Saturday, November 28, 2009

On family...

My aunt and cousin came to visit me for a few days last week and we had an absolute ball. Their timing couldn’t have been better… they arrived in Rome on the same morning that I lost the apartment of my dreams so I didn’t have time to wallow in self-pity. They just helped me clean up the SanLo apt, get the place organized and stock the fridge with food. And they convinced me that I was better off just where I was.

We didn’t do much touristy stuff—a trip to the Vatican for Sunday mass, a stroll through Trastevere, a nighttime walking tour of the major touristy sites (Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona), shopping on via del Corso and a visit to the Colosseum. One night we had dinner at Tram Tram in SanLo,
another night dinner and drinks at Etabli; but other than that we stayed home. My aunt is the typical Haitian mother and insisted on cooking three elaborate meals every day instead of "wasting money" by eating out— great for me considering that I was wiped out from my Amsterdam trip. So we spent most of the time in my kitchen, sitting at the table drinking wine & prosecco, eating and talking.

At one point, my aunt decided to cure me of my single status by teaching me how to cook (which is of course is the indicator of whether or not a woman is ready for marriage, lol).

She taught me how to make pork chops, rice & peas and potatoes (in lieu of plantains) and it turned out pretty darn good if I do say so myself, especially since it was my first shot at cooking something other than spaghetti.

When they left on Tuesday morning I was really sad to see them go. Being so far away I often miss my family so it was nice to have a little slice of home with me, even for a few days. Plus I haven’t laughed so hard in a long while.

For the record I must say (I'm a bit biased but so what): I think Haitians are hands down the best storytellers ever. I don’t know if it’s due to growing up in a country where most people don’t have regular access to other forms of entertainment (TV, movies, etc), but no one can tell a story quite like a Haitian can— the kind of story that has you on the edge of your seat, eager for more. Its the intonation of their voice, the colorfully outrageous choice of words used to describe the simplest things, the facial expressions, gestures, dancing and full out Oscar-worthy acting that leave you with tears running down your face, gasping for breath. Sadly I wasn’t blessed with the storytelling gene but I've been lucky to have been around it my entire life.

Though my parents came to America when they were teenagers and I had a very typical suburban American upbringing, our family was always intrinsically Haitian (much to my chagrin when, as a kid, I just wanted to be like everyone else). I remember lying in bed with my grandparents and my mother every Sunday morning, listening to them “by blag” (telling funny stories, the level of truth varying widely). And even though I could barely understand their grownup talk at that young age, I laughed right along—it was better than any sitcom I’d ever seen. I remember holidays and parties when all my aunts and uncles would get together, the shrieking laughter that would go on all night, and my cousins and I, the American-born kids, begging our parents to keep their voices down as we tried to watch cartoons in the next room.

These stories are meant to serve as warnings, teach lessons, share family histories, gossip about things going on “back home”, reminisce about the good old days, and sometimes just plain entertain. Translated into English it would lose its magic. Its a beautifully rich culture with wonderful old traditions and though I haven't been to Haiti in many years, its such a part of me. Its something I want my children to experience but considering my fabulous way with languages it probably won’t be me who teaches them :)

So it was in that world that I spent the past 4 days. The fun we had! It still makes me smile to think of it.

I’ll leave you with a little T-Vice, a popular Haitian band my aunt turned me on to… go figure.


  1. So very sweet. Right now, I'm missing my family during this time (thanksgiving) something bad!!! And I cant even imagine paying the EUR1k ticket back for is so important! For me, I dont know where I would be without my family!

  2. Totally-- I agree with you 100%! I spoke to my family on Thanksgiving and they were all having a great time. I'm sad I missed it. Thankfully the NYC-Rome ticket for Christmas isn't expensive at all, otherwise I don't know what I would have done!

  3. See, stuff like this makes my heart tingle. I am not typically a sappy person but the older I get, I wish I had some sense of family. All I feel right now is that I have a brother and father (my mother passed away a few years ago and my father has since remarried but I really am not fond of his new wife). Anyway, I'm not even close to my extended family - most of my friends are my family now - and that is cool but you know, I do wish for times like you just described. I hope to start that with my own kids and with my brother's children when he has them.

    Happy belated Thanksgiving to you. :)

  4. Stacy do you know Creole? My dad's family is Haitian and I guess b/c my parents didn't speak it I didn't learn. Now I wish I would have. Especially to listen to the music. My dad and his brothers LOVED music and I wish I could understand the lyrics...

  5. Cynthia- thanks happy belated Thanksgiving! Family is so important. But luckily you can build it as you get older. As you said, friends, your nieces and nephews, your own kids and in-laws... its never too late.

    Prosechild- yep I always spoke it at home growing up. Or if my mom and I were out and she wanted to talk smack about someone and didn't want them to understand :)
    But I would hate to lose it. I already told my mom she's going to be the one teaching my kids the language b/c my accent is atrocious!

  6. "Though my parents came to America when they were teenagers and I had a very typical suburban American upbringing, our family was always intrinsically Haitian (much to my chagrin when, as a kid, I just wanted to be like everyone else)."

    Agreed. I wonder if all children of immigrant parents go through this? My parents are from West Africa, but I was born and raised in the US. You hit the nail on the head--growing up, you just want to be like everyone else. Of course, now I appreciate my "different-ness." Cherish it, actually.

  7. This post really resonated with me. I was born in NYC but my parents are from St. Martin. My dad didn't moved to America until he was 30 and only did so because he met my mom when they both were back home visiting relatives. He was perfectly happy in Curacao (where he was living at the time).

    Even though I grew up in the 'burbs we were raised "West Indian".

    I didn't appreciated it until recently.

    Italy was the first place I'd been where I felt the combination of both my American and Caribbean upbringing. This is the major reason I ended up moving here.

    Sounds weird but life is strange that way.