Leita Kaldi’s Five Favorite Fiascos in Haiti, part 3: Ti Moustik’s Coq
(from Kaldi’s memoir, In the Valley of Atibon)
My restless nights were disturbed by a rooster. He trumpeted his ko-ko-ri-co outside my bedroom window as if he served as personal alarm clock to the sun at 4:00 a.m. I’d turn my fan to full volume, pop in ear plugs, pull the pillow over my head, but I’d still hear his raucous call. He’d strut around my garden, a gorgeous gagè – fighting cock – with iridescent black feathers, a bright red comb and fierce beady eyes, swishing his tail of silver feathers like a fan, stepping high through the grass. The neighbors and I wanted to throttle him. I went after him with a broom one night, but he disappeared through the bushes, only to crow triumphantly again as soon as I’d gone back to bed. I asked the watchman who patrolled there at night to listen for the kòk and chase it away. That night I was blasted awake by the watchman blowing his whistle next to my window.
“What are you doing?” I moaned.
“I don’t know, he replied, “You told me to patrol here. Here I am.”
Another language gap. “Alè!” I yelled. “Ou ma revayè. You woke me up!” Damn it!
Yvon, our security chief, told me the kòk belonged to a certain Ti Moustik, (little mosquito), who worked in the garage. I found Ti Moustik and pulled him aside. A little man with a straw hat pulled so low over his ears that they bent and stuck out like handles, Ti Moustik reminded me of Chicken George in the film of Alex Haley’s Roots. I told Ti Moustik with more than a hint of irritation to get his kòk out of my garden.
“If he wakes me up again tonight, you might find him in my soup tomorrow,” I warned.
Ti Moustik looked quite nervous and assured me that he would remove his kòk that very day. But he didn’t. That night, same story.
I whined to Madame Mellon, who exclaimed, “But I have one, too! Damn thing wakes me up in the middle of the night. Can’t get any sleep with it parading around as if my yard were his free range. I’ll tell you what it’s all about, though.” She grasped my wrist and drew me closer in a conspiratorial way. “They put a fighting kòk next to powerful people. To absorb their power.” She let go and leaned back in her chair. “Well, it’s got enough of mine, I can tell you. I’m going to have Mano catch it tonight when it roosts in a tree and carry it far away.”
That night when Ti Moustik’s kòk broke my dreams, I seemed to hear an answering crow from Mrs. Mellon’s house.
I sent for Ti Moustik again. He looked sullen. “Miss Leita, what can you expect? The poor kòk grew up in your garden. He’s used to walking around there.”
“I never saw him before a few weeks ago, and he was full grown, so I don’t think I’ll buy that story, Ti Moustik. In any case, I’ll throw big rocks at him whenever I see him.
His eyes smoldered. “If you kill him, you’ll owe me a lot of money. He’ll be an expensive chicken dinner.”
“Tell you what … I’ll pay you to eat him,” I replied.
He held out his hand, palm upwards. “Two hundred dollars.”
He must be out of his mind, I thought, but I’d heard that such a cock was actually worth that much.
I opened my eyes the next morning at 6:00, amazed that the rooster had not awakened me. I felt wonderful after a solid eight hours sleep, the first in weeks. I held my breath on the following nights. He did not come back. I sent a note to Ti Moustik thanking him for his consideration. Some days later, as I sat down at my computer, I heard an all too familiar squawk in the courtyard outside my office. I looked out the window. There he was! A guard said, “Ti Moustik put him there.”
“Well, that damn kòk has got enough power. Ti Moustik should give me a percentage of his winnings!”
Leita Kaldi Davis has worked for the United Nations/UNESCO, Tufts University (Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy), and Harvard University. She has also worked with Roma (Gypsies) for fifteen years. At the age of 55, she joined the Peace Corps, travelling first to Senegal, and later to Haiti, where she volunteered at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital. She retired in Florida in 2002.
In her memoir, In the Valley of Atibon, Kaldi chronicles her experiences as a middle-aged white woman who goes to Haiti filled with good intentions to manage Hôpital Albert Schweitzer and its community development program. What unfolds for her, however, is a hell filled with young revolutionaires and vagabons who threaten her life, and the very existence of the hospital and the program. Prompted by these experiences she delves into the mysteries of Voudou, and learns first hand about the undercurrent of terror that drives rural Haitians. In contrast with numerous shocking incidents that occurred during her five years in Haiti, Kaldi also tells of tender adventures of her daily life, and of being inspired and comforted by many of the Haitians with whom she works — the doctors, nurses, agronomists, her housemaid, and others who teach her surprising lessons in dignity, faith and forgiveness. Also providing joyful respite are visits from Kaldi’s son that culminate with his marrying a woman of the Haitian elite class, which provides a keyhole for Kaldi through which she observes the dynamics of class and prejudice among the layers of Haitian society. Entwined with her story, Kaldi narrates the uplifting story of Dr. Larimer Mellon, and his wife, Gwen Grant Mellon, who founded the hospital in 1956 and spent their lives serving people in the Valley. Theirs too was an experience fraught with problems that demanded their courage, resourcefulness and dedication to the Haitian people.