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Happy Haitian Mother’s Day 2017!

Bonne Fête des Mères to all Haitian Moms at home and in the Diaspora!

Without you, we would not be. We love and honor you.  You are the backbone of the family; the beacon, the beam and the column, the foundation, the scaffolding—the potomitan, keeping the feeble structure called life from disintegrating around your children. You are our treasure.  We need you.

kdu photo

Christianne D.,  a very special Happy Mother’s Day to you today!

Wearing an emerald dress and turban the color of lilac, Christianne looks positively regal.  Her painted fingernails shine like rubies.  She glows.  A girl only turns 102 once.  Let the fun begin!

Christianne has to be one of the wisest persons on this planet, yet she is unassuming and humble. She gives advice, only if you ask for it.

For many years now I have asked her the secret to longevity. Her answer never varies. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Learn everything you can. Don’t talk too much. Live simply. Avoid negativity. Wise people don’t go around telling everybody how wise they are; fools do.  Don’t waste time.  Stand up for yourself. 

Christianne leads by example. She laughs a lot. Laughter is the only medicine without a long list of terrible side-effects. And it’s free. Try it.

Happy everything, young lady! You are a veritable treasure. Many happy returns!

 

 

Morgan Zwerlein’s Rhythm

Feast or famine. Drought or deluge. Peace or pandemonium. We are still standing.

Within the sliver of space where the swinging pendulum pauses, the persistent drum-song of Manman Ayiti reverberates. In the centuries since our ancestors were brought to the island, the rhythms of our roots have not weakened. Through sweet and sorrowful times, this endowment sustains us.  Musicians worldwide benefit from  our lavish legacy. Some give credit where it is due; others play dumb. Their instruments may be shiny and new, but the rhythms that come out are distinctly Haitian. African. Morgan Zwerlein revels in this fact.

Music was our language, when our mouths could not speak what our eyes were forced to see.  Like secret codes, drum beats conveyed our messages. When uttering a word would have cost us our tongues, we communicated openly through music. Slave owners feared the African people’s drum so much that they outlawed the instrument, lest it triggered a revolt.

The esoteric rhythms keep us connected even now.  Drop a Rabòday or a Kongo beat, and stiffs in business suits start to undulate. The reaction is visceral. The drums call. Bodies and souls respond.

Morgan Zwerlein has learned the language of the drums, and speaks it very well. The instant I connected his face to his powerful sound, I was stunned. How on Earth did a blan learn to play like that? Cultural appropriation is one thing, but it’s different with this guy. I had to ask. What exactly are your intentions with these here rhythms? 

Morgan Zwerlein’s photo

The first answer came in 2014—on Haitian soil. I watched and listened as Morgan beat the drum on and off stage. He jumped in the middle of a Rara band in Puits Blain, and played as fiercely as my compatriots. I’ve seen Morgan perform in Brooklyn several times since. He plays like a happy kid in his favorite toy store, smiling like he’d just swallowed something sweet.  I had more questions. He answered them. Click here for the INNERview.

 

Haiti’s Flag Day

May 18, dizwime, is sacred. Compatriots at home and in the diaspora would agree.  What is it about this little country that tugs at our heart strings, no matter how far in the known world we stray?

We leave home, but can’t wait to return.  Haiti is Mom, Dad, and every caring relative we’ve ever known and loved.  We occupy ourselves with useless calculations now: We count years, months, days, hours, and unseen scars of exile. We hope only to live long enough to go home again, if such a thing is possible.

Don’t say it.

We know.

We know what is possible and what is not. We seethe. We eat foreign fruit. We sing our National Anthem in the privacy of our hearts, while we hum yours. We wear our flag, even if the colors of those passports in our breast pockets don’t match.

Haitian-born. Haitian-die.  Every stop in between is but a layover.   Pwen final.

Honor and interminable Respect  to  our ancestors! They earned their rightful place in history and in our collective consciousness.   Genuflect in honor of Catherine Flon–a central figure in the Haitian Revolution. Without her needle and thread, there might not have been such a pretty flag.

Today, we wear flags  on sleeves rolled to the elbows.  The load is heavy, but together we lift. And lift. And. . .

Batay sou batay. Bitay sou bitay.  Men nan men, n ap rive lwen. Pa gen manti nan sa.  Nou woule tankou boul sou wout. Kenbe rèd. Kenbe djanm. Pa lage. Koze ‘bay legen’ an pa ladann.

Joyeuse fête des mères

The benefit of being a Haitian Mom living in the United States of America is we get to celebrate Mother’s Day twice a year.  Staunch nationalists expect their “Joyeuse fête des mèresbouquets on the last Sunday in May. Today is a sort of dress rehearsal for the real thing: remembering the generations of women who birthed us and birthed in us the memories and customs we must impart to our children with their shiny, hyphenated cultural identities. Happy Mother’s Day anyway!

Last week, a friend adopted two children who had been in foster care far too long. What a joyous Mother’s Day this must be in that house! Another friend traveled thousands of miles—over the course of many years—to adopt two orphaned children who had stolen her heart. Happy Mother’s Day, Ladies! You have changed the trajectory of your babies’ lives.
On the other side of happiness is the grief that comes from losing a child. I know women who have yet to stop crying. Friends and families do their best to pretend Mother’s Day is insignificant, but facts are hard to ignore. You are still Mom, even when your child is gone. Your babies love and remember you. They are with you today.

Happy Mother’s Day to Moms whose children are incarcerated. They made bad decisions or were in the wrong place at the wrong time, leaving you to wonder where you went wrong. You are still Mom. Keep on being the pillar you are.

Happy Mother’s Day to Moms who genuinely regret mistreating their children when they were young.  May your children forgive you; may you learn to forgive yourself!

Happy Mother’s Day to elderly Moms whose adult children now cast them aside. You’re in your seventies and eighties today. The children for whom you would have died a thousand times now believe they are too sophisticated to be associated with you. You did your best. That manual about how to be the perfect parent burned the day the sun came into existence. Keep on living, Dear. They’ll come around. And if they don’t, oh well. . .

Happy Mother’s Day to Moms who are no longer with us. May your children trust that you do look upon them constantly! You loved them then and always will.

I inherited my grandmother’s Bible, after she passed away in 2012. She used the Book as a sort of safe deposit box for treasured pictures, scraps of papers with telephone numbers scribbled on them, and the Mother’s Day card I gave her when ten thousand years ago. That card depicts a bouquet of bearded irises—like the ones in my garden that I have to divide constantly, lest they take over the yard and every inch of our house. I must have chosen the card because the flowers were like nothing I had ever seen. Finding that card in her Bible explained my obsession with irises. They are delicate and yet unrelenting as a grandmother’s love.

It’s been five years since my beloved Grandmère passed away. We are closer than ever. Happy Mother’s Day, Nennenn! She would be proud to know that irises which I cultivate now adorn one public park, the median between a pretty lake and its admirers, as well as several private gardens.

Earlier this week, I forbade my daughter, Pititfi, to join her friends in the park until she cleaned her room. She was miffed. To express her displeasure, she handed me a Mother’s Day card she had made, saying: “I was saving this card to give to you on Haitian’s Mother’s day. But since you won’t let me play with my friends, I want you to have the card NOW!”

I cried tears of joy.  Don’t you dare tell her that her punishment didn’t work.  Happy Mother’s Day and Joyeuse fête des mères to you!