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Jwaye Nowèl

Updated: Jan 11


moon under a palm tree merry christmas jwaye nowel from haiti

My husband should win an award for Knowing How to Deal with a Foreign Spouse. He really has a lot of insight, or maybe just a lot of love in his heart.


That's why he undertook the task of motivating a group of people to go Christmas caroling last night.


We started out with two tap-taps and ended up all fitting into one. It wasn't the "cool kids group," but it was a group of some of my very favorite people, a few from the Cazeau congregation, and most from Blanchard. I heard Zèzè saying on the phone that we just wanted "serious people" and that's who we got. The family whose biggest joy in life seems to be singing made up a big share of the group, but we also got the quiet youth girl that teaches the children's Sunday school class and short youth boy that always comes to church and can be counted on to have closing prayer in a very small voice. He sings tenor much more loudly than he prays.


It was almost 9 P.M. when we got everyone rounded up. That was no small feat, with lots of phone calls and arranging meeting places and the poor youth girl that decided to go at the last minute had my husband yelling at her. "Are you doing your makeup or what? Hurry up! There's hardly any youth boys going anyways! It's dark and you don't need to be beautiful!"


It was dark. The back streets of Port au Prince were not decorated with Christmas lights, and there were very few yard lights and streetlamps. In our area, there was city power last night, but Blanchard, where we were singing, was not so lucky. In Haiti, we learn to be afraid of the dark, but everyone says that the week between Christmas and New Year's the gangs are too drunk and busy with their own parties to be about their evil business of kidnapping and carjacking.


Someone just told us the other day the Chen Mechan gang had taxed every merchant in the market $100 Haitian dollars, (they go through the market handing out envelopes and demanding money) just to fund their Christmas festivities. The good side of that is that we could be out on the streets in peace. Many other people were too. We passed several block parties, all blaring out the same hit tunes - "Why did we ever get married, if we're only gonna fight?" One of them had Christmas lights strung in as square between some houses. There were a few large church services and random people just hanging out in the street - we passed a lot of people that I would have judged as at least slightly drunk by the things they shouted at us. After all, the one Haitian Christmas tradition is drinking Kremas.


But in between the parties, it was just us - "the serious ones" - squished together in the back of the tap-tap, eating peppernuts that I had brought along and being entertained by the life of the party in a funny-looking hat, sometimes bursting into completely random songs, like "When the Roll is Called up Yonder." Our song leader really can't stop singing.


The headlights of the tap-tap were dim and the potholes were many. I don't know how many times we bottomed out. We stopped and sang for most of the people in the congregation. A few of them turned on lights if they had a generator, and one lady was frantically rushing around (cleaning up the house?) the whole time we sang. One lady stood behind the group, soberly holding up a huge spotlight type flashlight. It lit up the whole yard.


Arriving at people's houses like that late at night without being invited really gives you a raw peek into their world. One family was sewing by the light of a flashlight. I know she was in charge of a wedding today and she told us on Tuesday that she wouldn't be sleeping on Christmas Eve. She gave us a bowl of candy and said, "Here is Christmas for everyone!"


We walked through piles of sand and cinder blocks to the very unfinished "bachelor pad" of a guy that's getting married in a few weeks. Just him and his dog for now. I wondered how the picture will change with a wife. A few people never opened the gate as it got later, but most came out and sang along. The children's eyes sparkled. And some people got so enthused that they grabbed their sandals and came out to join with us for the rest of the evening.


We started out with fifteen in the back and a couple in front - only one person had to stand up and hang on to the back of the tap-tap. In the end there was nineteen in the back, with a couple girls sitting on laps or the spare tire, and a couple men standing in the back.


At about 11:30, the singing was at it's best. The group had started to memorize the songs a bit better and everyone was in high spirits. We sang, "The First Noel" and the tenors were competing on who could hold the high notes the best. When we ended the song and all yelled, "Jwaye Nowèl" or "Merry Christmas," people were doing little jumps and throwing their arms in the air. We were packed in a little dark hallway and walked back to the tap-tap by moonlight. Orion shone clear and bright above the palms and my husband asked if that was the constellation that the kidnapped missionaries followed when they escaped.


We gained our last passenger there. Her face was smeared with white cream and she had a black elastic cap on her head. I think she had been getting ready for bed. I wanted to snort when my husband snuck a glance at her backside and asked, "Where is she going to fit?" She's a fun person tho, and I was glad she forsook sleep to join our party.


But the next house was hard to find and out of the way. We bumped along in the dark for what felt like forever. The oldest man in the group soon nodded off to sleep. Then we bottomed out in a little canal, or drainage ditch cut in the street. After lots of yelling, and half of the passengers getting out to push, we got back on our way. We found the house, and walked through a cemetery to this widower's gate. He didn't answer, so I guess we will have to wait till later to know if he heard.


We realized it was time to get everyone home. We bottomed out again, this time on a huge speedbump, finished out last song at 12:32, and began the hour-long task of dropping off singers so we could get home to bed.


I went home with what I had prayed for that morning. My house had been full of people in and out, making a wedding cake and sewing last minute dresses. Not of it felt at all like the special holiday of Christmas. I had been wishing for just one tradition. And last night, I felt the magic for a few hours.


We're back to normal life this morning - we went to a cousin's wedding and bought Fanta and papita on the way, and now there's some guys washing cars in the yard, a piece of discarded wedding cake and frosting that turned out an ugly color in my kitchen. My husband had to leave to take his mom to go help with yet another wedding.


The house most definitely does not smell like cinnamon, there's no ham in the oven, and I'm not even sure what to make for lunch because I've been too busy to go to market.


Conclusing: It seems that Haitians like to get married on Christmas week? That's not a verified fact. But we have two weddings to attend tomorrow and two next week. And I have been hearing of many more.


Tonight, we're invited to a graduation party next door. So there have been parties. But not traditions.


Except for last night. Those few magical hours with the "serious group." Squished together, bumping over the dark roads with some of my favorite people. Singing - which is one of my favorite things to do. I love the moon and the palm trees and I love looking up at the hills above Port au Prince - from Petionville clear up to Kenscoff, where the rich and privileged have twinkling electric lights every night of the year. I love the tropical December breeze, and I love the man that brought me into this world to share it with him.


It's a strange world. Hard at times. But I do love it.


Merry Christmas to all of you. The kind of merry christmas that's yelled out with a little jump at 11:30 at night, in a voice hoarse from singing Christmas carols.


Eliezer and I wish you a happy day.

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