my sweet mami
by Kayla Raymond
When my parents bought our house, a little old man was living there as the yard keeper. We called him Papi. We soon met his wife and called her Mami. Their real names are Jolicoeur and Marie Mamoune but all I ever called them were Papi and Mami. Their son Rodlet soon became one of our closest friends as he helped paint and work around the house that first summer in 2010 (also the summer Webert notoriously came to help paint as well – if you haven’t heard our “love story” that’s when it all began)
Once I moved to Haiti full-time, I quickly realized having an automatic washer for my laundry was out the picture. You could only run it if the city power was on, which mostly came on at night. I’d start a load and if the power turned off in the middle of the load, I would have to start all over again. And as my family grew (we took in both of the boys right away and welcomed Wishla the following summer) the laundry just couldn’t be kept up with.
Since we already had a relationship with the family and Papi still came to clean the beach, we asked Mami if she would come twice a week to do our laundry. She was ecstatic to help and it was a blessing to be able to provide her with a reliable income. We soon hired their daughter, Beatrice, to come and clean our house, too. They would have started working full-time for us in late 2013, because I can remember them being around as family and friends started to arrive for our wedding in January 2014.
You quickly develop an intimate relationship when you allow a woman to wash your underwear by hand, ha! But, in all seriousness, they truly did become a part of our family. I would come home most afternoons as Mami was finishing up the laundry and just sit on the step next to her and tell her about my day. She gave some of the best hugs, too. She was a short, stocky lady, full of joy and gratitude. Just her presence of being at our home made me feel more at home in a country that reminded me daily how out of place I was.
I can remember days where she would give me back pennies worth of change that she had found in our pockets; she was beyond honest and kind. There had been plenty of people who had tried to cheat and lie to us, so knowing I had Mami taking care of us at home was so important to me. There was a peace knowing she would be there when I came home.
I can remember another day, it was the dead of summer and I was pregnant with Rubie. I came home tired and hot. I expressed my exhaustion to her and she grabbed me by the wrist and told me to lay down, while helping herself to a glass of water that she brought to me in bed. She stayed until Webert got home to make sure I had stayed in bed. There’s something humbling being scolded and drug to your bedroom by a sassy, old lady; but, something so comforting as well, knowing they’ll go out of their way to take care of you.
We lost our sweet Papi in January of 2018. Papi really liked his rum and towards the end, his fragile body just couldn’t keep up. After Papi’s death, Mami was never the same. She became so thin and weak. She also had another relative pass shortly after Papi and the financial burden really took its toll on her as well. We helped with the financial needs for Papi’s funeral and then loaned her some money for help with the other expenses, but I could just see it was becoming too much for her.
I remember another day, we were hanging the wet laundry on the line together, and she just kept shaking her head, telling me she didn’t know what she was going to do. I saw the defeat in her eyes that day and decided she was just getting too old and fragile to keep up with our laundry. We made the decision to have her stop working – we would hire her daughter-in-law – but would still continue supporting her.
I made all of these arrangements and then flew to America in February (a trip I wrote about in the blog about limbo; it was suppose to be a ten day trip, but ended up being an entire month away) Mami became ill and passed away while I was gone. Even though I was sad to not be there for the funeral, she was at least someone who I knew was ready to go Home.
After she passed, we hired her daughter-in-law, but trouble quickly followed. When I initially hired her, she forgot to tell me she was pregnant and hid the news from me for quite a while. It’s a long story about why that upset me so much, so we will just say it wasn’t good or exciting news to find out. When it came time for her to have the baby, she started sending her sister in her place. I had never met her sister and they had made all the arrangements without even asking me, so the whole situation just irritated me. Plus, the girl just wasn’t that good at laundry. One day I pulled my only nice pair of maternity pants off the line and they had streaks of soap still in them because they hadn’t been properly rinsed. Then there were days when she just wouldn’t show up and a few other days where she just left half the laundry unwashed. I know this may sound petty to you all, but when you have a family of six, keeping up with our laundry is a big deal! Plus, it all just made me miss my sweet Mami all the more.
The point of that last story being, my favorite chore to do in America? LAUNDRY! I know, I know, if you didn’t already think I was crazy, now you probably do! The simple task of sorting clothes and folding fluffy towels is so gratifying. Don’t even get me started on the luxury of having my jeans fit properly again; you all better never take for granted a freshly washed pair of jeans ever again! It is also wonderful knowing my clothes will be dry in the morning and not wet from the rain, because there’s nothing worse than mildew, rain-scented clothes. Can I also give a shout-out to dryer sheets?
But again, in all seriousness, the loss of Mami and the laundry fiasco those last couple months before leaving Haiti just added to my resentment of life in Haiti. Maybe you’re thinking, well why don’t you just do the laundry yourself? Because, it’s seriously a full-time job to do our family’s laundry by hand and I don’t have the time. Of course, I’ll wash things if the kids need something quickly or something like that, but I would have to take at least two full days out of my week to do laundry if I were to do it all by myself. So, maybe you’ll ask next, well why didn’t you just hire someone else? I thought about that in my frustration, but the laundry gets done during the day when we are out working, so I only want people I trust and have a close relationship with to have that job. They have full access to our home and that’s only something I want to give to people I know well, just as I’m sure you’d do the same.
I think there’s this other layer of frustration, because in the end Haiti – probably safe to say for anyone actually who chooses to move to a foreign place – strips so many things away from you. In the beginning, the fact that I couldn’t just get in my car and drive wherever I wanted drove me crazy, but after a few years and figuring out the city, I started driving by myself. Yes, it’s more dangerous to go by myself, but the freedom I feel? Totally worth the risk.
So, the inability to just do my laundry or have it done the way I wanted, became a soul issue. Turns out life in limbo means even laundry can become a sacred routine. Here’s to recognizing just that, seasons where we have to go back to the basics, relearn how holy routines can be and enjoy the mundane things like laundry.
Sweet Mami, we miss you, but laundry and your love and the way you made Haiti home to me will always be something I’ll hold on to.