Having to live in a society that consistently denied a part of me only increased my determination to succeed. During my occasional visits to Grand-Père Mirabeau, he reassured me that I could do it, that I could become the first doctor in the Murat family.
Under such severe conditions and with mixed emotions, how was I able to remain strong? In spite of Tatante’s prejudiced attitude, Father and Grandma were my unwavering supports. Father worked for the government and in other odd jobs all over Haiti. This made his visits very infrequent and our relationship more endearing, even though I was also torn with resentment for his leaving my mother.
Sometimes for months at a time Father would not receive a paycheck from the government. Even though Grandma could find some work as a seamstress, and Tatante also helped, we went through hard times. We could have had an easier life if Father had joined the tontons macoutes, Papa Doc’s secret service, but Father was against bearing arms. I remember lying in bed at night with an empty stomach, unable to sleep. Grandma would sit by my bedside and rub my belly and pray with me: “Une mauvaise nuit bientôt passée,” (a bad night should come soon to an end). After she left, while I tossed and turned in the dark, I never thought of going to the pantry to eat what she had set aside for the next few days. Grandma was adamant that “we do not eat the turkey today and the feathers tomorrow.” We had to learn to live on what we were allocated for that day.
Whenever he visited us, Father would reiterate that as his children, we could pursue whatever we wanted to be, erasing any doubt in my mind that I could be a trail blazer. At each visit Father would have me rub the palms of his hands, which were covered with calluses due to hard labor, to remind me of how hard he was working to support all my dreams. I was a lucky girl because at that time, higher education was reserved for boys. Because of Father, I grew up believing that there was nothing I could not do. When tough situations would arise, I was not allowed to doubt my ability or to put my dreams to sleep.
Grandma was to me a daily role model and a constant reminder to be humble. Even though she barely knew how to read and write, and did not know of any woman doctors, she believed that I could be one. She always talked about Albert Schweitzer’s hospital, where the poor could receive free medical care. Sometimes they would have to walk for days to get there. Grandma also shared the stories of her childhood and how she endured in a man’s world. As an ingenious and industrious woman who found loopholes in the court system to remedy the injustices imposed on Haitian women who had no rights, she feared nothing, not even the devil!
Grandma had a special bag which contained many smaller ones, each filled with different herbs. She knew all the herbs by name, and just how much to give you to make you feel better, and she also practiced preventive medicine. Every six months or so, Grandma would disappear for a whole day. I found out years later that she was going all the way to the town of Léogane, a small town south of Port-au-Prince, to see Madame Jean, a folk healer. She first had to take a taxi, then a special bus. The trip would last about two hours. Madame Jean was Grandma’s “primary care” doctor. One day, Grandma told me about her visits to Madame Jean. “When I get there, she gives me a large pot of some kind of mixture that I sip during my stay. She would then have me take off all my clothes, rub my whole body with special herbs and give me some more potion to take with me.” With this and her prayers, Grandma felt that she had nothing to fear about her health. Grandma, as usual, was right…she outlived Madame Jean and all her medical doctors.
Unfortunately, both my Grand-Père and Grandma had already died when I became interested in alternative healing. I had lost the chance to learn from them forever.
Being in Grandma’s care and having experienced first-hand my maternal grandfather’s skills as an indigenous healer, I grew up with the understanding that healing had spiritual, mental, and physical components.
My very first experience as a future healer was while visiting my mother at age 11. That night, a neighbor requested my mother’s help with an expected birth. I was unaware that my mother was also a healer. I begged to go along, stressing that I was a future doctor, making myself useful by carrying the small burner to light the way to the woman’s house. We arrived just as the baby was on its way. I watched mother calmly put everything in order, and bring a new life into this world. I was affected by the whole event, and as I walked back, my thought was that I wanted to be a doctor, but I surely had to find a way to deal with all that blood!
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