Going Home

voicesfromhaitiSUN-002As the plane made its final descent, the features of the island became more distinct. There were many scars on her face now. Deforestation had claimed many acres. From the north to south, east to west—like a massive cross branded on the country’s back, destitution had seeped into the soil, and rooted itself so deeply that nothing but poverty would grow. Gone was the majestic fir that once crowned the mountains. Silent were the songbirds about which many fables had been spun. The ancestors must be grieving now, I thought. But where the island was still green, the Garden of Eden might have withered with envy.

Many LovesWhen the pilot announced that 85 degrees awaited us on the ground, I noticed a legion of pale-skinned soldiers leading seven Spaniards away. They had bound them together. The Arawak Indians had disappeared from my reverie. Hispaniola had become a colony; France was the mother country. Inside the airplane, passengers shifted in their seats with restless anticipation. Between the aisles, I saw a hundred Dahomeans layered on human shelves, across the belly of a nameless ship. They writhed in despair. When the plane touched the runway, a tall black man had jumped to his death in the open sea. A woman quickly followed him. I walked down the aisle toward the plane’s exit door. The Africans were cutting sugar cane now, in a vast field without a horizon. Sweat drenched the rags that sheathed their fate.

As I reached the door of the plane, I saw clusters of Haitians in the same forest where the Taino had once walked, just as I had read in the history book as a child. It was 1803; the drums of revolution serenaded the midnight moon. History would be made. I was grateful that my dark sunglasses would mask the torrent of emotions that had suddenly flooded my eyes. I descended the stairs; something inside began to unravel.

When my feet touched the soil, it occurred to me with absolute certainty that the person I called myself was but a remnant of a former self. And that person was was lost now. The heart with which I experienced the bittersweet joy of going home again was fragmented, too—and felt as if it were beating in someone else’s chest. The mind that reminded me that there was no such thing as going home again throbbed with random thoughts which were as alien to me as I would always be to the U. S. Like a fruit plucked from its branch too soon, I sought to achieve ripeness in a foreign place. Ripeness, being inevitable, came in an unnatural manner, and deterioration followed with a double quickness that left my spirit in an exaggerated state of rot.

I strayed from the line of passengers headed for Customs, to catch my breath. I closed my eyes and let the heat sink into my skin. A tropical breeze reversed the frantic rhythm of my heart, and I felt those fragments of my lost self begin to merge. A sense of totality came.

Inside the airport I found the large bag I had brought and dragged it behind me like a dog dragging its tail. The cry of babies, frustrated from the four-hour trip, reverberated inside my head. Older children invented games to entertain themselves while their parents waited for their luggage. Above the din of suitcases screeching across the floor, the blades of a ceiling fan stirred the heat with the patience of eternity.

painting Countryside coupleAn older woman, who looked positively regal in her wheelchair, drew a lungful of smoke from her cigarette. The air around her unleashed my own craving for a smoke. I thought about asking her for a cigarette, but even if she had offered one (which she would not), I could not accept it. In Haiti, I would not surrender to the habits I practiced on U. S. soil: I would never smoke in public; I would not look my elders in the eye; I would not laugh too loudly.

I would not wear yellow, for my mother said that yellow is the color of treason; and girls who loved their families the way she said I didn’t, would never be caught dead in a yellow dress.

I would not wear red, for red is the color of sex, passion.

I would not wear black, that is the color of death.

I would not wear white, for white is the color of the undead.

I laughed inwardly and told myself that perhaps I should wear just my black skin, until I remembered that nakedness was the very costume of devils.

I worried about the rules I had forgotten about how a Haitian woman ought to behave. I resolved to remember those rules when I returned to Washington, DC.

Rara IronworkI stood in the corner, unwilling to move; even though I knew my cousins were waiting for me outside. I had not seen them in years. They were seven and eight when I left home. And it occurred to me that I had, in fact, forgotten their faces.

I leaned against the wall and waited, stealing glimpses of the faces around me; they were afraid. The newspapers had told them to be afraid: Haiti was not safe.

Fear was in the wild wave of their arms. They had read it on the Internet. They had seen the signs posted at departure gates telling them that Haiti was Unstable. UNSTABLE. Unsafe. Death. Kidnapping. Aids! And I was afraid.

Perhaps I should tell the stewardess that I had changed my mind and wanted to go back in the same plane that had brought me. I’d call my cousins to tell them how sad I was to have missed the flight. They would never know that I was only too terrified by the sounds coming from outside the airport: the yelling, the crying, and the begging.

No one would ever know how I really felt. I hadn’t been there in 200 years, what would 200 more matter?

“Going someplace fun?” my boss had asked when I requested time off for vacation. “Home,” I had said.

“You mean Haiti?”

“Yes,” I answered.

Dream Haiti: Acrylic on Canvas by Jean Claude M.“My husband and I have been to the Dominican Republic several times,” the woman continued, “but I’ve never made it to Haiti. I’ve seen documentaries and pictures, that sort of thing. Your country is really destitute, isn’t it? The Post had an article about it last week. Is it true there are no trees left?” She did not wait for an answer before continuing. “Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Why would you want to go there now? Is there some emergency?”

“No emergency.”

“Well, then, why don’t you go some place less unstable? The Dominican Republic has very nice beaches in the North. You must go there. It’s hard for me to believe that Haiti is on the same island.”

“Haiti is my home,” I said.

 

To read the contribution in its entirety, visit  The Caribbean Writer. Volume 16 (2002)

 

Joujou

Love: There’s Still No App For It

JoujouIn the Haiti I know,  Elizabeth LaFrance said, February 14th is a day for lovers to show their true colors, literally: If you are involved in a romantic relationship (and you are happy about it), you wear pink. If you are overwhelmingly excited, you wear red. If you are not taken but hope to be, you wear green. If your lover puts your heart in a slingshot, you wear yellow. Yellow is for betrayal. Treason. Trayizon. Yellow is for ‘I don’t think so!’ Goodbye. See you in space.” 

Martine Vassor put it this way“It didn’t matter how much money we had, we found a way to celebrate love. The people of Port-de-Paix enjoyed Valentine’s Day. We did. We do. Those who could afford large bouquets of flowers and chocolate for their sweethearts flooded the stores to buy them. Others ‘borrowed’ stems from other people’s gardens. Lovers ran far and fast to find one another. Love can make you run. Love can light a fire under your feet; you can walk for miles without getting tired.”

VoicesfromHaiti HummingbirdVoicesfromHaiti HummingbirdVoicesfromHaiti HummingbirdVoicesfromHaiti PaintingA couple can be split between Norway and Chile, but each wears a wedding band anyway. Between Skype and Facebook, all you need is good Internet connection to fall and stay in love. But on nights when the temperature drops below zero, how useful is all the technology? Until some brilliant person invents one of those Beam-me-up, Scotty teleporters, there will be a draft in the bedroom. And in the heart. In spite of all the advancements everyone has made, there’s still no App for love. 

kdu photo, taken near a pile of post-quake rubble.To my friends who are not with their sweethearts tonight, hold on. Love is coming. 

michele fievre phto haiti noir

Death is a Six-Course Meal

Akashic Books Photo

Akashic Books Photo

Dark Days in Port-au-Prince is like a lavish meal, served Exquisite Corpse style–over six scrumptious courses–cooked to perfection by six Haitian writers who can’t seem to get enough of working with one another.

michele fievre phto haiti noirTheir work have been published together in various anthologies, beginning in 2001 with Butterfly’s Way: Voices from Haitian in the Dyaspora (Soho Press). Brassage (UCSB, 2005), Haiti Noir 1 (Akashic Books, 2011), So Spoke the Earth (WWOHD, 2013), Haiti Noir 2 (Akashic Books, 2014), a children’s books series, and now this.

Courses 1, 2, and 3 of Dark Days in Port-au-Prince have been served, but that won’t spoil your fine dining experience. If you have not yet savored those scrumptious dishes, they’re readily available on Akashic Book’s website.  The  4th course will be brought to your table on 1/24/14; it will  be hot–that much we can say.  And because Chez  akashicbooks.com is known for its avant-garde menu, each bite will likely thrill your taste buds.  To death.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This is the order in which this story unfolds:  Roxane Gay (section 1), Michele Jessica Fievre (section 2) , Ibi Zoboi (section 3), Katia D. Ulysse (section 4), Josaphat-Robert Large (section 5), and Edwidge Danticat (section 6) .

HaitiNoir2_TheClassics-506x800Although many of us would love to know how the story will end, we must wait one week between each installment.

Readers know only what happened in the previous 3 sections. The writers have no clue about what twist will follow their own contributions. Join us at  akashicbooks Friday (1/24/14), before we all bite our fingernails down to the quick.

Since Master Chef, Josaphat Robert Large, always cooks up a fine story, we know his section will be plate-licking good.

Edwidge Danticat, will provide the killer ending, making this final course unforgettable.

In the meantime, dig into Katia D. Ulysse’s Part 4 on 1/24/14. Try not to burn your tongue.

Bon appétit!

SAM_0287

“Tell Them I’m Still Here” ~ Remembering 1/12/2010

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 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

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

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

“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.” -Myrta SAM_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, University student

“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

“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.” –Rodly, taptap driver

“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.”

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.  Four 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

We are Beautiful and We Are Here