The pye poudre in chief, or how my mother kindled my love for travelling
I owe a lot to my mom: my love for music, dancing and reading; enough self-confidence to last me 2 lifetimes. And my incurable habit to always be on the go. She’s the pye poudre in chief.
I like to think that travelling is part of my DNA. On my mother’s side, three great grandparents out of four were migrant workers in Cuba. One of my great aunties lived in at least 4 Caribbean islands. All my mother’s siblings live in a country other than their country of birth.
Port-Salut: a taste of freedom
“Kote kòd lonbrik mwen antere” (where my umbilical cord is buried) is a common expression in Haiti which provides an explanation as to why we are attached to our homeland or a specific part of it.
Like her father, my mom was born in Port-Salut, a pretty little town in the South of Haiti. Port-Salut is one of the first places I’ve been outside of PauP. My mother wanted us to know where we came from. Also, my grandmother, who was her main childcare provider, spent most of her summers there.
Up to today, when I think of moments in which I was totally free, memories of my summers in Port-Salut surface. There were only two rules: 1) an adult must always accompany us to the beach; 2) don’t take food from people unless our grandma was present.
People didn’t know our names, but they knew we were Pè and Madan Douyon’s granddaughters. If they caught us too far up the stream or too far from our home, they’d tell us that they would report this to our grandmother. (Why do people tattle?)
We’d roam the dirt streets from morning to evening, only coming back home to eat or to pick up our towels and soap to go bathe in the stream. We had made friends with kids with whom we’d play every time we went for a visit. We learned how to break zanmann open, how to tire kont and how to play kachkcah Liben. Although the cemetery wasn’t off limits, (for obvious reasons!) we’d only enter it on our way to Tipòsali—the beach closer to my grandparents’ house.
My childhood was filled with weekend getaways in some part of the country. She didn’t own a car until I turned 11 or 12. But this was never a reason for us not to explore our surroundings. When she didn’t find a roulib (a ride), we’d use public transportation to go outside of PauP. That’s how we went to Port-Salut (most of the time). And that's how we discovered other places like Jacmel, Marigot and Saint-Jean-du-Sud.
We were fortunate enough to be able to visit our family in the US and in Canada. Back then, getting a visa was somewhat easier. We got to babysit and bond with our younger cousins. From these trips, my love for staycations and American road trips was born.
The first time we travelled to Canada from New Jersey in a private car was epic. Three adults (Grandpa, Auntie and her husband) and 5 kids (my sister, my 3 Canadian cousins and me) piled up in an old American town car. My aunties had prepared sandwiches and other snacks. I remember the trunk being so packed with luggage (Douyon women don’t travel light) that we had to keep the food with us in the car. I was mesmerized by the 3-lane highway. At the time, I was only familiar with the Nationale #1. Fun times.
La Citadelle Laferrière
We’d mostly go to places where my mom knew someone. She didn’t really know anyone in the North. Yet, she really wanted us to visit the Citadelle.
We ended up going as part of a group trip organized by one of her acquaintances. A mix of parents, children and teenagers filled a bus and headed to the North. This road trip is on my top 5 list, second only to the journey through the south of the US (Atlanta to New Orleans) I went on a few years back.
On our way, we made 2 stops: Gonaïves and the Palais au 365 portes. Our humble abode during our 2-night stay: classrooms in Collège Notre Dame du Cap. The next day, the bus dropped us in Milot, home of the Palais Sans Souci and the majestic Citadelle. And I walked (yes, walked, as in on my too feet) all the way up. (One of my proudest moments until today!) I was young, fit and adventurous. And, guys, the pye poudre in chief (who was in her mid-40s at the time) walked up that mountain as well.
The pye poudre in chief has landed
The pye poudre in chief has slowed down. Life and time have taken a toll on her. Yet, she has not come to a full stop. In the past few years, I’ve taken her to Niagara Falls, Kingston (Ontario) and Québec City. She’s been to most attractions in the Ottawa-Gatineau region.
The pye poudre in chief has landed. I’d better go figure out what to do with her next. She will soon ask me about my plans for her.