Leaving Haiti: A Spiritual Journey
edited: Sunday, June 03, 2007
By Jacques s Fleury
Rated "PG" by the Author.
Posted: Sunday, June 03, 2007
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A story about my journey out of Haiti, adjusting to life in America and pursuing the illusion of the American dream.
Leaving Haiti: A Spiritual Journey
By Jacques Fleury: The Haitian Firefly
My name is Jacques, also known as the Haitian Firefly in artistic circles. I hold a degree in Liberal Arts and I aspire to achieve my second degree in Journalism at Umass Boston or Emerson. I came from the oppressive, yet beautiful, island of Haiti with nothing more than a tepid smile and a suitcase full of hope of a new beginning.
In Haiti, we learned to live in an interesting dichotomy; we learned to live in both its sunny swallow of beauty and in its cloudy hollow of misery. At times, Haiti felt like a fairy tale paradise as children ran about with gaiety flying kites, playing with marbles and running under coconut trees and plunged with wild, innocent abandon into the azure sea, making a spectacle of their burgeoning youths. Adults would sit on their front porch chatting joyfully with family and friends while fanning them-selves as their eyes danced around like glossy black marbles bearing the promise of an impending revolution.
Inevitably, we also learned to adjust to the unjust. Living under the seemingly interminable scorch of the Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier dictatorship certainly took its toll on all of us. I was informed by my mother Marie Toussaint that in Haiti, your own family members might be hired to spy on you and essentially turn you in for bad-mouthing the oppressive government. My mom also told me that once the Ton Ton Macoutes (savage beat cops) have you in their possession, they would then make an example of you. The Macoutes would inflict upon you the worst kind of despicable torture (i.e. beating you to a pulp with slave whips) to ensure your submissiveness and compliance to the Duvalier dictatorship. So the Haitian people learned to live without spiked political tongues. My home life was not quite as horrific, but there was certainly more pain then joy.
I grew up as part of the middle class in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city. My father was a Tailor with his own business. I lived with my mother, Stepfather and her sisters in a two-story house left for them by my grand parents. My father was particularly fanatical about education. I was enrolled in an exclusive all-boy catholic school called Frere Andre (Brother Andre). It was there that I endured physical and psychological abuse and witnessed with my own astounded eyes the hypocrisy in the Catholic Church. After I left, I became terribly embittered about the whole idea of God.
Catholic school used to beat God into us. It was because of this debasing practice that I began to loose the faith that I desperately tried to hold on to. But in reality, it was an exercise in futility. So I began to skip church on Sundays and instead go to see Jackie Chan movies with my cousin Jonas. However, I later learned that God is not necessarily in a Church building, but dwells in the heart of anyone who devotes their life to him.
Coming to America was my mother’s idea. We were beginning to experience the stings of economic scarcity so she convinced my dad to use his position as an entrepreneur who had U.S. residency and mercantile status to get me a visitor’s visa. My mom told him that I would only be gone for the summer. We left in 1984 and I haven’t been back since.
I grew up tragically with an alcoholic stepfather who I’ll call “Monst” to protect the guilty. He would threaten to kill us all during his usual tirades. Now, take into consideration that we were new to this country, unable to speak English and did not know how to access community resources. As I learned more English, I would call the cops but my mom would call them off for fear of losing our breadwinner in our then mockery of a family. So what was I to do?
I learned to adapt to this way of living. I soon learned ways to survive. I went on automatic pilot. Miraculously, I was able to do very well in school, and laughed my way through the pain. I fooled everyone including myself. My mother never saw it coming when I attempted suicide in my sixteenth year. We both felt helpless and isolated.
I would later discover that I also suffered from Bipolar Disorder, otherwise known as Manic-Depressive illness. The symptoms of this illness took me on an emotional roller coaster of delicious highs and dreadful lows. But now through therapy and medication, I am managing the illness much better. I have also learned to free myself from the shame and stigma of mental illness. If Robin Williams can survive Bipolar disorder, so can I. I found a way to cope. Instead of turning to drugs, I turned to writing to mitigate my affliction. I began to write my douleur (my pain) with fervor.
In Boston English high, I worked on the school newspaper and was student editor of the school literary magazine. It was there that I endured linguistic and cultural adversity. Quite literally I began to learn English by watching the escapades of “Jack, Janet and Chrissy” of the famed “Three’s Company” comedic sitcom. Essentially, I had to undergo a complete cultural makeover in order to adjust to living under American weather. It was in English High that I began to discover the power of the written word.
Back in the late 1980’s, in the midst of the AIDS crisis, the allegations that this hideous disease originated from Haiti unfortunately caused a riff between the African-Americans and the Haitian students. It was then that I wrote an article in the school newspaper sharing Haitian culture. Miraculously, the tensions diminished and some of the Haitian students even thanked me for humanizing them, thus mitigating the illogical hatred felt by the African-Americans toward the Haitians.
Today, after surviving economic and linguistic hardships while adjusting to living in America, graduating from college, enduring struggles with psychological instability and finding God in the midst of the debris, I can say that I am a survivor, published writer. I write for six different publications. I also host two columns, one in the North Cambridge Alewife at: www.thealewife.com , the other in the Boston Haitian Reporter titled Love, Life and Politics. I have also published my first poetry book aptly titled “Sparks in the Dark.”
After I gave up the illusion of control and decided to let go and let God, my life began to rearrange itself in a harmonious alignment. I now incorporate certain aspects of Buddhism and Christianity in my life. My good friend and poet Nneka Menkiti helped to bring me back to God and for that I am thankful. I am also thankful to my mom for teaching me to be patient, respectful and hardworking, which has brought me much success.
My expectations are realistic yet my view of the future remains optimistic. I accept myself just as I am. I consider this act the epitome of my spirituality. I have fostered a positive view of myself through self-acceptance and integrating prayer, meditation and yoga in my life. Every day I thrive for serenity, courage and ultimately wisdom. Fundamentally since I left Haiti to embark on this spiritual journey, I’ve discovered my resiliency and my true st identity. I’ve discovered my budding spirituality and myself.