Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas in Haiti

Christmas—about 3:30am!

Fonkoze’s deputy director, Alexandre, had earlier offered to take me out on Christmas Eve. I’m always curious to see how other cultures celebrate their big holidays. But when I hadn’t heard from him by 8:15 tonight, Christmas Eve, I was in my pajamas, in the process of making something weird with peanut butter and the army-sized container of oatmeal I had treated myself to for Christmas. Once my hands are completely immersed in peanut butter glop, Alexandre calls. “I’ll pick you up at nine, ok?” “Great, thanks, uh Alexandre, what do I …” click dial tone. Not only do I not know what to wear but I have no idea what we are doing.

The last time I went out with Alexandre it was with his wife and two small children and we went to see handicapped kids in Santa Clause hats riding horses on a Saturday afternoon. At this event, I had somehow ended up participating in a relay race where I ran with a raw egg on a spoon and jumped over horse hurdles. (I am not joking! Thank goodness for high school track.) So I’m expecting some more good clean family fun.

Alexandre had earlier mentioned going to mass. I’m hoping for a serene midnight mass, lit with candles, like the ones I loved from my childhood. Midnight mass is the ideal chance for a meditative moment with yourself (especially if you don’t understand what’s going on in Creole!) and to let your mind wander to everything it needs to contemplate, potentially even including the Baby Jesus/his virgin birth. So I put on a dress for the event. And my chacos.

Christmas Eve in Haiti is no serene lull of midnight masses, shivers, and thoughts on faith or the year to come.

The streets are packed with pedestrians and the clubs are blasting in full force! No one is staying at home. We made a first stop at a semi-family party, ate pikles (pick-leez), griot, and bananes pesés (smooshed and deep-fried plantains, tasting mildly like cardboard.) I love the pikles though—spicy carrots and cabbage, which you put on top of everything. I’ve learned that most all parties in Haiti are family parties. Most ppl live with their parents for a long time, so parties will inevitably be… at your parents’ house! Which means the invitees are ages 5 – 65. (Totally unlike my usual DC-party age range of roughly 23 – 33.) This does not stop the mamas from serving their little daughters kiddy-size wine—out of a shot glass!

The next stop of the evening was home to the AWKWARD MOMENT award winner of the month! I got plaqué-d next to a dude I didn’t realize at the time was in fact Alexandre’s cousin. But he kinda creeped me out. Shortly after our arrival, Alexandre disappeared at the party and I didn’t know a soul there but him.

So the Creepy sitting next to me starts asking me questions in sorta-English. I should mention here that I have a bit of a noise meter, and I get really embarrassed when people I’m with are YELLING in public. (Yes, Dad, this is coming from the kid you often had to remind of inside voices :) And Creepy is YELLING when I am sitting a foot away from him—less by the time he’s leaned/leered my way. As if I weren’t already the painfully obvious sole blan foreigner, the sorta-English shouting is attracting plenty stares. Please, I ask him, you don’t have to yell, I can hear you very well!

I must have asked him about six times to PLEASE, je t’en prie, I BEG of you, stop yelling! Maybe he was deaf and didn’t realize it? “When you yell at me everyone stares. It’s very embarrassing.” Maybe I was the dumb foreigner who couldn’t speak Creole, and therefore needed to be yelled at so that I could understand? I have worked with many people who seem to think this strategy works… (nope!) This went on for oh… about 2.5 hours.

Normally I’d flit around and talk to anyone else. I didn’t feel comfortable plopping down in the midst of a family I didn’t know without introduction, though, to escape! I also don’t like speaking French to people who don’t know me, I feel like it comes across as bougie snob foreigner, there’s a bit of a stigma about that here. I definitely should have used the bathroom escape trick. Hallelujah when Alexandre came back to the table, asked how I was, and I only hesitated once before I pulled out the “I’m tired” card. It was after 2am…

End of Awkward Moment Report.

Next day—Christmas night

I’m happy to report Christmas today was smashing. J When I got up at 2pm today, I treated myself to my peanut butter concoction from the night before. I though of it as the healthy substitute for my mom’s wonderful Christmas coffee cake and brought some of it over to my friend/co-worker Shaila’s. I love that I celebrated Christmas with a Bangladeshi Muslim, at her swimming pool—not like I’m used to White Christmases is Louisiana anyway! (This + last night’s debacle tops Christmas karaoke with the Korean girls in France!) Even though last night was awkward/slightly painful, I never regret a new experience. Then I went by to say hi to my Cameroonian neighbors, who generously fed me, and the kids all showed off their dolls. Chouchou, the 4-yr old boy, couldn’t seem to decide whether to name his baby doll Lalula or Lolita. My little Haitian neighbor Lovelyn had accordingly named her new doll Lovena—I love that kid!

Christmas bisous to everyone!!! My dear family, have some rum for me on the 28th at the pig roast (as I have definitely had enough griot—the deep-fried pig pieces that are a Haitian favorite—for all!) love,

K :)


Annie said...

Kate - I've been thinking about you tons lately. I've finally gotten a chance to stop working, relax a bit, and catch up on my friends' lives...

I'm glad to hear you're still doing well! If you have an address where I can mail something, will you email it to me?

My mom says hi and take care as well!! :-) Miss ya... keep it real, homie. :-)
love, annie

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