Tag Archives: Women in Haiti

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!

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

A Giant Leap for Haitian-Kind

Gina Ulysse from her webpageHaiti Cultural Exchange kicks off a fantastic series today, 9/19/15: Revolution/Revolisyon. HCX could not have selected a better artist to get this program going. Here is a video of her Tedx Talk in 2013. If you’re in Brooklyn this afternoon, stop by the Brooklyn Public Library.

Saturday, September 19th | 1-3pm
Brooklyn Public Library | 10 Grand Army Plaza | Brooklyn, NY
Take the 2 or 3 train to Grand Army Plaza

The following statement was written by Gina A. Ulysse for Haiti Cultural Exchange:

A Little Meditation on Revolution and Liberty

If there were two words most emblematic of Haiti and Haitians, revolution and liberty would be my choices. One is our rightful claim to glory, a glory still denied, as pursuit of the other remains quite elusive. Overused terminologies, archaic narratives born of socially limited gazes ascribed to us, continue to fail to capture complexities that have always been ours. Revolution and liberty are not just part of our foundational scripts— a fundamental factor of global history, which ultimately forged reordering of humanity #1804— they are also a persistent common thread in our dailyness, expressive practices, which are in constant states of renewal. For us as a nation, a people diverse, an unevenly positioned part of a growing and overstretched diaspora lòt bò dlo, revolution and liberty have been discursive and practical blueprints integral to how we see, make and remake ourselves and our differences. Indeed, we can boldly assert that we hold near monopoly to unmatched creative survivalism. Yet, while we bled and gained our freedom from slavery, we certainly cannot claim to have ever possessed full liberty. The unfinished business of the revolution is a universal quest for blackness, a relic with too often fatal impact on a massive scale that is felt and lived every single moment of every day by one too many. We have become too intimate with struggle that has taken form in economic enslavement, occupations, dictatorships, exile, statelessness, faux performances of democracy, and torment. Indeed, we endure turbulent times inside and outside our borders and diasporas. These oppressive restrictions demand alerted and open consciousness, inventive and critical responses, strategies, and dedicated action. We have never been reducible to our conditions. We hold promise to achieving self-possession, pou nou vin mèt-tèt nou. It is in every breath that comes out of bodies pondering aspirations determined to tap into that revolutionary spirit to envision and chart new paths to fuller liberation.

On with our rasanblaj!

– Gina Athena Ulysse

“Take a Picture” ~ Katia D. Ulysse Reads a vignette

katia avan the reading at queens collegeHi everybody!

I love to write; you probably know that by now. I love to READ just as much.  Now you can hear me do both at the same time. Didn’t think I could do that, did you?

Here you go, friends! One more reason why I love America!