Memoirs of a Haitian-American Girl: Church Sundays

I knew it was going to be a special day from the moment I woke up. My mom called me at 8:30 a.m telling me that she wasn't going to be accompanying me to 10:00 mass.  This means, that for the first time in my 22 years of existence, I would be going to my childhood church ALONE.
Now, I've done lots of things alone. Heck, I've gone to many churches alone, but all of the churches were in my college town in Providence or in another country during my various travels, sans my mom, or anyone else I knew for that matter. Even though I was kind of nervous about going alone this morning, I knew I had to experience it. I wanted to experience it.  Getting ready by myself without hearing my mom yell "Nikki, let's go!" or "Ki, we're going to be late!" was strange. I was on time. I had to be. I had no one to shield me from prying eyes if I were to arrive 5 minutes late, like we always did.  And even though my mom hasn't picked out my "Sunday church outfit"  in over 15 years, I kept having flashbacks of my neatly ironed dress, socks, and shoes being laid out for me in my room, by the time I would have finished showering.
Me and my mother circa '95. #Crankyflowergirl
Driving to church was lonely and quiet without the radio blasting Haitian Christian songs.  Shoot, even picking a seat at church was difficult.  For so long, I've just followed my mom's lead.  Today, walking past the pews, I realized that I've never thought twice about where to sit. I've never even looked anyone in the congregation in the eye! I didn't actually know anyone.  I was always "Ca's daughter" or "Beatrice's granddaughter" or someone's niece.  Sure, many people knew my "identity", but it was an identity that was inextricably tied to another family member, most often my mom. Going through the mass, I was extremely self-reflective and observant, noting every thing I saw and felt.  It was almost as if today was my first time going to that church! I didn't know how to extend the sign of peace to someone else immediately, because my mom would always be there, to my right. We would look each other in the eye, say "peace be with you", and kiss each other on the cheek.  Today, the first person I extended a hand to was a stranger. I spoke to people my age for the first time! I sat in a spot I've never sat in! I even participated in different aspects of the service, whereas before I'd be a spectator, glued to my mom's arm.  Afterwords, I struck conversations with old Haitian ladies with pretty hats and lovely musky perfumes.  It was all so strangely unfamiliar, yet transformative and really meaningful.

Driving home was fascinating.  After church, every single Sunday, my mom and I would drive to grandma's (who I call manman) apartment deeper in Queens, NY.  But, only after going to one of our two favorite Haitian bakeries on Jamaica Avenue to pick up chicken or beef patties, "Haitian bread" (which I could identify with one sniff from blocks away), akasan, and kola (orange flavor, obviously). This was undeniably my favorite part.  I mean, most people from the church were Haitian anyway, so we'd see half the congregation in the bakeries and nearby streets within 10 minutes after leaving church.  Then, off to grandma's house!

We would go up to the fifth floor and greet my grandma with 2 kisses, walk inside the bright yellow apartment and immediately be at ease.  There was always food, laughter, and family. It was the spot! I would struggle to listen to my mom, her sisters, and my grandma gossip.  I struggled because I was still learning creole (this was when I was around 5 or 6).  We spoke mostly English in my household since my dad is Ghanaian. My mom would speak to me in French and Creole sometimes. I really only learned how to speak and read Creole from my maids during the week (don't judge!).  The only other time I was exposed to Creole was around my family members. So every Sunday was special because I got to develop my linguistic skills. I would extend my head, squint my eyes, and try really hard to connect the dots between what I was hearing.  It was fun. I can remember the process of learning Creole, and I guess, learning what my Haitian identity was. Anyway, the griyot, chicken, banan peze, rice and sauce pwa, etc was all so tantalizingly delicious! Yum! We'd eat until we couldn't eat anymore.  Then, my grandma would always rub my tummy and ask "Was it good chou chou?" And I'd rosy cherubic cheeks (which I still have to some extent) gleaming with satisfaction.  My grandma would always ask me how school was and if I prayed for my dad at church. Then we'd proceed to having a deep conversation- deep a conversation as a 7 year old and a 70 year old could have. These are still some of the best conversations I have.  Afterwords, my grandma would set aside a bountious amount of food for my mom and I to take home to my dad, so that when he was done with rotations at the hospital, he could have some of "that Haitian chicken" or "griyO"(pronounced with a distinguished half-British/half-Ghanaian accent). Then we were off! My mom would blast konpa music-usually Tabou Combo, Zin, or System Band on the way home. The rest woulld be history....until next Sunday.

This Sunday, as I drove home, I was nostalgic for the good old days. It's crazy how you take some things for granted.  I guess this realization is part of growing up. Sure, the exact series of events have changed allot as I have gotten older, but still, each Sunday has retained some of the homey Haitian familiar essence from my younger years.  Even though I was alone today, I still carried that essence in my heart and in my memories. I love that no matter what,  no matter where I end up, I will carry that essence. I look forward to passing it to my kids.

...When I passed the Haitian bakery today and got a whiff of that bread, I couldn't help but grin...

Check out "Thoughts on my Haitian-ness" if you enjoyed this post.


Hope you had a great weekend friends!

Stay Engaged,

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  1. Aw, my Naika! You've always been so beautiful!

    1. Thanks Moji! You're beautiful too...member ;)

  2. Great story!! I need to start going back to church. Dan B.

    1. Thanks Uncle Danny. You should come to Sacred Heart....not too far from you at all.

  3. Good Job! As a Haitian and a churchgoer I really liked this blog. Continue writing blogs like this because I think people need to read them.

    1. Thanks for the compliment! I sure will. -Naika

  4. Yes!church! grandma's house! all of it. this was so refreshing. took me back to my youth. thanks so much for posting this.

  5. the good stuff :) my pleasure! thanks for commenting.-N