Quartier Des Mulatres

by Guidel Presume


Ba'm dlo

From Soul In a Bottle by Madison Smartt Bell

No gift was so important as the gift of water. Out of all the good things Présumé had done for me, the greatest was to give me a bottle of clear, crystalline, one hundred percent potable water to carry back to the Hotel Internationalle, where as a matter of custom the drinking water was eighty percent treated and twenty percent ... not treated. Without that gift it would have taken me an hour of negotiation and struggle to manufacture an equivalent amount of nasty, iodine-tasting stuff. And Presumé's water was fresh and sweet-- cent pour cent l'eau Mont Joli.

"Give me water" was, in Kreyol, Ba'm dlo. I had attached myself to this phrase, and used it often: that most simple, childlike, expression of need. When the water came, it was always a blessing. I would pray for whoever brought it to me.

Sometimes I thought I heard it shouted in the street, as a greeting or reply, most often in the evenings, when it seemed the rain might fall. They must really have been saying something else, so that what I heard was another auditory hallucination, like the phantom cries of cocks which would ring in my ears for days or weeks after I had left Haiti. But still, I heard it. I stood on the roof of the International, watching the thunderheads converging from all directions on Le Cap, the storm rolling in both from the mountains and the sea. Ba'm dlo, I heard them calling, down in the street. A bolt of silent lightening clove the black cloud over Morne du Cap. The wind was blowin from all directions. Below, the young men were the last to scatter into shelter, fleeing the turbulent swirls of dust on the street, still calling to each other as they ran for cover, Ba'm dlo.