A Haitian Journey – Guest post by Jean Mariot Cleophat
No matter where you are from, no matter how well educated you are, someone paid the price for you to become the person you are today.
Now that I am older and look back on my life, I realize how far I have come. There is one person especially to whom I owe my success… even though it is important to note that success is not a destination but a journey. Throughout my journey, there is one who has guided me day after day and I am very grateful for that person. These memories are the souvenirs of life that have stayed intact and are indestructible.
I remember as a child waking up one morning around 4:30; although since we didn’t have a clock or watch in the house, I cannot really be certain what time it was. Every Tuesday and Friday morning I had to wake up about that time to help my grandmother lift a basket of goods to put on her head to go to the market, over a 9 mile walk from our home. She would walk from our house in Metayer to the market of Sorel to sell corn, pitimi (millet), beans and many other things we grew in our garden. That particular morning is one that I will never forget.
My grandmother woke me up, calling for me to come help her, “Ey! Mariot! Pi bonè se granm matin. Vini pitit! Vin ede’m!” (The “pi bonè” phrase is similar to the English phrase, “The early bird catches the worm.”)
“Mmm, li poko jou manman.” (“It’s not morning yet, mama.”)
“Gade ti gason pa fè sòt ou kontre ak lesprim tande.” (Often said by parents when their kids don’t do what they say.)
My grandmother was a very strict woman. She has never been to school but she is the most knowledgeable woman I have ever known. She knows the time without using a clock or a watch. She knows when it’s going to rain or not. She knows mathematics and how to buy and sell.
I finally woke up to help her and while we were on the terrace I saw Madame Vilkens, a woman who lived down the road from us, from us passing by riding her donkey. She was also heading to the market to sell her items. From that day on, I made a commitment to myself to buy my grandmother a donkey once I finished with school and had a decent job. I imagined the distance that she was going to walk to get to the market, with a donkey it would take less time than walking. I felt guilty because I knew all her efforts were to pay my school, feed me, and buy my shoes and uniform so I could be ready for school in October.
In my hometown, schools were very rare. I had to walk over six miles to get to school. In my class I was the only one who knew how to count very well because every night before sleeping my grandmother taught me how to count, by one and by two. I was really appreciated by the teacher, but many of my classmates hated me. After class I used to hide because I was scared of them beating me. My grandmother always told me, “Ou pa pitimi san gadò. (You’re not alone. Someone is watching over you.) If someone hits you, come see me and I will report it to the school director. But never hit others.” I’m reminded of the Haitian Proverb, “Ret trankil se remèd kò.” (Being peaceful is the body’s remedy.)
To go to school, I carried a woven bag made of latanye (Haitian fan palm) called a makoute. I had to cross two rivers to get there. I would wait to bathe until I got to the second river and didn’t put my sneakers on until after I crossed it. Because the sneakers had to last the entire year, I walked barefoot over four miles to get to the second river. In the school everybody met in one room. Even if we were in seperate grades, we are all in there together but with different books. The books were called “Ti Malice Aux Pays de Lettres”.
On my way back from school I had to search for firewood for my grandmother to use for cooking. When I got home I had to go to the nearby spring “nan dal” to get water.
My hometown, Bainet, is the most beautiful place on earth. We lived in a mountain village called Metayer with an incredible view of the sea. Our one room house was surrounded by latanier palms. The terrace faced the road from Metayer that led to the towns of Corail, La Biche, Gris-Gris, Sorel, and Rak Bomie. We must have always had water in our “kanari” or “krich” (homemade pots or jugs used to keep water cool) because some passers-by used to rest on our terrace to drink some water. It was always a pleasure for my grandmother to have me serve a cup of water to anyone walking by. I often complained about it but she would say, “A candle that lights another candle doesn’t lose its light.” That sounds like a Gandhi quote.
My grandmother is the best hat maker I’ve ever known. She used to spend every evening making hats of all different colors. She still makes them to this day. My whole life is guided by lessons my grandmother taught me. She taught me never to despair, that life is filled with challenges and only the good fighters survive. She told me that the value of my life can be measured by how well others trust me. If people don’t trust you, you have no value in their eyes. This is why I do everything that I can to gain and keep the trust of other people. She also taught me to learn from the past and to prepare for the future. For me that has meant to learn from my mistakes and make sure not to repeat them.
My grandmother always said, “If you know where you are going, don’t pay attention to what people say, just keep your eyes focused on your destination.” It’s almost as if my grandmother has lived many lives. So many of the things she taught me are quotations I read in inspirational books.
Now I try to pass on that inspiration to others. I’m a lecturer and love to motivate and inspire those around me. I consider my life a success when I think about the lives of others I grew up with. I feel lucky to have a grandmother who took such great care of me. I now have my own family and I’m applying the lessons my she taught me as I raise my children. My grandmother is now 83 years old. She doesn’t want to live in Port au Prince with all the noise, so she stays in her peaceful village of Bainet. Of course we bring her to spend time with us in the city sometimes.
And that photo at the beginning. That’s my grandmother on the mule I bought her, heading to the market. She committed her life to helping me and I kept my commitment to help her.