A Vodou Dance in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti

Molly Marsden

August 22nd, 2017

CaribbeanTravel Writing Award

A Vodou Dance in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

“They call it ‘Vodou Rock N’ Roots’ music,” my friend Fuz told me as I shimmied into a lightweight, green dress and doused myself with a heavy coating of DEET.

I nodded.

I wasn’t really sure what I was committing to, but a night of Vodou RnR in Port-Au-Prince sounded like something white picket-fenced parents would feverishly warn their children about: a forbidden fruit, and therefore, likely, one hell of a good time!

Earlier that morning, I had arrived at Port-au-Prince’s Toussaint Louverture Airport with my new-ish boyfriend, an overstuffed camping backpack, an unrelenting itch for independence, and enough DEET to single-handedly eradicate Chikungunya, Haiti’s latest mosquito born illness. I was twenty-six and desperately searching for that holy grail of life experiences that would magically connect the dots of my existence and leave me with a better understanding of who I was and where I was going. With that in mind, and my party dress on, we threw back the dregs of Barbancourt rum in our glasses and set out to see RAM perform their “Vodou music” at the infamous Hotel Oloffson.

Pulling up to the 19th century gothic gingerbread mansion turned hotel, was unlike anything I had ever experienced. The architecture, delicate but weathered, spoke towards a brutal and yet proud history of revolt and rebirth. Surrounded by lush tropical gardens, it served as the perfect backdrop for Haitians, NGOs, and us as we mingled and mixed, drank and smoked.

And then, like an electric shock, I heard the horns.

Before we could even figure out where to look, RAM had successfully infiltrated the crowd from multiple locations. There was an overwhelming sense of being one entity: empowered, passionate, and unified. It didn’t surprise when I later discovered that Richard Morse, the lead male vocalist and founder of the band, was a political activist. The way I felt as they enveloped us with their powerful sound and energy, was how I imagined great movements in history began.

The next couple of hours flew by.

My dress clung to my hips and chest as I swayed chaotically to the rhythm. The hotel in Port-Au-Prince was heaving with moving shapes. Heat evaporated off of our bodies and into the atmosphere where it seemed to ricochet off a tangible, full-bodied beat that originated from a chorus of rara horns, petro drums, and the vocal chords of Richard and his wife Lunise.

It was animalistic and rum-soaked and I felt like, in that singular moment, absolutely anything was possible.

The next morning when I woke up in the haze of a cracking hangover, I thought the whole thing might have been a surreal dream, an existential manifestation of my desire to free myself from the constructs of an overly mannered society. As I pondered the possibility, Fuz walked into my room and showed me a circular, purple mark on his chest.

“You bit me last night!” He laughed.

I pulled the sheets over half of my face, mortified, “What!?”

“You actually bit a couple of people,” he clarified.

Sure enough, my boyfriend rolled over and he too donned the impression of my teeth on his bicep. In cringe worthy detail, they described how things escalated from a figuratively “animalistic vibe” into me literally becoming an animal, casually gifting love bites to my fellow dancers.

“Molly-gunya has infected the island!”

Unfortunately, I have yet to live down that joke.

Some time has passed since that sweaty, wild evening in Haiti’s capital city where I went seeking independence and magically found it in the roar of a horn, and the rhythmic cadence of a voudu melody. I’m now thirty years old, living in Los Angeles, and I’ve recently married that once “new-ish boyfriend” of mine. Compared to the vocabulary of my younger self, the word “Independence” is currently more frequently aligned with a zero balance on my credit card or my recent decision to quit my job and become a full time writer. And, I’m ok with that. I wouldn’t change anything.

However, every now and then, I do find myself opening up RAM’s latest album on Spotify. I put on my headphones, scroll down to ‘M’prai Domi Nan Simitye’ and hit play.

The horns roar.

I close my eyes and I drift away to a gingerbread oasis in the bustling capital city of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.

I’m free.

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About the Author

Molly Marsden

After graduating from Northwestern University with degrees in Economics and Theatre, I (naturally) moved to L.A. to pursue writing and to feed my travel addiction. My work is characterized by vivid visual imagery, comedic anecdotal tales, and a strong narrative flow. As a result of my writing, I've received numerous accolades and have even been invited to the White House to accept an award from The President..