Housekeeping in Haitian Creole – Part III

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL February 16, 2013
housekeeping, tools

Part of the housekeeper’s arsenal, combined with that unbeatable product, elbow grease

Bleach, furniture wax, starch. The little things in the housekeeper’s arsenal, which work well when combined with that unbeatable product – elbow grease. As also, with a modicum of good sense.

In this respect, I can’t really complain about Mme Josette. She has abundant judgement. And she seemed to think I have…ah, abundant amounts of anmidonnen. That’s kreyol for starch, the substance used for 400 years to stiffen shirt collars and sleeves and petticoat ruffles. With Mme Josette in charge of the spray can, the starch barely lasted 40 hours.

An etymological analysis of the word ‘anmidonnen’ reveals the following: it comes from the Latin amylu via the Greek amylon, which means “not ground at a mill.” Obviously, mills and grinding make less sense when we refer to the spray starch we use today or, fling around liberally as Mme Josette did.

Barely a week after presenting her with a can of spray starch to use as she ironed, Mme Josette arrived at my desk in some distress.

“Madame,” she asked, “eske ou prale maket la?” (Will you go to the shops?)

“Wi,” I responded, wondering what made her sound so beseeching.

“Tanpri achte anmidonnen (please buy starch),” she asked.

“Ok,” I agreed, swallowing all further questions about her overly speedy dispatch of the first can of starch till I found the right kreyol words.

It took me a day or two but here’s how we arrived at some understanding of the less-is-more philosophy.

“Anmidonnen twòp (too much starch),” I began tremulously, “tanpri utilize pa twop anmidonnen (please use less starch.)”

Mme Josette nodded. I had managed to make myself understood, howsoever poor my vocabulary, grammar and pronounciation.Two weeks on and the new can is still going strong.

Perhaps it’s not quite so hard to keep house in kreyol as it sounds? Or perhaps I speak perilously early in our Haitian adventure?

Pi bone. More soon.

Jack Kerouac

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
– Jack Kerouac