Interlude II

I am on the floor, and I stare at the ceiling.

It is day #unknown of my post-kanzo period of seclusion, of quarantine, of rest. I don’t count because I don’t want any more pressure. I am supposed to be still and as calm as is possible, after all. The days are long enough as it is, and they don’t need to be any longer. If I was working, they would go faster, but, as both a blessing and a burden, I am not working. My days are filled with resumes, cover letters, cooking so that I may safely eat, and resting, and all of those things are exhausting enough on their own.

I am on a borrowed floor, and I stare at a borrowed ceiling.

I have traded the cool linoleum of my mother’s house in Jacmel for the slightly sticky-with-humidity hardwood floor of a generous friend back in Boston. I lay on my sheet in an attempt to rest after an exhausting afternoon of taking the T to go grocery shopping. I feel like an old man who needs his naps, but also an old man who is constantly on fire and who cannot lay still.

On my last night in Haiti, my mother and I sat in the peristyle near the poto mitan and talked, just the two of us. In the background, my mama hounyo,a  tiny dynamo of a Haitian woman who took care of me while I was in the djevo, fusses and takes care of things that need taking care of while the generator buzzes outside the walls. All of my ritual items are carefully packed in my suitcases, wrapped in clothes and layers of duct tape and prayers that none of them will break or be seized by customs before I get back to my borrowed, temporary home.

My mother and I sit, and this is a rare privilege. In Haiti, she is constantly busy. There are children to see and speak with, much-loved friends and family to welcome, and, above all, so much work to be done. She readily admits that she doesn’t sleep much, if at all,. for the few months she is down there full time because there is so much to do.

The ceremonies are over and the work is mostly completed, so there is a little time. We sit close together, with our knees almost touching, and I receive the information I need to know and instructions that I must follow once I am back in the US. As much as the next 41 days will be rest for me, it will be rest for her, too.

She opens her notebook and hands me a slip of paper with my baptem name on it, as well as the name Papa Loko has given me and the identity of my head. I look at it for a moment, and ask her questions about the names and my met tet. Then, I listen. She goes over the list of things I must avoid and has me recite it back to her. I have been well-prepared for this, and I remember everything. She reminds me over and over to guard my head and tells me how she will be able to tell if I don’t follow the guidelines laid out by her and the spirits. We talk about how to care for some of my ritual items, and she agrees that we will go over this another time, as I know I won’t remember everything now.

After a short moment of silence, she asks me how I am feeling. I feel like I am still inside, I tell her, and nod towards the room that was consecrated as the djevo, and it feels like everything is burning from the inside out. She smiles and tells me that is normal.

I go to bed soon after, just past midnight, and she goes out to the peristyle of a priest who worked my kanzo next to her, for her. When I wake up  at close to 5AM to get ready to leave, she is already awake and ready to bid us farewell.

Inside my 41 days, that burning has not subsided. In the afternoons when I am exhausted from the work of the day (no matter how small–everything is a precious expenditure of energy) and I try to rest, I end up practically writhing on the floor for lack of ability to still the furnace in my belly. I throw myself in front of my makeshift altar and beg my spirits for a little peace and a little sleep, because I am so very exhausted.

They relent, but when I do sleep I dream of fire and explosions and the spirits that come with those things. One morning, I wake up nauseous and tearful, having watched a spirit wearing the face of a beloved family member sacrifice themselves for the good of the family. In the dream, I have refused to watch the ceremony that would contain such a sacrifice, but afterward my mother comes to me dressed in splendid whites to detail what has happened so that I may know. When she tells me how this family member/spirit threw themselves into a bonfire to assure our collective survival, I scream and sob in grief. When I wake, my head is still filled with the smell of burning flesh.

As my 41 days comes to a close, I have slowly learned how to contain the fire inside me. The dreams with fire and explosion still come, but I know what they mean and who stands in the middle of them. The notebook that contains the narratives that unfold behind my eyes nan domi grows full, and I am grateful for their careful instruction.

When I see my mother for the small piece of ritual that closes out my 41 days, I am starting to feel human again and I tell her so. She laughs in a way that tells me all I need to know, and we finish this small piece of work together that is really just another beginning.

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~ by Alex on May 15, 2017.

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