“People didn’t want Haitians teaching liberation to the rest of the world. All of those blockades from first-world countries left Haiti without infrastructure, without tools, without hospitals and schools. Here’s your freedom, but you’re on your own. Learning about that history was how I was introduced to the Negritude Poets.”
I do not believe there’s a certain age at which a writer is suddenly prepared to write a memoir, though I sometimes wish the criteria were this easy, this concrete. There are other metrics that could be used: the amount of major events, the degree of trauma or enlightenment, the critical distance the writer has established from the narrative. By that final item, I mean, how close can the writer approach the material before becoming overwhelmed by it or simply unable to draw out its significance. If only this were just a function of time. And if only we could quantify that perfect balance between sentimentality and ambivalence, when the first threatens to make the narrative so saccharine that it’s barely palatable and the second can just make even the most engaging prose flatline.
fiction by Chidelia Edochie
I spent that Christmas Eve with my schoolmate Bibi and her parents at the National Palace, comparing the sizes of presents and our thirteen-year-old breasts with the other daughters of cabinet members and businessmen. All over Port-au-Prince younger children were taking off their shoes and filling them with hay so that Papa Noël could lade them with gifts as they slept. In the palace chandeliers gleamed down on us, everyone so drunk off of anisette punch that the whole place smelled of sugar and rum and salt from their sweat.
Bibi’s father, Mr. Mesadieu, kept an arm around President Duvalier as if they were brothers. The whole country called him Baby Doc—not fondly—and I’d heard Mr. Mesadieu refer to him as le bébé idiot. Our textbooks said that the Duvalier family had been the savior of Haiti, though our teacher often let it slip that he found the extravagance of their lifestyle distasteful. But I knew that Bibi liked him.