This post is also available in: Kreyol
I wondered if I’d remember the city of my birth- and if it would welcome me.
Would I return home only to be greeted as a foreigner? All my life, I’d been the foreigner, the immigrant, the expat, the outsider. I’ve always had to pause a moment and reflect on the seemingly casual questions like, “Where are you from?” Where am I from? My accents blurred at times like the old colonial cities I can no longer distinguish from one another in photos. Old memories bring both joy and longing for places and people that no longer existed, only to then be replaced by friendly faces in newly familiar lands.
Twenty years after my family fled a brutal dictatorship on the island of Haiti, I peered out the window to watch our small plane maneuver through clouds that drifted passed lazily and over the emerald green mountains that glimmered obstinately in the morning sun. Down below, small farms blooming with seasonal crops dotted the land. As we landed in the small airport of Cap-Haïtien, Haiti I wondered if I’d remember the city of my birth- and if it would welcome me.
I maneuvered my way through the cacophony of the airport with my carry-on to find my father waiting for me. Like all the older Haitian men I’d ever known, he stood tall and proud in a white guayabera, somehow still impeccably clean and wrinkle-free despite the Caribbean heat that was already causing sweat stains on my t-shirt. He seemed to not have aged, only tanned, in the years since I’d seen him last. He reached out his arms, pulling me into a bear-hug before I could protest.
We hopped into his truck, careening through traffic as cars shared the road with brightly colored buses and lumbering cattle. I gazed out the window at Cap-Haïtien, a colonial relic with pastel colored buildings sagging under the weight of both their French-style balconies and years of neglect. The city was guarded by mountains on one side and left to the mercy of the crystal-blue sea on the other. My father excitedly pointed from one site to the other:
“Do you remember playing there?”
“We used to go for ice cream here every Sunday.”
“That’s the house of the women who used to babysit you.”
I took it all in as he went on and on.
The truck pulled up next to the central square where the imposing the rose and white Cathedrale de Notre Dame anchored a square filled with men playing raucous games of Dominos and young children engulfed in an improvised soccer match. “I promised your aunt that she would be the first person you’d come to see when you arrived,” my father said by way of explanation. I got out of the truck to stretch my legs as I saw myself coming towards us through the crowd. It wasn’t exactly me, but surely this had to be me from 20 years in the future. “Marley,” she squealed, using my middle name reserved only for family before she embraced me, “Welcome home.” I looked up from my aunt’s embrace to see eyes just like mine reflecting back my own tears.
Here I was, home at last.