It was March of 1976. As night bled into day, the two young men sat on a New York City patio, each with a mug of coffee in hand. It was before the long days and nights of alcohol, and the obsessions with fear and pain. Two communist activists, they had met in a diaspora cell in Belgium, where both of their interests in agricultural communes had sparked a conversation about St. Marc, the city of both of their childhoods. It was before music on the radio would be the consequence of one to propagandize power, and a reminder for the other a reminder of how hypocritical an old comrade’s actions could be in the end.
Lajan (money). They laughed at Zotobre’s satire of what money mean to Haitian culture. The Zotobre vinyl had been on as they debated mathematical socialism. Zotobre was a rare vinyl, and the fact that it had only been pressed into five hundred copies was exciting. And plus, who could not be a fan of the combination of Serge Rosenthal and Webert Sicot. What was the most entrancing element of the vinyl was the drumming, but neither knew the name of the drummer who had accomplished such a feat.
It’s a song that had been written by the entirety of his generation. Guy, one of the young men, thought to himself that he should write this down in his diary. As they spoke during the Zotobre song, Martine, the owner of the house, walked around pensively, acting resolutely, introducing her friends to each other. By the age of 16, Martine’s career as a socialite was well underway. She would draw elaborate webs in her notebooks to best convene friends from different schools into parties that would make sense. This young man should meet this young man if they have not yet during volleyball. This young woman from a private Catholic school should be friends with this young woman from a public school. It was her way of helping both her country and her generation attain its true potential.
Martine had joined a communist cell around the same time that she was initiated to be a manbo, a priestess and in service to Erzulie Freda, especially, but of the entire pantheon of deities. Only her friends knew that she was both a marxist and a Vodouisant, and to them it made her one of the most interesting young women of their generation. She was being pulled by different strings and in the end what she loved the most about meeting her comrades was the friendship.
Leonid Kantorovich, and centralized economic management. She chose to sleep instead of participating with Guy and Roland, her partner, on the patio. She knew about Kantorovich, what the two friends called “mathematical socialism” and its potential for Haiti’s magical realism, as much as she knew about Cuban central planning, and especially Che Guevara’s administration of the Cuban economy. She was tired.
Kavalye Polka is what her mother would identify Roland and Guy’s friendship. She had had enough of the two and turned off the bedroom light to make a statement to them.
Jean was missing from the party, again. Jean had returned to Haiti with an anthropology degree and a serious commitment to the communist party. It was not long before he found himself in hiding in a small village in dusty but beautiful central Haiti, where Otansia had made a room for him out of a dead son’s room. She had made a promise to Comrade Theodore that she would protect this man, and so would Erzulie, Damballah, and Ogou especially.
At Otansia’s, Jean learned a song that he would never forget, a song that would take him away from the need to listen to Zotobre and other bands that his generation loved.
Fe Lanmou Ayizan O
It was a song of peace that Otansia sang to herself, she who had seen enough violence to never want to engage in politics again. Her son was dead because he stood up to the monster with 9 heads, one for each section of the republic. It was a song of peace because Ayizan is peace, as the palm tree on the flag, ancestral peace, wanted since the foundations of Haiti in 1804. “Make love Ayizan O, make love”. He sang it to himself as he dug into books of Michel Leiris and other anthropologist, and he took the song with him back to Port au Prince, and his engagements. Otansia, he believed had taught him how to sing.
All would meet again after 1986, when Jean Claude Duvalier was overthrown and the battle for democracy had begun. By then, each had come to be inhabited by the songs that they sang. Of all the old friends, only Jean would never accept rampant corruption as his fate. Jean had learned his song from the Otansia’s lips, a song that he never forgot and will never forget. That was the difference.