Tag Archives: Haitian culture

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!

Call of the Drum Spirit is TONIGHT

Happy Frisner. Photo by Chantal Regnault, early 1980s, Brooklyn

Happy Frisner. Photo by Chantal Regnault, early 1980s, Brooklyn

Tomorrow is not promised, so hurry up and find something ‘health-giving’ that you can love enough to stay awake past the world’s bedtime.

People are too busy with their own issues to care if your shoes don’t match your handbag. So, skip the shoes and the baggage.  Bring your troubles to the drums and dance like you’re Jean Léon Destiné and Prince combined.

Organized chaos is the new calm, so sing like you’re Adele Addison, Riva Precil, Pauline Jean, Tiga, and Paul Beaubrun all rolled into one.

Master Drummer, Catelus "Ti Tonton" Laguerre. Photo credit: Kesler Pierre

Master Drummer, Catelus “Ti Tonton” Laguerre. Photo credit: Kesler Pierre

If for ten thousand reasons you find that you must cry, do it with all the joy you can fake.

And if by some necessary coincidence you should find yourself in Brooklyn, NY, tonight, run to Roulette.  Lose all preconceived notions about Haiti and Haitian Drum Music.

Ditch that inhibition. Overindulge in rhythm. Tonight’s celebration features the BONGA and TIGA. Father and Son musical geniuses.

Photo credit: Tequila Minsky

Photo credit: Tequila Minsky

Two years ago I found myself at the First Annual Call of the Drum Spirit by accident. I can still feel that night’s vibrations. If you can make it to Roulette tonight, consider yourself among the fortunate.

When Master Drummer Frisner Augustin passed away in 2012, he left a palpable void in the community. Patrick LaFrance, one of the founding members of the Gran Chimen cultural center in Brooklyn, remembers the legend as a humble man with an enormous sense of humor.

Photo by Lois Wilcken, asotò drum image from Alfred Métraux, design by Kesler Pierre,

Photo by Lois Wilcken, asotò drum image from Alfred Métraux, design by Kesler Pierre,

“He played from his soul,” Patrick said. “Frisner would share his knowledge with anyone who wanted to learn the drum.  Sunday afternoons , you know, in Brooklyn, can be tough. With Monday morning’s realities coming,  you need a distraction. Frisner would show up at the center, and it was like medicine. We waited all week just to hear him play and teach us a few things. Frisner brought the Lakou to Brooklyn.  Sundays were good with Frisner around.”

Well, thanks to Lois Wilkens and a fierce ensemble of drummers, this Saturday night may be the best Sunday afternoon yet.

voicesfromhaiti photo

voicesfromhaiti photo









509 Atlantic Avenue /

makandal info

Giving Thanks

katia-photo-at-library.jpgIf you can read this, thank a teacher.

I am thankful I was not born a turkey.

With my luck, I would not have been the one pardoned at the White House this morning. I can see me now: nice and golden brown; a ton of stuffing between my legs. A freshly-sharpened carving knife on stand-by. Every eye is on my neck, breasts, and thighs. No thanks.

But I am thankful.

100_8006I am thankful for my true family, for great friends: old and new. I am thankful many of the flowering plants in my garden think it’s still summer. I am thankful for my neighbor Jude’s cat, Perdita Trouvé. She and our male cat, Gray, love each other. They’re not interested in making babies; they could not, even if they tried. They’re just good neighbors. They welcome and accept each other’s oddness. The world could learn something from them.

Baltimore, MD-4/8/15 - Reema Alfaheed, left, at home with her younger brother, Ahmed Alfaheed, 15, look at videos depicting the Iraq refugee camp near the border with Jordan, where they lived for six years after fleeing Baghdad. Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun Staff Photographer - #2383

Baltimore, MD-4/8/15 – Reema Alfaheed, left, at home with her younger brother, Ahmed Alfaheed, 15, look at videos depicting the Iraq refugee camp near the border with Jordan, where they lived for six years after fleeing Baghdad. Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun Staff Photographer – #2383

I am thankful for the opportunity to teach amazing students who come from war-torn countries, and still thrive. I get to use a part of my life to let hundreds of young people know how awesome they are—no matter what the critics say. I am thankful.

I am thankful for knowing how to read, and for writers who tell stories so juicy I curse the fact that I need sleep to live.

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

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

I am thankful I knew Felicie Montfleury, my Nenenn/Grandmother. She passed away three years ago, but our bond is stronger than ever. I understand her much better now. She had this notion that “Family, Love, and Loyalty” were action words meant to be conjugated in the present tense.

My only regret is that I didn’t bury my Nenenn in her signature talon-kikit stilettos. I can picture her now, skipping across the sky. I can see her colorful scarf fluttering in the breeze.

When I visited my Nennen’s grave a few days ago, I noticed the message chiseled on her neighbor’s shiny new headstone. The black and white photograph introduced me to the deceased.

20151123_111751_HDRThis lady, I.H.B.,  looks very much alive in the picture. Her kind face is pillow-soft. She gives the warmest hugs. She likes to cook. Thanksgiving Dinner is always at her place.  She is strict, but fair. She takes pride in knowing how to set a table properly. She wears talcum powder at night. Her housecoat is folded on the footboard.  She applies a light layer of Vaseline on her lips before going to bed–an old habit. She owns several bottles of perfume, but wears only Chanel No. 5.  That bottle is half full. She rolls her hair at night with sponge rollers: pink. She holds the rollers in place with a white mesh hairnet. She owns an alarm clock, but means to give it away.

I.H.B. wakes up before dawn. She makes breakfast: one egg, one slice of bread, and a cup of mint tea. She eats on China that is three times as old as she will be when she dies. She does not worry about dying someday. She understands death is a part of life. This is why she gives thanks every morning and night.

100_5174I.H.B. wears pantyhose, even in summer. She knows how to knit, but does not. She owns two raincoats and two umbrellas—in case someone else needs to borrow them. She treasures her old friends, many of whom she has not seen in decades.  She packs snacks in her purse, in case someone she meets needs something to eat.

She does not tighten her grip on her purse, when she walks past a group of loud loiterers dressed in saggy pants and black hoodies. The loiterers offer to help her carry her groceries. She does not need help; she  swims like a champion five times a week at the YWCA. She wants the loiterers to know she is not afraid of them. She wants them to know she trusts them. “Thank you, children,” she says.

The “children” are twice as tall as she is. They weigh fifty to one hundred pounds more than she does. The children say, “Yes, Ma’am.” They are grateful for this lady whose name they believe themselves unworthy of speaking. They know she loves them; they are grateful for her presence. They will never know that I.H.B blames herself for their plight. They are her grand-children, the children of a thousand former students. They will never know she thinks of them still.

20151123_111747_HDRI fell in love with my Nenenn’s grave-side neighbor, as soon as I read the inscription: “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” Even though I.H.B. is long gone, I knew I was in the presence of a hero. I am thankful someone like her lived in this world.  And if Susan Sontag was right, now that I’ve taken I.H.B.’s picture, we’re connected.

I am thankful.  I hope one day I will have touched half as many strangers’ lives as I.H.B. did. And still does.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?


“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” Susan Sontag

Chris Brown and Haiti’s Silver Lining

Chris Brown 4I used to be an optimist. When things were bleak, I used to look for the proverbial silver lining. Not today.

When I see what is happening to Haitian people in the Dominican Republic today, I don’t feel particularly hopeful.  That another part of the world would rather self-destruct than heal is not surprising. Xenophobia is universal.

I wonder what would happen if the United States ruled to purge itself of every person of Dominican origin born after 1929. How would the rest of the world react?

Thousands of Dominicans with Haitian blood have lost their right to exist in the DR. They are forbidden to attend schools. They are denied birth certificates. They are stateless. No word yet on what will happen to the buried bodies of Haitian-Dominicans who died between 1929 and now. Perhaps they will be exhumed and deported.

Chris Brown 2The Haitian government’s plate is more crowded than usual. Yes, it is. It hasn’t been easy, but progress is evident. There are more paved roads on which the barefoot and thirsty majority may sleepwalk. It’s refreshing to see coats of colorful paint on the sprawling shanties. The Caribbean sun dances a new dance on those spellbinding chrome and glass edifices. Flying air-conditioned automobiles carrying VIPs strike fewer pedestrians than before. Farmers marvel at the ultra-modern grocery stores from which they cannot afford to buy vegetable they once grew. There has been so much progress since the earthquake, I should be ashamed of myself for not being more optimistic. When situations like ethnic cleansing in the Dominican Republic arise, I should seek the silver lining.

After all, we get new silver linings in Haiti all the time. Why, just the other day we had a mile-long silver lining sewn to drapery for a brand new, albeit tChris Brown Flag 3emporary theater. The awestruck audience cackled like children at the circus. Imported entertainers contributed to the advancement of the Haitian people by spewing profanity and grabbing their glow-in-the-dark, frowning-clown-face-covered crotches.  The ring leader led the audience in a chant that mocks a mother’s private parts. Haiti’s private parts.

While Haitian-Dominicans sleep in fear of violence, foreign-born entertainers arrive in Haiti to use the Haitian flag like a rag to wipe sweat off their backs.  I can’t say I blame them. They are invited guests. VIPs. Maybe I’m just jealous. I’d always wanted to meet the president of my country. I’d always wanted to sing for my country. Perhaps one day I’ll get to hold the flag and sing a new song for Ayiti. Who knows? I used to be optimistic. Not today.