As the Sun Sets Over Port-au-Prince
By Jacques Fleury
In honor of my mother Marie-Evelyne Toussaint, an iconoclast in her own right
In Haiti, I grew up taking blood baths, basking in the epoch of oppression. I am a Creole poet, despite the un-equivocal fact that my nation was occupied by the French. My Caribbean spice rack is stock full of flavored stories which I will gladly tell you just enough to satisfy your hunger for the knowledge of courage of my people; since my blood was once the color of slavery. But now, since I left Haiti for America, I dream the dream that every Americans dream: to sleep on the pillows of justice, freedom and opportunity. After all, aren't we all entitled to be happy? So now watch me run from the lasso of the unjust, just to make it under the wire of justice.
The great Cuban singer/song writer Joseito Fernadez, who penned the lyrics to the popular song "Guantanamera" wrote, "...with the poor people of this earth, I want to share my faith." But like him, my heart has been oppressed and wired and my vocal codes have been tapped, but like the great Rhythm and Blues singer Marvin Gaye so eloquently said, "True artists suffer for the people" and so I'm going to continue to say what I need to say even if it means some suffering along the way.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Haiti and named it "Hispaniola." Taino Arawak Indians, who referred to their homeland as "Hayti" or "Mountainous Land", originally inhabited the island. In 1697 slaves were sent to Haiti. The island was cherished by European powers for its natural resources, including cocoa, cotton and sugar cane. The French shipped in thousands of slaves mainly from West Africa to harvest the crops. In 1804 after a slave rebellion led by a man named Bookman in 1791, Haiti became the first free Black nation in the world under General Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who declared himself Emperor. America feared that the slave rebellion in Haiti would ignite anti-slavery insurgencies in the U.S. southern states and as we all now know, eventually it did. Perhaps this is one the many of multifarious reasons why America's relationship with Haiti is strained to this day. The Uses of Haiti, a book by Harvard University professor Dr. Paul Farmer chronicles America's long and perplexing history with Haiti. Tourism flourished in Haiti from the 1950s to 1986; practically ending with the Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier mutiny. Haiti's main tourist attraction is La Citadelle Laferierre built on mountains overlooking Port-au-Prince. It has walls 130 feet high and is the largest fortress in the Americas and was designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a world history site in 1982. It was built to keep the newly independent nation from French incursions, which never materialized.
Growing up partly in Haiti with mostly marred memories of mango trees and my macabre childhood swaying in the lazy wind was no walk in the park, more like a walk in the woods. As we know, the woods are much less manicured than the park. Also in the woods, it is not always clear as to what lays ahead. One minute you maybe leaping with gaiety downhill, and the next minute you may find yourself straining and striving to reach a summit. Don't get me wrong, on Haitian terrains, there were certainly moments of triumph (fabulous cuisine and a colorful culture) but unfortunately they were equally matched and often surpassed by moments of failure (living under the constant weather of fear and intimidation). The government was an archetype for this ideology. As the tyrannical government oppressed the people, the people then reciprocated by oppressing each other. It was to my chagrin when I realized that the mentality of the Haitian people was "Every man and woman for himself or herself" and trust was in actuality non-existent. Also in Haiti, we were all subjected to living within a conspiracy of silence. "See no evil, speak no evil" because "evil" had the people under panoptic surveillance and this can be a family member hired as a spy to turn their own in should they speak unfavorably of the government.
You see, in Haiti, dialect was in handcuffs, a place where fear tore souls to pieces and left scattered along the scorching pavement and dark dirt roads hungry dogs to feed on. Imagine a place where a teacher is without students and who lost his freedom to ignorance, his voice is but a squeak in the fading forests; while the tongue of dissension lay entombed at the bottom of an empty well waiting for a subversive echo to give his voice a chance at change. But even though dialect of dissension in Haiti is gagged up, his voice is an intricacy of words loaded to snap its constraint and recoup its power!
The guts of the Haitian nation have exploded since the devastating earthquake back in Jan. 12th of 2010. Its long stinky yet valiant and pioneering intestinal history sprawled snarling and unsympathetic in discordant bliss all over the ubiquitous dirt roads. Perched participating ears like all the humanitarians who rushed over to help the aggrieved people can almost hear the debris hiss; as the apathetic summer air suffocates Creole fireflies. Sounds of volatile youths banging their heads against scarcities echo like gun shots impregnating the empty fear filled streets; while the savage beat cops known as "ton ton macoutes" strutted around town. Baby Doc, rueful that he couldn't fly, fell prey to domestic maladies and was exiled to France. "Garcon!" mama used to call me. "Yes, ma ma!" and with fear fighting to hold back her valiant voice she said, "Never walk bare feet on cold concrete and never EVER talk too quick!" Then I was forcing sleep, was stifled by yet was supple. One day mama woke me up and said, "Time to go America!" Then I tried smiling, but my big parched patois lips felt raw.
Jacques Fleury’s book: “Sparks in the Dark: A Lighter Shade of Blue, A Poetic Memoir” about life in Haiti & America was featured in the Boston Globe & available at www.lulu.com. Contact Jacques at: email@example.com and visit him at: www.facebook.com/jacquesfleury.