I managed to go to sleep until about 3:30, when a racket ensued outside our room – someone was trying to open the sticky drawers of a desk. I assumed it was the translators, but no one was speaking, and the noise seemed a little too close to be coming from their room, so I got up with my headlamp again. Tiffany and Steve’s clothes were strewn around, and the box that had held them was tipped over. I put back the clothes, and looked inside the adjacent box marked “surgical supplies,” but nothing seemed to be missing. I went back to bed. Soon, Yoella and I heard more rustling in the banana trees. We went out then and moved the boxes into our room. Shortly after that, I had to get up with more bowel antics, and while doing my best to levitate above the well-used toilet seat, felt something wet and brief on my bare hip. I looked around for a drip from the roof and found nothing but a pale yellow frog trying to scale the window screen. Night of the Living Frog…
In the morning (meaning two hours later), other people were moving about, too. Dana was up reading a book and listening to her iPod, having been up a lot of the night with Sara, who is only a bit better. Karen was up four times, and now Yoella’s got a touch of it, too.
Today is our day off, and it is also Carolyn’s birthday. After breakfast, Tiffany and Steve came up to Jo’s roof so I could interview them for the documentary I plan to make for CBC. Yoella helped out on camera. After, Jo took a group of us for a walk up the hill behind Bod Me Limbe to do some sight-seeing and to meet the Voodou man, whose name I neglected to get. He gave me a very candid interview about his work and his tools. Then it was out to Caramel Island for an afternoon of swimming and drinking from coconuts; under Jo’s watchful eye, I cut one open with a machete for Yoella and me. Men and boys from the community stood on the shore of the island, hauling nets by hand, and a few girls skittered about. Mwele and Jordani took me out fishing in their open boat, and Mwele gave me an incredible interview about his life, which I hope to have broadcast on his behalf. And he told me a joke: A sole fish swam to the beach one day. God looked at him and said, “Why are you here?” The fish said, “I came to look at the beach and the sun and the sky.” God yelled, “Go back to where you came from!” then stomped on him with his mighty foot. And that’s how the sole fish became flat.
Back on the island, he fried up much of his catch for the group: caranngue, balbren, aran, safier, rodo, taza, sad (which Mwele said was the name for cod, but Jo maintained was the name for red snapper), tronpétfish, and djwólpave. Yoella and I poured a bit of rum into our coconut, which proved to be absolutely foul. But waste not, want not, so we poured the coconut juice and rum into a coke and choked that down. (Call it a rum and Coko.) More swimming, and then Steve took Yoella and I out to see a brick kiln built during the Napoleonic era, a fabulously huge and mysterious thing covered in vines and towering trees; this was how Yoella and I discovered we’re both Indiana Jones fans. Yoella turned back, and Steve and I continued on to the point, talking about the view, Newfoundland (he’s from the town of Stephenville – don’t bother, he’s heard that one already), and doing development work in Haiti. Back for one more dip in the cooling water before heading back to Bod Me Limbe. So much, so much today.
Suspended as though held by hands
I am silent as a fish,
hiding my cumbersome legs.
Lie back, lie back,
the girls say,
beneath a shocking blue.
At our nightly meeting, we had a pool to determine how many patients we’d see tomorrow. 150 were booked; bids ranged from 155 to 215. Out came a birthday cake for Carolyn. And then it was time for Voodou.
How can I begin to describe Voodou?
A crowd assembled outside the walls of our compound as we ate and made our birthday toasts to Carolyn. Four men took chairs and their instruments – three with drums and a fourth with a piece of iron played with something like a spoon. The few branches we bought for $60 were piled in the road in front of the compound, doused with gasoline and lit (with some difficulty in the gathering breeze). The music began and the queen, Edna (who is biologically a man but who lives as a woman; we couldn’t have Voodou night last night as planned because her dress wasn’t ready yet), began with her whistle, calling people to the dance.
Dancing, dancing, dancing. I won’t even try to explain. Arms, legs, bellies, chests, head. Call and response. Instant trances. And a few minutes after it began, the skies opened up and it began to pour. The whole crowd ran for the gates and flooded in, everyone behind the walls built to keep them out. One hundred bodies molded themselves into the gazebo where we eat, the music started again, and the queen began her work under one fluorescent bulb. One song – 30 minutes – later, the rain had stopped and we all went out to the road again. As Steve tried to revive the fire, dancing re-commenced around two oil lamps, one held inside a plastic bucket on a woman’s head. More dancing, more dancing. This time in inches of slime left by the rain. I put down my recording gear, and then and it was time to play. A little girl found me and started to dance. She was a tiny spell: ropy arms and legs, thin as a whip, and mute, breathing music. There was wisdom in the movement of her spine, her hips, her arms above her head pulled by the power of the night. I did my best to follow her lead. She was completely timeless. I left when a man cut in and pushed her out of the way.
More dancing, and a dart into Jo’s for a glass of rum punch he was selling. Then out again. More dancing, my hair completely wet with sweat, children grabbing at my hands, my hair. The little girl found me again and again that night, the smell of ganja thick in the air. Rivelino came to find me and insisted I get my camera, which I did. A man was ready to start eating fire. He led me to the embers of our earlier fire where a crowd had gathered and a man crouched on the ground. One by one, he began popping glowing coals into his mouth, propelled by the music and the pulsing of the crowd. “How does he not get hurt?” I asked Rivelino. His answer: He has the spirits.
We watched for a few minutes, me filming by the light of the dying fire, then a second man came and crouched down low, straddling the coals. Shouts broke out and the fire-eater flew at him, landing them men in the coals. A couple of people used sticks to keep back the crowd, and there was shoving, Rivelino protecting me from the onslaught.
More dancing. So much more dancing.
Before bed, I dumped a bucket of water of my head and was cooled.