Volume V
Jul. 2007


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....
Mango Season

...My father was in love with mangoes. Mangoes were his favorite fruit. To him, no other fruit equaled the beauty, aroma, shape and color of his beloved mangoes.
...Because of his love of mangoes, my father planted twelve different varieties on the three acres of rich soil surrounding his home.
...Though he traveled throughout the world, he maintained his home in his beloved country, Haiti.
...He loved the tall, bushy, shady mango trees and waited impatiently for the fruit to ripen each season.
...When he was appointed Ambassador of Haiti and served as a diplomatic representative of his country in many countries for many years, he missed tremendously his mangoes. On every visit, whether for official reasons or vacations, he traveled with empty soft leather suitcases that he would later bring back filled with mangoes from his garden.
...It didn’t matter that he grew up eating mangoes and that he ate mangoes all his life. We had lost interest in mangoes. Had it not been for my father’s great passion for mangoes, mangoes might have disappeared from the many memories, flavors and aromas accumulated in my life.
...But for my father, nothing could be compared to his love for mangoes. On his property, there were mangoes of every shape and color, from small, round and green, to long flat and yellow. The round and pinkish green mangoes were my favorite. Each of these mangoes had a different taste and a different fragrance. Some varieties were not as important to him, and therefore were relegated to the rest of the household, which meant the house workers, and us, his children.
...Anyone who knew my father as an ambassador, a consultant, a world traveler, could have never guessed his obsessive passion for mangoes. Father was an educated black Haitian man. He had studied medicine, engineering and law during the American occupation, when a black man’s future was uncertain. The invaders could not comprehend that there was an educated Negro class who occupied an important place in the society and history of many black nations. For the occupier it was inconceivable to understand that a Negro could converse in different languages, entertain others on topics such as philosophy, music, medicine, politics, etc., as well as any non-black educated man. The Salomon family, according to Father, descended from a Middle Eastern King, a president (my great-great grandfather was President of Haiti for a while until a coup d’état forced him out) and a judge (my grandfather). For the invaders, we were only good to pick cotton, as was the custom of the Black slaves in the American South. My father had diversified his studies in the event the occupier would go home and jobs would be available to everybody, not only to those having lighter skin. When he was appointed to represent his country abroad, first at the United Nations, where he saw the birth of many young African Nations, then in ambassadorial positions in Latin America, he had a lot of experience in national affairs, more than any career diplomat he ever met.
...My father was tall, over 6 feet 5 inches, with a soft voice. A self-made man, he was very smart, very organized, quick with answers, audacious and at ease conversing in Spanish, English or French. He was a true nationalist who loved and respected his country and its history, respected its leader and above all, was always ready to defend any negative allegations made about Haiti with answers and anecdotes that left the accuser unable to respond. He was a wonderful dancer, which of course delighted women, who always waited in line to dance with him. When in social gatherings, there were always women around him. He had a way of holding a lighted cigarette “à la Humphrey Bogart” (his favorite actor). He would make smoke circles with his cigarette that would twirl around his face, observing his prey, whether it was a woman (he loved women!) or some political alliance he needed for support for a new initiative. I remember seeing him enter the halls of the OAS (Organization of American States) and the United Nations, and observing that people were turning their heads and motioning to others murmuring: ”Who is he?”
...His stroll, his stance and mannerisms demanded respect from everyone and no one dared contradict his wishes or desires in the work place or at home. The heavy demands of his position, his obligations abroad and in Haiti, mixed with the delicate line of responsibilities, was a load that threw him to find solace in the zealousness for his mango plantations.
...In mango season, the fruit would fall making a distinctive noise as it crashed through branches and leaves, reaching the ground with a unique noise. My father had planted grass around the favored trees so as to cushion the fall of the mangoes. He even employed, at mango season, a young boy whose only mission during the mango time was to run as fast as he could to pick the mangoes and place them in a special basket to be inspected by my father every day when he would come back home. The good ones (98 % of them) were kept for the household, which meant him. The rest, or the bad ones, those with worms, those which had been bitten by rats, were given to the household servants and us.
...Rats were a big problem on the property. Their ability to climb trees and walk on branches to reach the mangoes made them my father’s worst enemies. Beware if he had his rifle in his hand—he would shoot in the air to scare them off the plant, but would scare everybody else on the property also. He would have never shot at them directly in fear that a bullet might bruise a mango.
...There was a sudden silence on the property when a mango would fall. Everything would stop on the property as the mango would detach itself from its mother tree and fall, making a “swoosh” sound through the branches and a sudden “thud” sound on the grass. Activity would stop; noises around the property would diminish and everybody even those uninterested in having a mango that day, would pay attention and discuss in which geographical area of the property the mango had fallen. Even predictions of its kind would be made. That young boy employed to pick mangoes, would appear running toward the place he thought the mango had fallen, sometimes with a mango of lesser value in his mouth and worriedly looking at the house windows and glass doors for my father’s watchful eyes.
...My father who was highly educated and spoke several languages, had lived in many countries, representing his country at many international institutions, organizations under different governments; he had dined and drunk with kings, queens and world leaders, and was respected by his own and others. To some, he was handsome and an engaging conversationalist and a wonderful storyteller. How to explain this man’s obsession with that fruit?
...On one occasion I decided to prepare a dessert, a sacrifice as he put it, a mango, dicing it and cooking it in a syrup and finally making it into a mousse.
...“What are you going to do with that mango”? he asked.
...“A dessert,” I answered.
...Without saying a word, he stormed out of the kitchen to the dining room where dinner was being served. When the mango mousse was served, he refused to touch it and told me very clearly and for everybody to hear, when I felt inventive in the kitchen, to avoid using his good mangoes for any sacrifice and that if I insisted, (which I did) to keep it and eat it in the kitchen with the house help and never to bring it to his dining room table!
...My mother and my sister said he was ridiculous, but we all knew that nobody went against my father, no matter how outlandish his demands could be.
...A wise advice to guests was to refrain from confessing to him their dislike for that fruit, otherwise, they would perpetually be labeled in my father’s mind as an idiot with a lack of sensibility to things in life that bring joy.
...Father was not the only one who liked mangoes. People of Haiti lacking a regular diet and relying mostly on what the land would produce, would await mango time eagerly and make it one of the most important staples of the day during that season. The mango was not only a source of food and therefore revered by most, it was also an important part of life in a country where life had little value. Paupers made money during mango time selling the fruit in the market at every corner stop. The fruit, served in a paper cup in the form of a juice, dessert, or cut skinless, appeared during lunch break.
...I didn’t know that the mango would spare our house from dechoukaj, destruction from an angry mob in the revolution of January 1986. The then-president, Jean Claude Duvalier, had decided to flee the country with his wife and family to exile in a country that had offered him temporary asylum. The situation in the country had become very tense. Father’s involvement in the government made us wonder everyday if he would return home safe at night. Additionally, Mother had suddenly become ill, causing us to worry even more.
...There had been upheavals of angry people in the north and in the south. In the north, a boy sitting at home had been killed by a bullet shot in the air. In the south, a boy had been trampled in a demonstration against the regime demanding changes from a status quo of 6,000 rich people deciding on the fate of 6 million poor Haitians. Young Duvalier (Baby Doc), as he was called in the U.S. newspapers, got scared; he did not want the pages of history to remember him as somebody who had a reign of terror or who had spilled the blood of innocents to remain in power. He did not want to follow in his father’s footsteps. So, early one morning in January, he fled in a private plane sent by the American government amidst the confusion and emotion of those who had guarded him and his father.
...The 5:00 A.M. news broadcast reported that the president and his family left the national palace in a private plane for an unknown destination.
...I was aware weeks in advance that the president was planning to leave the country. I had been working with Father during those days and had read the telegrams coming from different countries responding to Duvalier’s request for asylum. There was danger for the life of those who had so zealously protected him and had been loyal to him and his father before him, the ton-ton macoutes, an undisciplined militia who employed fear tactics on the population, but mostly on those who had any disagreement with the fearless leader. They took and followed orders only from the President who protected them.
...I looked around me. On the faces of the people of the household hearing the news, there was confusion. “What did he mean by that?”
...“He left,” someone shouted.
...“Where did he go?” asked another.
... And as the news progressed and the hours passed, I could hear a kind of early carnival in the streets, a frenzy taken by everybody as a joint civilian-army junta took power and was trying to establish public order. Then joy was transformed into desperation, anger and destruction. The people turned into mobs that swarmed and looted the houses of the rich and stripped them bare. The dechoukaj was in full force. It was best to run from them.
...Father had not returned from the palace since yesterday morning, and we feared the worst for him. Mother was not feeling well, so my brother and I made the decision to flee for the safety of our children and grabbed whatever household possessions we could run with. We had an armed security person guarding the gates of the house. That would give us enough time to escape from the mob, if we had to, I thought to myself. The young mango picker came running to us shouting: “The mob is coming to our house.”
...My brother and I waited outside and instructed the security guard to open the gates and to hold his fire if the mob wanted to come into the house. I was standing next to the guard when I heard a voice among the crowd saying:
...“The man who lives here is good; he has shared his mangoes from his grove. He doesn’t deserve to be disturbed,” he said.
...And, to our amazement, they all agreed with him and left, scattering like a flock of birds to our neighbors, their next victims. We had been spared from dechoukaj. It was the mangoes that saved us.
...Never again we would disrespect our father’s love for mangoes.


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