Still shot of Anaika Saint Louis from CNN video.

“Tell Them I’m Still Here” – Maxo Simeon

Tell Them I'm Still Here“Tell them I’m still here. Tell my sisters, my cousins, their children–I’ve never met any of their children. But tell them anyway.  Tell them Maxo Simeon said he is still alive. Di yo m’fout la toujou.” Jean-Max Simeon

“I was taking my daughter to school.  She was getting out of the car, when the ground started to shake. I yelled at her to get back in. We drove fast. You see me here.  Ask me why I’m alive. I can’t tell you what I don’t know.” Frank Simeon

SAM_0287“You realize your big house is useless. The furniture is nothing. You are afraid of your big house. The bigger it is, the faster it  kills you.” – Lucienne

“The walls stretched. They shook you. One minute I was here. Next minute I was upside down. The house was elastic. It was a miracle that we survived. ” – Nadia Simeon

large family tent“When you’re inside the tent, you feel like somebody set your skin on fire. You don’t move. You wait. You know if you live to see the next day, maybe you’ll see the one after it.” -Barbara Simeon

“After 49 years of back-breaking work in the United States, I was supposed to spend my remaining years in my own country.  Now they tell me my house collapsed.  I don’t want to hear that my life in America was for nothing.” -MyrtaSAM_0288

“I didn’t know what was happening. How was I supposed to know? I held my baby, and ran. I didn’t know where we would stop. I just ran.” Nicole

“There are so many ways it is described, this ‘Thing’ that manifested itself that January afternoon, leaving Haitians in such fear that even those whose houses are undamaged will not sleep inside. ” -Actress and poet Michele Voltaire Marcelin — from “The Thing”

“Caribbean Market fell. People were screaming.  The market kept falling. The roof. The walls. The air turned to dust.” -Stanley Simeon

“People in America knew more than we did. We didn’t have televisions to watch the news. We didn’t have a radio. People guessed. People repeated what they’d heard. We believed everything. We believed nothing.” – Hans Simeon

“I was sitting in my taptap, when it hit. Dozens of people tried to fit in the cab. They piled on the hood. They jumped on the roof. They wanted me to drive them away from the problem. But the problem was everywhere.” –Rodley Simeon

“Children asked what it was. We couldn’t tell them what it was. The children called it by the sound it made: Goudougoudou (goodoogoodoo.)  ‘Goudougoudou eats people,’ the children said. Every time the ground shook, the children cried out, ‘Goudougoudou is going to eat us too.’ ” Jenny

Mango - Papa Yiyi - February 2010

VoicesfromHaiti photo – February, 2010

“People came from everywhere. You didn’t know who they were. They had lost families and homes. They were hungry.  They asked if they could eat the green mangoes on our tree. We told them they could. We sat together and ate. Papa Yiyi planted the mango tree seven years ago. He died shortly afterwards. He would be pleased to know how many people the tree feeds now.” – Barbara Simeon

Still shot of Anaika Saint Louis from CNN video.

Still shot of Anaika Saint Louis from CNN video.

“Anaika Saint Louis was just 11 years old. She wanted to live. But the world flew too far away for her arms to reach. She ran in her sleep.  Six years ago today, Anaika Saint Louis started her journey to Paradise. Every tear her innocent eyes shed was a waterfall to me. Even though Anaika and I never met, I feel as if I knew her. I remember her voice. I can still her screaming. Rest in Paradise, little angel.” – Rachelle Coriolan

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Their Eyes Were Watching God

It tDesktop1ook Zora Neale Hurston seven weeks to pen one of the most important works in literature, Their Eyes Were Watching God, in Haiti.  That country just fills you with inspiration. Spend a few days or weeks there. And who knows? The next great work may come from you. Get to know Zora!

 

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Haiti Everywhere

Pumpkin Soup Collage - Katia D. UlysseI went to the grocery store last night, in search of a particular item. The place was packed with people shopping for New Year’s parties. The lines were endless. The shelves were almost empty; people were stocking up—in case some unexpected event forced them to barricade themselves inside their homes for all of 2016. I can’t blame them; the world is full of crazy surprises nowadays.

I decided to try my luck at a nearby 7-Eleven. I asked the cashier if they carried the item I needed. He said, “sure.”

“Fantastic!”

The guy said: “I detect an accent. You’re not from here, are you?” You know I welcome every opportunity to say “I’m from Haiti.”

Catherine Flon, Dessaline's goddaughter- sews Blue and Red to create an independent Haiti's first (and current) flag

Catherine Flon, Dessaline’s goddaughter- sews Blue and Red to create an independent Haiti’s first (and current) flag)

The man’s eyes widened. “Sak pase? Nap boule!” he said. Now, it was my eyes that popped open. “You speak Creole,” I asked, with the excitement of a kid on Christmas Eve.

“Of course, I do.”

“How did you learn to speak my language?” I wanted to know.

“I lived in Haiti for many years. I taught English at a school there. I was in Saint Marc.”

haiticoatofarmsA line of shoppers formed at the checkout counter. We both looked at the people, and returned to our conversation. He needed to get back to his post. I went with him. As he worked, we talked in Creole. “I’m so happy to meet you,” he said. “I don’t have anybody to practice Creole with.”

“Neither do I,” I wanted to say but didn’t.

“Where in Haiti are you from?” he asked.

“Petion-Ville.”

“I know Petion-Ville very well. Where in Petion-Ville?”

“I went to Anne Marie Javouhey,” I began.

“Oh yes, that’s right next to Lycee Petion.”

“Yes!”

Do you know Eglise Saint Pierre?”

kdu photo, taken near a pile of post-quake rubble.“Of course. It’s a beautiful church. I used to go to the park across the street all the time. It was peaceful there. I want to go back someday, Incha Allah.”

“You have an accent, too. Where are you from?”

“Ethiopia.”

“Now, that’s a place I want to visit one of these days.”

The man continued: “You will, Incha Allah. God first. Everything comes after that. People say Haiti is horrible, but that’s not true. It has a lot of problems. The government needs to figure itself out, but Haiti is a beautiful place. The people are genuine and generous. Forget about the food.”

“Ah, you ate too much griyo?”

“No griyo for me. I’m Muslim.” He reached for my hand to shake it. “My sister, you made my day.”

“Mine too.” We’re both smiling like diplomats.

“You have to come back to visit, Incha Allah. I’m here every day.”

SAM_0540“I will.” And I was not fibbing. I had to go. We shook hands again. I walked out, thinking how wonderful it would be if all of us in this crazy world could let people believe in whatever they choose. What a world it would be, if we could just shake hands and let one another live in peace.

It’s amazing how our side of the island tends to bring people of all races and nationalities together. I love that about Haiti. Happy Independence Day, my dear!

Nou Bèl. Nou La! T-shirts Get the T-shirt. Spread the message.

Nou Bèl. Nou La! T-shirts
Get the T-shirt. Spread the message.

 

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Giving Thanks

katia-photo-at-library.jpgIf you can read this, thank a teacher.

I am thankful I was not born a turkey.

With my luck, I would not have been the one pardoned at the White House this morning. I can see me now: nice and golden brown; a ton of stuffing between my legs. A freshly-sharpened carving knife on stand-by. Every eye is on my neck, breasts, and thighs. No thanks.

But I am thankful.

100_8006I am thankful for my true family, for great friends: old and new. I am thankful many of the flowering plants in my garden think it’s still summer. I am thankful for my neighbor Jude’s cat, Perdita Trouvé. She and our male cat, Gray, love each other. They’re not interested in making babies; they could not, even if they tried. They’re just good neighbors. They welcome and accept each other’s oddness. The world could learn something from them.

Baltimore, MD-4/8/15 - Reema Alfaheed, left, at home with her younger brother, Ahmed Alfaheed, 15, look at videos depicting the Iraq refugee camp near the border with Jordan, where they lived for six years after fleeing Baghdad. Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun Staff Photographer - #2383

Baltimore, MD-4/8/15 – Reema Alfaheed, left, at home with her younger brother, Ahmed Alfaheed, 15, look at videos depicting the Iraq refugee camp near the border with Jordan, where they lived for six years after fleeing Baghdad. Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun Staff Photographer – #2383

I am thankful for the opportunity to teach amazing students who come from war-torn countries, and still thrive. I get to use a part of my life to let hundreds of young people know how awesome they are—no matter what the critics say. I am thankful.

I am thankful for knowing how to read, and for writers who tell stories so juicy I curse the fact that I need sleep to live.

Felicie Montfleury 8/15/1921 - 4/1/2012

Felicie Montfleury 8/15/1921 – 4/1/2012

I am thankful I knew Felicie Montfleury, my Nenenn/Grandmother. She passed away three years ago, but our bond is stronger than ever. I understand her much better now. She had this notion that “Family, Love, and Loyalty” were action words meant to be conjugated in the present tense.

My only regret is that I didn’t bury my Nenenn in her signature talon-kikit stilettos. I can picture her now, skipping across the sky. I can see her colorful scarf fluttering in the breeze.

When I visited my Nennen’s grave a few days ago, I noticed the message chiseled on her neighbor’s shiny new headstone. The black and white photograph introduced me to the deceased.

20151123_111751_HDRThis lady, I.H.B.,  looks very much alive in the picture. Her kind face is pillow-soft. She gives the warmest hugs. She likes to cook. Thanksgiving Dinner is always at her place.  She is strict, but fair. She takes pride in knowing how to set a table properly. She wears talcum powder at night. Her housecoat is folded on the footboard.  She applies a light layer of Vaseline on her lips before going to bed–an old habit. She owns several bottles of perfume, but wears only Chanel No. 5.  That bottle is half full. She rolls her hair at night with sponge rollers: pink. She holds the rollers in place with a white mesh hairnet. She owns an alarm clock, but means to give it away.

I.H.B. wakes up before dawn. She makes breakfast: one egg, one slice of bread, and a cup of mint tea. She eats on China that is three times as old as she will be when she dies. She does not worry about dying someday. She understands death is a part of life. This is why she gives thanks every morning and night.

100_5174I.H.B. wears pantyhose, even in summer. She knows how to knit, but does not. She owns two raincoats and two umbrellas—in case someone else needs to borrow them. She treasures her old friends, many of whom she has not seen in decades.  She packs snacks in her purse, in case someone she meets needs something to eat.

She does not tighten her grip on her purse, when she walks past a group of loud loiterers dressed in saggy pants and black hoodies. The loiterers offer to help her carry her groceries. She does not need help; she  swims like a champion five times a week at the YWCA. She wants the loiterers to know she is not afraid of them. She wants them to know she trusts them. “Thank you, children,” she says.

The “children” are twice as tall as she is. They weigh fifty to one hundred pounds more than she does. The children say, “Yes, Ma’am.” They are grateful for this lady whose name they believe themselves unworthy of speaking. They know she loves them; they are grateful for her presence. They will never know that I.H.B blames herself for their plight. They are her grand-children, the children of a thousand former students. They will never know she thinks of them still.

20151123_111747_HDRI fell in love with my Nenenn’s grave-side neighbor, as soon as I read the inscription: “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” Even though I.H.B. is long gone, I knew I was in the presence of a hero. I am thankful someone like her lived in this world.  And if Susan Sontag was right, now that I’ve taken I.H.B.’s picture, we’re connected.

I am thankful.  I hope one day I will have touched half as many strangers’ lives as I.H.B. did. And still does.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

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“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” Susan Sontag

We are Beautiful and We Are Here