—by Natasha Labaze
Gift or Burden?
In some societies, water flows into citizens’ palms while in others, water weighs on people’s head or down from children’s feeble and determined arms.
In ritzy malls, hands reach out and water magically glides from automatic faucets…
Water buckets… crowns upon my people’s heads… buckets of water borne with exhausted pride.
A woman with a full bucket of water on her head… so full, if she were to bend down, the water would spill… When she arrives home, no one is there to help her lift the burden from her head and lay it down… solitude.
A gray fountain with a yellow bucket hanging from its dry rusty silver faucet.
The last bead of water flows clockwise down the drain as the little girl wakes up… She walks to the fountain and sleepily sits and waits for one drop, just one drop… She looks down and wipes the trickle of tear from her dry scorched knee… As her dehydrated baby brother waits…
That afternoon while on line, the young girl watches people fill buckets and gallons with water. After an hour, when her turn arrives, the faucet drips… She walks home past a mansion barricaded by a ten-foot gate. Desperately, she knocks and asks for some water… merciful water… No one replies. Through a small dented hole in the gate, she spies a wide inviting blue cool pool, and as she walks away hears the laughing French-speaking splashes.
She patiently walks to the next town. As she waits on line, pipi builds within her… Her bladder is about to explode like the old perforated gallon which burst as she finally overfills it at the neighboring communal fountain… and mortified yet relieved, the hot liquid leaks between her legs as strange children giggle at the liberated water. Her baby brother has just expired his last breath.
Now, the young girl lives with yearning… need to preserve all the water that flows past her way. Containers of water… water… fear of desertion… fear of loss… Wells of desires with dark bottoms.
Offering—Gift of ice
The multi-shaped chips of hard water soothe her thirst, lift the heat and hot sweat from her body with cold steam… but just ephemerally. Blocks of ice shattered to pieces with a pick. Ice sliding in all directions… bits recovered… bits left to be melted into unshed warm tears… the gift of ice is precious around here where refrigerators are not common possessions or electricity a given.
Whiplashes… Water lashes… Eyelashes… As the little girl walks by the open-gated mansion, the hose water whips her to the other side. The young irritated man hurriedly washes his car and bemoans the absence of the maintenance “boy”… the muddied girl rises… looking for the three gourdes to buy the ice her mother sent her for… She had been warned to take off her one and only Sunday dress… Now back home to get whiplashes… Tears fall up and down her face as her eyelashes close upon a waterfall of tears and the blue cool pool haunts her vision.
Water merchant with her bucket full of water and one cup… Everybody… strangers from all corners of the country drink from the same cup: Holy Communion of Germs.
Suspiciously clean water: Water is so clear. But is it as clean as it is clear? Invisible bacteria infecting the people as it satiates their thirst.
Prickly grass thirsty for water… Now I understand the meaning of blades of grass under a hot steel sun.
An isle surrounded by water, yet with a scarcity of water… a whole life living and thriving for water… Would you like to become a “sirèn” – serene without the frustration of water-hunting but rather with the nostalgia for your dust-powdered land?
Climbing on top of water to get “lòtbò” on rickety broken down boats… uprooted trees torn from their land… driven on water… to an unknown land… Seemingly the same water that they yearned for… seemingly the same water that they sent their children to fetch in dirty bottles and buckets… The children become blind with the sight of water… no land… no dust… just a vastness of salt water to heal the wounds and not the thirst… The hungry child wonders how many gallons would be needed to gather all the water of the ocean… or why God has gathered all the water in one place… What a tease this water tainted with salt? The child leans over and vomits into this wilderness of water as the sight of the memory of the scorching dust blows into his eyes… Water… the one that will wrap him within her arms and offer him the solace… quench his thirst for life or death? Back to “Ginen”… back to the cradle… Our ancestors survived the Middle Passage with the hope that upon dying they would re-immerse themselves into the depths of the water as their souls would drift “en bas dlo” back to Africa.
Breaking water—“Kraze zo”: In the US, we speak of breaking water as we give life. In Haiti, we speak of breaking bones, “kraze zo”… The force of the life-giving liquid pushing away the bones to allow life to flow on… And below the ocean, lie the bones of exiled hopelessness… “Kraze zo”… Shattered dreams float on.
*Sirèn: a Haitian mythological mermaid.
*Lòtbò: the other side… often used to refer to the United States of America.
*Ginen: metaphorically referring to Africa.
*Anba dlo: under the water
Natasha Labaze is a teacher at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her parents are Haitian and moved to the United States in the 1960s. She was inspired to write this piece while temporarily living in Haiti where she often worked with orphans and taught an adult literacy course.