When I was a boy, back home in Haiti, Christmas Eve, December 24, used to be a “jamèdodo,” a no sleep night time.
This was my day. The day I always dreamed for the whole year to be free, and to do whatever I was pleased of doing with my friends in the neighborhood whom my dad and other family members at home called the “ti vagabon sou katie-a.” (Those little vagabonds in the neighborhood)
Our family house was in 51, rue Fourchard in Port-au-Prince. This was the epicenter of our world. It was there the day started with fun in the morning.
It turned rapidly into a heavy forced Labor Day under the supervision of my mom. She claimed the house should be clean today to receive the little Jesus, and to welcome Santa with his bags of games for those who are well behaved.
I managed to do as little as I could in sweeping dust, mopping the floor, putting things at their place up to lunch time, “manje midi-a.”
Then, I left home to go out there, and make some some key visits to gather “zetrenn,” money, and gifts.
I would start my journey early in the afternoon at Place Saint Anne where I would visit my uncle Ton Manno and my godmother maren’n Madan André.
I would end up with 100 gourdes (then U$20.00 – today less than $2.00) that I had to spend before I got back home. My mom should not know that I had visited Ton Manno and Marren’n Madan Andre to collect money.
Sometimes, she ended up knowing and I received a whipping. Nevertheless, I kept the same plan for the next coming year.
With 100 gourdes in my pocket, I was neither a king’s cousin, nor a president’s brother in law. I was me, Toto.
I would start with cookies and cream. Bonbon Mari & Eskimo Ice Cream. Hmmm… It’s finger cutting… Koupe dwèt… A whole box bonbon Mari and “Eskimo” ice cream for myself, myself only… I would buy for some of my friends.
I would also shared with my other siblings who knew about my endeavor in exchange of keeping their mouth shut.
Then, I joined my gang. My friends were Jo, Kal, René, Ti Doudou, Sydney. Most of them, their parents were living in the US, and had sent them money, games, and clothes.
It didn’t matter where our money was from, we were out there for a long night of fun,
We went to Bi-Centenaire where we would walk by the beautiful fountains at Quai Colomb and paid for kabrèt rides. Kabrèt was our fisrt mobile car. Then we cycled, biked, and drove.
My shirt, usually a new one, became dirty with melting ice cream mixing with dirt.
I would play other games. The girls in the neighborhood organized raffles. They laid very cheap games on a table, and had small folding paper pieces to pick up a winning item. Most of these papers are fake with words like, the moon, smile. You just played and lost, and sometimes they might give you another chance for free after stealing… oh pardon, after losing your money.
One of these games I liked is to have a jar filled with water and a bottle cover at the bottom in which you had to drop a penny to fit at the center. If you win, you can pick an item..
But what I liked the most, is the stories we shared among us. There was no TV, no phones, no electronics. There were us talking, smiling, going around, until we got tired and got back home to lay our body, waiting the next day just to recount what we have done last night.
Christmas Eve used to be a no sleep night until I grew older and started organizing Christmas for my kids, and now they are organizing Christmas for us.
Voilà la vie. It’s that thing we call life.