“Pè” is the word for “fear” in Creole. “Pye” is the word for old.
Tonight I was out by the ocean (where I get good cell reception) making a phone call back home. After awhile my new Haitian roommate (another story), Noë, was sent to come get me and tell me to come back inside. I told him, “No,” I wasn’t done talking.
A little later, Carlos and Enochson, two of my teenage sidekicks, came up breathless, warning me I was in great danger by staying outside. “What danger?” I asked. “From a wicked malefactor.” “Who? What wicked malefactor?” “The werewolves,” was their response, adding, “Everyone in the village has gone inside early.” Then they wasted no time in hightailing it back themselves.
I turned around and examined the outline of the village and it was eerily quiet. A thunderstorm in the distance over the ocean roiled thunder, and lightning had been flashing nearly constant about an hour.
About this time Noë, who had been waiting for me with some anxiety, began pulling on my arm and insisting we return, “NOW!” and wouldn’t let go. In great exasperation I ended my phone conversation, but before returning I insisted we talk about this first. I sat down on a rock. He would have nothing to do with it: “We can talk about it back inside the house, but not here, let’s go!” Noë, like everyone here, only speaks Creole.
Reluctantly, I returned and went back with him. It was like the kids said, everyone was inside, an odd and unfamiliar scene for Ravine Seche. One of my neighbors (a father) came out to see if Noë had got me back safely. When he saw I was ok, he hustled back inside. I tried talking with him, but he was in no mood for chitchat. This man has two homes for his family, and I noticed they were all sleeping together tonight in one of them! because, as Noë explained, “He is afraid (pè), as most everyone else in the village was afraid too.” I told him I wasn’t. But with the wind whipping, and hardly a peep coming from a normally loud village setting, it was a bit eerie.
I probed for details. Apparently demons were afoot, up to no good, especially for anyone on the road outside. Inside was fairly safe, as was on the water in a boat.
“How often do the demons come, and how do you know when they’re here?” Only sometimes, and the way you know is that it’s announced. “By who? Who announces?” An old person here. They know and announce.
I didn’t feel any particular evil presence. Just seemed like a bunch of people had creeped each other out for nothing. In many ways, the villagers act like kids.
Speaking of an older person giving out spurious information, I was introduced to the oldest person in the village. She was walking in front of Noë and I as we were heading down to the well to fetch water this morning. Noë told me she was 107 years old. I said I didn’t believe it. Not for someone as spry as she looked, and (not saying the second thought aloud), not in a country with a life expectancy in the 40’s! Injured, Noë said I could ask her myself. We hurried up to catch her. She spoke first, loudly, cocking her head, “So, you guys heading down to get water?” Indeed, we were, and told her so, though I secretly hoped that at 107 years of age I would have something more profound to say. More like Yodda.
Noë told her I had a question for her. She looked at me expectantly. A bit embarrassed, I asked her how old she was. Leaning on her staff she cocked her head again and loudly asked, “What?!” I realized she must be hard of hearing. I asked again, louder. “Oh! I’m 107 years old.”
“See?” said Noë.
As she hobbled off, I asked Noë, “What’s her name?” “Gran Tan,” he said, which obviously wasn’t her real name, as that translates literally to, “Old Time,” sorta like us saying, “Oldtimer” in slang.
I told Noë I still wasn’t convinced, even with her personal testimony. “Well, the way I know she’s so old,” Noë added, “Is because she has a daughter who is an old, tiny, frail thing,” Noë pantomimed the daughters aged features, hunching over and twisting his arms in a Dinosauric fashion, adding, “In fact, she looks a lot worse than her mom.” I commented that, regardless of Gran Tan’s true age, she probably knew a lot of things. Nöe agreed.
Each day here is a learning experience. Between flying malefactic werewolves and talking with an aged lady hobbling around at 107, and getting my flip-flops repaired (re-stitched together by the official “flip-flop cobbler”), I’d say today was a success.