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  • JoAnn Gustave

Haiti on my mind.

Updated: Feb 1, 2021

Have you ever been in a toxic relationship with a place and not a person? Not because you hated it or it personally caused you pain but because it held so many good and not so good memories at the same time. As I reflect back on the past decade, as many of you are, I can’t help but think where my relationship with Haiti stands.

photo credit Hugue-Robert Marsan @hrmarsanphoto

I love Haiti so much but the last ten years have been so tumultuous and even after the three years since I left it; I am not sure I’ve fully recovered from the heartbreak it has caused me.

I am not too far away; I am so close that sometimes it feels like I’ve never even left. My very Haitian household still smells of *épis around 3 pm every day, *Towo is a staple in the mornings and my Dad’s radio always plays the latest tunes from the country. We don’t have to wait until New Year’s Day to eat *pumpkin soup, my mother whips it up every Sunday. My sisters constantly update me on every new restaurant that has opened or the latest rooftop party where my absence was felt. Friends still call me for recommendations when they need a plumber, a painter or a good contractor. I wasn’t in the construction business but they joke that I know someone for almost everything there.

I reminisce sometimes on what my life was like then. I think of my *Pratik who religiously knocked at my door every Saturday morning to bring me the freshest cut of goat or beef and the straw basket where she laid her beans and other legumes that would go into my stew later in the day. I miss the organic vegetables that I had access to without a fuss and the taste they had. Farm-to-table there wasn’t just a trend, it was my lifestyle. I miss the sweet taste of ripe sugar cane and the fresh seafood at Wahoo Bay.

photo credit Hugue-Robert Marsan

I remember the two boys who called me *marenn and our daily conversations in traffic both in the mornings and the evenings because traffic is inevitable in Port-au-Prince. Oh, and people watching at those times is the best.

I envision my orchids in the yard and my old landlord calling my name to give me the scoop on what went on in the building the day before or what trouble her daughters got into. We grew pretty close and shared some tough times together. We are not of the same generation but became the best of friends. I have a few friends in their sixties and love to hear them reflect on their own journeys. I guess you can call me an old soul.

I miss the Sunday dinners at my aunt’s house in the mountains, her garden where I married and added so many plants that still live today. I miss my flower guy in town who would find me the rarest of violets to add to my collection. I miss my Karibe Hotel family and the rush of planning big events. I miss so many other things but on some days, I wake up in sweats, from the nightmares of why I left and the not so sunny days I had there. I realize that I still have a lot of work to do with myself before I can call this place home again.

photo credit Hugue-Robert Marsan

A lot has changed since then. I’ve settled back in Florida almost three years ago; I snuggle to the most beautiful face every morning and I am working hard towards my dreams and doing what I love. I’ve “adulted” almost overnight and have more responsibilities than I ever imagined but this new life has truly been God’s gift to me. People tell me how much they admire my resilience and my ability to smile after everything I’ve been through. I think that this is what makes life interesting; to live, to love, survive and be able to share our stories.

One morning on the treadmill, one of my closest friends who was going through a divorce at the same time as I did looked over and said: “I can’t wait until we get older and talk about this and laugh”. We have! We are both much happier than we were back then and share so many great memories together.

Haiti has and continues to know many hardships. The people are poor, the government unstable and the justice system is the worst I have personally fell victim to. My personal life also took a sour turn before I left the country and I have had to readjust my sailings to say the least.

Still I could never resent it; I love Ayiti to the core and bleed red and blue. Something however always seems to hold me back when I need to hit the purchase button on Kayak. Whether it be the continuous riots that have plagued the country or an opportunity to travel some place new, it just doesn't seem to happen. At times I wonder if these are just excuses I’ve come up with to keep myself from going back. After all, I’ve always known the country to be this way. Could it be that I am just Ghosting it?

photo credit Hugue-Robert Marsan

Some days I imagine my homecoming and how glorious it will be when I finally take the leap. I think of the smells, the people, and mostly the sun. I want my son to be so deeply rooted in our culture that people dare not call him a diaspora. He is 2 ½ years old going on 12 and his curious mind keeps me on my toes. I can’t wait to show him the places I grew up loving.

I hope La coquille is still around when I go back, I hope Yanvalou’s drums still beat every Thursday night and I hope Grimèl still sits at carrefour Fermathe selling griot. There is something about the country, its people and the land itself keep me hopeful in life and love. Until then, I’ll hold on tight to my passport cover.

*Ayiti nan kèm!

*épis: A mix of spices commonly used in Haitian cooking.

*Towo: Haitian Arabica coffee brand

*pumpkin soup: Haitian tradition holds that the soup was enjoyed by the slave masters on the former French colony, while the Haitian slaves were forbidden it. Consequently, Soup Joumou is traditionally consumed on New Year's Day (January 1), as a historical tribute to Haitian independence in 1804. (source: Wikipedia)

*Pratik: Name given to street vendors by a repeat or familiar customer

*marenn: Godmother in Haitian Kreyol

*Ayiti nan kèm: Haiti is in my heart and on my mind

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