A Wonderful Wasted Morning

March 16, 2011

Paul and Joegodson

On Thursday, Joegodson received a call from his cousin in Bon Repos. Could they meet in Carrefour Clercene at 9 o’clock to travel up to Belleville to show the property that the descendents of Polikap want to sell? A neighbour is a koutche (a real estate agent, among other things) who said the American embassy is interested in buying the  land. (Curious about that? We are.) Polikap’s descendent from Saut d’Eau who is charged with selling the karo would meet them there. Also, another more distant relative would tag along. Joegodson has known him for years. He is presently in Port-au-Prince with his wife who is gravely ill and is being cared for in the General Hospital. Carrefour Clercene is a junction. Taptaps stop there and take people in different directions.

The descendent of Polikap who met them had explained already that the Deralcines would not benefit from the sale of the land. The family said that Joegodson’s ancestors had already benefited from the sale of another plot that Polikap had collected in the nineteenth century. So, apparently, the consensus is that they have no more claim to Polikap’s legacy. Joegodson doesn’t know who among Polikap’s descendents can determine these things. It will be fun to go to Saut d’Eau and ask for a full accounting from the inner circle. Meanwhile, easy come, easy go.

Joegodson was invited to tag along not because he has a claim to the property, but in order to film it. Why’s that? Because he has the distinction of owning a video camera. Two months ago, Joegodson received it as a gift – a contribution towards his work. Since then, he has turned himself into a videographer. We’re happy about this. We proposed the idea to one of our readers, a doctor from a European country who was travelling to Haiti to work in a hospital. She had already worked in Haiti where she had developed a very compelling critique of the way that Western medicine is being imposed on Haitians. Our approach resonates with her own. Who is deciding what Haitians want? Based on what? Who is speaking for Haitians? The news that comes out of Haiti for consumption in the core capitalist countries  is package by non-Haitians. We want to create an option. First, thanks to our friend, Joegodson has a video camera. Now, it’s in his hands. That was our priority. Who has the camera decides what to film. For us, that has to be a Haitian. Why? Because he, Joegodson, is the one who is going to live in this place. On this site, we will continue our discussion, but we have a way now to make clear that Joegodson – in conversation with his family, friends, neighbours, urbanites and peasants – sets the agenda. As soon as we can manage it, we will be posting his work. And, of course, the readers/viewers will be welcome to enter into the conversation, but in recognition of the fact that they build their lives elsewhere.

Anyway, back to Thursday: things went as well as can be expected in Port-au-Prince. Joegodson arrived at nine o’clock at Carrefour Carcene. He waited. His cousin arrived from Bon Repos a little before ten, saying that the taptaps were moving really slowly. Then his other cousin arrived from a different direction, having left his wife alone in the hospital for the morning. The cousin from Saut d’Eau called from his cellular saying that he was farther up the mountain towards Belleville. He would wait for them there, because there were trees offering shade. No such luck in Carrefour Carcene. The sun and the heat rose together. Joegodson and his two cousins sweltered as they waited for the koutche who would survey the land for the representative from the American embassy. Periodically, the koutche called to say that he was almost there, but the blokus (traffic jams) were bad.

Joegodson and his favourite cousin from Saut d’Eau settled in to ruminate on life as it passed by them very slowly, in the blokus called Haiti. The cousin was a cabinet maker like Joegodson, but also cultivator – peasant. They talked about technology and analyzed the way people understand it as progress. They took the idea of progress apart. Their conversation was typical of the exchanges you can hear among hungry people with sick families as they wait for taptaps under a burning sun.

A car passed. A nice car. Joegodson’s cousin (who is praying that his wife recovers) said to Joegodson: “Just think about that. That man must have paid thousands of dollars for his car. Imagine, spending thousands of dollars on a car! He must have servants. How much money does he pay them? Not thousands of dollars in thousands of days. How can it be that a man spends such money on a car when the people around him are starving? One accident and the car is gone – wasted.”

He decided to recount a story. Joegodson thinks it was probably apocryphal. But he listened as though it were true. It could have been true. Besides, his attentiveness encouraged his cousin and made the little story more interesting.

There was a rich man who had a poor neighbour who lived in an ajoupa (a simple but charming hut that peasants make out of palm leaves). The rich man had lots of cars. He would look out from his balcony at the high walls that protected his property and the cars parked below. He would see the poor peasant living in the ajoupa outside the walls. The poor peasant had little food. He was always hungry and couldn’t feed his family properly. But the rich man saw that he was always happy. They all appeared carefree. He couldn’t understand that. The rich man was secure and well fed, but he never smiled and laughed like the poor man and his family in the ajoupa. And so the rich man began to wonder if the money might not be standing in the way of his happiness. He had thought that wealth would bring him security and, along with that, happiness. But it wasn’t working. So, he decided to share his money with the poor man to see if that would make him happy. The peasant accepted the money with thanks, thinking that perhaps now his material condition would improve. Before this windfall, he had always slept the deep sleep of the innocent. However, he began waking up during the night, wondering if his money was safe. It became an obsession. One night, for instance, he heard some rustling in the ajoupa and, in the dark, he thought that a thief come for his money. He got up to check and saw that it was just a rat; so, he went back to sleep. He slept a few winks and then was aroused again, wondering if the rat would find his money and eat it. He stopped sleeping altogether, imagining all the ways that he could lose his money. Soon, he caught sight of himself in a mirror; he was wasting away. Now, he had money to eat, but his health was suffering terribly for lack of sleep. He lost his appetite. He wanted nothing more than peace and the sleep that used to come with it. So, he went to visit his rich neighbour and asked him to take the money back. “I only want to sleep like I  used to,” he told the rich man. The peasant found peace again. All was well in the ajoupa.

It’s a simple story. Joegodson’s cousin said that it reminded him of his relations in Saut d’Eau. That made sense to Joegodson.

Lately, and uncharacteristically, Joegodson has been unsettled by some relatives in Saut d’Eau. Angry even. It seems that his cousin is passing through some of the same territory. Last summer, Joegodson and his father decided that they must help Joegodson’s grandmother in Saut d’Eau. Now that Deland is dead, Joegodson has to take it upon himself. She is very old and completely blind. She lives alone in an old small structure made of stone. In the countryside where concrete is scarce, such dwellings are normally held together with a mixture of straw and mud – clay. Over time, under the Haitian sun, the clay hardens and cracks. It becomes dangerous; the rocks can fall from their niches. The old woman’s dwelling is in dire need of repair. She is blind and unaware of its true condition. Meanwhile, the two plots of land that she owns are being used by young relatives who give her nothing back. They take her land and don’t take care of her otherwise. Joegodson has to find a way to make sure his grandmother doesn’ t become a victim of her house falling upon her while his young cousins profit from her land.

When people are desperately poor, they don’t always share and they don’t always take care of each other. Sometimes, they are unconscionable. Joegodson and his cousin like the same kind of story. That makes sense because they see the same people confronting choices. Some help; others let an old blind woman live in danger.

It was noon when the koutche finally arrived. They got in his car to continue up the mountain to Belleville. But they soon found that the family representative from Saut d’Eau had given up and taken a taptap back home. Such is life in Port-au-Prince where plans are simply what you would have done if anything ever worked.

Meanwhile, Joegodson says he had a good day. He filmed all kinds of things in Tabarre on the way home. He liked his cousin’s story. It suggested that there is no relationship between money and happiness. Money and wealth can bring security. Can security bring happiness? Of course not. Happiness is when nothing goes right, you waste your day, and you have a good time doing it.

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