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LIFE AFTER LIFE

Living in Spain after surviving 24 years in prison. Here I will be sharing my experiences as a writer and journalist, travelling all over the world interviewing dangerous people in dangerous places.

The Day of the dead - part 3
18 December 2012 @ 11:48

Lying in my room that night, I mulled over what I was about to do. I wasn’t complacent about stirring up the spirit world, but I felt absolutely no fear. I was quite confident about my spiritual condition. I knew I was a strong spirit, one that had progressed from an evil orientation to a good one. I had performed that most incredible of feats, I had turned around my heart and had come to a comparative state of grace. I totally rejected evil in all its forms and was sure that it couldn’t touch me. Further, after all the years of pain, much of which I still lived with, I had no fear of death. Needless to say, I didn’t share these thoughts with Linda. 

  We set out for Bel Air the following afternoon. To my question of why the ceremony wasn’t being held at night, Linda answered that to be out after dark in Port au Prince was a sure invitation to be murdered. With absolutely no street lighting, even the police, stayed in their police stations after dark.

  If it was a special day for me, it certainly wasn’t for the usual inhabitants of the voudou temple. Washer-women, playing children, crawling infants, chickens, a goat and several cats wandered in and out. Damp washing still hung everywhere.

  Silva, still dressed in the same clothes, welcomed me warmly, then retired into a small, dark room next to the altar to prepare himself. Strange chanting could be heard for several minutes. Suddenly, a double hand-clap announced that I could enter.

  By candle light, I sat down in a chair next to Silva. He seemed to be in some kind of trance, staring about the room wildly. However, he did have the presence of mind to shake hands with me. Then he stared directly into my face for a while, before taking out a deck of cards and dealing some onto the table between us. All the while Gary filmed the proceedings whilst Linda snapped away with her camera.

  I’d like to say that he came close, but he didn’t. First, he asked if I had had trouble with a black person recently. I hadn’t, but sitting in a voudou temple in Haiti surrounded by black people, I would hardly have admitted to it if I had.

  I suppose he was warmer when he said that I was very ambitious, but he kept coming back to the question about the trouble with a black person. I scoured my memory. I had exchanged hostile looks with an officious ticket collector on the London Underground the previous week, but I was sure that wasn’t what Silva was referring to.

  After about 20 minutes, during which time the room became unbearably hot, Silva pronounced me clear of evil spirits. However, there was another problem. It seemed that there was a powerful female spirit called Erzili Frieda, who wanted to get close to me, but couldn’t because of my jealous girlfriend. The latter part was certainly close enough. I was sure that Marsha would deter even the most powerful voudou spirit.

  According to Silva, this female spirit was becoming increasingly angry, which was blocking me for good fortune. He strongly advised that I should let her come closer. To facilitate this he recommended that I take a magical bath, which he would administer personally. 

  I had to hand it to the old guy. I was sure the pitch for the magical bath would come in somewhere, he certainly wasn’t going to miss out on the extra £100. But this was quite ingenious. Anyway, as the spectacle of the magic bath ceremony was sure to be more impressive than what I had just been through, I agreed. It was usually naked, nubile, young women who appeared in the pages of ‘Front’. Surely, I’d be a welcome change. 

  I was told that there was some preparation to be done and that I should come back in a couple of hours. On my return, Silva’s appearance had smartened up dramatically. Gone were the grubby vest, crumpled track-suit bottoms and scuffed trainers, and in their place were a pristine white shirt, immaculately-pressed black trousers and highly-polished black shoes. Also, all the women, children and assorted animals had gone, and some of the washing had been taken down, Clearly, Silva meant business. 

  He welcomed me again, then withdrew into the altar room with his assistant to prepare once more. Candles were lit, incantations uttered and a large white porcelain bowl was placed on a chair in front of the altar. Into this was poured a foul-smelling brown liquid. I was then told to strip naked and stand on a board in front of the altar.

  Now I had realised that for a bath, magical or otherwise, a degree of nakedness would be required. What I hadn’t realized was that I would be stark naked. However, you can’t spend 24 years in prison and still be shy about personal matters. That had been amongst men, though. Linda, despite her new-found sexual orientation, was still a woman. I was going to have to stand stark naked in front of her.

  All modesty apart, there was also a very sound practical reason for my caution. Of all the baleful spirits that might be watching over us at this moment, the one firmly to the front of my mind was that of Marsha. What would happen if she ever saw my article in the magazine? There I would be, stark naked for all the world to see, and the byline for the photographs would contain the name of Linda, clearly a woman. It would take an army of voudou ‘priests’ to protect me from her wrath.

  My ruminations were suddenly disrupted by a small explosion and a sheet of flame. Silva had set light to the liquid in the bowl. It burned brightly for several seconds before he snuffed it out with a towel. He spun me around several times, all the while uttering incantations. Then, with Silva holding a candle just below my chin, I had to silently say a prayer to Saint Nicholas for that which I desired.

  Filling his cupped hands with some of the liquid from the bowl, Silva proceeded to rub it all over my body, from the top of my head, to the soles of my feet. Suddenly, my flesh seemed like it was on fire. My face burned so fiercely that my eyes filled with tears, temporarily blinding me. A hot flush spread through my insides. I involuntarily clutched at my groin in agony as a small droplet of the liquid entered the eye of my dick.

  Not surprisingly, every bit of my complacency had disappeared. I was now taking the experience a lot more seriously, I hadn’t expected it to physically hurt me. I wondered what trial Silva had in store for me next. I didn’t have to wait long to find out. 

  Telling me to hold out my left hand, Silva poured some of the liquid into my upturned palm. I was told that he was going to set it alight and that I should snuff the flame out and rub what remained of the liquid over my scalp. What he didn’t tell me was just how difficult it would be to snuff out the flame.

  With the palm of my left hand literally a ball of flame, I flapped my arm about in a vain attempt to put the fire out. The rush of air seemed to make the flames burn fiercer. The  pain was excruciating. I briefly contemplated slapping my hand against my side, but this would only have burned a more tender part of my body. It didn’t reassure me to see that Silva was now looking quite concerned.

  Suddenly, the flames went out. I don’t think it was of my causing, more that the liquid had all burnt up. It was a very sore left hand that I rubbed across my scalp. As I looked at my palm, two very large blisters came up right before my eyes. 

  Silva told me to get dressed and not to wash or bathe for the rest of the day. He handed me a bottle containing what remained of the liquid and instructed me to rub it over my body at 7am on a day that I had hard work to do. I took a silent oath to remain idle for the rest of my life.

  In the car back to the hotel, Linda told Gary and I what to expect at the ‘Day of the Dead’ ceremonies in the morning. For Haitians it was the festival of Gede. The Gede are a family of spirits who are guardians of the dead. They are presided over by Baron Samedi and his wife, Gran Brigitte. November 1st and 2nd are national holidays in Haiti. There are prayers, offerings, sacrifices of animals and birds, ceremonies and processions. However, as serious as this might be, humour is an integral part of the proceedings. As if, by mocking death, we can lose our fear of it..

  At breakfast, there was reassuring news from the hotel staff. Although the police had shot dead nine people in violent protests in recent days and there had been talk of another disturbance in Port au Prince’s main cemetery on Gede, targeting tourists and other foreigners, the Director of the National Cemetery had just announced that there would be no trouble after all.  

  On Linda’s advice, we set out early for the National Cemetery. A portly, middle-aged Canadian academic had arrived the previous day and had asked if he could come along with us. We agreed, reasoning that there would be more safety in numbers. Mentally, I steeled myself. Protest or no protest I had been warned that the coming experience would be an ordeal.

  If the buildings of Port au Prince had been merely decaying, the fabric of the cemetery was in an altogether more parlous state. Rusty gates hung haphazardly from broken hinges and the low, once-white wall was cobwebbed with cracks caused by subsidence. 

  Around the entrance milled a seething mass of celebrants. Some wore white, sheet-like robes, whilst others were dressed like Baron Samedi, with black trousers, purple scarf, black hat and white shirt. Many cradled a skull in their arm, whilst holding a black walking stick in one hand.

  The sight of two police cars and several officers was reassuring, but Linda cautioned that they would stay outside and, once we went in, we would be on our own. Of the five of us, at this point Milfort was the most skittish. He had a worried look on his face and was constantly looking about him as if he expected a sneak attack at any moment. To be truthful, I had never had much confidence in his powers of protection. At his age and in his condition it didn’t seem like he could have much of a fight. However, perhaps fear and respect were based on other things locally. 

  With Milfort leading the way, we entered the cemetery. We were immediately confronted by hordes of beggars of all ages. From young children, to aged crones, including women with infants in their arms , they cried in unison, “Blanc, blanc, un dollar” over and over again like some ritualistic chant. 

  I was firmly in battle mode. I didn’t feel afraid. I had told myself that, whatever happened, I couldn’t afford to show any fear. People pick up on fear. As just four white faces in a sea of black ones, we wouldn’t have stood a chance if the mob had turned on us. I also knew that to give anything to one beggar would only encourage the others the more. I stared fixedly in front of me and pushed through the crush.

  Suddenly, two young men in their early twenties were in front of me. Thrusting their faces into mine whilst walking backwards they shouted, “Blanc, blanc, un dollar.” I ignored them as if they weren’t there. Seeing that I wasn’t going to give them anything, their tone became even more aggressive and they began shouting something like, “Blanc, cacka; blanc, cacka.” I knew that ‘blanc’ meant foreigner, but ‘cacka’ was new to me. However, it was obviously some term of abuse. I hazarded a guess that ‘caka’ meant ‘shit’. Now they definitely weren’t going to get anything.

  Each of our party, except Milfort, was being subjected to the same treatment. Linda was taking it all in her stride. Twisting and turning she seemed to weave her way through the mob. Gary actually seemed to be enjoying himself. With his cine camera held tightly in his arms, he filmed our progress and zoomed in on the most vociferous of the beggars.

  The Canadian academic though was suffering badly. Clearly frightened, he made the mistake of giving money to some particularly persistent children. The baying mob immediately pressed forward, pinning him against a tombstone until Milfort rescued him.

White-faced and literally shaking with fear, he rushed close to us and kept both hands firmly in his pockets from then on. 

  As we battled our way towards the centre of the cemetery, most of the beggars dropped away. This gave us more opportunity to examine our surroundings in detail. We passed groups gathered around graves lit with candles, who were chanting, giving offerings and drinking the local fermented cane sugar drink, kleren. There were friendly, welcoming looks, but there were also hostile stares. Assuming an air of confidence I didn’t really feel, I pressed on. 

  Suddenly we came to a large white cross blackened with the soot of hundreds of candles that surrounded it. Scores of celebrants milled about. This was the cross of Baron Samedi and served as the focal point of the cemetery celebrations. 

  The more kleren that was consumed, the more frantic the chanting and singing became. From time to time, men would appear dressed as Baron Samedi. One gamboled through the throng, cracking jokes. He stopped right in front of me, tweaked my nose and, as I raised my hands in a reflex action, reached down and tweaked at my dick. Linda assured me that it was nothing personal, just the lewdness and humour of Gede.

  By now about an hour had passed since we had entered the cemetery. We felt that we had seen enough and that to stay longer would be to press our luck. With the assistance of two young men who had attached themselves to our party and who had protected us from the worst of the beggars, we forged a path back to the entrance. As we reached our car I gave them five dollars each. Thus ended a thoroughly unpleasant experience, one that left me exhausted from all the tension. I returned to the hotel and slept for several hours. 

 
to be continued...


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