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Tap Tap and the Unknown

For the past few days, Hubby and I were in Florida to celebrate our anniversary and to visit family. Our schedule was jam-packed but we did make time to stay spend a morning at Ft. Lauderdale beach and go to South Beach. I fell in love with the water, as in kicked off my sandals, hiked up my dress and waded straight into the warm clear blue. After a long walk, we made it to be to Tap Tap, a famous (and delicious) Haitian restaurant in South Beach Miami. We indulged in Diri Kole, plantains and legim (vegetables). I forgot to ask if there was a meat-based broth they cooked anything in but it was wonderful. I especially loved the decor. There were murals everywhere, a lovely and vibrant tribute to the people, music, rituals and food of Haiti.

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South Beach
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At Tap Tap
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Hubby and I with my grandparents

I also found out that I have the opportunity to go to two events over the same weekend in different parts of the country the night we left. One event is a known. I know (and am excited about) the type of people attending and the speakers. My second choice is full of unknowns and whether or not I deem the experience a success, I have no doubt I will be pushed to grow as a creator and a writer.

I have been told and have told others if you have the choice between two choices like that, you go with the unknown.

I understand part of life is about stretching yourself in order to know who you are and what your limits are.

I hope what I choose allows me to find out more about who I am and what those limits are for me.

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Haitian Heritage Month Highlight: Michele Voltaire Marcelin

The final spotlight for Haitian Heritage Month is on Michele Voltaire Marcelin.  She is a poet, painter and writer. Her work has been published in French, English, Spanish and Kreyol. She also writes in three languages. Her artwork has been exhibited at the Art Museum of the Americas of the Organization of American States in D.C., the Cork Gallery at Lincoln Center and at the National Museum in Haiti. I saved her for last because Hubby and I chose her poetry to be featured at our wedding reception in 2012.

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Here is one of our favorites:

Dreamscape 

 what magic names of places
shall i whisper in the dark
while you hold me
so we travel at least through the night

what sweet syllables of cities
ancient or new
what bird-laden trees
in what gardens
shall i offer you
so that at last i see the world with you

walk with me
through streets i have loved
in buenos aires, aix, lisbon, jacmel
keep your steps aligned with mine

walk with me
in venice
there is an alleyway called paradiso
i want you to kiss me there
in istanbul
a church of holy wisdom
where we will on the altar light candles

there is somewhere in port-au-prince
a crumbling wall fired with hibiscus
where blossoms wait to be chosen by you
to flower my hair
or shall we go off on a barge
floating on the seine
when the city darkens and the bridges spread
across the silent river
will we be drunk with each other
or will it be the boat dancing on the water

there is a stretch of sand i remember
in valparaiso
crusted with salt from the waves
we will leave our footprints there
drink pisco in a secluded bar in santiago
sit in pelhourino square in salvador
later i will giggle as you carry me
on the stairs to the capri grotto
somewhere there is a bed unmade
in a new york hotel
where we’ll return at dawn to make love
as sleepwalkers do
after seeing the ghosts of jazz musicians
at the blue note

somewhere someday we’ll go away
but tonight let’s recite as we would poems
names of places
that await our pleasure
hold my hands my beloved
look in my eyes
tonight let’s travel in our dreams
while we remain immobile in the dark

 

I hope featuring Haitian poets this month has opened you up to writers that you may have never had the pleasure of discovering on your own. I know choosing to celebrate my heritage this way has been a wonderful and educational experience for me.

Happy reading!

 

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Haitian Heritage Month Highlight: Jacques Roumain

My second feature for Haitian Heritage Month is poet, novelist and politician Jacques (Jean Baptiste) Roumain. Born in 1907 in Port-au-Prince, Roumain was one of eleven children and became one of Haiti’s most prominent figures until his untimely death in August of 1944.

In the late 1920’s,  he founded two literary newspapers La Trouee and La Revue Indigene and a political newspaper, Le Petit Impartial, to protest the presidency of Louis Borno for working with the U.S. government during the American occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934. He was even arrested at one point for “violating press laws.”

Later on in his career (and after Borno’s presidency), he was appointed to Ministry of the Interior. Roumain even traveled to the United States to study economics but while here, suspicions were aroused he joined the American Communist Party. Because of fear of arrest. he returned home and was convicted for conspiracy and treason and three years in prison.  In 1936, he was freed and moved to Belgium.

In 1938, he moved to Paris where he wrote several articles chastising the Haitian political elite. Over the next several years, Roumain was arrested for “mounting an affront” against a foreign head of state in France, fled because of World War II, spent time in Havana, Cuba and eventually returned to Haiti in 1941. He was a diplomat of the Haitian embassy to Mexico City and returned to Haiti in 1943 because he had fallen ill.

A notable literary connection was his meeting with famed poet Langston Hughes on his one and only trip to Haiti. Hughes even translated some of Roumain’s works, included Gouverneurs de la Rosee (Masters of the Dew).

While researching Roumain, what impressed me most, was whether you agreed with his political beliefs or not, one cannot deny his passion to stand up for them. He has been described as a poet, novelist, politician, ethnologist and revolutionary.  And it all ended at the age of 37.

Here is one of his most famous poems:

When the Tom-Tom Beats

our heart trembles in the shadows, like a face reflected in troubled water
The old mirage rises from the pit of the night
You sense the sweet sorcery of the past:
A river carries you far away from the banks,
Carries you toward the ancestral landscape.
Listen to those voices singing the sadness of love
And in the mountain, hear that tom-tom panting like the breast of a young black girl
 
Your soul is this image in the whispering water where your fathers bent their dark faces
Its hidden movements blend you with the waves
And the white that made you a mulatto is this bit of foam cast up, like spit, upon the shore
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Haitian Heritage Month Highlight: Marie-Celie Agnant

May is Haitian Heritage Month and the 18th is especially notable because it is Haitian Flag Day. Both my mother and father were born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I must admit I haven’t taken the time to read more work by Haitian writers besides a couple like the famed Edwidge Danticat. I decided in honor of Haitian Heritage Month, I will highlight Haitian writers for my Tuesday posts.

The first of which is Marie-Celie Agnant. She was born in Haiti but has lived in Quebec, Montreal since 1970. She has written several novels, books of poems and novellas. Her work has been translated into several languages including English, Dutch and Spanish and has worked with Bread and Puppet Theater of Vermont.

Here is a poem by Ms. Agnant I found particularly moving:

Gonaïves

nothing but the memories
of the days before death
the ocean
and its gentle song
the ocean
and the empty void

empty boats returning
carried by the wind that stirs the empty air

empty hope
and shacks emptied of fishermen
with their empty hands

and children’s eyes
full right up to the eyelids
with the horror of a world
empty of all compassion

nothing left here but what was
and the sky
to collect the resentment
of those who no longer have the strength to shout

nothing left here
but the restless souls
of the dead
that we try to bury
beneath slabs of time

hereafter paradises are
houses for the dead

I would so like to write another story
tear the black veil of night
find a path to the end of night

but there’s nothing left here
nothing but endless night

and the great bare sun
in the immensity of empty sky

 

Because of my limited French, I was glad to find so much of her work translated into English. I, for one, am excited to envelop myself in more of this talent’s work.

Happy Haitian Heritage Month!

 

 

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Meatless Mondays: Vegan Shepherd’s Pie

Today we were supposed to be celebrating New Year’s at my brother-in-law’s and bringing a dish. I didn’t buy everything I needed for soup joumou for Haitian Independence Day so we stuck with Vegan Shepherd’s pie from the minimalistbaker.com. I will definitely do a vegan soup joumou in the near future. It came out well, I might have let it bake a little long but I love how crisp the potato crust gets on top. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients
FILLING
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked brown or green lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 4 cups vegetable stock (DIYor store-bought)
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 10-ounce bag frozen mixed veggies: peas, carrots, green beans, and corn
MASHED POTATOES
  • 3 pounds yukon gold potatoes, thoroughly washed
  • 3-4 Tbsp vegan butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

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Instructions

  1. Slice any large potatoes in half, place in a large pot and fill with water until they’re just covered. Bring to a low boil on medium high heat, then generously salt, cover and cook for 20-30 minutes or until they slide off a knife very easily.
  2. Once cooked, drain, add back to the pot to evaporate any remaining water, then transfer to a mixing bowl. Use a masher, pastry cutter or large fork to mash until smooth. Add add desired amount of vegan butter (2-4 Tbsp), and season with salt and pepper to taste. Loosely cover and set aside.
  3. While potatoes are cooking, preheat oven to 425 degrees F (218 C) and lightly grease a 2-quart baking dish (or comparable sized dish, such as 9×13 pan. An 8×8 won’t fit it all but close!).
  4. In a large saucepan over medium heat, sauté onions and garlic in 1 Tbsp olive oil until lightly browned and caramelized – about 5 minutes.
  5. Add a pinch each salt and pepper. Then add lentils, stock, and thyme and stir. Bring to a low boil. Then reduce heat to simmer. Continue cooking until lentils are tender (35-40 minutes).
  6. In the last 10 minutes of cooking, add the frozen veggies, stir, and cover to meld the flavors together.
  7. OPTIONAL: To thicken the mixture, add 2-3 Tbsp mashed potatoes and stir. Alternatively, scoop out 1/2 of the mixture and whisk in 2 Tbsp cornstarch or arrowroot powder and whisk. Return to the pan and whisk to thicken.
  8. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Then transfer to your prepared oven-safe baking dish and carefully top with mashed potatoes. Smooth down with a spoon or fork and season with another crack of pepper and a little sea salt.
  9. Place on a baking sheet to catch overflow and bake for 10-15 minutes or until the mashers are lightly browned on top.
  10. Let cool briefly before serving. The longer it sits, the more it will thicken. Let cool completely before covering, and then store in the fridge for up to a few days. Reheats well in the microwave.

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Tribe

What does it mean? Tribe? Have I found mine? Have I found several? Have I always belonged?  One told me my skin, along a continuum of brown was beautiful. My Black is Beautiful.

Another tells me that lakay means home and Aux Cayes bears almost forgotten, almost sanded off imprints of my DNA.

Attached myself to a tribe of people who call themselves Greats and to another who picked up the Pen and put the Fears down.

So many names I have gone by:

Great, Black, Brown-Skinned, Haitian, American, Haitian-American, Writer, African-American, Christian, Woman, Wife, Sister, Natural.

I am a member. I fell in. I joined. I paid. I listened. I spoke up. I have shouted. I have risen. I have sat down. I have dreamed. I have cowered. I have fallen down. I have kneeled with purpose. I have prayed. I have cursed. I have written.

I was born.

Within this tribe, these tribes, I am human. I have found my humanity and I find myself extending my hand to touch yours.

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I am not a walking color.

I am not a walking color. I am not a walking color. I am not a walking color. I am not a Black robot that walks and talks. I am a Haitian-American woman, born in Queens, New York. Hearing two languages spoken around me was my norm. Rice and beans are my norm.

I became a Southerner by moving to Virginia Beach at age five. I never became a Southern belle. That is not me. I cry when I pray. I laugh so hard I snort. I dance by myself. I played pretend. I built forts with my brother and took pictures on the beach with my sister. I crushed on boys who didn’t like me and avoided some who did. I have gained and lost hundreds of pounds.

I am married. I am madly in love with my best friend, my husband. I fear for his health sometimes. I joke and tell him we are going out of this world together, hands clasped together on the same bed, Notebook style. I will be 100. You will be 110. Them’s the rules! I joke in an awful country accent.

I wear an afro. Reading was my first love. I have swallowed more rage than I can recount since I was a little girl because to some people, I am a walking color. I am a walking color.

I just want to be seen as whole, flawed and love.

I want you to see the God in me.

I see Him in you.