Originally posted on June 25 on my Kickstarter project page.
It was obvious that the young ladies could not contain their excitement. After lunch, I gathered 3 and 4 at a time for some group photos to be included in the anthology. (I hope next year to bring in professional Haitian photographer Regine Romain to capture their individual personalities). They all looked beautiful and I sat with them for a few getting to know them more intimately.
I learned that one of the girls had lost a mother during the earthquake but it wasn’t something she wanted to talk about since she was all smiles and looking forward to the reading. They had more questions for me of course—like how my name wasn’t Haitian. I explained to them that I first learned about the history of Haiti while I was in college, just a bit older than them. The more I learned about the country I was born in, the more I wanted to know about the roots of its history and culture. And this in turn led me to West African countries and cultural traditions. In fact, I told them, it was Bayyinah Bello who inspired me to take on a new name as she had done for herself. I had learned so much that I felt as if I was reborn in a way, so I had to rename myself. I told them that I was glad to have had to freedom to do so. It was my own way of reclaiming my identity when it had been lost for so many years. They urged me to improve my Kreyol and bring my children next time. After dodging more personal questions, they asked me about the Haitian girls in New York. I told them they were very similar in some ways, and different in a lot of ways.
There weren’t many parents who attended the reading. I assumed many were working or lived too far to make the trip (some of the girls were from boarding schools and their parents may be outside of Port-au-Prince). Nonetheless, there were a few family members, friends, school representatives, and the two television stations Radio Tele Ginen and Tele National D’Haiti. Of course, this had the young women on their very best behavior. They had all choreographed how they would walk into the front yard where chairs were arranged for them. They walked in single file and all took their seats at the same exact time.
It was agreed that Stanley Penn would be the MC and he did a wonderful of making everyone at ease. Penn said a few words thanking everyone for coming and introduced Guetchline who explained why a project like this is both beneficial for the young women involved and the community as a whole. I said a few words as well thanking the Foundation, the audience, and the young women, mixing my Kreyol and English words and hoping everyone at least got the gist of what I was trying to say. Again, I was floored by the level of creativity and passion each young woman brought into reading their pieces. They had indeed revised and improved their work and each one thanked all who were involved in the project before reading their piece. They showed sincere gratitude. Most chose their pieces on Haiti and its traditions to read, the others read the ones about their ancestors which rounded off the event with a theme of culture and ancestors.
Penn would plug in some humorous comments about the importance of knowing yourself, your culture, and those who came before. Alexandra’s piece entitled “Yon Bel Fanm Kreyol” (loosely, “A Beautiful Creole Woman”) was a hit. It was part of the exercise I had given them about describe their physical self as they see it. Baby had everyone cheering at the end of her piece “Manje Peyi’m” (loosely, “The Food of My Country”). She had covered nearly every fruit, vegetable, and meal found only in Haitian culture and read it with such pride and passion. After each young woman read, we presented each one with a certificate of completion and a gift bag filled with a fancy journal, some fancy pens, and last year’s anthology.
Penn had decided to choose a best piece—something I wasn’t so sure about until Ingrid explained to me that there always has to be a first place, second place, and third place. That’s how the education system worked. When there are exams, the top highest scorers are always acknowledged and rewarded in some way. Of course, I was uneasy about this coming from my American progressive education background where everybody’s a winner—especially when it came to the arts. Ultimately Baby’s piece was selected to be read again. This was a good thing since Penn went on to explain why her piece was so important. He mentioned the economics of food in Haiti and how farmers are no longer growing their own and the land is no longer reaping what it should. There are plenty of foods native to Haitian soil, but a majority of people are eating imported foods which in turn harms the local farmer who either must raise his prices or abandon the land.
In the end, I think the young women were genuinely pleased with themselves. The television reporters selected some girls to interview along with FF volunteers and myself. The event ended with a small meal of boulettes (meatballs), fried plantains, cassava, and a spicy onion sauce (whose name escapes me right now), and mabi.