By Brian Jensen
After an hour of cropping down dead trees for firewood with a dull “sword”, I was ready for a much softer opponent, so I asked my neighbors if I could trim their “racket” fence straight, like a hedge. They said yeah, so I set to it.
I chopped the first foot off along the top and lined up the sides. I felt like a mix between a barber and a barbarian; chopping and slashing, the poisonous white milk-blood was flying everywhere.
The milk can be used as glue, but if you get it in your eyes, you can go blind. Being reminded of this, I donned some ridiculously big horn rimmed glasses that are popular with moto-taxis in place of goggles. The kids said that I’m supposed to take off more off the top, about 3 feet, so you don’t have to trim it so frequently. With one swipe of a machete I cut through 3 branches and almost all the way through a 4″ trunk. A slap with the side of the blade and a 3x2x2′ chunk crashed to the ground.
After trimming the racket there is quite a mess to clean up. There were white bloodied limbs piled 2′ high on the ground. Jonas, my neighbor whose fence I had been cutting, said we could replant those limbs to finish off this section of the fence. We picked the freshest cuttings and dug holes 1′ deep in which to replant them. We realized a flaw in our plan. The purpose of the fence is to keep animals from getting in and eating the plants in his yard, but then, how do humans get through? We needed a door. All we found was an old wooden window shutter, but that would do. We dug some extra deep holes for a 4″ thick section of tree on which to hang the door. Then we filled around it with crushed rocks and dirt. The rocks help secure it in place better than soft dirt. After that we located some old, broken flip flops to be used as hinges. This is common practice, the repurposing of old broken things. Disposed-of objects might become a motorcycle tire toy, an engine oil bottle can become a toy car, or a motorcycle frame made into a welding table. So we nailed the flip flops in place and we had a door, albeit a little saggy due to the weight. The fence was done.
There was clean up remaining, so we threw all the extra cuttings in a pile, cut them up into fine pieces to dry and to be used as a kind of mulch to protect the plants.
When we were finished, Bibeli took it upon himself to get us a drink of water — in a plastic bag. This is a fairly common way to buy water.
I would say, besides fruit trees, racket is the most prevalent and useful plant in Haiti. And by far the best sparring partner.