March 8th is International Women's Day and in Haiti this year several local women's organizations marked the day by honoring the lives and work of Myriam Merlet, Magalie Marcelin and Anne-Marie Coriolan. I took the tap-tap over the mountain pass from Jacmel to Port-au-Prince with my friend Etienne to attend.
It's only about 40 km from Jacmel to Port-au-Prince, but it usually takes roughly 2 1/2 hours to make the trip as the mountains are steep and the road is narrow. I didn't know what to expect as we wound our way down the mountain, passing tiny villages and farmers on foot walking donkeys loaded down with their yields of casheman, bannan and tobacco.
After navigating the labyrinthine streets of Port-au-Prince, we arrived to a dead-end road,roped off to host the ceremony. There were sharply dressed ushers seating people in rows of chairs that faced a stage at the far end of the road. It was an exceptionally hot and beautiful day and the sky was bright blue beyond the massive tarp erected to shade the attendees. Scores of people steadily streamed into completely fill every seat and then to stand in every inch of space available beyond the rope.
I made my way through the crowd with my video camera to get a good view of the event. when I turned around to face the crowd, I was struck by how many people were there. The feeling was electric. There was so much emotion packed beneath the tarp. I saw groups of feminists from all over the world in attendance, they came from: The Dominican Republic, Cuba, Canada, Puerto Rico, the Americas and even as far away as Europe.
The group from the Dominican Republic had specially printed up placards in the shape of the female symbol with the faces of Magalie, Myriam and Anne-Marie printed on them.
I saw women bursting into tears, embracing each other. There were lively conversations between new-guard and old-guard feminists.
On the stage were three alters dedicated to each of the women honored. The flower arrangements were large and colorful. In front of the stage, there was a table completely covered in lit, purple candles. I became entranced by the flames. There were six hours of speakers and performers in total, each executed with so much reverence. The ceremony began with an acapella quartet of young men in ties, reminiscent of old American do-wop groups. I could only make out very few words of the ceremony, but it didn't really matter, I knew what they were ultimately conveying.
The final act was by an extraordinary performance group made up of four men and four women. Through movement and song, they performed a 30 minute piece about loss and grief caused by the earthquake. Their movements were slow and exacting. In their final piece, the group passed a very long, shear cloth to each other where one of the women crouched in front of a large brown pot and pushed the long purple fabric into the pot until it slowly disappeared.