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Adventure African American Black

I left Labadie for the Turks and Caicos Islands spending a year establishing a magazine there with my lovely friend, DianaLou. Every chance I got I was back in Haiti until I finally moved to a loosely situated community called Merger, twenty kilometres south of Port au Prince.

It was an ugly little box of a summer cottage I rented but sat on a rectangular acre of land bordered by coconut palms, the railroad tracks and the two lane highway beyond them, a line of thorny shrubbery with fallow farmland on its other side and the sea. I had a breakwater with a low tide beach, a suit changing palapa, an entertainment palapa, the cottage and the servant’s hovel. I had a servant, a farmer, Ti Jean, who took care of the grounds and was always bringing me things from his farm, like milk and eggs and scolding me when I’d have hangovers, telling me it was a waste of my maturity.

My friend Tomas came to take a series of photos to help out my new lifestyle magazine. He was to take pictures of Sans Souci Palace, Le Citadel Fortress and the voudoun celebration of Saut D’Eau, as well as some shots in the Dominican Republic. Tomas had committed himself to the Black Panther Party for Self-Defence and had become a Black Muslim while in prison. Tomas had been and always will be an activist in movements that spiritually counteract the oppression of Black Peoples, so I felt his view of these first three situations would have a special western hemispheric perspective.

Sans Souci is a Romanesque columned palace dedicated by King Christophe, the first King after the first Emperor after the successful Haitian slave revolt at the beginning of the 19th Century, to honour his love for his wife. An under financed restoration was actively underway while attempting to keep a virile jungle at bay. We were there to chronicle this group’s efforts and to show the magnificence of the place.

Tomas was at every burst of sunlight upon moss along the columns and arches and empty ornate windows. He was emphasising the shadow of tropical ageing upon granite built by the deaths of newly self-freed enslaved.

La Citadel is a gigantic fortress built high on a sea-facing, jutting mountain by Roi Christophe at the cost of approximately 25,000 Haitians who died in its construction. The purpose of Le Citadel was to repel a never happened French re-invasion. I was sick the day of the shoot and Tomas returned to Sans Souci, where I waited, with a weary smiling face, giggling to himself about fantastic photographs he had just taken. Long forgotten cannon with light from the sea framing them in dusty golden touches. A green valley, etched by the round main observation turret, spreading to mist above and toward the sea. The women, smoking cigars, leading boney horses for the tourists on the road their ancestors slaved for when first freed. Those first to overthrow slavery in the history of the world built this huge monument to defend their new freedom.

I had been told that Saut D’Eau is the celebration of the voudoun loas, or spirits, Dhambala and Simbi, that takes place in a mountain oasis of a wonderful waterfall.

After numerous mechanical stalls and eventually a wilderness roadside carburetour cleaning by the ‘greatest mechanic along the Carrefour Road’, and after eleven flat tires, that is eleven flat tires, we arrived at the town of Bonheur with about fifteen extra people in the borrowed Toyota Land Cruiser and were directed to the falls. The ever savvy Catholic Church coincidently had the Catholic miracle celebration of the Virgin in a Tree just up the street from the pretty Bonheur Chapel the same week as the popular good luck Saut D’Eau celebration.

We had been told that there would be rains and there would be thunder with lightning throughout the three days of Saut D’Eau. The rains were from Simbi and the thunder and lightning from Dhambala. The first drops started down as Tomas arranged the cameras on the jeep hood for cleaning. We followed the pilgrims slipping our way down to the fall base and river start.

Rounding a clump of vegetation we were treated to a glimpse of paradise. Before us rising at a gradual pace were thick rivulets of water, green and white and spreading pyramidically into a pool base hidden by wild jungle. The shades and tints of green, climbing, hanging, lying as a bonnet to the flow of cascading thick waters.

Before us rising at a gradual pace were bodies climbing, resting, bathing, in groups, solitary, drinking, coying, laughing and praying. They dressed in white, in yellows, in blues, greens and reds. Candles provided the flame of the spirit of their dedication, smoke twirling clouding in the mist of the falls. Black skins glistening, brown skins were tanned and light skins glowing. A sight of wonder, eyes flowing upward to the beginning and the sky.

The rain came in showers and squalls whipping cool and warm, it was refreshing after the dust of the trip and the humidity of the town. 

We went over to where an Italian film crew had set up to document the event from under a great banyan tree. And we were clicking:

“Look at that man.”

“Get that woman in the river.”

“The candles, get the smoke of the candles.”

“That prayer group and the naked woman.”

“Damn, look at that…”

We paid no attention to each other, it was too good, too much and we had been blessed with beholding it.


I looked down at my feet, a round white light exploded and imploded and vaporized. I looked up to see if anybody else had seen it and saw a man to my left and one to my right flying through the air. I turned to see Tomas’ feet suspended, clutching at his cameras protectively as he flew up and then landed on the wet uneven ground. Another man had landed with an oomph to the left of Tomas.

A bomb, I thought, but I was still standing, still alive. I looked for a place to hide, and back to Tomas.

“Come on, man.” I called to him, as he was automatically checking his cameras and dusting them off.

“Okay, okay,” he looked around, “what was it, a bomb?”

I looked at one guy who had fallen running back into the bush up the trail. People were gathering around another and the other fellow was crawling toward me mumbling something. The Italians were trying to organize something for the fallen fellow.

“I don’t think it was a bomb… I’m still standing. I think it was lightning.” I agreed with myself, my ears ringing it difficult to think. I looked at the branches directly over our heads. “But, lightning doesn’t strike under a tree, does it?”

“It did.” Tomas answered flatly, hardly masking his irritation. “What do we do, where do we hide?”

“We were under a tree, man.” I reasoned, shaking the crawling man off my foot, “There is no place to hide. What the fuck this guy wants?”

“Probably five Gourdes.” Tomas joked, referencing the beggars in Port au Prince who irritated him so much.

I pulled my foot back from the guy’s groping hand as another man explained that the fallen guy wanted me to bless him and heal him.

“Tell the guy to crawl over to the tree base of the banyan and rest until he sees me again, then he will be healed.”

Tomas chuckled. The stranger translated this and the fallen man happily mercied me as he back crawled toward the trunk of the banyan.

“We can’t run so let’s go to the source.” My voice called to Tomas.

“Hey man, let’s do something.” He responded.

The stranger begged us to be our guide and carry our cameras but we decided he was more frail than we were and having the instant ability to frame your picture and tint it the way you wanted was not by ordering a part from a tired, sweaty fellow who doesn’t know what you are asking for anyway…

The Italians were moving the fallen guy away with the help of the crowd on a crude stretcher. People were fanning him with palm fans as the group of them clumsily moved off.

We walked, then crawled through groups having spiritual ceremonies dressed in whites, mainly woven, and direct colours, people moist and dark. Many greeted us as we passed, us having to respond in a different greeting.

“Bon soir, monsieur.”

“Le plaisir eh moin, madame.”

Bon soir is pronounced the Haitian way similar to the French inflection when happiness is meant. In the greeting, bon is by far the predominant vowel. A flash of teeth and shy eyes seem to have to accompany the salutation by men and women.

The higher we moved the more people would turn around when we would be within three meters and greet us with smiled and bowed salutations. When we took care to be extra quiet they would feel our presence as pronounced as the jerking of heads round to view. Then they would smile and bow, urging us ahead of their ways.

And the thunder and lightning accompanied us constantly with nobody seeming afraid. We looked out at the strikes shooting off in all directions and listened to the grumblings and booms without comment to each other. I felt no fear, just some need to accomplish this climb.

We arrived at a level where very few people roamed. At a four foot outcropping of stone I decided I had to urgently shit. The tropical traveler always carries toilet paper. A little hole covered by a rich brown soil later I felt totally refreshed, and this immediately after an exerted and humid climb through a peoples’ energy so uplifting it was profound.

What a feeling to climb as though carried, still to enjoy the balance of footing, the climbing , the closeness of a spiritually accepting humanity, the greens, flowers, candles, waters. A rush of earthly smells, assailed only by the vivacity and freshness of flowing waters bouquets. The grace of movement among warmly intent peoples. All the while lightning crackling through active sun clouded skies horizontally, vertically, diagonally, alone, in clusters, thunder unceasing. To rid yourself, at the conclusion of the trek, of blocked passages. I rained sweat. Tomas was swimming in his shirt and film carrying vest. My tee shirt, shorts and topsiders figuratively melted from my body heat. But, Tomas was clicking away. I decided to go over to the falls and unattached myself from a tee shirt that tried its best not to move. People were standing on the other side of the main torrent atop a slightly rounded head of stone which gave a waterfall’s view of it’s creations.

To get to the ledge I had to pass through the waterfall. There was a small trail behind it but that route almost gave me the notion to post a sign saying ‘other trail’. Grass grew tall on the other trail. I started descending a short slope at the beginning of the hard drops, solid wetness weighed me as I gained the center of the hole in the stone and fall. I strained to look up into its sharp rushing and discovered that though I was under solid water as well as being under the fall I was breathing.

I stood there under the million fingering pressures of cascading waters in a small pool of rushing water rationalizing why I should be breathing. Upon the conclusion, or near it, that enough air was present depending on the force from above at wavering levels to allow breathing, I started choking, inhaling water and choking.

I ascended the hole with the help of laughing others on the ledge. When I sputtered my last sputter I looked at them and found them all standing back and staring at me. They didn’t look at me like how’d that guy get here, they looked at me like a guy who just performed a good card trick and what else did you have in your bag, my friend?

I didn’t come all the way up here to perform for anybody so I thanked the ones who did for helping me and turned to look out and down upon the flow and vibrancy of color. People becoming colors in a distantly radiating pattern of textures. I thought there must be a god to selfishly create this masterpiece of brightness to look down upon.

I found my arms raised in an opening of my self to the vitality of pulsing energy in front of me. And something touched me, like a strong breeze, or the palm of a hand forcing but not holdable. Inaudible sounds resonated against my chest and upper stomach. I was looking out at the river, people, jungle, horizon and sky while feeling an uneven cadence of what I could only conclude to be a spiritual essence trying to communicate with me.

I could not figure out what to do to link up with this other dimension. I tried breathing, blanking out all stimulation, I tried ohms, I tried holding thought as still as a mirrored lake. It all felt false, not false but like I was trying… I lost it.

Turning, I saw everybody else had their arms raised and in open eyed concentrated prayer. They wound down more or less together focusing on me and smiling, then bashfully shrugging and laughing to each other.

One of the group who had spent some years studying in New York pointed out to me that my hands were glowing like day light phosphorescence. He said it was like I had been struck with lightning. I told him that I had been almost struck, maybe a foot away from the first strike of the day. His eyes opened wide. 

“Can I see the stone?”

“Hunh?” I answered studying my hands’ veins running with orange-yellow glowing lights.

“The stone, Sobo’s stone, can I see it?”

“What stone? Sobo?”

“You don’t have the stone? The stone that was thrown to you from the sky?”

“Naw… you think lightning is stones falling from the sky?”

“Yet, you knew to come up here.” He thought aloud in English, ignoring my question. “You were touched, ya know, like blessed by Simbi or… ya see, by the stone’s being thrown to you, I mean you didn’t get hit… You were glowing, man…”

“I could probably find it…”

“Good. The stone is a gift to you from Dhambala, Simbi, Sobo, Erzulie, as was the glowing to mark you apart, dude. Let’s go find it.”

I was gone. Back to our packs, telling Tomas about the stone, us running back down the falls path to the tree, to the spot… but no stone to be found. We dug all round and no stone.

The man we had left under the tree awakened from a rest while we were digging. As we slowed down he crawled, calling to us, on his knees, then raised a knee, squatted, raised another knee, then stood. He walked toward us saying hundred of mercies. He grabbed my hand and put it on his face where tears were falling.

I told him, “You are your own strength, not me. Go, allez, monsieur.” He went bowing off and I knew I would never find the stone.

March 30, 2024 19:13

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1 comment

Jorge Soto
08:29 Apr 07, 2024

I loved the colors and senses you described in this. Reading this drives me to focus on my own sensory language when describing scenes of nature. Also I read your bio- I’m from Oakland CA, and your transient life of sailing the sea and writing seems like a real life fairy tale! Cheers!


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