(Author’s Note: Mike is the co-founder of Yonn Ede Lot and my partner; Voltaire was our Haitian translator at the time.)
Drinks under a mahogany tree offered an elegant end to the day. A bottle of five-star Barbancourt rum changed hands as I kissed our host, Monsieur Moulard. Handsome and grey-haired, he greeted Mike and me with the same warmth he offered his protégé, Voltaire. The locals respected Moulard for his large land holdings, no mean feat in Haiti. He came from strength and knowledge, which he in turn passed to his children, professionals in the city.
Our host led us to the base of his sprawling mahogany, a rare sight, as so many had been harvested for fuel or cash. Beneath, a table and four chairs awaited us as chickens rummaged nearby. Moulard honored us — we were among the few, perhaps the only, Americans to sit there with him.
He had begun his evening some drinks earlier and poured the Barbancourt generously. We toasted our host, and he, his guests. His encyclopedic knowledge of Haiti’s history with the U.S. began our conversation: American occupation, Clinton’s economic sanctions, Bush’s deposition of Haiti’s first democratically elected president. It was difficult to appreciate the American point of view when our policies had been so unbalanced. The chicken at my feet clucked, her feathers ruffled.
Someone poured more rum, the slight after-burn no longer evident. History blurred into current politics and our voices became more animated. Why did Haiti have this incurable poverty? Did it need someone like Duvalier in power again? Could President Preval make financial headway? Another toast from Moulard — to good leadership! And the glasses clinked.
In the dimming light, we watched the chickens fly up to the branches to roost. One edged along the limb, pushing out the second, which flew to the higher branch, forcing a third to move, squawks of response and clucks of comment along the way. The chickens fought for position, while we vied for the future down on the ground.
When the conversation turned local, we agreed the solution lay with its people and government. But to what degree and how to effect that? Moulard leaned forward as he spoke, finger punctuating the air. He questioned the ideal relationship, if any, between the peasantry and international relief organizations. In the deepening shadows, the chickens’ banter grew, until it drowned out our conversation. We looked to the heavens, waiting for a sign, clarity, some solution to these old issues, but found nothing, only a deafening squabble.
Finally, quiet. The moon shone between the leaves, and we heard a single cluck within the silence. Each bird had found its rank, its order, its roost. Monsieur Moulard raised his glass, “To cooperation and respect!” And the glasses clinked.
(photo credit: Consulate of Belize)