Embrace

Mwen pa renmen jan li ap pede gade mwen. 

Mama never bothers to ask the young girl why she looks at her so much. All she knows is that those wondering brown eyes against that dark skin make her uncomfortable. It’s not the first time her family has taken in a restavek. Her parents are most often who families come to when their children become a burden. In her 10 years of life she’s seen six children trot through the front gate with a bundled plastic bag extending from their bellies. The conversations are always the same.

Madame Bougiyon, mwen pa ka pran swen l ankò. 

Twelve years ago, when Madame Bougiyon turned over in bed restlessly, her husband knew something was plaguing. It had been almost five months since they’d stop trying to have a baby; ten years since they’d started.

Cheri, kisa w genyen? 

He nudged closer to her, embracing her round body.

An nou adopte yon timoun. 

She had been rehearsing an elegant line to bring her husband across the finish line, but at this late hour, negotiation felt forced.

Si se sa ki ap fè kè ou kontan. 

Many in the neighborhood often laughed at Monsieur Bougiyon. It seems he always lets his wife have her way. Tonight he felt her breath release upon agreeing to adopt a child. From the time he was a young man, Monsieur Bougiyon had a different understanding of love than the young man who ran through his front yard.

Madame Bougiyon is not an easy woman to love, she wasn’t the first day they met at the lunch counter. Monsieur Bougiyon had just finished his morning shift at the hospital. It was around noon. In those days he was training as a nurse and only worked the first few hours after dawn. Madame Bougiyon worked as a teacher at the all girls school across from Papa Gil’s, the most popular lunch counter in all of La Vallee, Jacmel.

Anvan yè ti bòl diri sa te senk dola. Kounye a li sèt dolla. Sa pa moral, Filip. 

Monsieur Bougiyon looked around the room, wondered if he should just walk the five miles home and eat there, but he decided to do something no man had ever mustered the courage to try.

See Madame Bougiyon was quite a beauty. By far the best dressed of the new teachers at the school. Her breasts, like her attitude, stood firm, like melons underneath her carefully ironed dress suits. Although it was only her fourth year teaching, her students always scored the highest. Nuns would peek into her classroom with their wandering gaze. It is said they whispered that Madame Bougiyon was what they prayed for in silence. Others say, the devil sent her to play a sick joke on the catholic church. After-all, she was not a docile woman. Rumor has it that she once told the head priest to stick his cross in a place where the Holy Trinity does not belong. Oh no, don’t get the wrong impression. Madame Bougiyon is quite the religious woman; she’s first to get to church on Sunday and the most beautiful voice in the choir.

Standing in the doorway, Monsieur Bougiyon thought to do something no man had ever mustered the courage to try.

Filip, madmwazèl la gen yon rezon. Anvan yè m peye senk dolars pou ti bòl an diri sa. 

Madame Bougiyon stopped. Her eyebrows moved further apart and her fierce red lips stopped their wrinkle. Filip looked around his father’s restaurant in disbelief. Well, yes of course, the price for a bowl of cooked rice was merely five dollars yesterday. He upped the price, he’s allowed to do that, it’s his father’s restaurant. But see, Filip was not the kind of man who got so riled up on a Monday. He smiled at the woman in the gray dress suit and gave his soccer buddy a menacing look — what some friends will do for ass. His menaced look soon smirked, he wondered if Monsieur Bougiyon knew better than to seduce Madame Bougiyon. No man had ever mustered the courage to try.

Madame Bougiyon was still stopped. Monsieur Bougiyon offered to buy her lunch, she nodded, but she was still stopped. No man had stood up for her before, she simply never needed it. As a young girl, she was known to drag young boys from the waterfall and back to their mother’s wombs for no-good behavior. Rumor has it that she came out of her mother already a sturdy woman. She just sort of crawled her way out of the woman then scolded her father for not cutting the umbilical chord properly.

Monsieur Bougiyon fell in love with her in that way. She never hid any part of herself. Madame Bougiyon simply couldn’t hide much of who she was. Monsieur Bougiyon fell in love with her in that way. And as the story tells it, she fell in love with him too. He was the only one who could ever settle her down until she got soft enough to understand. Outsiders struggled to see her, but he got her soft enough to understand.

That night she cried in his arms. Legend tells it that Madame Bougiyon did not cry when she was born. But that night she cried in her husband’s arms. The tears were of joy. Many thought she was too hard to be a mother, but not her Filip.

A flower never grows in hard soil, the neighborhood women would whisper. A flower never grows in hard soil, her doctor thought that after the seventh miscarriage. A flower never grows in hard soil, Madame Bougiyon was beginning to think.

My wife makes nourishing soil, Monsieur Bougiyon knew. So that night he agreed to taking in other people’s children.

The next morning, with half of his stethoscope hanging from each side of his neck, he kissed her goodbye while she finished her espageti ak aransol. Madame Bougiyon started to eat it for breakfast every morning after her second miscarriage.

Ti bebe bezwen yon manman ki fò, cheri, mange sa pou mwen. 

Madame Bougiyon, Monsieur Bougiyon’s mother, patted Madame Bougiyon’s forehead. Her dotted white hand caressed the woman’s brown forehead. Madame Bougiyon was too weak to feed herself. This miscarriage had taken so much out of her. The baby had become so much of a baby that the doctor had her push it out. That thought kept her awake at night.

But the baby had become so much of a baby that I bought a crib.

But the baby had become so much of a baby that I sang sweet songs to it.

But that baby had become so much of a baby that I made it a jumper for its first night home.

Cheri, pa kriye. Oh, cheri, pa kriye. 

Madame Bougiyon moved closer to Madame Bougiyon and held her close. She never had a daughter. Four sons is what she had. Two of her babies miscarried so she might have had a daughter, but she never had a daughter.

Cheri, pa kriye. Oh, cheri, pa kriye. 

Madame Bougiyon held her daughter-in-law with softness. Madame Bougiyon was too hard for her to love when Monsieur Bougiyon brought her and Monsieur Bougiyon to the madmwazèl’s family home up where red earth covers everything. She was too hard to love for many years. Monsieur Bougiyon once heard his parents whispering about how the woman before Madame Bougiyon should have been their daughter. She was too hard to love for many years. Then one day the wise roots realized that hard soil is best for keeping weeds away.

Cheri, pa kriye. Oh, cheri, pa kriye.

Two years shy of Madame Bougiyon asking her husband to take in other people’s children, she became pregnant. It is true they were not trying this time. It is also true that she often became pregnant. There were no celebrations. It is said that Madame Bougiyon simply cried when she found out. It is said she was known to be the woman with the most miscarriages in La Vallee, Jacmel.

This one carried itself the whole way. Madame Bougiyon would not let Monsieur Bougiyon convince her to go see Ti Jean, the medicine man. This one carried itself the whole way.

It came out covered in blood and howling at the moon. Monsieur Bougiyon knew it would come with a vagina, but Madame Bougiyon refused to name it. This went on for three months. Madame Bougiyon, the child’s grandmother, would walk the eight miles to see it everyday. When it was time to leave she would look at Madame Bougiyon in despair and ask her to name her grandchild.

Bay ti bebe a yon non, cheri. Ba li yon non. 

Madame Bougiyon had grown to love the aging root, but she shook her head in disagreement. She also hadn’t gone to church since it was born. It is said that the church lost members in those three months, some even became protestants. What is a catholic church without beautiful singing and what is a choir without its leader. The nuns at the all girls school would run across the yard in a frenzy. The head priest of all the head priests was on his way in a couple of weeks and their best was nowhere in sight.

Monsieur Bougiyon had a different idea about these things, but he let Madame Bougiyon be. Then one morning with it suckling on her breast she said, Mama.

Mama.

Monsieur Bougiyon repeated the name until it became Mama. It was always meant to be a Mama he thought. Mama.

The first time Madame Bougiyon left the house with Mama in her arms she did so with a firm step. No lougarou dared to come near the child. Not even when Monsieur Bougiyon left medicine and went into politics. Legend has it that the child was born covered in blood and howling at the moon so no lougarou dared to come near what was dear to Mama.

Even with her own, Madame Bougiyon, never stopped taking in other people’s children. She, Monsieur Bougiyon and Mama had plenty, and so she never stopped taking in other people’s children.

 

Written by: Flose Boursiquot

Swallow the pill when it’s useful

While conversing with a woman connected to the organization I work for in Miami-Dade, PACT (People Acting for Community Together), our talk shifted from small to large and sometimes controversial topics. As we progressed, she revealed that 20 years of her professional career was spent working in public housing. This sister of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Incorporated went from being an intern to an administrator, learning much along the way and forming an affinity for justice, a process that started many years before as she is a product of the segregated south.

In our talk about housing, I inserted my personal opinion, something organizers are discouraged to do in a field where our job is to work for the people and not our personal agenda. At that particular moment, in my “I have only been here for seven months but I have Miami-Dade all figured out” voice, I stated “the housing issue in Miami-Dade is just awful, to have more than 257,000 families paying 50-70% of their income in housing is not right.” Although, I do have that problem of inserting my often generalized feelings or projecting thoughts that exist mostly in Flose-world out onto the public, my frustration with housing in Miami-Dade is supported with data.

Anyway, part of this sister’s, who has lived in the county and has seen it evolve, response was “it’s the Hispanics and the Haitians” and she began a thought about mass emigration to the most southern state which a flight attendent interrupted as we were on our way to Cincinnati, Ohio, for a conference at Xavier University.

It’s the Hispanics and Haitians. It’s the Hispanics and Haitians who have put pressure on public housing in Miami-Dade. Interesting. Such a quick insertion immediately shot a bolt of tension to my brain. In a more informal setting, I would have challenged her. However, I held on to that tension and asked myself a question, “Flose, why the tense brain?”

Good question self, was it not you who made an observation to me just a couple of months ago that Miami’s infrastructure is suffering in part because of immigration. Well, yes but I don’t like how she said it’s the Hispanics and Haitians.

Come on, Flose. You work in Miami. Some of the largest groups of immigrants have come from your home country, Cuba, Venezuela, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Canada, and the list goes on, so what’s the source of that tension.

Let me turn my attention to you, kind reader. Do you have siblings? If not, you lucky duck, but even if you don’t have other humans who you grew up in close proximity with, shared hand-me-downs with, and had silly fights over things like the last piece of mom’s favorite dish, you must have at least a friend or an individual who you hold dear. Now, have you ever criticized that person, been in a fight? Maybe noticed something they could be doing better to increase quality of life or happiness. Okay, great. And you did it because you care, right–or let’s hope and say that’s why. Have you ever been in a situation where an outsider, by outsider I mean someone who isn’t your sibling or that friend, criticized the same trait or behavior. Growing up, when other people criticized my siblings, it made me tense automatically. Although, I knew how annoyingly pesky they could be, that outsider doesn’t know Andy and Fanfan like I do, so maybe their criticism is mean spirited which meant it was not welcomed.

It was through that same lens that Sister’s comment, which is rooted in truth, hit my ears. Therefore, something which I have reflected on as I am armed with the difficult task of organizing in such a complicated city, felt was offensive and I refused to swallow the pill. In my defense, I don’t swallow many pills, I’m much of a hippie that way. But worry not, I have enough of an elementary education to know I should vaccinate my children if God decides I’m mature enough to cultivate life someday.

I share this short anecdote because I think it’s important for me and my peers to learn to swallow a useful pill even if it’s given by an outsider. It might make you feel rocky at first, but allow yourself to digest the pill because truth is what it is whether it comes from a smiling or a cutting tongue. Luckily, this sister’s intent was not to cut but to give me perspective on the housing crisis th

That’s why I watch FoxNews, because through all that mindless idiocy, sometimes there is a truth I need to swallow and work through. Do not become so consumed in your world that you fail to set triggered fight feelings aside for the advancement of your community or movement. There is much to be learned from tension, so get out there and swallow some pills!

Side effects of this post include feelings of disagreement, intellectual trauma, and the need to continue a longer conversation as there are missing perspectives from my views.