I had a very exciting night on Friday! Marita, who has been staying here with me in OTP's volunteer house as she figures out whether she'll be moving to Jacmel, is really excited about all things Haitian and all Haiti-oriented projects. She got pretty excited that I'm here, once she heard me go on and on about my Paul Farmer / public health inspiration, and she has a lot of energy to help connect me to more people here and more cultural events here. So far, she has offered to take me to a Haitian dance group, a school, Kay Joe (where we went with Sarah to see the coconut fuel), the market, and a voodoo ceremony! All of these things haven't quite happened yet, but she'll be back in a week or so after doing some errands in Port Au Prince, so we'll just see. :)
Apparently, the mother of Joe (yes, that's Joe of Kay Joe) used to throw a big, three-day long, celebratory voodoo ceremony/party. She passed away a few years ago, but Joe has kept up the tradition. Marita was helping out at Kay Joe's on Thursday when she got an invite to join them, since the party was happening on Wed/Thurs/Fri. She went on Thursday night, and she said that all the women were dressed in white, and they sacrificed a white chicken and a white dove after waving them around in the ceremonies for a few hours. Some people were drunk, or high, or even "possessed" by spirits (the ceremony involves calling a few spirits). The ceremony/party was partly structured (run by the voodoo priestess), but partly relaxed, when everyone or anyone could get up and dance to the beat of the drums and songs/chants. The party went from about 7:30pm until 2am.
I heard all this from Marita, who came back and informed us all that it was, in fact, an open party for whoever wanted to come see and celebrate with them. Usually, these ceremonies are more private, because they're for healing someone's sick child, or something personal like that, but this is a big celebration so anyone could come. Sarah, Marita, Ninotte, Craig (a friend of Sarah's), and I all went the next night. We got there around 8 or 8:30, expecting it to start sometime around then. There were a lot of people preparing food, which seemed to push the start of the ceremony later... In fact, it got later, and later, until Marita finally heard that tonight was on a completely different schedule - this being the last of the three nights, it would start a bit before midnight and go until 6 or 8 in the morning! Woah. So... we waited for 3 hours, getting hungry as we watched all that food.
The ceremony was to take place under a large, square hut at Kay Joe's. It has open sides with pillars around the edge and one, huge central post that supports the woven/thatch roof that is made of some kind of dried (banana?) leaves. There was a big table set up with many, many offerings for the spirits - so many, in fact, that there were as many offerings on the ground in front of the table as there were on this big table! It was mostly a bunch of different plates/bows of food - quite a feast for those spirits! - along with a few bottles of 5-star Haitian rum, a few bottles of cologne, a few bottles of some special Haitian-made soda/juice... quite a spread. There were various and sundry chairs and seats all around the edge of the hut, as the ceremony was to take place in the center around the middle pillar.
After taking in the set-up in the hut, we decided to walk down and see the ocean, since it was right there, next to us. We sat and watched the waves crash on the rocks a few feet from us for a while, and I enjoyed this quiet calm. Eventually, we made our way back in and settled into our seats (after being told to sit on the other side of the hut, somewhat inexplicably.)
Tonight, the women were dressed in bright colors, and the dresses reminded me sometimes of traditional African dress and sometimes of traditional Mexican dress. It was an interesting mix! They looked very nice - I felt like I should have dressed better, rather than just wear my shorts! The men were all dressed casually, though, in t-shirts and shorts. There was a row of 4 red and blue drums that the guys started drumming on, along one side of the hut, and the women stood (sometimes danced) in the center and sang. The voodoo priestess led the songs and chants for a while, and occasionally 3 or 4 people would take water, rum, and a candle in a little circle around the central pillar, weaving this way and that, splashing a bit on the floor here and there...
After this went on for a while, there was a small procession as a new drummer entered the hut along with a few of his drummer buddies. He had come in specially for this, all the way from Port Au Prince, and he was some kind of awesome master drummer or something. Apparently, the voodoo priestess was less than satisfied with the drummers' beats and rhythms so far, so this new guy was supposed to replace them... but one of the drummers who had already been drumming for 2 days was NOT having it and didn't want to be replaced! He was also a bit drunk, which I'm sure didn't help anything. He got belligerent, and all the guys went over and started yelling at each other, and everyone was suddenly very grumpy! This went on for about 10 minutes, with our little group sitting off to the side looking at each other, giggling a little, wishing that we could just get some food and that everyone could just calm down! At some point during all this craziness, Marita translated that the voodoo priestess said (hopefully jokingly!!) that she wanted a machete so she could sacrifice the one bad drummer who was ruining the party/ceremony...!!
Then Sarah got a call from a client who was having a seizure and foaming at the mouth (!!!) so we very quickly took off at a run (all of us except Marita), hopped in the truck, and flew down the road to pick up the client. (It probably looked like we were suddenly terrified of the voodoo proceedings and the fight... haha...) Sarah and Ninotte were worried about eclampsia, but this woman also has sickle cell anemia and hasn't shown any signs of preeclampsia - it was a bit of a mystery. We had little baby Mara with us, so I got dropped off at the clinic with Mara as Craig drove Ninotte and Sarah to pick up the client. I went in and unlocked the clinic so I could start looking for the preeclampsia kit -- before I knew it, everyone had already arrived, Sarah came running in and found what she needed in the kit, the client was helped onto a bed by her mother, Sarah gave her the shot that she needed, Ninotte found all the forms that would be necessary to admit the client at a hospital, Sarah and I carried the client from the bed to the truck, Ninotte put the preeclampsia kit and delivery kit in the truck, Craig turned around, everyone else hopped in, and OFF THEY WENT!! It was such a crazy few moments!!!
They went to the Cuban hospital, which is apparently a pretty good hospital - if the doctors are actually there (it sounds like it can be somewhat unreliable). I meanwhile got settled in to sleep at the clinic so I could take care of baby Mara and be available if I was needed for anything else. After about an hour or so, Sarah called to say they were going to swing by and pick me up (if I wanted) because they were going BACK to the voodoo ceremony! (Craig reeeally wanted that free food. It was about 2:30am by now.) I went out to meet them, but a couple minutes after I got into the truck, Sarah and Ninotte had had a few phone calls with the hospital and realized they needed to actually take the client to the next hospital over, in Leogane... which is an hour away! So we turned around again, dropped me off at the clinic, made sure all the potentially useful kits were in the truck, and off they went once again! I settled in for real this time, after dealing with Mara's many needs, and managed to sleep for a couple hours before Ninotte arrived at the clinic to get a quick nap in before the morning light.
Luckily, it was a Saturday and there weren't many plans. I couldn't sleep after the cleaning lady got to the clinic around 7am, so I took Mara over to Sarah's place and asked Danaelle to take care of her, which she does on a semi-regular basis... and I went home and crashed!
Saturday evening into Sunday morning was also crazy in its own way, because of the weather. We had heard beforehand that we would get some crazy wind and rain, and then the predictions worsened to say that we would get a tropical depression (which is more intense but not as bad as a tropical storm). I must have slept through a fair amount of it, but when I was awake, it was intense!! The roof in my house is aluminum, so any rain makes some noise... but THIS rain made SO MUCH NOISE!! It seemed like it must be just solid sheets of water falling out of the sky, there was so much of it. Luckily, there's only one little leak in the roof, so it was easily contained with a bucket. :)
Anyway, things are all crazy here sometimes! Today has been much more chill, although I sat for a few hours and tried to use my Creole with Mirlande and Danaelle after we made lunch together... boy, I felt so bad for them, because I made them repeat themselves or explain what they were telling me sooo many times!! I can say more than I can understand, just because I'm still struggling with the accent (when I'm used to the sound of French). When I talk to Mirlande, I'm probably speaking some weird mix of bad Creole and French, because sometimes it's safe to assume that a French word will be the same in Creole... but it doesn't always work out, so I'm never quite sure how correct my speech is. ha. At least Mirlande speaks French!!