is supposed to do and rejuvenated her in ways she didn’t expect.

  31. This was beautiful. It’s so wonderful that you saw a human being, and not just a servant. 🙂

  32. You have done it again. Beautiful story. I am sure your kindness will pay it forward.

  33. Mandy

    Stuart, you never fail to move me, and I was near tears when I read this one. How often have I been on vacation in a third world country and pondered the affluence and privilege of my life. It’s why I can’t bring myself to bargain for the trinkets I buy there, why I always try to leave a generous tip, why I stumble around in my really bad Spanish to address everyone who serves me, respect for THEIR country, THEIR language, THEIR right to dignity in their work.

  34. Beautiful. I went to Jamaica once in the late 80s and felt the same way, but shamefully never acted. At this moment in history, you have no idea how this heartened me. Thank you.

  35. These are the best words I’ve read in a while.
    Peace

  36. Stuart, great story. Compassion and generosity make a sweeter world.

  37. Thank you for following me.

  38. Yes, in the aftermath of the election in the U.S., this story has even more meaning. My experience with immigrants and illegal workers has always been most positive. They work hard and deserve our respect. Thanks for this, Muriel Kauffmann

  39. Your holiday-in-the tropics story is still …. a holiday blessing story. Loved it so much!

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