Close your eyes! Can you see Haiti come into view as the aircraft approaches the southern coastline from 20,000 feet above? From the sky, the south effuses greenery; it’s a veritable canopy of trees and foliage. To the contrary, when you fly in from the north, the mountains and landscape are denuded due to deforestation. Let me ask you: can you smell ‘chabon’ as it infuses the air? The smell of a country is unique. Whenever one leaves Haiti to live abroad, the island smell travels with you. Clothes, papers, and personal effects are saturated with its uncanny scent. When you return, and the plane prepares for descent, the shimmering smell envelops you again.
“Bos, koté ou pralé?” asked the taxi man, waiting outside the airport terminal. Another man came over and started to needle him.
“Misyé-a, sé kliyan’m wi,” he said, pointing his finger at me.
“Mwen pa konpran sa wap dim la non, frè,” the taxi man responded.
“Mwen di ou ké sé mwen kap mennen misyé-a,” the second man said. The taxi man sucked his teeth and gave the perennial Haitian response, “Lan mèd monchè.” Afterwards, both men became insulted when informed that someone was going to pick me up.
“Pouki sa ou pat di sa avan?” they asked petulantly.
My wife and I have been living in the same house I grew up in, since we’ve been married. She’s an educator, with a master’s degree in administration, employed by the county public school system, while I’ve been with the same sales company for more than a decade. We have two lovely pre-teens who are growing up fast, perhaps too fast. During the last year, Haiti has been a topic of discussion at home, specifically the idea of moving there. My wife opposed the thought from the beginning; however I continued to contemplate, often vacillating between leaving the richest nation in the world and moving to a third world country mired in incertitude. Possessing creature and material comforts such as flushing toilets, running water, a big house, and the latest gadgets could not quell the pervasive yearning dogging me. Finally, I announced we were returning to Haiti. Family and friends said:
“Gen lè têt ou pa byen” or “Pouki ou vlé tounen nan yon péyi konsa.”
This is the refrain consistently repeated as they tried to dissuade me. Whenever prodded my response became, “Lakay sé lakay.” The decision to go back ‘kèlkéswa’ the situation originated in being tired; tired of working and not being able to save enough, tired of chasing the almighty dollar and the American dream, tired of not having time for self and family, tired of being kept in debt, tired of subliminal racist rhetoric from conservative America, tired of the ocean’s gray look, tired of paying a mortgage or redlined from a neighborhood, tired of thinking about the future and what could be done to secure it.
“America is a young man’s country,” a politician once said.
In the states, despite the cycle of up and down, my life has been progressive, more so my wife believes, than if I had remained in Haiti. Progress is a subjective word.
It’s been thirty-five years since I left Haiti, but I’ve read a lot of books and spoken to countless friends and family who’ve captured in my imagination the very essence of the country. There is a vast difference between the island and America; and I arrived at the conclusion that in order to return to Haitian life there would have to be a transition from staid American to indefatigable Haitian. The task is not easy. Haiti is a country that is full of life and full of itself. Its philosophical consequences are derived from African tribal life and mysticism, from European enculturation and Western capitalism. There is a sense of ‘fait accompli’ when trying to unravel the proverbial Haitian. Throughout the years I’ve heard many adjectives used to describe the country and its people, such as colorful, bright, desolate, boring, funny, jibaro, immovable, ancestral, voodooist, artistic, musical, familiar, corruptible, irreconcilable and suffocating.
Descending the ramp steps onto Toussaint Louverture International Airport, formerly known as Aeroport International Mais Gaté, the first sound perceived was the welcome music from a three-man combo playing near the entrance to Immigration. The aroma of hibachi-roasted corncobs wafted through the air as armed policeman and ‘ton-ton macoute’ walked around eyeing everyone. A while back an opposition member had stated in a western newspaper that the ‘ton-ton macoute’ was symbolic of the nation’s ills.” He went on to say that the ‘macoute’ was any group of people used to perform the bidding of the state, and that their mercenary objective was to harass, intimidate, and liquidate dissident and opposition members.
Standing outside immigration, old men, pregnant women, tall and squat people the color of midnight wilted under the brilliant sun. They wiped their foreheads with forefingers and snapped the sweat away. Mothers cooed restless babies while the shirt I wore stuck on like flypaper. My polished black shoes turned gray from the dust. Boston winters flashed through my mind for a nanosecond, and that was it. Finally, it was my turn, but the dour demeanor of the immigration officer did nothing to enliven the atmosphere.
“Konbyen tan wap fè nan péyi-a? ” he asked.
“Monchè mwen tounen nèt.” His eyes spoke to me as he raised the stamp.
“Why did you return to this forsaken land and leave the Promised Land, a place thousands of us die trying to reach?” I dismissed the stare of the ‘officier’ and went inside the terminal where pandemonium reigned. Heat and humidity attacked simultaneously as one thousand ‘met-la ’ entered my eardrum. Quick choices had to be made so that a porter could navigate customs and liberate me from the teeming unairconditioned terminal. Soon afterwards, the customs officer signaled me. He took the luggage and spilled their contents onto a metal table. Gifts and belongings went on public display, and it was disturbing because of the countless stories I’d heard about people being followed from the airport to their destinations and becoming crime victims, murder victims. I started to protest when the porter assisting winked both eyes. It was a signal to stay quiet. So, I swallowed my tongue and grinned through the ‘fouille’. Once outside, the porter stopped; his mission was complete.
“Merde!” I cried out as I fished in my pants pocket searching for loose change. I pulled out some crumpled bills and paid him five US dollars. Now, I turned to search in the sea of multi-hued faces for relatives. Honking horns, porters arguing over money with exiting passengers, and taxi men saying ’Koté ou pralé’ made me feel queasy. Rubbing my eyes, everything seemed gritty. Later, I realized that it was the incessant black exhaust, belching from ‘kamyonèt’s’, trucks, cars and the unpaved roads, that created the polluted miasma. There was a sign across the street that said ‘Ti-place Cazeau’. I could see row upon row of unpainted cement shotgun flats. The area was devoid of any landscaping, which made it look bleak. Thoughts about manicured lawns and suburban streets passed through my mind.
“Jacques,” a voice called out. It was ‘Tante Da’, my mother’s sister.
“Tante Da, comment vas-tu? ” I said, embracing her. Her looks belied the age of seventy. A little ‘maléré’ came around to help me put the luggage into the trunk of a new ‘Tèt Boeuf' Toyota Land Cruiser. Inside the vehicle were youngsters who showered me with pecks on both cheeks. The SUV maneuvered away from the airport and, after a series of twist and turns, emerged onto an empty road.
“Quelle est cette route?” I asked.
“Cheri, c’est la route de Tabarre,” Tante Da replied. The droll scenery and the hum of the air conditioner acted as a narcotic, and I drifted off. A short while later, the sharp report of the horn startled me awake. In front, a tall black iron gate slid open, and an armed guard emerged. Tante Da lowered the window as she drove in.
“Willio, ki lè moun kap ramplasé-ou ap vini?” she said. The guard smiled white albino teeth.
“Ta lè lap vini, Madan Franswa. Lè’l rivé ma télèfonen-ou, ok?” he replied.
“Ok, Willio. Gadé, mwen pral voyé yon ti manjé bay ou, tandé.” The guard smiled.
“Mèsi, Madan Franswa, mèsi,” he said.
She continued on the graveled road to the house, which sat on a hill overlooking ‘La Plaine’. It was at once magnificent and impressive. Outside, four marble columns supported the Romanesque entrance, and a second floor veranda encircled the colorful house. The polished cherry wood doors opened up into a wide entrance foyer where sunlight reflected off chandelier baubles, casting rainbow colors on the Italian tiled floor. The house was a mixture of the Old South, the Old World and colorful Caribbean.
A ‘jéran lakou’ appeared and started to wash the exterior of the SUV and then, a woman came out of a cement house on the right and started walking towards me. She looked aged with time and I thought maid. But, something about her seemed familiar. As she approached, she said in a singsong voice: “Sé mwen mèm, wi.” My hands reached out and touched hers, and déja-vu passed between us.
“Gadé ti-gason’m la, mézanmi! Gen lè ou pa chonjé’m. Sé mwen mèm wi, Odet,” she said.
“Odet, Odet, Odet,” the name trailed across my mind like the contrails from a jet engine. An image came to me of her ironing clothes with a ‘fè chabon’ in the courtyard of a long ago house. The iron would spark and sprinkle hot embers that, sometimes, burned the clothes. I spoke distractedly: “Kouman ou yé, Odet?” She answered good-naturedly that everything was okay; but, before she could continue, the ‘jéran lakou’ came and took the luggage. I excused myself and followed him upstairs into the bedroom, where I sat on the bed and stifled a yawn. Nightfall arrived and as I looked outside from the balcony,
‘La Plaine’ was full of twinkling lights all of a sudden the entire area went dark. A voice from outside said:
”Yo pran limyè-a wi.” Shortly after, a motor cranked up, and the faint smell of diesel fuel diffused in the still evening air. Muted lights came back on and I lay down on the bed, feeling content, while I drifted off to sleep, something buzzed in my ear and I slapped my leg. The ‘maringuioin’ had come to feast.
In the early morning hours, while listening to rustling tree leaves, a story came to mind. It had to do with a research article written by an anthropologist on Haiti. In the paper he stated that Haiti’s descendants were from numerous African tribes, whose past and present tribal politics instigated hostility and propagated disaccord; in conclusion he wrote that Haitian politics would always be fractious, uncompromising and violent. Accepting this statement, though far-fetched about the several tribes, wasn’t far from the truth. Haitian history is replete with violent and recalcitrant leaders and political groups who have fought one another, always bloodily, and certainly at the disadvantage of its people, for more than two hundred years. There’s a stark difference between how the country is and how it should be. At sunrise, the whir of the refrigerator signaled the end of the ‘blakawout’.
“Yo bay li,” the ‘gason’ said as he turned off the generator. Afterwards, there was a soft knock at the door; it was Odette.
“Misyé Jak, mwen poté yon ti kafé ba ou, wi.”
“Ou mèt antré, wi.”
The coffee kicked in and I attended to morning ministrations. On the way downstairs, Tante Da could be heard reciting a ‘chaplet’. Tears welled in my eyes. I remembered my mother had started each day reciting a rosary until that fateful morning when they found her with her rosary clenched tightly in her bloody hand. She’d been savagely murdered; unfortunately the killers were never caught. The criminal investigation led nowhere, and the police always had the same response ‘L’enquête se poursuit.’ Finally, the family decided to let the dead bury the dead, and this is how my life started in the United States at the tender age of seven.
After breakfast, I prepared myself to go downtown to take care of my driver’s license, identity card, and find out about business licenses. My thoughts turned to my wife. She didn’t want to move back to Haiti, stating that the country wasn’t fit to live in. Her half sister had been kidnapped a year ago, and held at gunpoint by ‘zenglendo’. It could have turned out much worse but, by the grace of God, she was released unharmed. Others haven’t been as fortunate. Marriage is a series of compromises; and my wife let me know up front that if I had ‘démangeaison’ for Haiti, then I’d be going at it alone. Challenges are objectives; however, to venture in unknown circumstances, and risk everything in a foreign land was another thing. Haiti is a ‘tè glisé; so, the chances for failure are magnified. I knew of friends and had heard of others who had gone back to Haiti and failed miserably. Thus, they had to return to the US and start all over again. My wife had said more than once:
“Ou pral rekomansé a zero nan yon peyi ki pi mal pasé zero.”
Before I left my job I had had a talk with my employer who understood the pioneer spirit. He left an open door saying that, if things didn’t work out, I could have my job back, however this option would only be good for three months. The gesture was admirable, but I didn’t want a backdoor to detract me. It was tough leaving my wife and the children behind; if they or she became sick, or were injured, it would be difficult for all of us. I told her we would have to resolve any issues, one at a time, without panicking, and that I’d only be an hour and a half away, by plane if disaster struck.
I decided to take a ‘kamyonèt’ downtown so I could gauge the thoughts of the ‘pèp’. Tante Da let me know that a car and driver were at my disposition, but I politely declined. She then went on to remind me that dinner was at 4:00pm, when everyone would eat ‘en famille’. Finally, she told me that, ‘bô sikilasyon’, there was a fantastic restaurant called ‘Chez Yvette’, where I’d be able to lunch and perhaps meet some interesting people.
Walking toward the main road, my thoughts returned to my wife. Over the years, and through great sacrifice we had managed to save money. It was with this capital that I launched myself in Haiti. She made me promise that I wouldn’t invest in the country until a concrete business plan was established. If anything, I believe in good planning and I wanted things to work out. Perhaps after a year or so she’d be convinced to come and join me. One of the immediate priorities would be to find a good job so I wouldn’t spend the savings in ‘la vie quotidenne’. My dream is to start a youth baseball league, first in Port-au-Prince, then throughout the country. If baseball caught on, perhaps Haiti could eventually give competition to the Dominican Republic in producing baseball players. For my wife, I believe she’d be happy operating a primary school, especially with the experience she’s had working with children and being an administrator. I know it would be something she’d enjoy doing.
Sitting in a ‘tap-tap’, all passenger eyes were on me. The women and schoolchildren smiled, however the men just stared. After a while, one of the men turned and said something to his friend while looking at me:
“Monchè, si’m té genyen machin mwen pata janm pran kamyonèt.” I looked at him and said:
“Ey, ti-pap, neg pa monté tap-tap depi trant tan, so kouwèl yé-a map pran plezi’m. Map pran gou nan zafé péyi’m.” This drew giggles from everyone on the bus. When I arrived at the license bureau, they all bid me a good day. The line for ‘sikilasyon’ reached the end of the block. I was informed that it was license renewal day, and the hundreds of people were queued up for that purpose. So, I went to get in line when a short man came up to me.
“Mèt-la, pouki sa wap tan anba solè cho sa. Vini’m palé ou, “ he said. After a few minutes of negotiating, I paid him twenty dollars plus the cost of the license, and he promised to be finished within an hour. After filling out some forms, my photograph was taken. Exactly one hour later my license was in hand. Welcome to graft and corruption 101! A friend of mine who once owned a grocery store in Haiti, explained that paying someone to expedite something for you or to accomplish any number of things was a way of life. For example, if he had a trailer full of products in ‘La Douane’, he said, he would payoff customs’ officials and middlemen thereby reducing customs fees. Then, he’d charge the unknowing public the built in prices as if every item had passed through customs. Graft or corruption, he said, was unavoidable. Even prudent people made allowances so as not to be marked as going against the norm.
The assistant asked if there was anything else he could help me with.
“Mwen bézwen alé nan kontribisyon,” His eyes lit up as he realized that I was his cash cow for today. Both of us climbed into a taxi and headed off towards downtown following the ‘Route Bicentenaire’. As we passed maritime shipping companies, I inquired if the ‘machann kokoyé’ were still ‘bô waf-la’, near the Port Authority. As the taxi approached ‘APN’, the guide directed the driver to stop. The ‘machann’ quickly pierced four coconuts and we drank the refreshing liquid. Afterwards, she nimbly cut them open, and we ate the ‘nannan’, which is the white meat inside. Full, I decided to walk up toward ‘kontribisyon’. The aide was elated because his friends would see us and later ask him many questions. He busily pointed out several buildings and explained what businesses occupied the many storefronts.
The walk was invigorating, but a stench in the air assailed the senses. It emanated from the mountains of trash piled up everywhere. City refuse collection, the aide recounted, was at best erratic. Sadly, the trash and offensive smell seemed unobtrusive to the ‘machann’ who plied their trade almost on top of it. On every street there were ‘étalaj’ lined up in front of stores selling their wares. The aide informed me that it was illegal to operate this way; unfortunately, city ordinances were not enforced, which permitted unlicensed street vendors to proliferate. In conclusion, he said, the street vendors competed directly with brick and mortar businesses that paid rent and maintained overhead costs.
The sidewalks and streets were filled with people. Day laborers washed up in the middle of a road where a burst water main spurted gallons in an arc, schoolgirls dressed in bright uniforms crossed crowded boulevards and old men smoked unfiltered cigarettes while drinking coffee out of tin cups. Cars and taxis honked, screeched and cursed each other as they made their way. It was the din of a maddening city alive and working on its own rhythm. At the end of the day, the aide was handsomely rewarded and he reciprocated the goodwill by finding a taxi to take me home; he insisted on paying the fare.
“Na wè yon lot lè,” he said as the taxi departed.
As the taxi wound its way home, I thought about the people in Haiti, and how intrinsically we are a good people, however due to constant pressures and daily conflicts we’re forced to act out unrestrained inhibitions. The taxi paused at a red light, and I glanced at an automobile across the lane. The person in the car looked familiar.
“Alex?” I said, hesitantly as he rolled down his window.
“Jacques? C’est bien toi, Jacques? Et comment m’as-tu reconnu? Nous ne nous sommes pas vus depuis que nous étions enfants… Allons, viens! Elated, I thanked the ‘chofè’ and got into Alex’s car. We talked for an hour while parked at a side street. When he asked how long I was going to be in town, I told him I had moved back and hoped that after a year my wife and children would join me. His eyes questioned me as he recounted that his family had been granted a Canadian visa, and that they were moving there within the month. He looked delighted as I tried to mask the uneasiness spreading across my face. When I asked why he was leaving the country, he responded that the country had drained him and his wife emotionally and financially. He recounted how they’d been carjacked twice and their home broken into three times in the past two years, even once while they were asleep. Because of ‘ensékirité’, everyone had to sleep in the same room, and they had hired an armed guard. It made me think about the security guard at Tante Da’s house. He went on to say how the family business, owned for generations, failed due to the economy, and how his brother’s wife’s sister had been brutally raped at home. He said because of the lack of government effort to control inflation, to protect businesses or to administer to the needs and wants of its people as well as the inability to protect its citizens, they were leaving for good.
He dropped me off promising an invitation to dinner before they left. I felt confused as inquietude settled in. Haiti is a ‘tè glisé’; however, for as many people who decide to leave, they are as many who decide to come back. Regrettably, this is unbalanced by the myriad of boat people, sea bound for Miami whose exodus is written in blood. Entering the house, the aroma of ‘diri jon-jon’ was tantalizing, and I settled in for a family dinner. Afterwards, I would have a long conversation with Tante Da.
“Your parents had started a business many years ago. It was a textile business located in “kwa bosal,” Tante Da said. “When your father passed away, your mother took control and assumed all responsibility. She was quite the businesswoman.” She recounted this to me as I sat across from her in the expansive living room. She went on to say that when my mother died she took over the enterprise and, ever since, the concern had grown and proliferated. In fact she said the business had sister companies in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Pakistan.
“Jacques, I have something to tell you,” she whispered confidentially.
“Yes, Tante Da,” I answered, leaning forward.
“Your mother left a last will and testament naming you as ‘heritier’ in the event of her death. The document is with ‘Mèt Durocher’, a local attorney.” Silence followed.
I was flabbergasted. I had no idea that my mother had left a last will and testament.
Tante Da went on to say:
“As ‘heritier’ you have rights to all that your mother owned or belonged to her before her death; therefore in accordance with the law, you are a full partner in the business. Also there are properties that belong to you.” I couldn’t say anything for a few minutes, but my eyes projected the myriad of questions burning to get out.
“How come I was never told of this before?” I managed to say.
Tante Da was an old hand and she was more than ready.
“Jacques, nous pensions que t’établir en Haiti ne t’intéressait pas. C’est pour cela que nous ne t’avions jamais informé au sujet du testament laissé par ta mère,” she said. I fought to control my emotions. Inside I was thinking:
“What damn right do you have to decide anything for me or to hide the fact that there was a last will and testament left by my mother.” Tante Da droned on, and I thought about what my wife’s uncle had said to me before I left:
“In conflict situations, don’t let yourself be carried away by emotions; rather scratch away at the surface and look for the cause. Once you get to the bottom of a conflict, the resolution will appear.” He also told me that violence in Haiti was as Haitian as ‘kalalou’, and that a person’s life, usually not worth much, became less in conflicts over politics, land, money and business. “Diplomacy,” he said, “was the best alternative to follow in resolving disagreements.”
Tante Da continued by saying that the business monies throughout the years had worked to my benefit. The house that I lived in stateside had been purchased with profits from the concern. This was the reason why the mortgage payments were minimal. She produced photocopies. She also explained that a trust fund had been set up for my children, and that $400 per child, per month, had been deposited into this account since their birth. She slid the bankbooks across the coffee table. My thoughts were reeling. I needed the services of a lawyer, but who? Tante Da was a smart woman, and I knew I was being painted into a corner. Again my wife’s uncle’s words came back to me:
“Monchè, m’ pa konnen sam ta bay pou ké péyi sa-a ranjé,” the first man said. The other fellow responded:
“Chè zanmi, map di ou yon bagay. Ou wè péyi sila-a, sé yon gwo péyi. Pa genyen yon lôt ki konsa. Men ti-péyi nou sé yon péyi ké travay li poco fini.” The first man paused, then answered back:
“Ah! M’pa konnen non. Ou wè péyi-a, li pa genyen sékirité, li pa genyen limyè, li pa genyen télèfon, li pa genyen yon minimum…” The second man cut him off.
“Gadé, nenpôt koté ou yé, la vi a di, ké sa swa isit nan péyi blan oswa Ayiti. Wap dim ké péyi-a pa genyen sé si, ké li pa genyen sé la. É byen! Ton-Ton map di ou konsa. Ké koté ou yé-a sé la pou kanpé janm é fè vi ou. ” He went on to say.
“Lè ou antré nan péyi-a ou déja konnen éta li. Sé ou mèm ki pou fè sitiyasyon-a vin bon pou ou. Nan péyi d’Ayiti pa genyen afé minimum, sé ou ki minimum-la.”
It’s funny because the conversation had nothing to do with me but, then again, it had everything to do with being Haitian. I was the minimum. I had to figure out the maze Tante Da put before me or I’d sink.
The weekend arrived, and the first day passed by quietly however, while at the grocery store I’d overheard one person say to another:
“Monchè, mwen tandé ké bagay yo pral cho.”
Sunday started out gloriously, and I arose early because I wanted to go to mass, and then head for the beach. Coming down the stairs, I heard Tante Da speaking to someone. As I approached the sun parlor they stood up. Standing next to my aunt was a dazzling young woman.
“Bonjour Jacques,” Tante Da said. “Viens, je vais te presenter Mademoiselle Viard. Elle est la fille du Colonel Benbé.” I graciously took her hand and said:
“Caroline…Je m’apelle Caroline.”
“Bien, Bonjour Caroline! Je suis trés heureux de faire votre connaissance.” All the while I drank in her fragrance and admired her striking beauty. Her exquisite green eyes radiated vitality. I changed the direction of my gaze so as not to embarrass her or my aunt. Tante Da spoke saying that Caroline’s father was my late father’s cousin who’d married into the Dubreaux family from Les Cayes, and that Caroline’s mother, Ginette was the sister-in-law of Maxime Duvenant who was a first cousin to our family. I thought; Haitians are inextricably tied to one another.
“Bien, je vous prie de m’excuser car il est l’heure du petit déjeuner et, ensuite, je vais à la messe.” Pleasant goodbyes were exchanged.
Later in the morning during the drive to the beach, a mental picture of Caroline popped up and right next to her an image of my children. I could hear my wife’s words:
“Si ou janm twonpém ou mèt bliyé mwen mèm ak ti-moun ou yo.”
Caroline would have to be in another lifetime. The beach was great since there was hardly anyone there. I swam, sunned under the hot Haitian sun, drank rum punches and ate a delicious lobster dinner. The late afternoon drive back became a leisurely affair with the setting sun sparkling against the sea.
Early the next morning, I drove to the American Embassy. On the way downtown the streets were noticeably devoid of cars. Tante Da wasn’t in, so I left word with Odet as to my whereabouts. When I finished calling my wife from the embassy I got into the car. A stranger came up to the driver’s door and said:
“Frè, pito ou monté lakay ou kouwèl yé-a paské la ri-a pral cho.” I turned the car around rapidly and sped away. As I passed the ‘Palè Nasyonal’ three military jeeps loaded down with heavily armed men swung out crazily from the White House and raced up the street. They look red-eyed, and the smell of liquor saturated the dense air.
“Shit, I need to get home,” I said as panic swept through me, making my hands sweat. At an intersection on the road ‘Lalue’ I stopped behind a car at a stoplight. The vehicle in front had five men who preened their necks nervously. Suddenly, from the opposite side of the street a motorcycle with two men zoomed in front of the car and they jumped off machine guns blazing. The cacophony was horrific as machine gun bullets spewed death into the screaming, squirming passengers. After what seemed an eternity, one of the ‘moto’ men calmly walked to the car and sprayed the jumble of bodies inside of the vehicle. A deadening silence followed their departure. Shaken, I emerged from the car and felt wetness around my crotch as a gentle breeze rolled through. A half-hour later, still shaken, I recounted to Tante Da the horrible events. In the bathroom, I wretched violently, heaving dry air as streams of tears rolled down my stained cheeks.
In the evening the reports started to filter in. There had been an assassination attempt on the President. The president’s brother, his brother’s wife and wife’s mother had been killed. The president, rumor had it, had decreed ‘lwa matial and closed the airport. The moccasin trail reported stories of mass arrests of dissidents and opposition members and summary executions. That night the President came on the television and confirmed martial law. He vowed to capture (read kill) all conspirators against the state.
Three days have past by since ‘lwa matial’ was imposed. I could not call my wife since international calls were blocked. Gunfire could be heard all day and all night. On the fourth day, army trucks spread throughout the capital, blaring a message through loudspeakers. Anyone who had to attend to personal business could do so the following day. People would be allowed out from 9:00am until 4:00pm. The following morning a single gunshot announced the suspension of curfew. The grocery stores and banks were full of people making provisions or conducting business. In the streets, bloated bodies of men and women were seen lying face down, with hands tied behind their backs. Dried maroon puddles caked by their heads. At 4:00pm a gunshot sounded announcing curfew.
When you’re closed inside of a house, it becomes nerve wracking. All I could do was pace, back and forth, back and forth and I kept saying to myself:
“Mon Dyé, lan ki sa mwen yé la.”
The next morning my aunt, looking haggard, summoned everyone into the parlor. She announced that we were leaving the country that night. Nobody dared ask why, but the rest of the day was spent in preparation. In the wee hours of the morning, a black SUV pulled into the courtyard with headlights off, and the whole family climbed in. Tante Da gave each servant a good sum of money and bid him or her safe travel. The driver took a circuitous route, arriving at the Dominican border hours later. In the dim moonlight, the gates on the Dominican side of the border swung open and a colonel walked through followed by a contingent of heavily armed soldiers. Tante Da walked over to the Haitian border gate and opened two black satchel bags. The colonel doffed his cap and gave an imperceptible nod that opened the Haitian border gates.
It was 8:00am and, in a little while, I would be boarding a flight from Aero Puerto Internacional de las Américas, Santo Domingo, to Miami. Tante Da came over:
“ Jacques, I cannot tell you what happened. However, I will not return to Haiti for a few months. I’m sorry; everything we talked about will be on hold. I’ll be in touch and once the air clears, I’ll send for you,” she said. With that, she turned and, with her family boarded an Air France flight bound for Paris. Still dazed by the events, I called my wife who screamed with joy at hearing my voice. We talked and made arrangements and the last words I said to her were:
“Cherie, m’ pas konnai, non. Men, m’ pansé, ké afé Ayiti fini pou mwen,” and I hung up.
We have no mother
We have no father
Show us Dahomey again…’
Ah! – Oh! or Well!
Allons, viens – Come let’s go
APN – Autorité Portuaire Nationale – French for National Port Authority
Bien – Good
Blakawout - Blackout
Bonjour – Good morning
Bos, koté ou pralé - Boss, where are you going
Bô sikilasyon – By the license bureau
Bô waf-la – By the wharf
Car il est l’heure du petit déjeuner – Since it is time for breakfast
C’est bien toi, Jacques – Could that be you, Jack
Chaplet – Rosary or the act of reciting a rosary
Chè zanmi – Dearest friend
Cherie, afé Ayiti fini pou mwen – My dear, my business with Haiti is finished
Cherie, c’est la route de Tabarre – Dear, It’s the Tabarre road
Chez Yvette – Yvette’s restaurant
Chofè – Taxi-cab driver
Déja vu – An experience that already happened
Diri jon-jon – A Haitian delicacy, black mushroom rice
Dubreaux – Ficticious family name
Duvénant – Ficticious family name
É byen – And then
Elle est la fille du Colonel Benbé – She is the daughter of Colonel Benbé
Ensékirité - Insecurity
Ensuite je vais à la messe – Right after I am going to church
En famille – With the family
Et – And
Étalaj – Street vendors fixtures
Et comment m’as-tu reconnu – And how did you recognize me
Ey, ti-pap – Hey, my man
Fait accompli – Fate accomplished
Fouille – Search
Fé chabon – An iron that uses charcoal to heat the iron in order to iron clothes
Fré – Brother
Gadé, mwen pral voyé yon ti manjé bay ou, tandé – Look, I’m going to send you some food, you hear
Gadé, nenpôt koté ou yé, la vi a di – Look, no matter where you are, life is hard
Gadé ti-gason’m la – Look at my boy
Gason - man
Gen lè têt ou pa byen – Something is wrong with your head/thinking
Gen lè ou pa chonjé’m – It must be that you do not recognize me
Heritier – Person who inherits, beneficiary
Jacmel – A port town in the south of Haiti
Jacques – French for Jack
Je m’appelle – I am called
Jéran lakou – Manager of the outside of the house, houseman
Je suis trés heureux de faire votre connaisance – I am happy to make your acquaintance
Je vous prie de m’excuser - I pray that you excuse me
Jibaro – someone from ‘el monté’ or a backwards person, peasant
Kalalou – Okra
Kamyonèt – Jitney bus
Ké sa swa isit nan péyi blan oswa Ayiti – Whether it is in the white man’s country or in Haiti
Kèlkéswa – Whatever or however
Konbyen tan wap fè nan péyi-a – How long will you be in the country
Kontribisyon – Tax collector’s office – Identity card
Koté pralé – Where are you going
Kouman ou yé, Odet – How are you doing, Odette
Kwa bosal – An area in downtown Port-au-Prince
La Douane – Customs
Lakay sé lakay – Home is home
Lalue – A road in midtown PAP
Lan ki sa mwen yé la – What have I gotten myself into
Lan mèd monché – My man, I shit on you
La Plaine – The Plains
La vi a di – Life is hard
La vie quotidenne – Daily life costs eg.. milk, eggs, transport etc..etc..
L’enquête se poursuit – The investigation continues or we’re following up the investigation
Lé ou antré an péyi-a ou déja konnen éta li – When you go back to the country you already know the
condition it is in
Le’l rive ma télèfonen-ou – When he arrives I’ll telephone you
Les Cayes – A town in the south of Haiti
Li pa genyen sékirité, li pa genyen limyè, li pa genyen téléfon
– The country has no security, electricity
nor telephone system
Li pa genyen yon minimum – There isn’t a minimum
Lwa matial – Martial Law
Machann kokoyé – Coconut vendor
Macoute – Short for secret police or literally, knapsack
Mademoiselle – Miss or Ms.
Maléré – Beggar boy, someone poor
Map di ou konsa. Ké koté ou yé-a sé la pou kanpé janm é fè vi ou – I’ll tell you like this.
That wherever you are, it is there that you must stand tough and make your life
Map di ou yon bagay. Ou wè péyi sila-a – I’m going to tell you something, you see this
country here Map pran gou nan zafé péyi’m – I’m taking pleasure in the things of my country
M’pa konnen, non – No, I’m not so sure
Maringuioin – Mosquitos that bite
Men, ti-péyi nou sé yon péyi ké travay li poco fini – But, our country is a country that its
work in becoming a nation is not yet completed
Merde – French for shit
Mèsi, Madan Franswa, mèsi – Thank you, Mrs. Francois, thank you
Mèt Durocher – Lawyer Durocher
Met-la – Mister
Mèt-la, pouki sa wap tan anba solè cho sa – Mister why are you waiting under that hot sun Mézanmi – My friend
Misyé-a, sé kliyan’m la wi – That man is my client, yes
Misyé Jak, mwen poté yon ti kafé ba ou, wi – Mr. Jacques I brought you some coffee, yes
Monchè, mwen tounen nèt – My dear, I’ve returned permanently
Monchè si’m té genyen machin mwen pata janm pran kamyonèt – My man, if I had a car I would never take a bus
Mon Dyé – My God
Moto - Motorcycle
M’pa konnen sam ta bay pou ké péyi sa-a ranjé – I don’t know what I’d give to see that country
straightened out Mwen bézwen alé nan kontribisyon – I need to go to the tax payment center
Mwen di ou ké sé mwen kap mennen misyé-a – I’m telling you that it’s me who’s taking that man
Mwen pa konpran sa wap dim la, non frè – I don’t understand what you’re saying, no,
brother M’pansé – I think
Mwen tandé ké bagay yo pral cho – I heard that things are going to get hot
Nannan – The white meat inside of the coconut
Nan péyi d’Ayiti pa genyen afè minimum, sé ou ki minimum-la – In Haiti there isn’t a minimum, you
are the minimum Na wè yon lot lè – We’ll see each other another time
Nég pa monté tap-tap depi trant tan – This black man hasn’t been on a tap-tap in over thirty years
Nous ne nous sommes pas vus depuis que nous etions enfants. - We haven’t seen each other since we were children
Nous pensions que t’établir en Haiti ne t’intéressait pas. C’est pour cela que nous ne t’avions jamias informé au sujet du testament laissé par ta mère - We thought that living
in Haiti would never
interest you, therefore we never informed you about your mother’s last will and testament
Odet – Creole for Odette
Officier – Officer
Ou mèt antré, wi – Yes, you can come in
Ou pral rekomansé a zero nan yon péyi ki pi mal pasé zero – You’re going to start over at zero, in a country that’s lower than zero
Ou wè péyi-a – You see this country
Pa genyen yon lôt ki konsa – There’s not another one like it
Palè Nasyonal – The Haitian White House
Pèp – Population, people
Pito ou monté lakay ou kouwèl yé-a paské la ri-a pral cho - It’s best that you go home now, because the streets are going to become hot
Pouki sa ou pat di sa avan – How come you didn’t say that before Pouki ou vlé tounen nan yon péyi konsa – Why do you want to return to a country like
that Route Bicentenaire – Bicentennial Road
Sé mwen mèm, wi – Yes, it is I
Sé ou mèm ki pou fè sitiyasyon-a vin bon pou ou – It is you that must make the situation
work for yourself
Se yon gwo péyi – It is a big country
Si ou janm twonpèm ou mét bliyé mwen mèm ak ti-moun ou yo – If you ever cheat on me,
you can forget about me and your children So, kouwèl yé-a map pran plezi’m – So, right now I’m enjoying myself
Ta lè lap vini, Madan Franswa – He’ll be here in a little while, Mrs. Francois
Tante Da – French for Aunt Denise – Da is a nickname for Denise
Tap-tap – Jitney bus that derives this name from tapping the sides to start or go
Tè glisé – Unstable country – Slippery country
Tèt Boeuf – Nickname for Toyota land Cruiser – ‘cow head’
Ti-Place Cazeau – A neighborhood across from the airport
Tres heureux de faire votre connaissance – Very happy to make your acquaintance
Ton-Ton Macoute – During Papa Doc Duvalier’s reign, the feared secret police
Ton-Ton – Man
Quelle est cette route – What road is that
Viens, je vais te presenter Mademoiselle Viard – Come, I am going to present to you, Ms. Viard
Vini’m palé ou – Come, let me talk to you
Wap dim ké péyi-a pa genyen sé si ké li pa genyen sé la – You’re telling me that the country
doesn’t have this or that
Wi - Yes
Willio, ki lè moun kap ramplasé-ou ap vini – Willio, what time is your replacement coming
Yo bay li – They gave it – in speaking about the electric co./resuming electrical service
Yo pran limyè-a, wi – Yes, they took the electricity
Zenglendo – Shattered glass; more commonly used to describe criminal elements
This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to characters, people, events, names, and places are wholly the creation of and from the author’s mind.
I would like to thank the crew from ‘Sak Pase, Miami’ Radio Carnivale’s diverse morning Haitian radio show, for formulating the idea in my head for this story. I thank God, the most highest, for giving me the ability to write and hopefully, to write well.
And to my wife, Michaelle Mondé, neé Lauture, for editing and the correcting the kréyol spelling and for helping me to keep the story simple but authentic.
This story is dedicated to historian and friend, Mr. Carl Fombrun and to the Haitian people from the Aradas, Bantus, Congos, Fons, Ibos, Mondongues and Yorubas who represent the complexity of our nation.
Fritz J. Mondé, Jr.
10914 SW 146th. Ave.
Miami, FL 33186
Haiti, Hung Up