Tag Archives: Haiti independence day

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.

 

Notable Lives. Notable Deaths.

Jean-Jacques-DessalinesFollowing the only successful slave rebellion in the history of the world, Jean-Jacques Dessalines–one of the Haitian Revolution’s fearless leaders and founding fathers–became governor-general of the independent nation. Later that year (1804), Dessalines decided he wanted to be Emperor instead. The coronation of Emperor Jacques I took place on October 8. I would be born on the same day, exactly 96 years later.

Becoming emperor did not win Dessalines too many admirers. On October 17, 1806, he was ambushed and assassinated. Dessalines was so loathed that his killers threatened to punish anyone who might have been inclined to bury the mutilated body.

Ms. Bazile

Défilée carries Dessalines’ mutilated body from the street.

Of course, it was a woman–an equally fearless woman–who ignored the threats and rescued Jean-Jacques Dessalines’ body from dogs in the street. She did what no one else dared: She buried the desecrated remains of a fellow human being. For this, she ought to be considered a founding mother. Wasn’t she as brave?

 

 

 

Nearly two hundred years afterwards, a disgraced man whose seemingly diabolical decisions did not win him too many fans in Haiti and in the Diaspora also died. Ironically, this was the same disgraced man whose father purged the Blue from our nation’s first flag–Dessaline’s Blue and Red flag–in exchange for black. (Dessalines’ Blue and Red are once again the colors of our flag). The disgraced man has gone the way of the ancestors, too.

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 deaths of those famous men are considered notable. One of          the two’s life  will be commemorated each year with heartfelt appreciation and pride. The other will be remembered perhaps with great disdain. Either way,  nothing will alter the fact that in death and in life the two men (and myself) have one thing in common: October. Nothing will alter another undeniable fact: Once upon a time, they and we were all just a bunch of cute little babies with big bright eyes that gawked at God only knew what.

Notable Lives.

antique cradleSome of the people I know dreamed for years about becoming parents, long before the babies came. The ones whose babies came as complete surprises cried the same tears of joy as those who planned. And when these sons and daughters arrived—via the foster care system,  adoption agency, or mommy’s belly, most babies are met with adoring looks, gentle kisses, and applause. New parents take and share thousands of photographs of their adorable little ones; they are proud to show off these tiny beings now their very own to cherish, care, live, fight, and—if necessary—die for.

The moms and dads I know are of various shades and nationalities. They call God by different names. They serve different food for dinner, they swim in different oceans, but they have one thing in common: When it comes to protecting their children, these very nice parents will switch from sweet to dangerous in a fraction of a second. At the slightest whiff of danger, moms and dads who can goo-goo and ga-ga with the best of them morph into enraged animals. Touch one hair of the head of their children, and God help you.

Having taught in some of the toughest schools in Baltimore, City, I’ve met parents who teach their children to respect themselves, their teachers, and the school where they spend huge chunks of their time. I’ve met parents who look the other way when their children cheat on tests and steal from teachers’ wallets. I’ve met parents who care so much about their children’s education that they spend hours volunteering in the classroom, helping crazy-busy teachers meet everyone’s needs. I’ve met grandparents who are committed to raising children orphaned by drug-addicted or incarcerated parents. I’ve met parents who come to school high as run-away helium balloons to complain about someone insulting their kid. I am moved and inspired by all of them. I know people who work in adoption agencies who pray every day for the children to find loving (and permanent) homes. No matter what the circumstances are, most parents can agree on the fact that babies are just plain precious. And innocent.

Of course, many of these precious babies grow up to be hardened criminals, but the majority does not. They lead productive lives. Notable lives.

Have you ever heard a three year old say he/she would grow up to be a dictator, a murderer or a junkie? “When I grow up, I want to be hungry and cold. I want to live in a cardboard box under a bridge.” What child would say that?

The parents I know want only the best for their kids. Even when the good babies turn into bad adults, they remain precious to someone. Every felon in jail, every evil-doer, every dictator was somebody’s cute little baby once.

This year, as with the other hundred Octobers before it, I told myself I would have a party. I hadn’t had a birthday party in two decades. This October would be different. I would not feel guilty about having a big cake with my name written on it in shimmering curlicues. I would enjoy blowing out the candles. Champagne glasses would sparkle on the table. There would be laughter. Music. I love to throw parties for other people; why not show myself some love. I would celebrate being above ground one more day. Every breath is a gift. I am here. Alive and grateful for it. Why not celebrate my own life?

My birthday came and went as the others. I didn’t have a party—for the usual rationalization. I will have a small celebration before 2015 comes; I hope. After all, I could have been one of the many people who passed away during October 2014.

Somebody’s precious babies we were once. No matter what we’ve done or haven’t done, someone somewhere loved and cherished us; perhaps not our own parents–Lord knows it takes more than giving birth or fathering a child to earn the titles Mom and Dad. But someone cared enough to wish us the best.

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

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

Everyday the newspapers make special  mention of those whose death are considered Notable. These notables tend to be politicians, former presidents and dictators, movie stars, musicians, famous authors, sport figures, scientists, technology geniuses. What about all the other deceased people whose pictures don’t make the front page? What about the ones who cannot afford a few lines in the obituary section? Are their deaths not notable?

photo by kdu

photo by kdu

To all those born in October, Happy birthday to YOU! And to those who have died: May you rest in perfect peace. To surviving family members, you are in my prayers. And even if news of your loved ones does not go viral, please know that they will not be forgotten. Someone somewhere will remember their names. Always.

Yours truly,

~~~

 

 

 

 

 

Left-Over Pumpkin Soup: A Perennial Dilemma

Christmas-2006.jpgI don’t know about you, but I get so excited about Independence Day Pumpkin Soup that I make enough to feed a small village.

I usually grow my own pumpkin for the occasion. “It’s not pumpkin. It’s squash, you moron!” someone gently pointed out recently.

Thank you much. I’ll keep that in mind.

Anyway, I wake up Thanksgiving-Turkey early to concoct my Pumpkin Soup. The last thing I would want is to run out, when that lucky 3 thousandth guest arrives.

By the time I remember that the small village is actually 3 thousand miles away in beloved Haïti, I have to face the perennial dilemma: What can I possibly do with a vat of left-over soup?

For many days afterwards, the soup is resuscitated the way certain families defibrillate Thanksgiving birds: think turkey sandwiches, turkey casseroles, turkey and eggs–yum! Turkey cookies–double yum! This year’s pumpkin soup’s unmistakable aroma filled our house, while outside worlds congealed under that Polar Vortex thing. How grateful my family was!

I don’t have a problem ushering old turkey bones to a trash bin. Throwing out pumpkin soup, however, is another matter. My conscience takes every opportunity to remind me that pushing pumpkin soup down the food disposal is tantamount to dumping my heritage. Besides, what is so wrong with freezer-burnt soup carefully thawed—say, three or four weeks post Independence Day?

I say “Bon Appétit,” while presenting a steaming bowl to my American husband. It hasn’t even been two weeks since the soup sat on its first fire. The man’s eyes grow wide with what I can only describe as panic. “Do we have anything , anything else to eat in this whole-entire  house, honey?”

“Sure, sweetheart! There’s a nice divorce lawyer in the neighborhood; I’m dialing his number as we speak. I’m confident he has a briefcase full of suggestions.”

Pumpkin Soup and the Nouveau Haitian

pumpki soup ingredientsHere we go again, scratching our heads, and wandering how much pepper to add to the broth. Should we puree the pumpkin? Should we leave a few lumps in for texture? Do we use beef, goat, turkey, or pork? Do they even put pork in pumpkin soup? And what about those uppity Clerveaux cousins from Terre Haute who will spend January First with us? They’re vegetarians. No. Vegans! Great. There goes the main course.

As for the Canarsie Fugee-wannabe cousins, what should we do? They won’t even glance at the golden freedom inside their Sunday-Guest bowls. They’ll probably bring pizza and bottles of twist-top wine. I have to give them credit, though. Those Canarsie cousins did come up with a popular hit; didn’t make a dime, but their faces wallpaper the Internet–even today.

Over in Ukraine, down in Argentina, Johannesburg: people, grown people, can’t stop singing my cousins’ song. They say President Obama himself was caught doing the dance. So, what chance does my pumpkin soup have against that? Even as I write this, the song is playing in my own head like a virus that won’t be contained. Admit it. You’ve done the moves yourself. Schoolchildren in Port-au-Prince are singing and dancing as we speak: ‘I’m sexy & gluten free.”

Enough!

Is this the end? After two hundred and 10 years of constant struggle to help us remember valuable morsels of the culture we’re not supposed to forget (or sell to the highest bidder), this is how we behave at table?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome might say: Relax, it’s just dinner, people! It’s just one meal. But you see, Pumpkin Soup is more like fireworks on July 4th; it’s the chocolate heart on Valentine’s Day; it’s  the turkey on your Thanksgiving table; the decorated tree for Christmas; it’s the ring at a wedding, the corpse at a funeral, the smoke at the Vatican announcing they’ve found a new Pope at long last; it’s Inauguration Day; it’s green on Saint Patrick’s Day; it’s the Superbowl, the World Series, and the World Cup all rolled into one. Haitian Pumpkin Soup on January First is the Big Bang of Haitian cuisine.

We’re not asking our nouveaux Haitians born in the Diaspora to take up machetes and run toward the unknown. We’re not telling them to hunt for wild fowl in Prospect Park. It is not our intention to distract anyone from their long but noble sword fight with NinjaX; we don’t want them to get ‘apprehended’ for one little indiscretion on Grand Theft Auto. The last thing we want is to cause our beloved to lose a precious life in their video games.

It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been outside the mother country, our nouveaux children must know who they really are. We can’t be the only ones carrying memories. All of us need to do our part. When one of us forgets, the rest has already forgotten. What would happen if for Halloween Americans decided to carve turkeys (instead of pumpkin) and scatter them around the yard?

Boo!

SAM_0252Let’s focus on our own cultural legacy.  As New Year’s Day 2014 advances towards us like a comet, unless we figure this soup thing out now, I see quiche on the table. Boo!

Yes, you just had the same thought. Wonderful. We’re kindred spirits. Or something. So, let’s discuss the solution:

Uppity cousins aside. Done.

The first step to concocting your best pumpkin soup is self-emancipation from the rumor that you can’t do it. There are a thousand ways to make pumpkin soup, but some people will tell you their way is the bestest. Next time someone disparages your attempt, invite that person to try to come near your grandmother’s macaroni au gratin with a ten-foot maswife pole. See how long it takes before they put down their diamond-studded spatula to give respect where it is due.

Every hero has his own super power; but, you don’t need one to make your ancestor’s favorite food. Pumpkin soup is the legacy of all Haitian people. A little help never hurts, but no one will make a better tureen of pumpkin soup than YOU. And, yes, it will taste different than everyone else’s. This is what makes it special.

recettes simples de cuisine haitienneThere is no denying that the original (and ultimate cookbook) is a living document lodged in your grandmother’s heart. If you are fortunate enough to be able to access that resource, congratulations! If you need a different source of information, open the pages of the invaluable Recettes Simples de Cuisine Haitienne–if you possess one. If not, there’s always The Art and Soul of Haitian Cooking. It’s a hard book to find, but it’s out there. The Haitian Institute in Washington, DC published the book in 2001,  before being Haitian became a clever selling point.

Pumpkin soup Recipe from THE ART and SOUL of HAITIAN COOKING, published in 2001 by The Haitian Institute--a  non-profit organization established in 1987 to promote Haitian Culture and society at home and abroad.

Pumpkin soup recipe from THE ART and SOUL of HAITIAN COOKING, was published in 2001 by The Haitian Institute–a non-profit organization established in 1987 to promote Haitian Culture and society at home and abroad.

The Art and Soul of Haitian Cooking is rich with recipes, proverbs, and masterful works of art. This beautiful book is a valuable resource for every Haitian-cuisine lover. In it we find recipes for all the food which our grand- and great-grand parents prepared. Of course, they did not need cookbooks.

So, the next time you want to make pumpkin soup, Diri djondjon, Trip (Gras Double), Herring and sauce over boiled plantains, open the Art and Soul.

Christmas 2013 may have ended, but the future is not yet here. Nouveaux Haitians, their children’s children will need to know the only ingredients that can make them feel whole. The Art and Soul of Haitian Cooking will help them learn the gastronomic aspect of our culture. Bon Appetit. And for those who remember the cryptic message contained in just two letters: “Aa,” bravo.

If you almost forgot, “Aa” was the message sent to the Palais of Sans Souci on the occasion of a very important–decisive–dinner. Grand a petit!