Housekeeping in Haitian Creole – Part IV

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL February 23, 2013

Language is the dress of thought, said Samuel Johnson and if he were right, my mental state must be particularly unclothed at the moment. Every day, I draw tight the tatters of my kreyol – word-wisps, sentence fragments, zigzag seams of grammar – and ‘talk’ to Mme Josette about what needs to be done.

“Chak semen men pa chak jou, tanpri lavi tuvalet,” I suggest, trying to explain that the toilet needs to be cleaned once a week.

Or, and this was particularly difficult:

toilet paper

Toilet paper changes are a challenge if you’re asking in Haitian Creole

“Ou gade papye fini mete lot papye”. (When you see that the toilet roll has finished please change it.”)

And then, this gem, after weeks of watching Mme Josette wash the dishtowels and cheerily festoon the windows with the wet cloths.

Lè twal mouye Tanpri kenbe l’ deyò pa sou fenèt.” (When the cloth is wet, please hang it outside, not on the window.)

allium, garlic

The idea was for Mme Josette to stud the meat with ivory slivers of the pungent allium

But the triumph of the week was my ability to dredge up the memory of Mme Josette telling me what she called the act of studding a roll of meat with garlic. “Pike,” she had said and I stored it away as a wonderful word that spoke volumes for all that it was just four characters long.

Having bought a filet of beef – to braise and slice thinly when cold for sandwiches – I prepared to ask the good lady to stud it with ivory shards of the pungent allium.

“Pike lay nan vyan pou fe manje,” I managed, with a little help from the housekeeper who’s helping, ever so slowly, clothe my thoughts in Haitian Creole. Samuel Johnson would surely have approved.

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