Tag Archives: Haiti independence day

Haiti’s 214th Independence Day

Every January First, we Haitians feel and display unabashed pride in our birth country. It is on this day, 214 years ago, that our fearless forefathers declared Haiti emancipated from barbaric slave-holders. Today, millions of people who have yet to set foot on Haitian soil also celebrate Haiti’s Independence Day. They know the insurmountable obstructions which our ancestors overcame to secure the first and only successful slave revolt in history. Friends of Haiti proudly wear our bicolor; they revel in everything Haitian: They scour the Internet for recipes to make our delicious Independence Day soup for their families. They play our drums. They sing our songs. They speak our language. Some even claim to be more Haitian than those born in the country.  All of us remain in awe of the men and women who gave their blood for our freedom, among them: Dutty Boukman, Francois Makandal, Henry Christophe, Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Catherine Flon, Cecile Fatiman, Capois LaMort, and so many more.

To those who say Haiti has little to show for her glorious past, some would agree that our hardship began twenty-one years after the successful revolt, when King Charles X levied what today would amount to 21 billion dollars against Haiti for the loss of revenue from slave labor. Dan Sperling, in his post for Forbes Magazine, put it this way: “France’s demand for reparations from Haiti seems comically outrageous today – equivalent to a kidnapper suing his escaped hostage for the cost of fixing a window that had been broken during the escape.” We could stop there, but the endless list of narcissistic leaders and perennial natural disasters continue to impede measureable growth.

Ousmane Sow’s Louverture (kdu photos)

One fact remains certain: Haiti will be known forever as the only successful slave colony to break the chains of slavery in an undeniable and spectacular manner. As the generations before ours have been taught, we will teach future generations the significance of the Revolution, what it means to carry Haitian blood in our veins. May our pride in Haiti endure!  As compatriots and friends of Haiti continue to do our part in rebuilding, let us remember those men and women who believed themselves unstoppable. Let us remember the decisive battle of Vertières, led by Francois Capois “LaMort.” History tells us that even after LaMort’s horse was shot from under him and a bullet went through his cap, he did not surrender. Instead, he brandished his saber and charged toward the enemy’s hail of bullets, all the while urging his men to do the same: “En Avant! En Avant!” he shouted. The enemy was so impressed with Capois Lamort’s courage that they paused the war to applaud him.  Onward!

Today, we remember the heroes and heroines of The Haitian Revolution. May we find in ourselves the courage and determination to make our country the gem it must be! Let us speak the words of Capois LaMort to ourselves and to our indestructible Haiti: “Onward!” Let us wish our country Happy 214th 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.”