This article by MARK BURGESS appeared in Canada’s Globe and Mail.
When Baby Doc Duvalier died in Oct. 4, it conjured memories for me of a long ago vacation to Haiti during the height of his reign of brutality and terror.
When we arrived at our Club Med paradise, the welcoming spiel from the Chef du Village included blunt warnings that guests’ behaviour on or off premise could result in being arrested and tossed into jail – possibly forever. Such was the law, or lack of, in 1983 in a country ruled by secret police. Still, we celebrated the escape of a cold Canadian winter with a few drinks and tossing ourselves into the pool.
The evening spoke of great promise, with new friends, palm trees, warmth and that incredible smell of the Caribbean.
At Club Med, the schedule was cocktails at 6, supper at 7, cabaret show at 9 and disco after 10. But my brothers and I, with some new friends, left around 11 to gather by the seaside with a guitar. Someone brought a bottle of Scotch.
I am known to play guitar and sing, but as far as venues go, nothing was better than this: surf side with the waves lapping in, the moon high in the sky, whisky and the joy of a week in paradise leading our voices to sing freely.
It was the sudden appearance of two silhouettes on the beach 50 yards away that caused a small cautionary reflection on our activity. They were men in uniform with automatic rifles slung across their shoulders. And they were walking toward us.
As they grew nearer, the patio lights defined their blue shirts. I kept playing, but looked to Neil, my lawyer brother, for some reassurance that, even under the strict regime of Baby Doc, we weren’t doing something jail-threateningly wrong. Were we?
Neil, phlegmatic as the day is long, sipped from his glass, and carried on singing. I kept strumming.
The Tonton Macoutes walked up to us, then slowly and gently unslung their weapons. I wondered if this was the prelude to aiming them.
Without warning, the two blue shirts doffed their hats, put down their weapons and sat on either side of me – and began to sing. Who knew they loved American Pie? Emboldened by the lack of threat they presented, Neil picked up the whisky and passed it to them.
After two or three good glugs apiece, they sang to the very end of the song, loudly and happily, then picked up their weapons and hats and strode off, bidding us all a very pleasant “Bon nuit.”
Nothing in my life since has come as eerily close to surrealism as “singing this will be the day that I die” with the Tonton Macoutes.