Haiti, Death, Nuance, Manicures

It's 2:20 pm on a Saturday.
I'm sitting at my favorite nail salon, waiting semi-patiently for a manicure/pedicure that would take forever to get. This sitting would take me places.

Remembering my commitment to reading, I pull out a book that has intimidated me for way too long, by my literary hero, Edwidge Danticat.
The book is called Brother, I'm Dying. And I bought at a time when I was unable to cry.

The tension she conveys while detailing airport goodbyes reminds me of an airport goodbye that I both never want to forget, but try hard to remember.
The last time I would say goodbye to my father would be at John F Kennedy Airport on a January night.

The yellow of the sunlight creeping through the nail salon's window reminds me of the yellow of the kitchen walls in my grandmother's kitchen in Queens and the yellow of the sunlight I'd gaze at through her bedroom window after school.
Reading about Edwidge's grandmother's death reminds me that all too soon, my own grandmother, though still kicking strong, will also die.
I'm reminded of the smell of her griyo, and her talcum powder, and the laundry detergent she uses to clean her bed sheets; the sheets I slept on during my younger years, when my parents would leave me there on the weekdays, while they hustled for their dreams- for our future. Kudos to them. I always respected their grind, even as a kid.

I'm reminded of blackness, black women to be exact and how our strength has caused us bruises, but has always kept us standing.
I love when I remember how beautiful black is.

It is around 3pm ad my feet are still soaking in the tub, waiting for that pedicure. My toes are numb and I wiggle them to feel the bottom of the tub.
Reading about how Edwidge's uncle was diagnosed with a cancer that would take away his voice, makes me feel the need to gasp out for air. I feel the tears rising.
I look up at the television screen for relief and see a story on CNN about the racist remarks a NBA team owner has made about white and latino girls, and their public relationships with black men.
I feel uncomfortable.
I try to look away but am too drawn by both the irony and lack of irony of this conversation still taking place in 2014. It makes no sense, but makes all the sense in the world.
At the corner of my eye, I see 3 white women looking at me with sympathy and white guilt. We were all watching the same TV screen. I smile at them. They smile back, but don't make eye contact.

I feel the anger rise and I don't know if it's directed towards the racist remarks displayed in closed caption on the screen, the fact that I've been waiting almost 1 hour to get my nails done, or the fact that every one you love will eventually die.

I return to the book and get lost in the stories of Haiti.
Edwidge tells them so perfectly. Honest. Real. Reading her stories feels like reading my own memories. She is the voice of an experience.
I wonder if she will read this one day.
My mind wanders to think about the Haitian experience; what it was and what it is. I think about how much of it I don't know of and how much of it really isn't mine, but feels like mine. I think about how personal the suffering of the people feels. I think about kompa music. I imagine hearing a rooster crow.

I feel proud to be Haitian and then I remember I'm only half. And that at the end of the day, I'm still a blan, grasping for an identity to hold on to.
The one I have fits, but needs some tailoring, and the one I yearn for is not available for order. Either you have it or you don't.
Then I remember that being half something, leaves room for something else. What's that something? Oh yes, I'm half Ghanaian too. Sometimes I wish I wasn't.
My dad was Ghanaian and now he is dead. I never felt close to the culture, but have always been eager to learn about it and engage with it, as long as he would be there to guide me through it.
Now, I despise that I am still Ghanaian because the burden of continuing to define what that means now rests entirely on my shoulders. There is no one to turn to.

My dad had big brood shoulders. I miss them.
I think about how the only place I' d want to rest my head right now, is on his broad shoulders.
But instead, I am stuck in this chair.
This vibrating chair that is supposed to be massaging my lower back, but actually kind of hurts and just reminds me of the fact that I still haven't gotten my pedicure.
My feet continue to soak.

Just when a tear starts to roll down my face, a kind Vietnamese woman, who I ended up not tipping out of misplaced anger, says "Hi, how are you?". I say "Fine, thank you", and we commence.
She asks me questions, but I'm too engaged in the book to answer genuinely.

Reading about so many experiences, that seem so familiar is a source of comfort, joy, pain, and anger.
I don't know what it is about Haiti that makes me feel so many feelings.
It is the source.

My pedicure is now over, and I am called to sit in the manicure chair. Little did I know that I would have to wait almost 1 hour. But that gave me time to read.
The owner asks me what's wrong. I say that I am afraid about getting a parking ticket, since my car was parked in the 1 hour zone and I am running over time.
She tells me not to worry and I tell her that she doesn't understand.
What I really meant to say is, I'm really torn. What I really mean to say is "Sometimes I feel really grounded by the earth and my ambitions, but sometimes I feel the call that pulls you upwards towards the heavens. The yearning I have to be reconciled with my father is like a magnet, and reading this book is pulling at my heartstrings."
Instead, I say that I am afraid about getting a parking ticket.

I have to put the book down now and free my hands.
I remember how angry I am that I have waited almost an hour to get a manicure.
Another Vietnamese woman comes over and she reminds me of my good friend's mother. This is the only reason I force myself to smile at her.
She says, "I'm so sorry. I know you've been here since 2:20. I'm sorry. Thank you for waiting for me".
I look at her and tell her it's ok, and then I drift off again.

I imagine how sad I'll be when my grandmother dies, and when my other grandmother dies and how I should call the latter grandmother more often. My dad would have wanted that.
And then I hear a child laugh and snap out of it.
The child's mother treats her to a pedicure because she got a a good grade on her Kindergarten report card.
The child jumps with joy.

I drift.

I imagine having a conversation with someone after I graduate from medical school:
Your father must be so proud of you.
 I'd like to think so.
You must be a daddy's girl?
Always and forever.
Do you speak to your father often?
I speak to him every day, but he doesn't answer back in a way I can hear.
Perhaps you don't need words to communicate.
Perhaps not.
When was the last time you saw him?
Too long ago.
When is the next time you will see him?
I don't know. Hopefully sooner, rather than later.
Next time you see him, make sure you tell him how much you love him.
That is the first thing I plan to do.
Where is he right now?
I ask myself the same question.
You don't know where your father is?
What is a person? Am I my physical body or my soul?
What do you mean?
My father lays in a box, in a hole, in a building, in a land far far away.

My imaginary interview is interrupted by this woman.
"Square or round shaped?"
"It doesn't matter", I say.

Edwidge details her separation from her parents, when they depart for the U.S, and leave her behind, temporarily, in Haiti.
I think about the ideas of ownership, parental love, and sacrifice.
She talks about the meaningful stories we remind ourselves of to reinforce certain emotions and ideas.
My mind drifts off to when I was 6 or 7. I remember demanding to always be with my daddy, especially on the weekends, especially because he worked on the weekends. The poor guy worked every day.

I stop for a second when writing this to experience a chill, that has been waiting to manifest itself.
I return to my computer.
I recall my shift at the clinic this morning.
My shift supervisor tells me that the role of doctors is to create stories; to connect the dots and engage with nuance. The signs are the dots. The symptoms are the nuance. He tells me that my job is to hear my patients' experiences and to create stories.

My dad's dream was for us to work in a hospital together.
The pager would announce on the hospital speakers, "Paging Dr. Apeakorang. paging Dr. Apeakorang".
We'd both look at each other, with a puzzled look on our faces, and seconds later we would ask out loud, "Which one?!" And then we'd laugh with delight.

I remember walking down the corridors of Brookdale hospital, a place that felt like a second home.
My dad was chief resident for a while and I remember feeling so proud when his fellow doctors would walk by and greet him with reverence, "Hello Dr. Peakrang". That's what it would sound like.
I'd smile wide and often say "That's my daddy!".
During his lunch break, we'd eat terrible cafeteria hamburgers and talk about what seemed to be really important things. Like video games, princesses, BBQ spare ribs, and scary movies- our favorite.

He'd drop me off in the resident's lounge, while he made his hospital rounds.
I remember very distinctly, those moments when we'd separate.
As a child, your worst fear is separation from your parents.
When he would leave, I'd always wonder whether he would come back, and what would happen to me if he didn't. But, I knew he'd always come back.
After all, that's what's supposed to happen.
People leave...and come back.
The doctors would come in on their breaks and ask me who I belonged to. And I would proudly say, "My daddy is Dr. Apeakorang".
And before I knew it, my dad would always come back to me.
After all, that's what's supposed to happen.

It is 4:25pm. I have been at this nail salon for 2 hours and 5 minutes.
I am crying involuntarily and somewhat discretely.
The Vietnamese woman continues to apologize for making me cry. She gives me a massage to make up for it and gives me a free French manicure.
But it's not enough.
Making things pretty doesn't always make things right.
She doesn't understand that this has nothing to do with her.
My manicure is finished. She walks away, disappointed in herself.
I whisper with a hint of guilt, "Sorry. Thank you".

I walk away, towards to cash register to pay and I think about how I am looking forward to resuming the book, but how I am not always ready to deal with the emotions it evokes.
I think about how grateful I am for Edwidge and about that one time I met her when she came to Brown and if she remembers me and if we'll meet again, to exchange stories.

I am unaware of how my face looks to people right now. I'm lost in my thoughts.
I hand over my money.

The nail salon owner, who I've involuntarily made sad, angry, confused, and desperate faces at says, "Sorry".
I say "Bad timing", as I tap on my watch.
She replies, "Some things, my dear, we cannot control".
I say, "It's ok. This is a part of life".
We understand and we walk away from each other at the same time.

Stay engaged,


  1. I have just nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Check it out here:

    1. Thanks Laurence! How flattering :) Peace, N.

  2. my god naika. i am understanding.

    1. Thanks for your comment Keys! Thanks for understanding.

  3. Your writing inspires me to no end. I don't get a chance to read your blog on the regular but whenever I get a moment I check it out. I am never disappointed and always feel that you truly capture our Haitian heritage. Unlike your heritage of being born of two different lineages both my parents are /were Haitian, I being born in Brooklyn. One of my fondest memories is of my parents speaking to each other in their native tongue. Whether it was a heated debate or a shared joke, I felt privileged to be able to understand every word they spoke. Every time I check out your blog I am once again privileged to hear our language being spoken. You are amazing!

    1. Thank you so much for this comment Pre10der! YOU are amazing. P.s happy Haitian flay day- N