Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mardi Gra

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday people all over Haiti celebrated Mardi Gra, or Carnival as they call it here.  However, just because the official celebration was this weekend, it doesn't mean that people didn't celebrate it early.  The entire month leading up to it in fact.  Heres the story of our first encounter with Carnival.  (Mom, do yourself a favor and quite reading now!!)

We had spent about an hour fighting with Eventz to get him to take his second nap.  He finally went down and Nick and I were anxious to hop on the bike and take a quick ride before he woke up (Don't worry there are others around to hear him if he were to wake up, we aren't that bad of parents!!)  So Nick and I leave, but before we do, we talk to both Papito and Rikerns, two of our male employees.  They both know we are going for a moto ride, but neither says anything to us.

We get about 5 minutes away and see two boys wearing these costumes made of sugar cane leaves that go all the way from their necks down to the ground.  Each of the boys were holding masks.  We thought this was kind of weird but kept going.  Then we saw another, and then two more, and then three, then another, then two more... you get the point.  We saw a lot of people all walking in the same direction all wearing these sugar cane costumes and mardi gra masks.  Most were carrying whips, but they were folded up in their hands and weren't doing anything with them.  I thought that maybe there was some skit or play going on at the local church or school.

As we continued our ride, we could see in the distance another person dressed up in their gowns with someone who was not dressed up in front of them.  The undressed guy was holding a giant red ball above his head and they were both side stepping back and forth across the road trying to prevent us from going by.  This is when we started getting a little more nervous, but we just said Bonswa, and keep going right by them.  We passed a few more people decked out in their gear, and then came to a large group of about 20 people watching 6 people who had on costumes, masks, and whips.

As we drove closer to this group, one of the men came towards us and cracked his 20 foot whip on the road, making an obnoxiously loud crack.  We didn't really think they would do anything, but didn't want to take a chance since it was such a large group.  Nick flipped the bike around faster than I have ever seen and we were back on our way to COTP.  When this happened we were only about 200 ft away from one of our employees homes, so she wouldn't have let anything happen to us, but it was still a little weird.

So we flew home, at a pretty fast speed, past the 15 or so people we had already passed in costumes.  Just outside the gate when we got back were Papito and Rikerns talking.  We asked them what was going on and at first neither of them had any idea what we were talking about.  We explained the situation and they both laughed.

Apparently every weekend, especially on Sunday, for a month leading up to Mardi Gra, people will stand in the middle of the road with whips, machetes (carrying a machete here is like carrying a cell phone in the States), or batons, and stop people and ask for money.  Apparently these guys didn't feel the need to warn us what was happening.  It is so "natural" to them that they didn't even think anything about it, even though Papito had been stopped earlier that day.  We talked to several of our employees about it as well as other long term staff that has been here for it, and they all ensured us that it was all fun and games and not a big deal at all.

At first we agreed that we would just stay here on Sundays during February and early March, but that didn't last long.

Two weeks later Nick took a group to the Citadel, and on the way back encountered a group of about 8 guys doing the same thing.  However, this time was a little more scary.  All the men were wearing all black clothes, even scarier masks, their bodies were covered in a black substance that Nick thought at the time was oil, and carrying batons.  The group was so weaved across the road, and there were a few people holding a large rope, so Nick couldn't easily pass.  He handed them a few bucks and the group was on their way.

The following week, my Dad, his friend, and I encountered the same group.  Other long term staff has come across several groups of people doing these things as well on their Sunday outings.  We have since learned that they were not covered in oil, but in sugar cane oil and charcoal, which is what made their bodies look so dark and scary.  We have also learned that these groups are trying to symbolize their ancestors who were all slaves.

We all avoided town as much as possible this past weekend as to not get caught in any of the "real" mardi gra celebrations.

Now we know for next year that if we are taking a moto ride on a weekend in February, we either need to take a few extra bucks with us, or be prepared to negotiate with people all dressed up!

There have also been a lot of Rara bands around here lately.  A Rara band is a group of people that walk down the street playing music.  They are normally accompanied by one or two of the people wearing sugar cane costumes and cracking their whips as they go.  For some reason they always find it neccessary to crack it on our gate which makes an obnoxious sound!  There are normally about 20 people in these groups!  The music they make is pretty cool.  I have gone up on our roof and watched them pass several times as I can see over the wall from there!

Oh Haiti, I'm constantly experiencing new things I never thought I would!

1 comment:

  1. Nikki, these are the things that scare me about you two. Don't think I will be taking any moto rides when I'm there. Staying at the compound will work just fine for me. Good thing you have alot of people praying for you and your safety on a daily bases.