'Chay La Lou': The Things Haitian Women Carry

By Martha St. Jean 05-28-2010

She is my mother. She is my aunt. She is my next door neighbor. I recognize her familiar gait; the quick-paced step. Most importantly, I recognize the invisible burden she carries. I know a Haitian woman before I know a Haitian woman. I recognize the unfair share of hardships and sorrows. Her face may be unlined, you may not be able to tell if she is 40 or 60, but her eyes will tell the story.

I saw this woman, her head down, fierce determination written on her face, so as to not miss the bus. She is everybody yet nobody. I instinctively knew she was Haitian. The thought came to me, "Chay la lou," meaning the burden is heavy. I thought of the things she carried on her person. The intangible: the humiliations, hopes and dreams, and the tangible: the flowing skirt, the shopping bag and the Bible tucked into the corner of her black leather purse.

It's the intangible things Haitians carry that make them strong. Many spoke of the "phenomenon" of Haitians dancing in the streets after the earthquake and watching that woman who was everybody and nobody, I suddenly understood something new about the dancing. She, like they, though heavy laden with cares and anxiety, did not carry the heaviest burden of all: fear. In spite of life's inner failures and outer fightings, many chose to cast fear aside.

Why worry about tomorrow? Why worry about the what ifs of life? I call to remembrance the Creole song:

Chay la lou,
Chay la pa pou mwoin
Chay la lou
Chay la pa pou mwoin

The burden is heavy
The burden is not for me

My people, separated from me by land and sea, sang that day and danced in the streets because they knew the burden was not theirs; it belonged to someone higher and infinitely more powerful. If we could just learn to trust as they trust, just maybe, maybe we would be as rich in love and poor in fear as they are on the island. Then, we too would have a reason to sing and dance.

portrait-martha-st-jeanMartha St. Jean is a first generation Haitian-American journalist and media analyst based in New York City. She is a graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism and earned her undergraduate degree in communications studies at New York University. Follow her on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/MarthaStJean

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