The House of the Witch
One evening, while giving some neighbors a ride home from a church party, I hear drumbeats in the distance, then a faint, “Oooo, looo, looo.”
“Oooo, looo, looo,” I mimic. Suddenly all eyes are on me, and every eyebrow is raised.
“Baby, don’t you know that’s voodoo?” says my husband. “Don’t sing that.”
They talk about white people, how they can hear that sound, hear the drumbeats, and feel nothing. A Haitian always feels something. Voodoo to a Haitian is like a magnet, pulling them in, or scaring them away, never neutral, and definitely not something to be made fun of. Our neighbor lady talks of being a little girl alone in her room at night. The drumbeats would come closer, she would hear chants, and then, “Ooo, looo, looo.” She would creep to the window, pull back the gauzy curtain, and watch the dark procession, headed off on some devilish errand, until she couldn’t see the dim shapes anymore. Then, shivering, she would climb back in bed, thinking that these were things that little girls could watch from afar, but not ask too many questions.
I have gotten used to hearing about magic. People use magic to help their businesses succeed – it is why you see the new car wash in the neighborhood is suddenly getting all the business when it is no different from the others. People are said to be under curses. Mental illness is mistrusted. No one wants to go “fou,” or crazy. That means you have something dark controlling your mind. And all Haitians will tell you that countries and politics are ruled by magic, anywhere in the world. They shake their heads and say that the more developed countries just turn a blind eye.
And so I start looking for the presence of spirits in my former life in North America. And surprisingly, I think I find some. The man whose business is succeeding, but he is a slave to it and his wife and children fall under this curse. They might innocent of his drive for material gain, or they may be feeding it with discontent. People with mental illnesses are not shunned, and this may help them to find healing, yes. But when does the focus need to come off the reasons why that person is so stressed out and sick? When do people need to stop talking and comforting and saying that person has a right to be in a bad place and maybe try the Haitian approach: “Stop crying. It will just make you worse. God is in control of your future.” There is a reason so many tap-taps on the streets of Port au Prince are painted with the words, “Lavi a pa fasil,” life isn’t easy. It’s because it’s not. I don’t mean that you don’t “have the right” to cry and be sad, but incessant worrying, thinking about problems, and reliving past drama is not God’s plan.
“You do not know,” my husband says one night, “when you go to the market, how many people have gone to the house of the witch to make you buy from them. Aren’t you sometimes surprised when you get home by what is in market bag? Something that you had no plan to buy and no need of. There is a power that is there. A white person denies it, but it is there."
I think then, of the brightly lit malls of my United States of America. No voodoo there. No. The teenage salesman with the nose ring, skinny jeans, and teal blue mohawk has not spent yesterday evening at the house of the witch. But does he need to? Does the buff young man that flashes me a smile while folding T-shirts (I can smell his cologne) need to go to the house of the witch? I think not. He has the lights. The pounding rock music. The intoxicating smells that waft over the whole building, from greasy fast food to sensual perfume. He has the dimly lit store decorated with surfboards and a wide screen TV with bikini clad girls, swaying their suntanned hips and flipping their hair. This place has its own power. And when you go home at night, don’t you sometimes open the thick, crackly paper bag, and see something you are surprised that you bought?
“Everything you see has something hidden,” says my husband. “You look at this car. Maybe you can name its outer parts, the window, the wheels. Maybe you know all the tiny parts of its engine and how they work together. But the idea of the car. Where did that come from?
“You see science is something to be very careful of. Every inventor, astronomer, and psychologist – all of them have gotten power and knowledge from somewhere. How did they get to that invisible place where they saw an idea to create something? How did they become so powerful in the eyes of men? There are men that have done good. How about Jean Jaques Dessaline who freed the Haitian slaves? You read the surface story in history books. But are they going to put into books how men are still searching to call forth the same devil that Dessaline did so that they can also rise to power and fame?”
“But…” I sputter; I’m thinking of CLE and Abeka science and social studies textbooks, how they quote Bible verses about God’s universe and how they say George Washington Carver called his lab “God’s Little Workshop. “But… isn’t knowledge from God? Didn’t he give us this beautiful world full of things to discover to help humanity.”
“Of course, knowledge is from God. Yes. But God controls the devil. Really, it’s God that decides what power the devil has. You read in the Bible how the king called Samuel’s spirit from the dead – Samuel - a prophet of God. All I’m trying to say is that you like to look at the surface. You don’t like to dig deep. You don’t want to know how the car was invented; you just want to drive it. They can feed you a surface story because that’s all you want to know.”
I feel sorry for this nation. The open practice of voodoo gives them a tendency toward darkness and secrecy. They are superstitious about anything they do not fully understand, and because of a poor education system, that is a lot. They tend to mistrust each other and shun people who have mental and even some physical illnesses, which means they must work hard to cover up imperfections in their own life.
But one thing Haitians do have. They know the true picture. They know where and how to get to the house of the witch, and if they go there, it is by decision. Zèzè has called the USA the “biggest nation of hypocrisy.” What he is talking about is the false optimism, the false sense of control. Americans have tried, with education, laws, and the wisdom of man, to create a world for themselves where all is butterflies and rainbows. And they have somewhat succeeded. But the question they are afraid to ask, is this: whose power created my own personal butterfly flock?
God, I believe, has a way he wants our minds to stay. Open to knowledge, always learning and helping other people, but also just a bit childlike. Willing to accept that we are small and cannot figure out some things. Ready to give God glory because we fully acknowledge that he is bigger than us and controls our lives. And sometimes, we stray from that, in the way we order and attempt to control our lives and futures. We search for power in the kingdom of the world, and we all know who rules that kingdom.
My fellow Americans, know this, when you arrive at that place of seeking control and power, your feet are not far from the house of the witch. The drumbeats there are loud and insistent, and when you hear the “Oooo, looo, looo,” your heart sings back, though maybe in a whisper. And your little boys and girls watch from afar, but don’t ask too many questions.