Tonight it is a national holiday in celebration of the Battle of Vertieres. I am sitting in a perfectly charming, if run down, hotel in Jacmel…alone. This feels like something straight out of an Ann Rice novel. Dark, distressed brick, stifling heat, tropical plants everywhere, white flowers drop from vines which wrap around tropical trees just outside of my room in the courtyard. Mosquito netted bed in the center of a room with numerous windows, no glass, just shutters. Truly a shame to be here alone.
As I sit in the dark bar/dining room, drinking my red wine and waiting for my poisson en sauce, I consciously avoid seeing rats scurrying inches from my feet in the dark. There are mice here too. It is a place of creatures. I am in their space.
An hour ago, a crowd of Haitians strolled through the hotel bar/dining/lobby area. Today is the celebration of the final battle before Haiti found their independence. It is wildly celebrated. I imagine the march through the hotel by dozens of people was a demonstration of defiance. No place is shut off to us. If this is not what it was, I don’t want to know. I want to think of these people rising and claiming what is theirs.
I thrilled to see them wander through. Women, men, children…all ages. They walked through totally without affect. No challenge was there. This is their space…that is all.
Just now a Ra Ra band marched through the street with a crowd following. The music was primarily drumbeats and earthy…horns and other instruments accompanied, but it is the drums that drive the Ra Ra bands. Beautiful and elemental. Scores of people followed behind, moving easily within the beats of the band. I stood envious watching them move so assuredly in their space. Tonight, they own their land. They are taking what is rightfully theirs. They are beautiful and magnetic. I don’t even want to join them in their dance. To join them would take away their power. This is their night and I celebrate who they are from the sidelines. I cannot be with them in this. I am separated by the chance of my heritage. Just as they are separated from me in mine.
I love that I had a chance to see them like this. Strong…beautiful…powerful and confident. No one seeking my approval, my money, my attention. Being with each other was enough. And watching them from the sidelines was enough for me.
As I am writing this, I Love My Life comes on the radio. It plays constantly here and surprised me when I first heard the Haitians singing it. I thought they must surely be joking. Fate has dealt them a bad hand. But I get it now. In many ways, they are better off than we are in the US. In many ways, I am jealous of what they have here. And that is my biggest surprise in my time here.
I want them to feel the strength they feel today every day. I want to fight on the sidelines for them. I want to do whatever I can to make every day a celebration of the Battle of Vetye.