In a story that travels beyond borders and between families, acclaimed Dominican novelist and poet Julia Alvarez reflects on the joys and burdens of lovefor her parents, for her husband, and for a young Haitian boy known as Piti. In this intimate true account of a promise kept, Alvarez takes us on a journey into experiences that challenge our way of thinking about history and how it can be reimagined when people from two countriestraditional enemies and strangersbecome friends.
|Publisher:||Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.81(d)|
About the Author
Julia Alvarez left the Dominican Republic for the United States in 1960 at the age of ten. A novelist, poet, and essayist, she is the author of nineteen books, including How the García Girls Lost Their Accents,In the Time of the Butterflies (a National Endowment for the Arts Big Read Selection), Yo!, Something to Declare, In the Name of Salome, Saving theWorld, A Wedding in Haiti, and The Woman I Kept to Myself. Her work has garnered wide recognition, including the 2013 National Medal of Arts, a Latina Leader Award in Literature in 2007 from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, the 2002 Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature, the 2000 Woman of the Year by Latina magazine, and inclusion in the New York Public Library’s 1996 program “The Hand of the Poet: Original Manuscripts by 100 Masters, from John Donne to Julia Alvarez.” A writer-in-residence at Middlebury College, Alvarez and her husband, Bill Eichner, established Alta Gracia, an organic coffee farm–literacy arts center, in her homeland, the Dominican Republic.
Date of Birth:March 27, 1950
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Education:B.A., Middlebury College, 1971; M.F.A., Syracuse University, 1975
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A Wedding in HaitiThe Story of a Friendship
By JULIA ALVAREZ
ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILLCopyright © 2012 Julia Alvarez
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGoing to Piti's Wedding in Haiti
Circa 2001, the mountains of the Dominican Republic
My husband and I have an ongoing debate about how old Piti was when we first met him. I say Piti was seventeen at the most. My husband claims he was older, maybe nineteen, even possibly twenty. Piti himself isn't sure what year we met him. But he has been working in the mountains of the Dominican Republic since he first crossed the border from Haiti in 2001 when he was seventeen years old.
Bill and I might have forgotten the year, but we distinctly remember the first time we met Piti. It was late afternoon, and we were driving past the barracks-type housing where he lived with half a dozen other Haitian workers on a neighboring farm. On the concrete apron in front, the group was horsing around, like young people having fun all over the world. Piti, whose name in Kreyol means "little one," was the smallest of the group, short and slender with the round face of a boy. He was putting the finishing touches on a small kite he was making.
I asked Bill to stop the pickup, as I hadn't seen one of these homemade chichiguas since I was a child. I tried to explain this to Piti, who at that point didn't understand much Spanish. His response was to grin and offer me his kite. I declined and asked if I could take his picture instead.
On the next trip, I made a point of finding Piti so I could give him the photo in the small album I'd brought as a gift. You'd have thought I was giving him the keys to a new motorcycle. He kept glancing at the photo, grinning and repeating, "Piti, Piti!" as if to convince himself that he was the boy in the photo. Or maybe he was saying thank you. "Mèsi, mèsi" can sound like "Piti, Piti," to an ear unused to Kreyòl.
A friendship began. Every trip I sought him out, brought him a shirt, a pair of jeans, a bag in which to cart his belongings back and forth on his periodic and dangerous crossings of the border.
What I felt toward the boy was unaccountably maternal. Somewhere in Haiti, a mother had sent her young son to the wealthier neighbor country to help the impoverished family. Maybe this very moment she was praying that her boy be safe, earn good money, encounter kind people. Every time I spotted the grinning boy with worried eyes, I felt the pressure of that mother's prayer in my own eyes. Tears would spring up and a big feeling fill my heart. Who knows why we fall in love with people who are nothing to us?
A coffee farm or a mistress?
Over the years, Bill and I got to see a lot of Piti. Whenever we could get away from our lives and jobs in Vermont—short trips of a week, longer trips of a few weeks—we headed for the Dominican mountains. We had become coffee farmers.
Every time I get started on this story, the curtain rises on that vaudeville act that long-term couples fall into: who did what first and how did we get in this fix.
It began in 1997 with a writing assignment for the Nature Conservancy. I was asked to visit the Cordillera Central, the central mountain range that runs diagonally across the island, and write a story about anything that caught my interest. While there, Bill and I met a group of impoverished coffee farmers who were struggling to survive on their small plots. They asked if we would help them.
We both said of course we'd help. I meant help as in: I'd write a terrific article that would bring advocates to their cause. Bill meant help, as in roll-up-your-sleeves and really help. I should have seen it coming. Having grown up in rural Nebraska with firsthand experience of the disappearance of family farms, Bill has a soft spot in his heart for small farmers.
We ended up buying up deforested land and joining their efforts to grow coffee the traditional way, under shade trees, organically by default. (Who could afford pesticides?) We also agreed to help find a decent market for our pooled coffee under the name Alta Gracia, as we called our sixty, then a hundred, and then, at final count, two hundred and sixty acres of now reforested land. I keep saying "we," but, of course, I mean the marital "we," as in my stubborn beloved announces we are going to be coffee farmers in the Dominican Republic, and I say, "But, honey, how can we? We live in Vermont!"
Of course, I fell in with Don Honey, as the locals started calling Bill, when they kept hearing me calling him "honey, this," "honey, that." The jokey way I explained our decision to my baffled family and friends was that it was either a coffee farm or a mistress. Over the years, I admit, I've had moments when I wondered if a mistress might not have been easier.
We were naive—yes, now the "we" includes both of us: We hired a series of bad farm managers. We left money in the wrong hands for payrolls never paid. One manager was a drunk who had a local mistress and used the payroll to pay everyone in her family, whether they worked on the farm or not. Another, a Seventh-Day Adventist, who we thought would be safe because he wouldn't drink or steal or have a mistress, proved to be bossy and lazy. He was el capataz, he boasted to his underlings, the jefe, the foreman. He didn't have to work. Every day turned out to be a sabbath for him. His hands should have been a tip-off, pink-palmed with buffed nails. Another manager left for New York on a visa I helped him get. (Like I said, it takes two fools to try to run a coffee farm from another country.)
Still, if given the choice, I would probably do it again. As I've told Bill many a time—and this gets me in trouble—even if in the end we're going to be royally taken, I'd still rather put my check mark on the side of light. Otherwise, all the way to being proved right, I'd have turned into the kind of cynic who has opted for a smaller version of her life.
And things have slowly improved on the mountain. Over the years, the quality of the coffee being grown in the area has gotten better. Local farmers are being paid the Fair Trade price or higher, and the land is being farmed organically. We also started a school on our own farm after we discovered that none of our neighbors, adults or children, could read or write. It helps that I'm associated with a college, with ready access to a pool of young people eager to help. Every year, for a small stipend, a graduating senior signs on to be the volunteer teacher. Recently, we added a second volunteer to focus on community projects and help out with the literacy effort.
During the tenure of one of the better managers, Piti was hired to work on the farm. It happened while we were stateside, and when we arrived, what a wonderful surprise to find him at our door. "Soy de ustedes." I am yours. "No, no, no," we protested. We are the ones in your debt for coming to work at Alta Gracia.
Piti later told me how it had happened. His Haitian friend Pablo had found work on a farm belonging to some Americanos. (Because I'm white, married to a gringo, and living in Vermont, I'm considered American.) It was a good place: decent accommodations, reasonable hours, Fair Trade wages "even for Haitians." Piti put two and two together. The chichigua lady and Don Honey. We were not in country at the time, so Piti applied to the foreman, who took one look at this runt of a guy and shook his head. Piti offered to work the day, and, if at the end, he hadn't done as much clearing as the other fellows on the crew, he didn't have to be paid.
Piti turned out to be such a good worker that he became a regular. His reputation spread. After several years at Alta Gracia, he was offered a job as a foreman at a farm down the road. Piti had become a capataz! One with calloused hands and cracked ingernails who could outwork any man, Haitian or Dominican.
He was also a lot of fun. Nights when we were on the farm, it was open house at our little casita. Whoever was around sat down to eat supper with us. Afterward came the entertainment. At some point, a visiting student taught Piti and Pablo to play the guitar, then gave it to them. A youth group left a second guitar. Bill and I bought a third. Then, like young people all over the world, Piti and Pablo and two other Haitian friends formed a band. Mostly they sang hymns for their evangelical church. Beautiful, plaintive gospel songs a la "Amazing Grace," in which the down-and-out meet Jesus, and the rest is grace. We'd all sing along, and invariably, Bill and I would look at each other, teary-eyed, and smile.
And so, the curtain falls on the coffee-farm vaudeville act.
It was on one of those evenings that I promised Piti I'd be there on his wedding day. A far-off event, it seemed, since the boy was then only twenty, at most, and looked fifteen. One of those big-hearted promises you make that you never think you'll be called on to deliver someday.
Early August 2009, Weybridge, Vermont
The new volunteer on the farm, Eli, calls us. Piti needs to talk to us. Can we please call him? These messages are always about money: someone's mother is sick; someone needs a loan to buy tools, food, medicines, a motorcycle; to get back to Haiti for a birth, a funeral, or in this case, a wedding.
Excerpted from A Wedding in Haiti by JULIA ALVAREZ Copyright © 2012 by Julia Alvarez. Excerpted by permission of ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
AARP.com’s Best Books of 2012
Named one of the Top 10 Best Latino Authors for 2012 by TheLatinoAuthor.com
“She is the ideal travel companion—witty and observant and, as in all of Julia Alvarez’s writing, compassionate and full of heart. A Wedding In Haiti is a great experience and its unaffected prose is as true a portrait of complex Haiti as you will find.”
“[A] beguiling memoir of family and culture.”—O, The Oprah Magazine
“A sudden promise leads an acclaimed author on the journey—and to the wedding—of a lifetime . . . [An] extraordinary story.”—Marie Claire
“An open-eyed view of Haiti before and after the earthquake . . . A Wedding in Haiti is Alvarez's view into the rural Haitian family life that never makes the news.”—The Associated Press
“Award-winning Dominican writer Julia Alvarez finally, sweetly, gets to know her sister country as she travels to a friend’s fete.”—Ebony
“Alvarez’s devotion, her admiration and hope, and most clearly, the love for her extended family, is palpable throughout.”—The Christian Science Monitor
“Heartbreaking and humorous, simple and elusive.” —Ms. Magazine blog
“A moving message about the nature of poverty, human love, and their opposites.”
“A glimpse into the heart of a complex country during a tumultuous time.”—National Geographic Traveler
“This beautiful memoir from Alvarez is a look at Haiti through an unlikely friendship . . . Wonderfully told.”—New York Post
“A memoir with the structure and impact of a novel . . . It is hopeful, folksy, sobering and graceful with good story-telling.”—Asheville Citizen-Times
“Touching, funny, eye-opening and uplifting.” —The Seattle Times
“A compelling account of friendship, loyalty and perseverance.”—Philadelphia Citypaper
“A deeply personal story of family and connection that casts a light on larger issues of global community and the need for unity, compassion, and understanding.”—Shelf Awareness, starred review
“Beautifully told and moving, Alvarez's memoir serves to introduce readers to all Haiti once was — and what it could be again.”—SheKnows.com
“Warm, funny and compassionate.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A moving homage to the Haitian people.” —Publishers Weekly
"[Alvarez's] unaffected prose and her warm and caring voice make this intimate introduction to a troubled country one many readers will savor."—Booklist
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Not your typical wedding story, this memoir published in spring 2012 recounts the author's travels from her native Dominican Republic to Haiti to attend a friend's wedding. Describing Haiti as "the sister I never got to know," she recounts the details of her trip, while also describing the very difficult and often tragic relationship between the two countries. Alvarez has a very personal and reflective style, and we learn as much about her own anxieties (and her marital challenges!) as we do about the history of Haiti and the reality of the earthquake. I like this style, as it feels very organic, giving a sense of the viewer's reaction as much as the object - in this case, Haiti's troubled past and difficult present. A good choice for anyone interested in the other countries in our hemisphere and how the human spirit survives in even the most trying circumstances.
Julia Alvarez fans will find this small, lovely book ripe with her poetic language and insights! This is Alvarez at the top of her game.
Very vivid and heart felt! To bad it was so short, less than 200 pages.
0(' '0) 0(' ')0 (0' ')0 Party rocker's in the house tonight everybody just have a goid time. I said goid instead of good it sounds like a newyorker saying it or as they call it newyoker. XD as you can see I have been very bord.