I know it’s becoming customary to have a special day at school when the wee ones get ready to move up from Kindergarten to the big kid classes. Here in Haiti they take those celebrations and turn them up about 10 notches. Kids enter Kindergarten at age 3 and go for three years, then graduate. From there they may or may not be able to continue on with their education, or may do it in fits and starts. I thought it strange that there are such big celebrations for a Kindergartner when they can’t even read, and no celebration for those that actually do complete all of their high schooling. Chris said he thinks it’s because very few people actually do finish high school and it’s more exciting to celebrate a whole class of children moving up than one or two finishing. Last night Chris and I were invited to the graduation party of one of our employees kids. I had never been to one so it was an entirely new experience for me.
First off, we had invitations and on the bottom they said, “This invitation good for one person”. That right there gives you an idea about Haitian parties. There are often a lot of people that show up simply to get something to eat. With the cost of food these days you have to be even more careful about not feeding the neighborhood. The invitations made it clear who got food and who didn’t. Those that just showed up hung around outside the yard hoping that there might be some extra food.
There is always music. LOUD music. And for some reason they always put out the chairs where the speakers are. For the record, I have never seen a small speaker in Haiti. They are always at least 2-3 feet tall, and there is always more than one. When Haitians listen to music they do it at top volume. I *think* this has something to do with not having power all the time. When there is power – EDH or generator – every light gets turned on, and every noise making device gets turned on, all at the same time. Kind of the if we have it we’re sure going to use it mentality. So yes, there was music.
The seating area.
It is very important to dress up if you are hosting the party. Nehemie’s mom (Julie, our employee) and her godmother were wearing dresses fitting for a black tie dinner. Her father and godfather were also dressed up. Haitian women have my respect simply for the fact that they can walk around on pot holed, dirt and gravel roads in stiletto heels. If you are dressed up your shoes better have at least a 3 inch heel. It’s truly an amazing thing to watch. I would break my neck.
Julie, our employee, is on the right, Nehemie’s father next to her, Thony, another employee and the godfather, and the godmother holding Nehemie.
One of my favorite parts of the party was when the videographer showed up, then proceeded to video the food. Just the food.
Then, there is the food. Food is such an important thing here, and there are always a lot of expectations. If you are hosting the party there are certain kinds of food you should be serving and it should look a certain way. It’s not much different than back home, but I think there is much more importance put on it here because so many people go hungry. When we first arrived they family was taking pictures in all their finery in front of the table with all the food on it. In the corner was another little table with a tiered cake resembling a small wedding cake. There was the customary bottle of cremas, a traditional liqueur that is served at any big party – weddings, funerals, graduations etc. When Chris and I got married we asked our neighbor to make several bottles of it and we served it at our wedding, though we were both so sick that we forgot to tell people what it was :)
I love Haitian food and last night there was a great spread. My very favorite thing to see at parties here is the customary fruit and Cheesy display. There is always some sort of fruit with toothpicks stuck in it. On the toothpicks are Cheesies. I have no idea what the significance is, but it is always there. Last night there was a watermelon and a pineapple.
Nehemie pretending to eat one of said Cheesies for a photo.
Chris wasn’t feeling well last night so he kind of layed low. In the process of trying to get pictures of the party I started taking pictures of some of the little girls. They were SO funny. At first I wasn’t using my flash but would show them the picture on the LCD display. When I started using my flash they got really excited and would yell, “Ahh!” every time the flash went off. Once my batteries died I decided to take a seat and just take things in. At that point the girls started playing with my hair. Well, petting my head really. White girl hair is fascinating to kids here. That and arm hair. I took the elastics out and let the girls make ponytails and stuff. It was really funny.
I eventually moved over to sit with Chris, away from the music, and two of my little friends followed me. We sat together as we ate. As we ate people would come along and give the girls some of their food and the girls would trade things back and forth. I realized this was a very Haitian thing to do. Chris and I were even offered a lick or two off a sucker, which we graciously declined, especially after it fell in the dirt. I got in on the food sharing and started giving away some of the things on my plate. I noticed that Julie had served up a bigger plate for me than most people got because she considered Chris and I guests of honor. I was happy to pass a bit around so that others got more. Sometimes it’s hard to be white here because we see the class lines so clearly and don’t want to be set apart, but rather show people that we’re equals. I know that’ll only happen through relationships.
My new little friends.
I had a good time last night. Sometimes I feel like it’s harder for us to mix with the community for a variety of reasons, so the fact that we got invited and got to spend an evening with some of our workers and their families on such an important occasion was really special to me.
**The pictures are fuzzy because my camera settings were completely off. Doh!