Tag Archives: Katia D Ulysse

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.

 

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!

Fanm Mòn ~ International Women’s Month

Fanm Mòn’s photo

March is here. It’s time to celebrate every woman who has ever lived and those who have yet to come. (We celebrate them during the other eleven months too).

One very interesting woman you must know about  is Sophia Demirtas.  She is the owner and creative designer of Fanm Mòn. She creates the most fantastic “tribal” jewelry you will ever see.  She has a bright smile, and a fierce look in her eyes.

I wanted to know more about the force behind her brand, Fanm Mòn. So, I asked a few questions. Click here to find out what she had to say.  You will be inspired.

VoicesfromHaiti

Ibi Zoboi’s American Street

In the neighborhood where I live, a cardboard stork makes its way to the front lawn of new moms and dads. The stork holds from its bill a sign that advertises the name, sex, birthday, and birth weight of the newborn. We drive past the stork on our way to work, acknowledging the child and wishing that the world proves to be a kind, welcoming, and safe place for him/her to flourish.

You and I don’t live in the same neighborhood, but technology has made us neighbors. Let me tell you about a newborn that greeted us on Valentine’s Day. The new mom’s name is Ibi Zoboi. If you have not heard of her, you will. Trust me. The baby’s name is American Street.

Ibi is a staunch supporter of the marginalized. Tears leak out of her eyes, when she contemplates how her birthplace, Haiti, is consistently demonized. She redeems her homeland through the fearlessness of her protagonist, Fabiola Toussaint, a black girl whose mother is detained by the immigration police. Fabiola, whose namesake is Toussaint Louverture—the fearless leader of Haiti’s successful slave revolution—must go home alone to make sense out of her hostile world. She meets challenges no child should; negotiates Detroit’s punishing streets, to emerge as the heroine we will come to love.

This young adult novel will make you believe, once again, in a girl’s power to endure and thrive. Kirkus Review puts it this way: “[American Street] will take root in readers’ hearts.” In these days of “extreme vetting,” this book about the immigrant experience could not be timelier. Run to your favorite bookstore, and get a copy for yourself and one for your best friend(s). Spread the word on social media. Let’s make Fabiola Toussaint the star she deserves to be.

By the way, I’ve been accused of being able to “see into the future.” If that were true, I would have done many things differently. However, something tells me American Street is destined for greatness.  I see a movie in its future. I see Fabiola Toussaint’s face on lunch boxes and mouse pads. I see a television series. I see children all over the world being inspired to be bold and heroic. I see a promising future.

Great job, Ibi! I cannot wait for the next book

Ibi Zoboi was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and immigrated to the U.S. when she was four years old. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she was a recipient of the Norma Fox Mazer Award. Her award-winning and Pushcart-nominated writing has been published in Haiti Noir, the Caribbean Writer, The New York Times Book Review, the Horn Book Magazine, and The Rumpus, among others. Her debut YA novel AMERICAN STREET (Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins) is due out in Winter 2017. Her debut Middle Grade novel, MY LIFE AS AN ICE CREAM SANDWICH (Dutton/Penguin), is forthcoming.