Insatiable Sandy, Haiti, and Power

A seemingly insatiable superstorm feasts on the Eastern Seaboard, leaving millions without power and a death toll that acts like a helium balloon. Sandy spent time in Haiti, of course. She had to claim what Isaac forgot to take with him a few months ago. “We’re facing a serious crisis,” the Prime Minister says. No truer words. . . 

I don’t know if she has a FB page. but Sandy updates her status as she moves from town to town, shifting from hurricane to tropical storm to simply “heavy rain.” They say she continues to weaken. Tell that to the family of those who died.

Frank C. lived in various parts of the U.S. before returning to Haiti several years ago. Ask and he’ll tell you Yes, you can go home again. He celebrated his 73rd birthday recently.  “I have known beauty and I have known violence,” he says proudly. “I survived an earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands. I have seen much for one lifetime. Haiti se lakay mwen. Haiti–good or bad–is home. But that Sandy is ruthless. Li moulen tout sa li jwenn. can’t take another hurricane. I am tired of seeing my friends die.”  

Poet Jeanie Bogart says our bellies are full of the floodwater that serves as drink after a daily bread of unadulterated tragedy: “. . .aux et larmes confondus cris étouffés/ ventres remplis/ non pas de ce pain quotidien/ tant attendu/ mais du raz-de-arée/qu’accompagne l’ouragan. . .” Leave it to our poets to help make that bitter pill a little easier to swallow. 

In “Where the Water Lives,” poet, painter, and actress Michele Voltaire Marcelin puts it this way: “. . . time threatened/ rain  threatened/ and the house floated away/ weightless. . .”  The estimated 400,000 still “living” in makeshift shelters watch water levels rise and hear their children cry all the time. “Rain has no memory,” Michele writes. “Rain just is.”

Model Jany Tomba fears more lives will be lost: “Imagine our people back home without the infrastructure we have. The full scope of their powerlessness is felt through our own uncertainty about nature s fury . . .”

“It’s a beautiful day here,” an incredulous Rachelle P. says from her home in sunny Atlanta. “My kids went to school. It’s impossible to imagine so much destruction happening in Haiti, in New York, and everywhere else. . .”

Photo: Charles Sykes, AP

So many places have declared a state of emergency. Schools and businesses remain shut down. Stores have run out of water to sell. The streets are dead. No electricity. No Internet. Flooded homes. Smashed cars. Smashed lives. Lines at gas stations are endless. But this is the U.S.A. Power will be restored; if not now, then on Election Day next week’-)

And with the holidays just around the corner, Times Square will blink with its gazillion lights in no time. There’s no need to imagine being without power 365 nights a year. For life.

I’m so thankful “I got chills. They’re multiplyin. . .'”

One Million Like$ Say Haiti’s Mother Tongue is Good Enough

VoicesfromHaiti’s INNERview with MIT Linguistics professor Michel DeGraff reveals much about the educator and the man. At the heart of our August, 2011 conversation was the idea that teaching children core subjects in the language which they already know inside and out works. The National Science Foundation agrees.  DeGraff’s linguistics program receives a million dollars to continue a work that tries to prove simply that Kreyòl is good enough. Congratulations, Prof. Michel DeGraff!

The Parsley Massacre

Although October 2, 1937 was a Saturday and schools were closed, the Dominican Republic administered a deadly language assessment to unsuspecting Haitians on their side of the island. This test, “El Corte,” mandated by a fully Hitlerized Rafael Troujillo, was epic but short. Passing required the proper enunciation of a single word: parsley–in Spanish. Those who failed were promptly slaughtered. Many authors have written about the Parsley Massacre, among them Edwidge Danticat, René Philoctète, and Rita Dove.

Try taking Troujillo’s language test now. Say “Perejil.” Did you remember to trill the “r” the way a native Spanish speaker would: Perrrrrrrejil. If you did, you might have lived to see another day.  Maybe. If your skin is “light,” you would have been fine.

By the way, if you’re reading this post at the Dominican Beauty Salon that does your hair so well, don’t get upset and run into the street with shampoo dripping down–blinding you. You can get hurt. Be still and know Troujillo’s regime took the lives of countless Dominicans, too.  In the Time of the Butterflies, a deeply moving book by Dominican author Julia Alvarez, draws readers into the lives of three sisters who stood up against the regime.

VoicesfromHaiti honors the 20,000+ Haitians whose blood spilled on Dominican soil and turned the Massacre River red and thick 75 years ago. 

¡Enough already!