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Essence Fest Weekend: 4 things that reminded me of Haiti

13.07.2019

I went to the 25th edition of Essence Fest, peeps! And I had a blast. The weekend was eventful. There's so much I liked and loved about the festival. My list of constructive criticism is short and not worth mentioning. This is one of a series of blogposts about the trip. 

This was my second trip to New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA). And the first time around I noticed similarities with Haiti. Some of them were subtle, others where evident. This weekend was no different.

 

The architecture

 

 

 

 

The architecture in NOLA is not uniform. Creole cottages (photos 4 and 5). Creole townhouses. Shotgun houses. French colonial. Double-galery houses. The styles vary by neighborhood.

 

Parts of NOLA look like Cap-Haitian (north of Haiti) and Jacmel (in the southeastern part of the country). It's a testament to our shared history: French colonies. 

 

The gingerbread-style house pictured above (photos 1 and 2) stopped me in my tracks. I could easily be standing in Pacot. The bougainvillea really added to that impression. 

 

Scents and smells

Have you ever been to the Champs-de-Mars, in Port-au-Prince, after the second or third day of Kanaval (carnaval)? Do you remember that smell? I should really say stench... The smell of thousands of sweating human bodies. That's what Bourbon Street smelled like at 3 a.m. on that Saturday morning. 

 

All my life I had associated that stench to Kanaval. 

 

My mother did not want us to go to Kanaval. She had gone in her youth. She has told us the stories of her family dressing up with Nemours Jean-Baptiste's red and white (the Weber Sicot fans sported his four colours: white, red, green and black). She has told us about dropping her books off at home and heading straight to a bann (walking musical group accompanied with people dancing) while she was in med school. 

 

Yet, she was opposed to us, her teenage daughters, taking part in the festivities. It was dangerous, she said. It was tiring, she added. It was smelly, she said. And she proved that point to us by taking us to the Champs-de-Mars after the third day of Kanaval. A means to deter us from going. The ripe smell took me by surprise, but didn't make me change my mind. I wanted to go. 

 

What really got rid of my desire to go was actually going to Kanaval. Mom took us and 2 of our childhood friends. I was 13 or 14. We experienced Sweet Micky at the corner of rue des Casernes and rue de l'enterrement. If you've ever been to Kanaval in Port-au-Prince you know... 

 

We begged her to leave because of the crowd. She said no. My mother stood there with us while the crowd barely allowed us to breath. While our feet barely touched the ground. I don't think I've ever felt so powerless in my life. She made sure we experienced the worst of it. And it worked... 

 

That was my first and last Kanaval in Port-au-Prince. 

 

The number of black people

I could have easily been walking in any Haitian city. That's how predominantly black NOLA was during Essence weekend. 

 

I really enjoyed this. Quite a change from my life in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. 

 

The infamous "where are you from" was appropriate. Black folks, mostly women, flock from all corners of the US (Canada and probably other countries) to spend the weekend in the Big Easy. 

 

I only understood the privilege of growing up in a place where the majority of people looks like me when I moved to Canada and had a conversation with a young woman of Haitian descent about representation and racism. See, representation wasn't a concept I grew up thinking about. I grew up with black folks occupying all types of positions (politics, TV, teachers, doctors, etc). By the time I was a teenager, we even had a female president. Sure, we had our share of issues, colorism being a major one. But I didn't grow up with people questioning my belonging to that piece of land, and vice versa. 

 

Dresses, heels and hats

Most people dressed to impress. There was a diversity of styles. African prints. Solid colors. Sheer fabrics. Stripes. Flowy dresses. Pages of a magazine.

 

Even I made an effort to wear my Sunday best. 

 

 

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