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Haiti: Interview with Edwidge Danticat and Annette "So An" Auguste
PROGRAM OF OCTOBER 21, 2006 (WBAI Fundraising Special from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.) 1) From Miami, an interview with Edwidge Danticat, acclaimed author of "The Dew Breaker," "The Farming of Bones," and many other books. 2) From Port-au-Prince, an interview with Annette "So An" Auguste, the singer and political activist who was released from jail in August after spending two years and three months as a political prisoner. TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEWS ON HAITI: THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES Broadcast on WBAI, 99.5 FM every Saturday from 3 - 4 p.m. Hosts: Margareth Dominique, Kim Ives and Roger Leduc Engineer: Marquez Osson Contributor: Karine Jean-Pierre, Monique Fanfan photo © Arturo Patten photo © Haiti Action
Interview with Edwidge Danticat
Roger Leduc: Haiti has a long and illustrious literary tradition, producing novelists and poets like Felix Morisseau Leroy, Paul Laraque, Jean Bri rre, Anthony Phelps, [Justin] Lhérisson, Jacques Stephen Alexis, and [Jacques] Roumain. But all of these writers have written in French or Creole. The first Haitian writer to win world-wide recognition for her writing in the English language is Edwidge Danticat.
Margaret Dominique: Born in Haiti in 1969, Edwidge Danticat was raised largely by her aunt and uncle after her parents had emigrated to New York. At age 12, Edwidge joined them in Brooklyn, where she learned English and attended school. She went on to earn a BA in French Literature at Barnard College and a masters in creative writing at Brown University.
Kim Ives: Her thesis at Brown was her novel Breath, Eyes, Memory, which was published in 1994 to great critical acclaim. It went mainstream when selected by Oprah Winfrey's Book Club. Danticat produced other well received books such as Krik? Krak! in 1995 and The Farming of Bones in 1998. In 2004, she released "The Dew Breaker," winner of the Story Prize and a PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist.
Roger Leduc: The New York Time Book Review called the book "breathtaking." Quote: "With terrifying wit and flowered pungency, Edwidge Danticat has managed over the past 10 years to portray the torment of the Haitian people... In the Dew Breaker, Danticat has written a Haitian truth: prisoners all, even the jailers." Endquote.
Joining us now by phone from Miami, we have Edwidge Danticat, to talk about "The Dew Breaker," her other work, and Haiti. Edwidge, welcome to our show. Hello, Edwidge? (...)
Edwidge Danticat: Hello. Can you hear me?
Roger Leduc: Yes, we can hear you loud and clear.
Edwidge Danticat: Oh, great!
Roger Leduc: Welcome to our show "Haiti: The Struggle Continues."
Edwidge Danticat: Thank you so much. It’s so wonderful to be with you.
Roger Leduc: Edwidge, in "The Dew Breaker" you take the reader from Haiti to New York to Miami to sample, if you will, the many different faces of the international Haitian experience. What inspired you to write this book?
Edwidge Danticat: Well, the first thing, a couple of years ago, in the early 1990s, I worked on a documentary about a group of men and women who had survived torture in Haiti, especially during the period of the first coup, where people were in hiding. And there was an extraordinary woman – Alerte Bélance – who we interviewed and other women who had been part of the struggle and were tortured for it.
And really their stories started to inspire me to think about what the legacy of torture is. And having grown up during the Duvalier regime, there is always the echo of these stories. And I remember growing up – I grew up in Belair – and there were days when you were so frightened, wondering what’s going to happen. Would there be an invasion that day? And school was closed and all these other things, which, when you are a child, are fragments to you of this experience of what it is to live under dictatorship. So what inspired me to write the book was that experience.
And then living at a time in New York when many of these people who were the former torturers were living in New York or now living in Miami, where I live, so reconciling those truths in this one character was something that I wanted to do for a very long time.
Roger Leduc: Edwidge, I see that in "The Dew Breaker," you have Ka, the young Brooklyn-based artist. You put her face to face with her father as a torturer, something that she never imagined. Are you sending us a message that the torturers, that the Tonton Macoutes, are part of us and is something that we have to face too so that we can find some kind of liberation?
Edwidge Danticat: Well, I think what I’ve seen, certainly since the time that I was a child in Haiti, is that sometimes you have a reoccurring of these types of forces so you have people who went from the Tonton Macoutes to FRAPH [a paramilitary death squad, Revolutionary Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti] and then to other manifestations. And so when we – growing up the way I did and where I did – you didn’t have the luxury of distance from people who were considered bad, for example. So you might say that there were people who were awful, who did awful things, but you also knew their children, you know. You knew their family. So there was a kind of interaction.
I think that if we... we have to try in some ways to understand what causes that, what makes a person do these things, because ultimately these people are also part of our society. So I wanted to examine a character from that perspective because I think that maybe there is something in all of us that leads to that, and it’s an artist’s job to not just condemn but to try to understand the root of evil.
Kim Ives: And we are speaking with Edwidge Danticat, author of "The Dew Breaker" and of "Breath, Eyes, Memory," and her book is being offered here today at WBAI and we are learning a little bit about it. Hi Edwidge, this is Kim Ives.
Edwidge Danticat: Hi Kim.
Kim Ives: Hi. In the book, you never name your archetypal Tonton Macoute, the father of Ka. Why is that?
Edwidge Danticat: He’s not named in the book because ultimately he gives himself a name. This is a... this character, the "chouk t laroze," the dew breaker, is someone who ultimately was trying to erase his past. He tries to just not leave traces of himself behind. He does give himself a name which we find out at the beginning, but it’s not his real name. And I think I try not to name him – to go back to the last question – because, in a way, so that there’s less distancing, because he could be anyone. He could be anyone who has taken that path.
Kim Ives: And we should say for our listeners that the "chouk t laroze" also is the henchman in the countryside who would walk in front of...
Roger Leduc: He is the lowest person in the feudal justice system in Haiti.
Kim Ives: ... who would walk in front of the chef de section, the rural sheriff, and shake the dew off the branches, thus the "chouket laroze" or dew breaker.
Roger Leduc: You’ve mentioned women, children, reconstruction.... Those are themes that I have always seen in your books, especially when I read "The Farming of Bones." I was really impressed by your sensitivity. One of the reviewers talked about how sensitive you are. And that sensitivity, I see it really embedded in how you describe, in how you present, how you give voice to children in your book. It seems to me that you have an extraordinary memory of your childhood, of the childhood impressions that you had of Haiti when you were living there. Is this something that you feel is crucial to your art, to your voice?
Edwidge Danticat: I think probably I remember a lot because at the time I left Haiti, I think [age] 12 is just about that time where you still have solid childhood memories. And my brother, for example, who came at [age] 10, remembers less than I do.
But at 12, you have a pretty solid grounding, and I think going back over the years... And of course Haiti changes all the time. But I had enough of a background there. And I think I had....
Because my family also, we were living in Port-au-Prince but we had a very rural grounding. We always went to Léogâne, to the countryside for vacations. So I feel like I had both an urban experience and a rural experience, and we traveled a lot throughout Haiti with my uncle. So I had very striking memories to begin with, that when I came here I really fought to hang on to, because my migration, if you will, wasn’t my decision. My parents sent for me. So I had a sense that I was leaving, and I clung very much to the memories that I did have.
Roger Leduc: And, it’s not so much for me – to stick a little bit to that issue – it’s not so much memory of facts. What really strikes me is the emotional memory, the memory of emotions and feelings that really kind of frees you from being too prescriptive, from telling people ‘this is what is,’ from being too preachy. Your book is not preachy. But at the end of it, the message is captured very vividly through your memories.
Edwidge Danticat: Well, I think that comes too from my whole background. I feel I became a writer because I was told stories. You know, I have my grandmothers who were very wonderful storytellers, even though they were not people who could read.
So I feel like that’s really where I learned to tell a story, by listening to stories. And if you’ve ever been part of a storytelling session in Haiti – and I’ve been part of them both as a child and as an adult – and you get a sense that, you know, that the story is first meant to engage you, you know, and if you’re bored, there’s a song, there’s a kind of sense of mystery, of suspense, within the storytelling itself. At the end, you learn something and I feel like that’s really my model for – as a writer – that the first thing is to tell a story, tell an engaging story, and then you hope, you know, I always hope that people will get something more out of it...
My biggest goal in writing these stories, I feel – besides engaging someone’s imagination – is to hope that they will learn, that they will want to learn more about Haiti, that they’ll go beyond this book, that they will learn more about the 1937 massacre, for example, that it will lead them on a search of their own.
Kim Ives: We’re speaking to Edwidge Danticat, the author of "The Dew Breaker," of "Breath, Eyes Memory," of "Krik? Krak!," of numerous books, and we have "The Dew Breaker" today. You can call in while we’re speaking to her, during this interview, and for [$75], you can receive the book and you will also get a year’s subscription to WBAI for supporting this station. We ask that you to call while we’re carrying out this interview...
Edwidge Danticat: I wanted, before the question – I really want to, in my own voice, encourage the listeners to call in because one of the things I miss about not being in New York is WBAI. I can get it on the Internet, but only in pieces. And it’s the station that always really stood out for, and stood up for, the people, the people with the least other ways to speak out. So I encourage the listeners to call in and make a pledge, with or without the book…. but I really want to encourage them to call in.
Margareth Dominique: Edwidge, this is Margaret Dominique... In your work, by telling these stories, you are in fact bringing about change by exposing the various problems within Haitian society, such as in your book when you talk about the restavek situation, the child slaves in people’s homes and how they were treated. So you’re exposing these various issues that forces the society to deal with [them]. So do you see how you are bringing about change in the society and have any changes, as far as you know, taken place as a result?
Edwidge Danticat: Well, I don’t know that there’s... I think that it’s a lot for writers to expect change. I always think of the great African-American writer James Baldwin and his saying that, you know, all we’re here to do is to love each other and to raise our children. And so, having been a child raised in part in migration and in part without my parents, I have a sensitivity to that...
Often, because I’m writing in English, I think sometimes people feel that I’m trying to have a conversation more with the outside world. But I feel like, in terms of change, I’m hoping to have a conversation also with people like me, with people who have this experience of having spent part of their life in Haiti in one place, and then to have to reshape themselves in migration. I think part of that conversation is the uneasiness of writing things that sometime we say just amongst ourselves, you know, sometimes things we’d rather not talk about in the larger world.
But, to give you an example of this issue of the restavek – the children who work in other people’s homes – a couple of years ago, there was a girl, they found a girl here in Miami, actually in Pembroke Pines, a sort of well-to-do suburb here in Miami-Dade, where there was a girl who was 12 years old who was a restavek in this very rich Haitian home in Miami. And there was a kind of furor in the community – part of it because people were stunned that this was happening here also.
But I hope also that the work that I do through these books ignites a kind of internal conversation about things like this.
Roger Leduc: Edwidge, I don’t think your writing in English is a handicap at all because you manage to put yourself inside the story. The stories are being pulled from within not from without. So in that sense, I don’t think that English would be any more of a barrier than French was for Roumain or for Jacques Stephen Alexis, our great novelist that came before you, or even Lherisson who wrote in a language that’s... in a French that’s tinged by Creole.
Because of the feelings that you express, especially when you are dealing with women and children (not that you really put any kind of distance between you and the man you describe) but the feeling, and I can even venture to say love, the love is there through your books, so any Haitian who reads your books understands that it’s somebody, it’s a Haitian who is in love with her Haiti, with her people, that is writing. And then you get that feeling, that warmth, when you read your book. And I really have to dare to compliment you about this, because whenever I read you, you leave me with that kind of feeling. And I really have to encourage people out there to go, if they have not done so, go pick up your book....
Margareth Dominique: Also, I’d like to say writing in English, other people from different places can identify with some of these very things happening in their own lives, but it’s really universal, I think.
Roger Leduc: I would like Edwidge, without embarrassment, to really tell us the role of love in her writing...
Edwidge Danticat: The role of love: I think it’s very important. I mean, in the beginning, I started writing to go back home, and it was a way for me. Between about 12 and 18 years old, I didn’t go back to Haiti. I would read to go back. I would write. That was through literature that I went back. So I feel that any kind of art, any kind of task like this, you have to deal with love. You have to, even for the worst of the characters, you have to be able to step into their skin, to become them, in order to write convincingly about them.
So love is very important, I think. Love for the craft, love for the subject, and certainly for the country. And I think people who have been to Haiti, who know Haiti, know that it’s very seductive. Every time I take friends, they fall in love. And it becomes a very big part of their lives. So it’s very easy to write and love with a subject like that because often, even when there is difficulty, you write with a sense of almost wanting to rewrite certain things... I am grateful for what you said, because I always do write in love even when I do write harshly.
Kim Ives: On the question of craft, "The Dew Breaker" is a very unconventionally structured novel. It is almost a collection of short stories but they all interweave and intertwine and all, in a way, come to a climax at the end. Was this something you calculated or did this just sort of emerge?
Edwidge Danticat: Well, it kind of just emerged, that structure... The first story in the book is called "The Book of the Dead," and it’s that story that you mentioned of the confrontation between an artist and her father. I simply started to write a story about this confession, and then once that was done I was curious about what the father was confessing and then wrote the larger piece in the back which is set in Haiti where you get a sense of what brought the father to New York and what he had actually done.
So the pieces emerged in that way and it became a story about this man’s past and all the horrible things that he has done, and fragments of the victims and the people whose lives he had touched and how they were faring now.
So it wasn’t in the beginning meant to be a novel. It was a collection of stories. Different critics called it a novel. Some called it a short story collection. But it was meant to be ambiguous, in a sense like a puzzle that you put together. But when people do [read it]... I encourage them to read it from front to back because if you read it like a collection of stories and you skip around, you might lose the sense of it. If you read all the way through, you kind of get a sense that you are putting together this puzzle. And people tell me sometimes when they read it, "oh isn’t this guy from this other story?" And that’s intentional. It’s meant so that you piece together the puzzle yourself.
Kim Ives: And it’s a powerful puzzle. The New York Times Book Review called it "breathtaking." The Los Angeles Times Book Review called it "thrilling." USA Today called it "stunning." This is a truly remarkable work, "The Dew Breaker," and we are speaking here with Edwidge Danticat, the author... Last night, as I was preparing for this show, an actress called me, and she’s already made an audio book of "The Dew Breaker," and now she’s doing "Breath, Eyes, Memory." I thought this was interesting that these works are being made into audio books. Are there any movies in the works for these works, Edwidge?
Edwidge Danticat: "The Dew Breaker" was optioned by HBO. So with options, you never know, but maybe one day it will be a movie. But it was optioned....
Can I also add for the listeners. We’re in this time where alternative media is so important. It’s so important in this age of Patriot Acts, and torture and silencing that we have an alternative voice. So that’s another reason to support this radio station because there is glossy media, but it is so pre-packaged... We have to have these alternative voices out there. That’s another reason to support this station because it does provide a voice that you don’t hear elsewhere... I’m a big "Democracy Now!" fan... Now I have to pick and choose my programs. I have to listen to you guys on the Internet...
Kim Ives: Edwidge, "The Farming of Bones," can you tell us a little bit about your research and your inspiration for that?
Edwidge Danticat: Well, "The Farming of Bones," as you said, is a novel that talks about the 1937 massacre of Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic. I was inspired to write it by an artist friend whose grandmother had survived the massacre, and he had painted her journey.
After talking to him, I went to the Massacre River, because there is a river actually called the Rivi re Massacre on the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. When I went there I was stunned that there were no markers. There’s no sign anywhere along the border that this had happened. So I started writing this novel about the massacre. And it’s a part of Haitian history which is sort of glossed over – it’s mentioned slightly in Haitian history books.
When I started interviewing people, they didn’t really like talking about it even though it was such a big event of the 20th century for us. Part of it I think is the discomfort of the fact that this is something that we are still struggling with. Recently, Sonia Pierre, who is an activist in the Dominican Republic, received an award. She’ll be receiving the RFK, the Robert F. Kennedy award, for human rights in Washington soon, and she’s one of many people who have been really struggling to better the condition of Haitian cane workers in the Dominican Republic.
And so there is this discomfort that history is not something where we can look back and say "this was a horrible time but things are better." People are still living in slave-like conditions there in the Dominican Republic in all the bateys that I visited during the writing of the book.
So it’s a novel about the past but with sort of this uncomfortable cloud of echo of something that continues to happen.
Roger Leduc: And Edwidge just referred to Sonia Pierre, who is from MUDHA, the group that is defending Haitians in the Dominican Republic. We’ve had Sonia here too to talk to us about the Haitian situation. Part of the malaise, part of the difficulty in speaking about this thing that happened in 1937 where upward of 20,000 Haitians died from the massacre waged by the army of Trujillo, is because the Haitian bourgeoisie is very guilty in not responding in any appropriate way to that massacre. And then that the conditions that prevailed in 1937, when the massacre took place, those conditions exist today. There is a cultural thing going on in the Dominican Republic that’s being nurtured by a lot of the newspapers, by a lot of the so-called nationalists in the Dominican Republic, who claim that Haitians are the source of all kinds of ills and have to be deported. These conditions still exist in Haiti, and we’ve done our best to present this to you, either by talking to Sonia Pierre or now, by talking about "The Farming of Bones"...
Kim Ives: Edwidge, we know you have a young child. We know you have a busy life. We’d like to keep you here all day but I think we’re going to have to let you go shortly. Could you just give the community and our listeners a few parting words, your thoughts about our present moment in Haiti and, for that matter, in the world?
Edwidge Danticat: First of all, thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed this time and I want to again encourage the listeners to call... It’s really important to have these kinds of conversations and WBAI makes it possible and "Haiti: The Struggle Continues" brings Haiti to you. I’m one of those people where my heart is both in Haiti and here where I live. But most of it is in Haiti, and I look for every opportunity to learn different things and WBAI and stations like this make it possible, and this program makes it possible. So I want to encourage you guys to continue, to kenbe la. I want to encourage the listeners to support you, and I want to send my love to So An when you speak to her next.
Kim Ives: Thank you, Edwidge, and we hope a part of you is also in East Flatbush, where you grew up, and we look to have you back on the program again soon. Keep up the good work, and we look forward to reading more of your craft, your thoughts and your love in the years ahead.
Edwidge Danticat: Thank you so much, all three of you.
Interview with Annette "So An" Auguste
Margaret Dominique: Annette Auguste is a Haitian singer and activist known as "So An," who became one of the most prominent political prisoners during the most recent coup d’état in Haiti from 2004 to 2006. On August 14th, after two years and three months behind bars without any trial, Annette Auguste was finally released from jail by a Haitian court.
Kim Ives: U.S. Marines had stormed her home in the Delmas neighborhood of Port-au-Prince in the middle of the night on Mother’s Day 2004. The soldiers blew open her front gate, killed her two dogs, shot open doors, tossed tear-gas grenades, and then hooded and handcuffed, face down on the ground, her entire family and staff, including her 5-year-old grandchild, her 68-year-old sister, and three young teenagers.
Roger Leduc: Now she is out of jail and reintegrating herself into life after prison. Central to that is her work with the all woman choir she founded named Koral la. With us now by phone from Port-au-Prince to talk about her chorale group, her work and the political situation in Haiti is Annette Auguste, So An. So Ann welcome back to Haiti: The Struggle Continues. Hello, So An? Hello?
Kim Ives: Alo, So An, sak pase? Ou la?
So An: Alo?
Kim Ives: OK, you hear us?
So An: Mwen pa tande ou tre byen.
Kim Ives: OK, ou pa tande nou byen men nou tande ou tre byen. So we are going to talk in English. We know you are multi-lingual, like President Aristide. So An, we spoke to you in August, just after your release. Can you tell us what you’ve been up to since then and what you are presently involved in?
So An: I’m involved in the same things I used to do: working with people, working with my chorale, and everything. Helping people, that’s what I do every day.
Roger Leduc: So An, I’ve heard that you have not changed your message one bit. You remain the same fierce warrior that you were before you went to jail. You are still giving the people the message that they should keep up the struggle, and they should fight for their rights.
So An: That’s right. There is one thing. I told you that too: I am not free, because they have so many people [still] in the jails, the same way I used to be in jail. Because there are so many people, so many rats [slang for poor political activists], so many Aristide people go to prison, so I am not free. Since they are not free, I am not free.
I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say to the president, you know, to get the prisoners out of the jail. They [the political prisoners] didn’t do anything. They just call them one word: association des malfaiteur [associating with trouble-makers] or things like that. They [the authorities] call them rats or anything they want to. But they [didn’t] do [anything illegal]. They have to get out of jail! I am struggling for all of those people to get out of the jail. Get them out now, that’s my duty: to help those people get out of jail.
Kim Ives: And how are you doing that So An? How are you working to get the political prisoners out, and how are you keeping in touch with them?
So An: With the president?
Kim Ives: No, with the political prisoners.
So An: I don’t hear you well.
Kim Ives: How are you working to get the political prisoners out of jail now?
So An: Yes, I talk to President Préval. I talk to the president about this. They tell me that they told Mr. Claudy Gassant [Haiti’s new chief prosecutor] to take care of those people, to take care of those papers, you know, to get those people out, but up until now, nothing has happened. Nothing has happened...
I know those people. They [the prisoners] didn’t do anything. They are in jail, the same as I was. But they have to get out of the jail. The president has to do what we want to get those prisoners out of the jail.
Kim Ives: So An, how do you see the present political situation in Haiti? What is your assessment of President René Préval after five months –
So An: I can’t talk about political things because President Préval is in power, but it is not power for the Haitian people. We put President Préval in power, but President Préval doesn’t do anything for the people who sent him to that job. All the people that fought for him are hungry, they don’t have jobs, they have nothing. He has... All those people who are working now [in the government] are the same people who used to shoot, who used to kill those people [the resisting popular masses], to beat them in Belair, Cité Soleil, La Saline and everywhere. The same people who used to be with Latortue, the same people, those people are still there in power.
That’s [thanks to us] President Préval is there. President Préval, you know, is working against all those people [the Lavalas masses that voted for him]. For me, he is working against all those people because President Préval doesn’t do anything for the Lavalas thing that put him in power. I talked to him about that. He said "Ok, So An, ok, blah blah blah blah blah." But nothing happened.
Those people, they don’t get any jobs. They put them out of a job since Latortue [came to power] two years ago... President Préval is in power now, and he doesn’t do anything for those people. So what’s going to happen to the country now? You don’t have any political things. Haiti is closed. They put the key somewhere. I don’t know where they put the key. Haiti is closed now.
Kim Ives: We’re speaking with Annette Auguste, "So An," from Port-au-Prince, on Haiti: The Struggle Continues on WBAI, 99.5 FM in New York.
So An: Could you imagine? Could you imagine what Cité Soleil was[like] two days ago? The MINUSTAH [U.N. Mission to Stabilize Haiti] went to Cité Soleil two days ago. They broke everything in sight. They broke all the houses... They want to put... They said they want roads, they want ways, they want roads, etc. But they killed so many people. Eleven people were killed that day.
Margareth Dominique: So An, are you saying....
So An: What’s going to happen?
Margareth Dominique: Is it like the Latortue regime is still continuing?
So An: That’s right. That’s the Latortue regime. All those people in power now are [from the] Latortue regime.
Kim Ives: At the beginning of last month, on Labor Day, I traveled with you in Cité Soleil. I saw the response of the population to you. Everybody called you "manman," called you "mother." You have clearly a very close rapport with the population of Cité Soleil. What are they telling you about the situation right now?
So An: They called me about the situation. They said the MINUSTAH came to Cité Soleil, broke every house that they found. They said they want roads. They want Cité Soleil to be clean. But they kill so many people. They fire guns, fire guns, fire, fire, fire, fire: eleven people were killed that day. They don’t say that, but I know that eleven people were killed. Eleven people were killed that day.
So I called Préval’s sister [Marie Claude, a political advisor]. I told her: if you don’t stop those things, things are going to happen. Because, you know, the people, you can’t stand on them, to wait for the people, the MINUSTAH to come and kill them like that. You have to catch someone. You have to say something. You have to do something for the people, because, you know, they are not unarmed now [although] so many people gave their arms to Préval. Now they [the government] are only, only, only in power with their mouth. That’s it.
But if you go to Cité Soleil, you want to get a way [road], call Travaux Publiques [the Public Works Department]. Travaux Publiques is there for that...
Margareth Dominique: But is it because Préval is only a puppet of the occupation of the U.S. and U.N. troops that he cannot do anything?.
So An: I don’t know because they [the international community] say that they are going to give them [the Haitian government] money. I don’t see any money... The American people, the U.S. is still in power [in Haiti]. Those people are still in power everywhere, everywhere in the world...
Kim Ives: And we are speaking with Annette Auguste, "So An"... So An, we just had Edwidge Danticat on the program too and she sends her love...
So An: If you sell those CDs, it is not only for me. It’s for my people, you know. I have hungry people with me every day. I have people who can’t find work every day. People who can’t go to school.
Because you know that, Kim, if I have money for my people, everything I’ve got is for my people. I cannot see my people hungry and to have only one plate of food once a day. That’s the way the country is working now: nobody can eat, nobody can go to work. Only the people of Latortue are in power now with Préval. Lavalas has nothing. It has no directors, no ministers, nothing, nothing, nothing. So what can they be? (...)
Anyway, I am not talking to Republicans. I’m talking to the American people. Because I know American people. I spent a lot of years living with the American people. I know their hearts. I know the way they think of Haiti. Because so many things happen in every country in the world, but you know what’s happening to Haiti now, because so many people are still hungry. Hungriness is so far [extensive], so far. If you can help me to help those people, frankly... I have hope that you will do something for them, not for me. That I can eat one day. That they can eat one day. But if you want to help me, you’ll help me with those people. Please do it for them, not for me...
I want you to make a marathon for the Haitian people... Everything is on my head now. My head is so, so crowded... Like a scrambled egg. When you scramble an egg, that’s the way my head is now. Do anything you can, in your power, do anything, American people... I am somebody who cares about my country, Haiti. I know that you care about your country. I know that everybody is working for something. But if you can help, help. Everybody has problems. Every country has problems....
Margareth Dominique: So An, this is Margareth. It’s amazing and wonderful that you are putting back together your life after being released from jail in such a short period of time and you have put together a choir made up of women you call "Koral la." Can you tell us a little bit about "Koral la?" Pale nou de "Koral la."
So An: The chorale is made up of many people who used to be in an organization with me. It’s people from La Saline, Cité Soleil, Belair... They know nothing about singing but, you know, I prepared them. Now when you hear their voice, you will see something. They are still with me now. I am going to have a rehearsal with them. Because every day, every day, we have to do something for [unintelligible]. I have to help those people to get something. Because they can’t work, they don’t do anything, they have children to go to school.... I have to help them.
That’s why the chorale is a good chorale. One of these days, I would like to bring the chorale to New York City and everywhere, because, you know, those people they fight, they are fighting every day. They’re fighting, fighting. They are fighters. So if you can do something for them....
Margareth Dominique: So An, if people want to send you and the chorale their support, what number or address can they contact you at?
So An: My address is Delmas 16, Number 30, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Kim Ives: So An, how did you form your chorale, and how did you select your singers?
So An: I selected them from the organization. Because if you can find a new voice – soprano, alto, you know – I chose them that way. But I have a good chorale now. We can go everywhere, we can go anyplace...
Kim Ives: These were women working in popular organizations. Is that true?
So An: That’s right, that’s from popular organizations. Because I don’t get tchilichichi [fancy pants, elitist] people in that chorale, you know? I choose people from the low people because that’s the way I am. I take people on the ground and put them up. That’s the way I am...
Margareth Dominique: So An, di yon ti bagay an krey l pou chofe Ayisyen yo, non.
Kim Ives: ... k ap siv pwogram nan... Ou met pale wi.
So An: Mwen menm, tout sa m ka di avek Ayisyen parey mwen yo... Yo konn ki moun ki So An nan, paske So An pa yon demagog; mwen pa konn fe demagoji. Mwen se yon moun kelke swa sa m di, se yon bib li ye. Mwen menm mwen pa yon moun, kom si m ta di w la, k ap f demann pou yon moun, epi se demagoji. Tout sa m f ekzakteman se sa ou w a. Sa m di se sa l ye. Mwen pa yon moun, kom si m ta di w la, k ap f yon bagay, epi ale ki se yon lot bagay ke map f . Se pou rezon sa a, mwen ta renmen tout Ayisyen pou yo ede m nan sa k ap f t la.
Si Ayisyen ede m, m ap pi byen kontan toujou. L se Ayisyen parey ou k ap ede w, yo met men yo nan pat la, l sa a mwen pi al z, paske m w Ayisyen vreman konprann sa Ayisyen parey yo ap soufri.. Sa n ap sibi isit....
`Paske l ou ap leve nan yon kay, ou w yon pak t moun nan kay la. Moun yo f demi maten nan yon jounen, yo f jounen an... ou oblije f de gwo chody manje pou blije bay chak moun yon plat manje, paske moun nan li chita la, li pral jouk 4 , 5 lan apre midi.
Al nan yon kondisyon parey, pa gen yon moun kap lonje men banmwen, mwen pap travay. Mwen sot f 2 zan prizon, 2 zan 3 mwa prizon. Se mwen k ap ede tout prizyone yo te arete kom ras... Mwen menm, mwen pa gen anyen anko mwen kapab f . Se nou menm Ayisyen ki pou ede Ayisyen parey nou. Mete men nan pat la pou nou w si nou kapab f Ayiti vin yon l t Ayiti, pou nou pa p , pou nou pa gen moun k ap vole. Paske l moun nan grangou, li k ap f nenp t ki bagay. Nou pa di se se grangou ki f moun ap kidnape moun, nou pa di se paske moun grangou. Paske l moun gen konviksyon, ou pa oblije al f yon seri bagay ki pa sa. An menm tan tou, fo moun yo nan aksyon sosyal tou. Yo pa gen posiblite pou yo manje, y ap f yon seri bagay ki pa sa. Al , mwen ta renmen nou pran sa an konsiderasyon, pou nou pa kite se l t moun ki pou f pou nou. Se nou ki pou f pou t t nou anvan.
Roger Leduc: So An, we know that all those people from the GNBists [pro-coup groups], the putschists, those people that give the coup d'état, they are still threatening people like you. How safe do you feel in Haiti right now? How about your security? Talk to us about your safety.
So An: Let me tell you something. Since I returned to Haiti in 1994, I never had security. My house is always open, the door is always open for everyone. I want security from no-one, because if you have security, you have to get guns or arms or something like that. I don't deal with these things.
My security is in my heart. That's the way I feel, that's the way people feel too. When I am in my house, I know so many people who don't even know that I am somebody [unintelligible]. I am somebody clear. If you want to do something to me, do it. But I know God is my power.
I am there, without any security, but I am living. One of these days I have to die. If my day has not come up yet, thank God. But I am waiting for my day. I am not a mafia. I cannot stay in the world without dying. I have to die one of these days. I am not scared to die. Because I have a nice country, I want my country to be free, I want my country to be clear. That's the way I should live with people too... I want to be free everywhere... everyday...
Kim Ives: So An, I just want to buttress what you just said by saying when I visited you earlier last month in September, we went to your house and we saw how dozens of people everyday come there, bringing you their problems, telling you the news, putting you up to date, dealing with you. You are a leader on the ground in Haiti and it's your work which is embodied in this music which we are listening to in the background... We just would ask you to give some final words So An because we are coming to the end of our show...
So An: .... There is one thing I would like to say. I love you people. I love American people. But your establishment is no good. They did so many bad things in so many countries. Talk to them. Tell them to leave Haiti in peace because we really need peace. We need peace because we are good people. We need peace. That's it. And thanks everybody.