On 11 January Emma Solomon also called Maya Sorieya, whispered now by many to be ‘the mother of Messiahs’ arrives in the Capital of Haiti.
She is athletic in build. Olive tan skin, her brown hair is still flowing and while she appears exotic. She travels in on a Spanish passport still having much noble data within the space between her ears that must be passed quietly to underground on this island before most of them are wiped out by devils in the next 72 hours.
Port-Au-Prince is unlike any other place on earth. The singular thing one absorbs right after the electric energy of entering such a densely packed city of over three million souls, is that this city never sleeps. That is because virtually no one is traditionally employed. That is because rarely have so many people been aggregated into simultaneous poverty and total personal freedom.
Ms. Maya carries with her a black baby in a swaddling cloth and a hard copy of the New Social Gospel.
The Haitian customs agent turns around to face her and lord; is she so beautiful! With long flowing brown hair and a smile to disarm any man. He catches the baby on her chest like a second later, but that smile catches him off guard for a full minute, because he just doesn’t really look at that in a woman as prominently as before. And with that smile, that little baby her beauty and her tan white skin he doesn’t bother to search anything at customs, waves her along.
She is a little taller than her curly blonde, spunky travel companion Miss Phoebe Rusche the courier and looks like a warrior. Phoebe is a lover and admirer of Haiti and a talented but wholly unknown writer. She has been offered a job as a masseuse at the hotel Olofsen and plans to stay there for some time writing her latest unpublished book. Ms. Maya has hired the young Phoebe to bring her into Haiti and make an introduction for her at the legendary Hotel Olofsen to a certain Mr. Morse, an Ougan. A master of the ancient spiritual traditions that in Haiti became Voudou. A gifted RaRa jazz musician. A man attacked on all sides these days by the Neo-Maccoutist underworld, bound by unseen threads, lifted by unseen hands. Yet, bound until the world to come and possibly some time after to this white gingerbread hotel on the hills above the city that truly never sleeps.
Ms. Phoebe recounts her impressions:
I flew from Chicago to Miami. Then Miami to Port-au-Prince. At O’Hare Airport I sat next to a couple with a baby boy. The father held his hands and sang while he danced obligingly, a clumsy baby cha-cha, fat round limbs tottering cutely to the beat. The mother eyed me.
“Are you a missionary?” she asked.
“You work for an ONG?”
“Writing a book about voodoo?”
“No.” She seemed perplexed, what else was there for Blan to do? I saw them again in the Miami terminal, the father holding his son tight.
On the plane I sat next to a priest. He wore a cassock and thin wire-rimmed glasses. His face was very kind. He asked me if I liked to sing and I said yes and he wrote down the name and address of his church. Port-au-Prince wheeled below us. It was cloudy, the harbor colored slate. I saw hills carved out of the earth itself, shanties like some metastasizing growth, some blight.
“No trees,” the priest apologized. He eyed me. I tried to keep my expression neutral. “People say bad things about us. You will decide for yourself.”
“Good luck,” he said as we stepped onto the tarmac. “I think you will like Haiti. Contact me if you need anything. Come sing in my choir!”
There were only two baggage claim carousels at Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport. I stepped up to the dolly-rental window and attempted to speak in Creole. “‘Luggage’ tanpri?” The woman behind me in line laughed. She was very pretty with curly braids and laugh lines by her eyes and a denim skirt and stylish red leather boots.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“No, it’s wonderful that you are even trying at all,” she said, and introduced herself as Chantelle from Evanston. A Chicago suburb not far from where I live. She was visiting her parents. She and her brother helped me lift my bags off the carousel onto my cart.
Two bored looking policemen pretended to rifle through our things before hurrying us along. Outside it was humid, the air pregnant, electric. The leaves of the trees were fat and waxy. The sky was yellow. “It looks like it’s about to rain,” said Chantelle.
Hustlers descended upon us like locusts, offering to help us with our bags, but Chantelle ushered me past them. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no,” she said. The men’s mouths opened and closed like fish. Their eyes were desperate. I felt like I was underwater.
The man sent from the Hotel Olofsen to pick me up introduced himself as Monsieur Marco. He wore a polo shirt and khaki pants.
“Call me if you need anything,” said Chantelle from Evanston as Marco loaded my bags into the trunk. A man in a dirty Adidas t-shirt came up to our van and put his hand over his stomach, then touched his fingers to his mouth.
“Mwen grangou,” he said, then seeing my incomprehension, “Blan. Give me money.”
Marco waved him away, shaking his head in disgust. Emma seems to be unacknowledged and left to herself as we move through the city.
We drove toward the Olofsen, through streets narrow and winding and hillier than San Francisco. We drove past the Champs de Mars and the National Palace. We drove past restaurants and hair salons and walls with shards of broken glass glinting on top. We drove, narrowly missing small children and intrepid goats, and I marveled at this other world I’d entered.
That was the first time I saw Port-au-Prince. That was also the last time I saw Port-au-Prince. I wonder if the priest’s church is still there. I wonder if Chantelle and her brother are alive. I wonder if the baby boy died. If so, I hope his father didn’t have to survive.
My companion Emma Solomon, the tres belle, claims to be “a journalist”, but she doesn’t ask that many questions.
She paid me very well to bring her here from Chicago and into places still unknown, but seems more confident walking around in Haiti than I ever could be in my own skin here or in the states. And then the next morning, the ground opened up and swallowed the nation.