Matenwa, Lagonav, Haiti
November, 2004

The wind has started blowing in that fierce and awful way that it does in February. Oh please, please, please let's not have the dry season arrive early this year. Haven't these people endured enough in the last 12 months?

I’m settling into a nasty feverish bronchitis. It’s going around. Josiane's baby is due any day. She's coming down with it, too, as well as the two girls. They laid on the cement floor of her house this a.m. and I did Reiki on the whole pile, the wind howling, rattling the tin, ripping away stuff not fastened down. One of the things that makes me really different here is that I leave.

The Atis Fanm—Women Artists—were written up in the Fall 2004 issue of Ms magazine. One morning Beniz came over as soon as the kids had left for school to return the copy of the magazine she had been looking at. We nibbled at my granola stash and looked at it together. Other family members in the neighborhood came. Three generations of women.

What we might call the “significance” of being written up in Ms is absent from their lively discussion. There is a photo of Beniz and Venez that I just love. They are cracking up at some joke and just looking at them makes you want to laugh, too. I’m surprised to find out that they all find it quite ugly. Because Beniz looks thin.

They've seen all the pictures of the Atis Fanm before and are more interested in the photo accompanying an article about Haitian women and the economy on the facing page. At first glance, you see a photo of a woman with a sak chabon—bag of charcoal--on her head. No, look! That’s not charcoal. She’s got pwoviziyon. Provisions. Patat, mayi, pwa. They scry into the bulges of the tightly packed sack on the woman’s head, describing the arrangement of food inside. That photo was taken on the wharf at Ansagale, they’re sure. Isn’t that woman in the back from Nankafe? Doesn’t it give their names?

Jetrid starts telling a story that I can’t follow. There was a calabash that started out empty but she woke up in the night and it was full. From the gestures it seems like she’s keeping that calabash under her arm as she sleeps, and all night long she’s bothered by the liquid that either is or isn’t in it.. Then a powder gets in the calabash somehow. I can’t tell if she’s describing something that happened or a dream that she had, but the story is full of shouting and gestures—she is in and out of bed, up-ending the calabash and voup! liquids are pouring into and out of it.

Anita, meanwhile, is in this black wig she's been wearing for a couple of days. It looks like it's spent the last four years at the bottom of the costume box, kind of pushed up and all flat on one side. Does she mean to wear it at a jaunty angle like that with so much of her white hair showing underneath? Maybe she just thinks of it as ornamentation without being overly focused on the wig/hat distinction.

Beniz and Lousiann have questions about what they’ve deciphered from headlines and images in the magazine. Why does this woman have laced-up shoelaces sewn into her mouth? (To accuse her of silencing herself by not voting.) This must be a family, mutters Beniz. It’s the cabinet lineup of the new prime minister of Spain—half women. This woman here in the black clothes behind a microphone—is she a singer? No, she’s a judge. On quite a few pages you can find headlines or images of picketers with words like vote, election, and no.. They get this—it’s about the US presidential election. They spend a long time speculating about ethnicity in a multicultural sea of faces. It occurs to me that this is the first time I’ve seen an adult in Matenwa read a magazine.

Jetrid’s story is making forays into levanjil--rousing religious declaiming about how we humans alone are nothing. All that we have, all that we accomplish comes from bondye, Jetrid shouts. Either the calabash or something in it smells like blood and death. She paces, always with the imaginary calabash under her arm. There is a part where you must go out when your husband is not looking, and empty that calabash at the first crossroads that you come to.

Anita leaps, literally, into the discourse. I have something to say and you can’t accuse me of interrupting you because I am your elder! shouts Anita. Jetrid keeps right on talking. The energy they are both pouring forth is operatic. You listen! Anita tears off the wig and points to her head. I’m a granmoun tèt blanch! A white-haired old lady! You have to listen to me! She shouts and wags her finger, runs in place a little bit as she makes her point. I have even less of an idea of what this conversation is about. Anita slaps the wig back onto her head and sits down.

The magazine pages flutter. I dish up periodic rounds of granola—a teaspoon in everyone’s palm—until someone says to put it inside to save for another day. Lousiann slips away and returns in a bit with some tea for my cough. Beniz goes home to wash clothes and Jetrid follows her. Anita starts sweeping and singing.

Do you know that at the bakeries here they often put dirt in the bread to stretch the flour?

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