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Blanche et Noire, parte deux

(cross-posted to Facebook)

So here’s what I’ve been thinking about this week.
When I was in Haiti, visiting Ravine a l’Anse with a team from St. Paul’s, we were in the marketplace of Les Cayes. (Whenever you’re in a foreign country, go to a grocery store or the marketplace–it’s the best.)

As we were strolling along, a woman approached me, and announced to me, in a loud voice, “Tu es blanche!” (trans. You are white.) Drawing on my six years of French, I responded, “Oui” for indeed, this was so. She repeated herself, pronouncing the words like the ruling of a monarch setting forth a new law: “TU ES BLANCHE!” Again, I agreed, “Ouais.” I am never more casper-like than in Haiti.
She drew herself up to her fullest height, fluttered her hand in a sweeping motion down in front of her, as if encompassing her entire being, her essence, the soul of her humanity in all its glory, and pronounced her final verdict to me, in a voice smooth with dignity: “Moi, je suis noire!” And turned and sauntered away, as if she had established, once and for all, her infinite claim to truth in the world. 

I think about her this week, this ordinary Haitian woman who literally proclaimed her pride in existence to me in the public square. I think of the faces of the children who pestered me, in ever more creative ways, to give them a ball. I think of the man who tied a rope around his waist, and lowered himself into a hole in the ground to dig a well for the village–by hand. So they would have water. And I think of the faces of the vestry of the church we work with, who patiently sat with us for hours, as they explained how they wanted to improve the lives of their people.

Haiti (and South Sudan, and Kenya, and Togo, and the other places the president slandered) aren’t notable because occasionally a great person emerged from there. They are notable because ordinary people live there, with the miraculous yet commonplace human capacity to live and thrive and be human. That nameless Haitian woman in the marketplace wears her pride with ease for she is the living image of God, and she knows it.

May we all know it too.

About megancastellan

Episcopal priest, writer, wearer of fancy shoes.

3 responses »

  1. HI, I have forwarded your post to Jim Grant, Exec. Director of Maison de Naissance. I know he will appreciate it, as I do. Thank you. I was privileged to spend three years in Port-au-Prince way back in the 1980’s as one of the church’s Volunteers for Mission. I was at Holy Trinity School, located next to the Cathedral in P-au-P. All that was destroyed in the earthquake. So glad St. Paul’s is still part of the HELP program.

    • I have in fact read and enjoyed your story. It brought to mind not just the many conversations I’ve had with my many friends in Haiti about our president’s remarks, but the women I know who have been trying to bleach their skin in an effort to be “more acceptable”. My only response to this is to tell them that they are beautiful no matter how dark their skin, and anyone who thinks otherwise is prejudiced. Thanks for a great story!

  2. Eileen Centofanti

    What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing!


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