It’s now been over a month since I left Haiti and if I concentrate hard, I can just remember the last traces of heat of my skin. And this last post has to talk about all the rest, from the night of Wednesday 6th May to the flight leaving Port Au Prince on the afternoon of Sunday 10th May. How to tell it? (in two parts, it turns out. Of course).
Wed night, 6th
The reception, after the performance in the theatre of FOKAL arts centre. A homage in poetry to Josephine, performance, drums, sage. Introductions to Les Nuits Amerindiennes, music from Chloe Sainte-Marie. The others have performed, I recognise that mood. Elation, a lightness, smiles. I smoke, watch, still unsure, but less unsure. I also let go. I’ll go where I’m told to, this is someone’s elses party. I just have to be here. Be present.
I’d been asked earlier by Rodney – warm, generous, a huge presence – to perform something at l’hommage a Josephine but either we run out of time, or he is being kind, realises I have misunderstood the brief, and do not have something appropriate to perform at the show. I’m somewhere between relieved and disappointed. At the back of my head is the thought that if I can read something, I can show, a little, what I do, who I am, why I am here. I tuck this thought back, to think more later.
We’re hustled to the cars, jump in the back of the pick up truck, crammed in. Drove through the streets – there are no street lamps here, but Port-Au-Prince is still full of life. We pass a pile of rubbish on fire, a burnt out bus. People, stalls, still. We stop at Cafe Vandalou, pass through the gate to the courtyard. A huge tree, tables, oil lamps. Rum sours, okra fritters. Wine appears. We sit, loosened, talk. There are other ways to share meaning: food, wine, dancing. It’s lovely, a little giddy
Talk of politics, in English and French, of Quebecois and Scottish nationalism and seeking independence, of Northern Ireland of the rise of First Nation literature in Quebec, particularly since 2005. The relationship between that and nationalism. The claiming of ancestry (whether First Nation princesses or the Kings of Ireland). I’m sat between Jonathan Lamy and Louis-Karl Picard, who dip in and out of English (and Quebecois slang), and across from Simon, with whom I get into deep into politics. I’m aware of the General Election looming in the UK, we talk of that, and I, with a bitter taste in my mouth, bet Simon a dollar that the Tories will get back in (oh, I wish I’d lost that bet…).
Back to the hotel. It’s still warm. We dive for the swimming pool, plunge in and out and round the water, some shrieks and giggles, still talking. It’s midnight in Haiti, and I’m in a swimming pool. The self consciousness is beginning to sluice from my skin.
The Tories. GodDAMNit. Even this far away, that rises like bile. The SNP majority in Scotland. Even that doesn’t feel like a triumph for democracy. The map blue and yellow.
Up and out and into the vans. Into the streets, for real this time. So many PEOPLE. And everyone has something to sell.
La Bibliotheque National. The book fair again, a white room, lectures and talks. My comprehension isn’t quick enough to follow the flow – while my brain is translating the last sentence, the conversation moves ahead two more. But I can grasp phrases, ideas. And it’s full of Haitians.
Grabbed again by Camille. I’m going to…a school? Okay. This wasn’t on the schedule (the schedule will loosen more as the week goes on). But if Camille says ‘Venez’, I come. Get into the bus. Rita, Virginia, Natasha, Jean Sioui, Maryan with her camera.
The streets, stalls of shoes, wine and rum and champagne, spare times, spare parts for cars and buses. Baskets of plantain slices, balanced on heads. Steel drums full of white starch. God, the heat.
A public school, concrete classrooms, fans. I’m shuffled in with the others, forty odd teenage faces, expectant, grey uniforms. Oh fuc…….. I’m standing in line with the others, introducing myself. Explaining myself. It’s okay. I sit, watch. The others read and perform. Mobile phones appear from blazer pockets, held high to film. Plus ca change.
Hotel. Shower. Change. Back to the restaurant. Back to the minibuses. To the Centre D’Art with Virginia Bordeleau, Moe Clark, Guy Sioui-Durand. We get a little lost. Eventually pull up in front of a garden, a low spiked railing (noticably less formidable than the feet high concrete walls with barbed wire fortifying, concealing, preserving most of the other buildings). A garden, a couple of lushly painted shipping containers, murals, an open shelter draped in fabrics, seats inside, project, laptop. A scattering of folk watching a film. An external drum sculpture made of car parts, which we immediately go crazy for. We can talk in bashing and rhythm, Moe, Guy and I blamming out some basic rhythms. Which is of course immediately distracting to those watching the film, and we’re told to shut up. Eejits. Look around.
I love this place. In the corner, someone is gardening. Another man brings him a bucket of earth. I LOVE this place. It’s public and open and relaxed and it’s full of art, and it’s being used by people. That blue green again, everywhere. Pascale Monin, the director, dynamic, strong, sparkling.
Virginia, Moe et Guy explain their practice, demonstrate. Painting, performance, all with a discourse behind it. It’s strong. Guy gives out cards to audience, animals and mottos.
For me I turn it over. Badger. Blaireau. I bare my teeth to the rest of the audience, mimic claws to show what it is, demonstrate stripes. It doesn’t seem a natural fit to me. But the mantra ‘Soyez responsible de votre vie. Foncez – Faites confiance a vos aptitudes.’
Virginia, from the other side of the room, audibly agrees with this.
Later that night, in the Cafe. People are performing, poems and songs. I ask Camille if there is space for me to read. She beams. Yes, of course. So. If I can’t quite manage in conversation, this is how I can communicate. At least show a bit of myself. I work out some introductions in French, a choice between la mer, ma mere, a little cute but to engage, to try.
It seems to work. Rodney bear hugs me (he gives excellent hugs), grinning.
Elation all round. Rum sours all round. Swimming all round. Rum in the swimming pool. Moe and I hang off the side of the pool, chatting. I swim to Josephine, we talk. What would you like to see when you come to Scotland, Josephine? She roars. Three things – mountains, whisky, Gaelic poets. We can do that.
It’s a beautiful night.