Port au Prince, Haiti Day 7, Trip 6

Have been in Cap Haitien to connect with my Lakou (community) and take a friend to Plan du Nord for the annual pilgrimage to honor Ogou. Plan du Nord is the site of mud baths in a river whose origin is in the mountains above Cap Haitien—I have heard the origin of the river is near the dwelling place of Ogou. This dwelling place sits below the Citdaelle, Haiti’s majestic fortress that was built between 1805 and 1820 to protect the newly liberated nation.

I have visited Plan du Nord (google this for more information) each year since 2005, sometimes at a time other than the fet (festival) which takes place during the time of Ogou (St. Jacques) July 23-25 every year. It is always packed.

This year, sadly, there were not nearly enough people as is usual, except at the actual baths–where it seemed more crowded and more difficult to navigate. My friends told me that the high number of deaths and the economic impact of the earthquake has impacted this important spiritual and cultural event this year. Entering the area was sad, and vendors and practitioners seemed to vie for business and attention more so than usual.

The baths, however, were packed–and while I asked why, no-one knew. We speculated that perhaps the devastation and never-ending distress caused by this event has caused more people to seek healing–or, as in the case of Plan du Nord, rebirth.

The baths are intense. I imagine years ago they were healing and purifying as mud is–now, they are filthy. Despite my deep respect for this tradition, which occurs very near my own Lakou Jissou, the public health professional in me squirms at the idea of entering this dirty muddy water. I observe, offering my prayers and lighting my candles for Ogou Feray, espwi ki danse tet’m.

The following day we held our own Fet Ogou. After ManChoun’s death 2 years ago, our Lakou is naturally figuring out how to operate (for lack of a better word) with the three designated successors (myself, Mawiyah and Lolo) being quite part time. Family members, previously uninvolved, have necessarily stepped up to offer logistical support–and, at times, there are misunderstandings between their understanding of our tradition, and ours—ours being what ManChoun taught us.

ManChoun may have been the last of the true Mambos. She was the embodiment of benevolence, and taught is the tradition with one hand—-which means, kindness only. The practice is based in love and universality, which she carried in her heart, spirit and actions at all times. We had some hiccups preparing for the ceremony, and, it was a beautiful and varied gathering.

We surprised the community with our arrival, because so much has been uncertain and chaotic here since January 12th. They were sad that Fet Ogou might not take place. Despite some of the tensions we experience in planning with others who don’t know or practice, the ceremony was lovely and a clear indication that ManChoun was guiding us. Its hard to describe ceremony in words—there is so much energy, there is vitality, color, pleasant and unpleasant smells, death, blood, pure white bright flowing skirts, play, provocation, dirt, incessant rhythm, sweat, joy. We danced until Spirit entered the space and made visual the tensions and misunderstandings we are working through. This is what Spirit does—in your face opportunities to find clarity, to divine, to come clean, to change and transform, to act, to reflect. The laughter and joy that emerged through the convergence of so much energy and so many people was a relief and a healing. The tension and provocation and challenging that took place was a raw and direct reminder of where we are.

Vodou is spirit—the practice of connecting to essence, and ancestry, of knowing how to act and how actions are not single events locked into time and space dimension but energies that continue to play out through kyros time and through the spaces in between—the crossroads, the intersection between life and death, spirit and humanity, past and present, present and future, tragedy and joy, the potent space Buddhists might call nothingness and Vodouists might call timelessness and others might experience as everything, all at once—Ever present, we all encounter, breath by breath and life by life.

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