November 16, 2010
Joegodson and Paul
Antonia had a disturbing dream the night before last. She awoke in the dark and lay next to her husband, Joegodson. His sleep was tranquil and restorative. She waited, alone and anxious, until he awoke.
Since their marriage last month, Antonia and Joegodson have lived in a room in Delmas 33 that measures two and a half metres squared. They haven’t been able to pay any rent yet, but the landlord has gambled that, eventually, they will. There was not enough room for two bodies and the three pieces of furniture that Joegodson had built to celebrate – and to legitimate in the eyes of the community – their marriage. Moreover, he had only enough money to finish the bed and the sideboard. The coiffure remains in Delmas 19. Hopefully, someday he’ll be able to reclaim it, finish it, and move it to a more permanent home.
Early on Monday morning, Antonia was frightened. The fear did not subside with the sunrise and the activity all around them. So, they decided that they must spend the morning probing her anxiety. She began by recounting the dream and consequently transporting herself into it. It took control of her, both emotionally and physiologically. She shook as she remembered the images that were too vivid and frightening to confront alone. And so, they did it together.
Antonia was the main character in the dream. She was in her country: Haiti. She was suspicious of everyone except Joegodson. In front of her were the United Nations’ troops. They were frightening. They drove enormous, impervious tanks. (As they do in reality). They were armed with huge machine guns. (As they, in fact, are.) They dwarfed her, a defenceless, pregnant woman.
The troops were inhuman, anonymous behind dark glasses in the same manner that Duvalier’s tonton-makouts had always presented themselves. These automatons separated the men from the women at gunpoint. Antonia was coralled into the group of women, unable to communicate with the Haitian men. The MINUSTAH troops marched most of the men into confinement, behind an impenetrable wall. Others they led into forced labour. Antonia says that the images were like the colonial days and the Haitian men appeared as slaves. When they were working, overseen by the armed troops, it was like the corvée (forced labour) under the American occupation of 1915-34.
Antonia saw Joegodson working under the surveillance of the lethally armed MINUSTAH troops. The work was exceedingly demanding physically. In the group of Haitian men, she identified a man who was one of their (actual, in real life) friends from church. He is exceptionally tall and strong. However, this powerful man was weakened to impotence by thirst. He asked for something to drink. If he did not drink, he would die.
From the other side of the barrier with the women, Antonia tried to get the attention of Joegodson. She wanted to tell Joegodson that their friend was in danger for his life. But Joegodson was too busy talking to everybody. He was asking how they felt. Were they going to accept these conditions or would they revolt? He was interviewing people about their situation while someone they cared for was expiring before her eyes! She was unable to make contact with Joegodson, who continued to ‘interview’ people and to encourage them to follow him into revolt.
Then the lustful eyes of the MINUSTAH troops turned towards the Haitian women. They advanced on Antonia and the others. The women were alone, separated from the men. Antonia was terrified. Alone. Vulnerable. She awoke in a sweat and terror that would not subside.
Once awake, she took stock of her actual situation. She is seven months pregnant. Her country is occupied by people without knowledge of its history and with even less curiosity. Joegodson is trying to plan their future. But there is only uncertainty. Death surrounds them. Their futures depend on the capriciousness and self-interests of ‘elites’ who have long demonstrated their contempt for the poor. Antonia and Joegodson are unequivocally numbered among the poor.
“Would you abandon me to them?” she asked Joegodson.
Together, they faced the dream and the fears that it left in its wake. They accepted the premises. Antonia was still shaking. They needed to work through it.
“What would you do?” Joegodson asked. “If I was separated from you. If I was resisting the indignity of forced labour in the interests of foreign masters.”
Antonia reflected. What would I do if Joegodson were busy resisting the occupation? How could I respond? Antonia hates politics. She wants life to go smoothly. Perhaps, that is why she was so disturbed. Her hands still shook. She was sweating. But she faced her dream.
“If you were resisting your enslavement – our enslavement,” she began, “I would find a way to feed you. Maybe I was the one who needed to find water for our friend who was dying of thirst.”
“Yes,” she continued, finding her sangfroid. “I would find whatever I could to help you and the other men fight for your dignity. I could not watch you and our son [she assigned the baby a gender] live in slavery.”
After a short while, she said in a determined voice, “I could even help to resist with force if it were necessary. I would find a way to get arms, if I needed to.”
Joegodson suggested that she was confronting a tough, demanding dream. But Antonia was already connecting with herself again. She no longer trembled. She was no longer perspiring.
At the end of their discussion, Joegodson checked his Digicel phone. The company was transmitting one of its regular updates on the crises around the country. The Capois were revolting against the MINUSTAH troops. (Capois is a resident of Cap Haitien in the north, Haiti’s second largest city.) Later that day, two people would be killed and twenty wounded. The demonstrations against the occupying force spread around the country.
We saw this coming long ago. The cholera epidemic is only the catalyst. Unless foreign populations make an effort to understand what MINUSTAH represents to peace-loving Haitians and insist that the world respect Haitian democracy, the dye is cast. It’s red.