The first thing I need to explain is this: Just what was I doing, squished onto the back of a motorcycle behind John and a driver, flying up Canape Vert, with two screaming, scratching cats squirming in a borrowed, ventilated pillowcase on my lap?
I had just spent Saturday morning at Coleen’s place, and she gave me the cats. It seemed like a good thing for her and a good thing for them. She lives in a small apartment, above the owners of several large dogs. These dogs are given free reign in the yard in front of the building. This effectively means that the cats can’t go outside. They also never learned to use a litter box. The combination of those two facts is stressful for Coleen
and for those who live with her. The presence of the dogs is by itself stressful for the cats. We have no dogs in our corner of Ka Glo right now, and we thought that the cats would be better off up there-at least after an initial adjustment. So we chose the fastest way to get them up there-a motorcycle-and accepted the consequence: The cats would need to make the trip confined in a pillowcase. I cut them some breathing holes.
We hadn’t expected to spend the morning at Coleen’s. Normally, we would have had our Saturday class at the Fakilte Syans Imèn. On that day, however, a funeral for Jean Domenique and his guard was scheduled. The funeral was a major public event, to be held in the soccer stadium, and demonstrations were expected to follow. Businesses were closed out of respect, and, just maybe, out of the fear of the consequences of opening. Our class couldn’t be held.
Jean Domenique was a Haitian journalist who had been assassinated the previous Monday. I don’t want to talk about him. I have no right to. I’m too ignorant. I will, however, say this: He has been widely and wildly praised in my presence since his death as someone honest, serious, and courageous. Lot’s of different people speak well of him. He’s described as just the sort of journalist, just the sort of person, that this country-or any other, for that matter-badly needs. And apart from any praise for him, and apart from any
particular sense of loss related specifically to his death, many of my Haitian friends think in depressed and depressing terms about his murder as something of a “sign of the times.” Thugs are free to murder with impunity for whatever sick reason. I have heard no one suggest that any “they” will catch the murderers. No one has, to my knowledge, “taken responsibility” for the killing, as certain sorts of political forces sometimes do.
Politics are darkness here these days. It says too little to say that the public realm is under stress. Scheduled elections-people I know seem to want very much to vote-have been postponed. Some say it’s because the electoral commission hasn’t yet managed to register all voters; some say that there are other forces of various sorts at work. Most people speak of both, even those-and there are many-who agree with the postponement. In any case, bad-faith beltway temper tantrums about these postponements only add to inflation here, as the US and others cut the flow of aid dollars into the country, and so reduce the already-falling value of the Haitian gourde.
So prices are rising, fast. Madanm Mèt, among many others, has been on edge, under stress. She’s more inclined, for example, to reach for a belt when frustrated with her children at night. Let me be clear. Let me be fair to her. She never beats her children badly, but she strikes them. She continues to work hard all day, every day, and is struggling with her sense that they are irresponsible in ways that range from their resistance to doing prescribed chores, to their unwillingness to eat what they’re served, or to eat enough, to their poor performance in school. And it’s worse than all that. She was loudly worrying the other night that no one would be able to run the house if she were to die.
I don’t live in a poor neighborhood. Folks where I live are, as they say, “pa pi mal,” or “no worse.” In this context, that means that they have access to the money they need to cover necessities. For some, bare necessities, for others something more than that. Even the best off, though, live without any security. Any bit of bad luck-a death or serious illness, a crop failure or a so-called “act of God,” or simply mounting inflation-any such turn could be disastrous. There are no “Plan B’s.” And the rains have been late this year.
Corn should have been in the ground a month ago around Ka Glo, but there hasn’t been enough rain. More stress.
So let me get back to the cats. The two of them, mother and daughter, were warmly received when I got to Ka Glo. I gave one to Madanm Kastra and one to Madanm Jean-Claude, two of my neighbors. Madanm Kastra has the mother, and it’s doing well. Her son, Byton, seems to be taking good care of it.
The kitten didn’t last the night. It was taken by Madanm Jean-Claude’s oldest son, Jean-Reynald. Madanm. Jean-Claude herself is a tireless market women in Petyonvil. She sells plastic sandals, flip-flops. She’s rarely home between four in the morning and eight-thirty at night. Jean-Reynald was in a rush, so he put the kitten in his family’s outdoor kitchen. His grandmother, one of ten people who live in their small house, objected, and told him to put it in the “depot” next door. The depot is the house next to their own. Actually, it’s the old house that Bòs Jean-Claude and Bòs Kastra themselves grew up in. Right now, Bòs Jean-Claude is selling pig feed, and the house is loaded with the 50 kg. sacks. They filled it with sacks-actually, I helped-despite the fact that Bòs Awol lives there on a mat on the floor with his wife and infant daughter. Custom allows that Bòs Jean-Claude, his
parents’ youngest child, has the main claim to the old house. Bòs Awol, his nephew, may live in the house while he builds his own, but he has no larger claim to the space inside of it. So they just moved the mat and a very few other possessions into a corner, and filled the house with big sacks of pig feed, floor to ceiling and nearly wall to wall.
It was dark when Bòs Awol got home, he knew nothing of his home’s newest resident, but knew about the epidemic of rabies we’ve been through on the hill. With his child in mind, he killed the kitten right away, the minute he noticed his presence. He would take no chances. He didn’t think twice or even look twice, not even long enough to realize that the kitten was tied up, as if someone had carefully put it there-as someone had-exactly where it was suppose to be in order to cure mouse problems associated with the pig feed.
He might have looked, but his life is stressed too. For one thing, there’s the drought. He’s poor, poorer than most in our neighborhood, and a relatively high percentage of his family’s sustenance comes from his subsistence farming. In addition, his neighbor and uncle is pushing him out of his small space, and though he recently made some progress on his own house, he’s been working on it for several years. He moves forward in small
spurts, dependant always on his ability to accumulate enough money to buy each successive round of materials: cement, roofing, cinder blocks, doors, whatever.
And then there are my own stresses, cause for a lot of whining, but no real concern, connected mostly to the wonderful but mutually-exclusive alternative life-directions which are before me. Meanwhile, I’m living safely and comfortably among friends and colleagues.