down among the dead men-dany laferriere

“never say never, because then you say never twice.”

i eat the words i wrote about not writing in french because i can’t figure out how to insert symbols. i now must share these proverbs and the accompanying explanation, with the consideration that there is the unspoken translation that must have happened from french to english. don’t think i missed that either laferriere or homel decided to go with creole and not kreyol. in awe, this reader. this is dedicated to all my peoples that have showed love in the past week via proxy and witness.

“The Haitian proverbs that open each chapter are transcribed in etymological rather than phonetic Creole, then translated literally. This way, their meaning will always remain a little mysterious. That will help us appreciate not only Haiti’s popular wisdom but her fertile creativity with language.”

Anvant ou monte bois, gade si ou capab descenn li.

Before you climb up the tree, make sure you can get down again. (29)

Pati pas di ou rive pou ca.

Leaving doesn’t mean you’ll actually get there. (45)

Nous connin, nous pas connin.

We know, but we don’t know. (91)

Lang ac dent ce bon zanmi, yo rete nan minm caille, gnoune pas rinmin lote.

The tongue and the tooth are good friends who share the same house, even if they hate each other. (129)

Pas joure manman caiman toute temps ou pas finn’ passe la riviere.

Don’t insult the crocodile until you’ve finished crossing the river. (155)



2 thoughts on “down among the dead men-dany laferriere

  1. legacy’s labour’s lost:

    “My mother has never accepted that a normal human being could consume the food served in airplanes. Yet she’s never taken a flight herself. Where does her information come from? Other travelers, I imagine. I think I know what she’s referring to: it’s the smell. Airline meals have practically no smell, and if they do, it’s synthetic. The complete opposite of what human beings should eat. Especially someone born in the Caribbean, among spices.
    No smell, so no taste. What’s left? The thing itself.” (20)

    “It seems,” my mother explained, “that you can’t bring someone back to earth if he’s busy. When they suspect that the death might not be natural, people put a spool of thread and a needle without an eye in the dead man’s hands and ask him to thread the needle. That’s how you keep the dead busy. We’ve always done that in our family. I’m not worried about them. No one can disturb their rest.”
    I pictured the dead busy threading eyeless needles for all eternity. It sent a shiver down my spine.” (43)

    “Twenty years ago, I left behind an astonishingly naive woman. Today, she’s not exactly a tigress, but at least she can defend herself in one of the worst human jungles on earth.” (101)

    “At nineteen years old, I became a journalist in the middle of the Duvalier dictatorship. My father, a journalist too, got himself thrown out of the country by Francois Duvalier. His son Jean-Claude sent me into exile. Father and son presidents. Father and son exiles. The same destiny. My mother will never leave her country. If she did, the country would cease to exist. I totally identify my mother with this country. She’s sitting next to me in this taxi heading into Martissant. Back straight, despite the pain: my mother, my country.” (119)

    “They talked. I watched Karine. I had no feelings for her other than acute curiosity. What did she have that attracted me so violently? Something I could scarcely control. If there are ancestral fears, then ancestral desires must exist to. Archetypes written into our genes.” (163)

  2. cultural differences:

    “The odor of Port-au-Prince has become so powerful that it’s blotted out all individual smells. Any personal initiative becomes impossible under these conditions. The odds aren’t fair.” (58)
    “Two different visions. Americans subtract their dead, while we continue adding ours up. Our characters are incompatible.” (77)

    “Of course it is! Who else can you trust when it comes to things like that? Whenever the CIA wants to crush a Third World leader, it starves the people…For a while, they really did entertain the idea of killing off the population of Bombardopolis by inoculating them with disease. White plague, I believe.” (79)

    “The West has chosen the science of the day,” the professor continued, “which they simply call science. We have chosen the science of night, which the West condescendingly calls superstition. They’ve made undeniable progress in their area, but we haven’t been idle in ours.” (127)

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