Saturday, October 22, 2011

The dignity and the resilience of Haitian women

By Jean H Charles

Life has been so wrathful in Haiti during the last sixty years that the very act of survival is a human achievement. Yet during school days, Haiti is filled with school children smiling and laughing, produced by these Haitian women who believe in the miracle of life in spite of the odds against the celebration of the abundant life as described in the Bible.

Jean H Charles MSW, JD is Executive Director of AINDOH Inc a non profit organization dedicated to building a kinder and gentle Caribbean zone for all. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol.comI am known to be partial towards Jamaican women for their fierce determination of womanhood exhibited at home, in church and in the public service. As a keen and patient observer of Haitian women in Haiti, recently, I have come to admire, revere and celebrate their dignity and their resilience in face of all types of difficulty and discrimination.

Haiti, the beacon of freedom’s ring in the past, is also today the mother of discrimination. It is practiced against the people who live in the country side, those of the Diaspora as well as those with a light skin. It is also practiced against the women, in songs, jokes and in attitudes.

Yet the Haitian woman proudly exhibits her dignity and her resilience and goes about conducting her business as if she was living in a perfect world. This trait is found in all strata of Haitian society. From the madam Sara, as called pejoratively -- they are those women who travel from Panama to Curacao and back to Haiti, buying and selling goods for profit while being almost illiterate -- to the elite aristocrat Haitian woman, who can make any society lady of New York City or Paris feel like a peasant in style and in hospitality. This was the observation of a socialite from New Orleans. Haiti is a land of magic contrast that keeps the traveler and the keen observer on his toes.

As a vagabond traveler to the Caribbean, I have written earlier, see (Making the cut!) that the beautiful women are in Trinidad, the hot and sexy ones are in Guyana, the strong and the determined are in Jamaica, the tall and lean ones are in Dominica and the excellent mothers are in Haiti.

I am revising my canvass to state that Haiti has also its lot of strong and determined women. Where else would you find thousands and thousands of strong-willed ladies early from bed, preparing food for the children, bringing them to school and going about selling fruits, toothpaste and soap while chanting their wares on the street to bring the only income in the house for a family where the man has not been able to find a job in the last fifteen years?

Where else also will you find in the Caribbean such display of artistic prowess made by the men and especially the women of Haiti whether in embroidery, in basket making, necklaces, etc? This weekend (the 22nd and the 23rd of October) Haiti is celebrating the chef d’oeuvre of those artists with a giant sale extravaganza that all the art connoisseurs of the entire Caribbean should make a rendezvous to attend, every year.

Hosted by the Nouvelliste, the oldest newspaper in the country, the event is called: “Artisanat en fete”.

Donna Karan, the celebrated women’s designer will be at the party. She told Ina Paiva Cordle of the Miami Herald that “working with the Haitian artisans, the women in particular, has been one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. Coming to Haiti and make a difference in the life of ordinary people has been an enriching addition to my life.”

In the midst of that glorification everything is not all rosy. A young lady shared with me the confidence that some cities in Haiti have their larger share of Jezebels. In Cap Haitian and in Jacmel, two cities where the drug culture were rampant, the drug lords, nicknamed the amateurs, have converted the women into objects of pure material sometimes sadistic pleasure, where the name of the game was only money and more money. The DEA, with the support of the Haitian police, has recently disrupted that drug culture. There is in these towns a malingering transition that you can buy everything with money, including love and devotion.

In previous writings (I am voting again for Michel Martelly!) I have made the observation that the Haitian women who have achieved leadership positions in politics did not serve their gender well. They are accused of using the platform to travel, enjoy the perks and provide few outcomes for the masses of women. We might need a critical mass of women leaders, especially at the city and town level as mayors to adjust this observation to its right angle.

Haiti, after the earthquake that shook the nation and devastated its capital, is slowly rebounding with a new government in life and in spirit. Will it be the more things change, the more things remain the same?

I am keeping my eyes and my ears open, watching the trend where squalor could remain queen or where the spring could burst into a stream, bringing with it abundant life for the men and women of a dignified nation that have endured so much with such resilience!

October 22, 2011