When I was asked to write a column for the Haitian Times, I didn’t know what to name it. There’s an African Proverb that says, “In order to move ahead, you need to look back.” I slept that evening knowing that the right name would come to me. Lo and behold, the next morning, as the sunlight shone through my windows and splashed on my walls and across the wooden floors, I had an eureka moment.
Growing up in a Haitian household, I would always hear the women in my family greet each other with a phrase. Wherever they were, and no matter how wide the distance between them, one would answer the phone with, “Nou Bèl”; and, the other would respond, “Nou La.”
After this greeting – this expression of encouragement, a lengthy conversation about matters of the heart would ensue. The conversations would go on for hours late into the night, and sometimes into the early morning. No matter how unbearable the phone static, they seemed to understand each other. There were often pauses in the middle of the conversations. A faint voice would break the short silence, and the liveliness of the conversation would pick up where it left off.
It was during those moments I learned the importance of sisterhood, especially among Haitian women. It’s important to have women in our circle to teach, guide, and warn us about the issues of life. It’s pivotal to have people in our lives who can remind us of our rich heritage and legacy. They strengthen us to be better women so that we can face adversity, overcome obstacles, and achieve our dreams and goals.
For my non-Haitian readers, “Nou Bèl, Nou La” is Haitian-Creole for “We are beautiful, We are here.” Where did it originate? I once heard that in the times of old, during slavery in Haiti, whenever the women greeted each other, they would say, “Nou led, nou la.” When translated, it means, “Although we may be ugly, we are here.” Hardship had taken a toll on their lives, leaving its mark on their tired faces and weary bodies. Although they were the “unwanted” or the “undesirables,” they were still alive and that was something worth telling and sharing!
No, we are not ugly. That should never be in our vocabulary. Each woman possesses a beauty of her own. That is why it is so important to know who we are. Royalty runs through our veins – we are the daughters of Haitian kings and queens. Our ancestors fought against forces and powers, and overcame each and every one of them. We are alive because of them!
Once we know who we are as women, we will have the right foundation in which to build our lives. We will know that we should never settle for less than God’s best. We need to stand for something, or else we will settle for everything and end up somewhere we don’t belong.
Repeat after me: “Nou Bel. Nou La.” This phrase is like oxygen to our souls. We must exhale in order to release all of the negative and toxic lessons we were taught about ourselves; and inhale, to receive the positive, healing words which will build us. It is my hope that this column will be that place where Haitian women and girls, and other women from every nation, can learn the lessons I have been taught about life across the years.
Nou Bèl, Nou La. And, we are here to stay.
CORRECTION (August 21, 2016): It has come to the author’s understanding that the phrase, “Nou Bèl, Nou La,” was actually first coined by Author Katia D. Ulysse. Columnist Cindy Similien-Johnson has ultimate respect and admiration for Ms. Ulysse and her work; and, has decided to change the name of her column from “Nou Bèl, Nou La” to “Ayiti Chic.” Ayiti Chic stems from Ms. Similien-Johnson’s grassroots mentoring organization, Goal Chic.)