Every year while the majority of the Haitian population is out celebrating carnival, another percentage prefers to retreat from the capital and proceed to peaceful regions where they can have a serene moment with GOD, family and friends. Those retreats are mostly organized by church groups. However, in February 2009, Pierre Jules Robergeau and Karl Foster Candio came up with a totally different idea called Peuple Beni (Blessed People), where everyone of any religion could participate and have a wonderful time. Their first events took place in Léogâne at Pastor Julien’s house, Daniella Benjamine late father. Since then the event has taken another dimension, bringing together people of different backgrounds, religions and social status.
I first heard of Peuple Beni through a radio advertisement. But I received a firsthand idea through my best friend/sister, Daniella. Her first participation was in February of 2013. When she came back from the retreat, she told me all the fun and spiritual moments they had, and she kept on encouraging me to participate the following year. I was reluctant to do so. However, after three years of hearing about it and participating in the Peuple Beni side events and meeting some people, I finally took the decision to be part of the retreat this year. The event took place from February 14th, 2015 through Wednesday, February 18th, 2015. To me, it was the year to be a part of it and to see for myself what the fuss was all about. Boy, what an experience it was, which left me high and full and wanting for more.
Saturday February 14th, 2015, Valentine’s day around 07:00am, while most people were thinking about their sweet valentines, chocolate and all that comes and goes with Valentine’s Day, Daniella, Juline (Daniella’s little sister) and I were focused on packing and wondering how we would get a ride to our rendezvous location, which was at Delimart supermarket on Delmas 30, in the old complex of Mega-Mart. Yep, Valentine was far out of our mind. Anyhow, around 08:00am, I called a friend who was more than willing to give us the ride. Hooray! With that assured, it was time to finish packing. Now you are probably wondering why we didn’t pack the day before, well, the answer is simple: laziness!
By 9 AM, we were done and awaiting our ride, which showed up two minutes later. Now the ride there was a bit of a headache. Seriously on an important day, there had to be traffic, unbelievable! We spent more than thirty minutes stuck in traffic and made it to our destination around 10:00am. The moment Delimart came into view, the many medium-sized buses loaded with baggage captured our attentions. Huh! Truthfully I was expecting big buses, oh well! Daniella, being in charge of security, proceeded to do her tasks. She made sure everyone was on board and accounted for, along with the drivers and vehicle numbers. She was everywhere, from left to right and up and down. Meanwhile as my friend was parking his vehicle, we walked over to Merline whom I met in December during Peuple Beni’s gala. She had a white, four door pick-up. With the help of Merline’s driver and my friend, our luggage was safely put in the back of her vehicle.
While we waited for Daniella, we took a quick visit to the Market. By the time we were done the first bus had already left.
“Oh no, we better hurry” said Merline.
We called Daniella who was done with her tasks and together we boarded Merline’s vehicle to embark into our journey; destination: Ganthier!
The ride to Ganthier was exciting with a few detours to avoid major traffic jams. Inside the vehicle, the ambience was of laughter and suspenses. Once we passed Croix-des Bouquets, a beautiful, unexpected, yet sour sight awaited us. The area looked like a desert. The land looked dry and in need of trees. But what was surprising was the calm that reigned in the area that it was quite noticeable. In the meantime Daniella received a called stating that the buses had arrived at their locations.
“Mezanmi se anlè yo pase (Goodness gracious, did they fly there?),” we stated.
After taking legit instructions, right, passed the police station of Ganthier, we made a left turn and kept going for more than fifteen minutes on a dirt, deserted road that reminded me of the many desserts of Africa seen on television. You can imagine the complaints inside the vehicle; we were getting a bit impatient. In the end what felt like an eternity was just no more than a few minutes. Then we came upon a red gate. Hooray!
We had finally arrived. In front of the dorm’s entrance we could read the sign, Peuple Beni 5ème édition Kreyati tout nèf (Bless people, 5th edition, New Creature). With our luggage’s at hand, we proceeded into the hallway, then up the stairs where everyone was waiting. Minutes later, Nicki-Christ asked everyone to proceed to a room where the instructions were going to be given. We walked into a spacious room filled with multicolored chairs, where we sat down and started listening to the organizer.
A small introduction about the retreat was given. The committee was introduced: Karl Foster Candio, Christ-La-Nicholas Ceme, Irma Mars, Raynald Avril, Daphnee Orizier, Daniella Benjamine Pierre, Sonese Charles and Frantz Mabout. Lots of other things were said, but I will spare you the details, hey hey! After the speech, we were taught the retreat song. Here are the lyrics.
M vle swiv pawol ou pou m vin saj
M vle rete nan pye w pou m chanje paj
La vi pa m dwe yon temwayaj
Pou sila yo dyab la kenbe nan kaj
Yon chanjman capital
Pou yon viktwa total
Yon kreyati tou nèf fèk dekachte
Se sa m vle ye
Mwen vle viv jan ou vle
Fè tou sa ou mande
Mwen vle kite tout peche miyon
Ki fè lavim sanble peny Ti dan
Lè lot yo di “Ka a pèdi”
Ou menm ou di: “Gen la vi”
Yon kreyati tou nèf fèk dekachte
Se sa m vle ye
Beautiful, yes but wait until you hear the audio version of it.
Last year’s song was also sung, but I only hummed to its beat, since I didn’t know it. Right after, a short prayer was conducted. Instructions were given; two older members were to be paired with two new members. Daniella and Merline were elder members while Juline and I were new members. Wouldn’t you say a perfect match? Exactly!
We proceeded to our room; it had 2 bunk beds, two closets (unfortunately both locked), 2 doors and 4 mirrors, three windows and a working table. It looked quite comfy. After deciding on who got which bed, we started unpacking. By then, it was around 3 PM going to be 4 PM, and we were in need of a serious shower after the exhausting heat. Remember, this was desert like environment. The campus had three big bathrooms with integrated showers and, by the way, the boys were in separate dorms with a good distance away from the girls’ dorms.
Using the downstairs bathroom, we were done with our shower. We got dressed, took our plates, spoons, cups and went to eat our very late lunch which consisted of rice, mixed with vegetables and meat; quite tasty. An hour or two later, we had another short conference and moment of prayer. At the end of it, the boys came with a nice beat and a song within which one of the verses was Labouyi se pou ti bebe (Porridge is for babies). We had oatmeal porridge for supper, and the first people we saw with a porridge spoon going into their mouth were……? (You can guess, I believe). By the way the cafeteria/church building was on the left side of the girls’ dorms. On the right was a basketball and soccer field. With supper done, it was time to rest the body.
On Sunday morning around 05:30 AM, Daniella had an aluminum bowl and spoon in hand, banging them to sound the morning alarm bell. She would do it every morning henceforth. Quite an annoying noise, I must say. But it was fun to do. You could hear people yelling, “Yes Daniella, we heard you!”
Devotion started at 06:00 AM. Then breakfast was served. I thoroughly enjoyed tea. I chose it over coffee which was way too strong. Then soup joumou ( yellow/calabasa squash soup) was served, with the biggest turkey bone I had ever seen. It was so big, that the guys started joking about the fact that it could be a dog bone or other stuffs. Comment like this made my head spin. In all, it was a pleasant breakfast with the turkey bone being the highlight. Right after that, we had to rush and get ready for church.
Daniella led the service, and it was amazing. She did such an excellent job. I was in awe. She was singing, motivating people. Wow! But, at the same time, I was afraid she would lose her voice, singing to the highest pitch. Pastor Valery Vital-Herne gave a sermon which had us all thinking. As church ended, we took a couple of pictures and we went on to have our free time.
For my free time, I had fun jumping rope with the kids in the dust, without footwear. Our feet were full of dust, and not to mention layers of pebbles that dangled my underfoot. I have to say after the jump-roping, I could hardly walk right. My feet ached from stepping on the little rocks. I told Daniella, “I will never do that again,” to which she replied,” Are you sure?” I didn’t answer, for deep down I’ll probably do it again and again.
As the alarms sounded with the cooks announcing that food was being served, I rushed upstairs, showered, and went straight for the cafeteria where the menu for dinner was rice mixed with red beans and chicken! After lunch, it was another free time, where I had a long chat with a new friend. Later on, we had a nice time with Dickson Guillaume who is Haitian-American. The subject was “The difference between worshipping and praising GOD.” Pastor Valery was the translator for Dickson. Watching the duo was fun, especially when Dickson would try to speak creole and Pastor Valery would stand there a bit lost probably wondering, “Why am I here again?”
By 8:00 PM, it was over. It was time to get ready for the CONCERT before which, homemade chocolate milk and croissant were served at supper. Being super ready, metaphorically we looked good enough to eat. It sure didn’t feel like we were heading to a Concert but hey, the thing was that we looked good, too good. Anyhow, we proceeded to the church building, and waited for the concert to begin. We had many artists that sung, including Juline. It was a beautiful moment. The kids had their own sketches, and I wondered if they were truly kids? Hmm! Due to their wonderful presentation, they were nicknamed “la relève” (The upcoming generation). The concert ended a little before 11:00pm, enough time to get undressed and hop into bed for the lights were going to be turned off around 11:00pm.
Monday morning around 4:45am, dressed in a short stretch black pant with a green shirt and sneakers, I was out of bed and on the basketball court walking and running with two wonderful people. At 05:00 AM in the morning, it was quite dark. Imagine yourself in a deserted place with only the sand, dust and plants as your company, and the wind howling in your ears? It was scary, right? Not for me; and it was probably because I had company, and the ambience was energetic and fun. By 05:45 AM, we were done. I must say, though I usually run early in the morning, that exercise left my body in so much pain- that I felt like I had received a beating—not forgetting the jump rope from the previous day that had left my feet sore and with some recuperating to do.
I was rushing afterwards to worship which started at 06:15 AM and I actually had a wonderful time just as the previous day. For breakfast, we had two choices, spaghetti with smoke fish or Macaroni with Hotdog. I had quite a fill, and no, I am not a big eater; well, occasionally. After such a breakfast, it was time for our free time. At 10:00 AM, we had another wonderful debate that lasted until 1:00 PM rather than 11:00 AM. The debate was led by Pst. Valery and the subjects were really interesting. One was whether “you agree for your best friend to date your ex?”, also, homosexuality, and more. The opinions were diverse and really interesting. Unfortunately it had to come to an end with the promise to continue the next day.
Lunch consisted of bouillon (stew) and white rice, hmm delicioso! After lunch it was absolutely necessary for me to take a nap. An hour later, I woke up fresh and ready for practice. Practice what? You are probably wondering. We had to practice for the retreat video shooting and for an upcoming song. Dickson Guillaume, the producer in charge, planned to film us as we sang as a choir. The song we rehearsed was this year our retreat song and another song titled “Li konnin non m (HE knows my name),” which of itself is a beautiful song. Being part of the alto group I did my best to master the song. I must testify, I am not much of a singer, I mean I can sing but I just think I am not good at it or maybe I am, hm!
Anyway, at the end of the day I hoped Dickson didn’t go to sleep with a headache. Trying to control 200 people, trust me, it was not easy. Throughout the rehearsal, Nicky-Christ was playing the guitar and I must say that he is truly gifted. With practice out of the way, it was time for supper, which was porridge oatmeal and rice, followed by devotion and a sermon delivered by Pastor Valery. With the theme of the retreat being “New creature,” the passages that Pastor Valery used all throughout the retreat were found in Ephesians. As devotion ended, it was time for the real fun to begin and it started with Daniella saying out loud, “Let’s play a game,” although most of the people had already left for their respective rooms; but a few of us had remained to take pictures.
So the few that were still around, girls and boys, we went down childish memory lane. We played “tic tac boom,” “nous allons citer les noms des filles,” “Jacob and Rachel,” “etc, etc, et boom” and many more. We were loud, crazy and most importantly, having fun. Unfortunately, even fun moments have an end time. With midnight at our doorsteps, we had to enter our respective dorms. By the time we stepped into our room, the lights had been turned off. Oops! With an electric light, we proceeded to the bathroom to wash off the dust accumulated on our legs from the dusty ground of the playground. To top it all, the boys in their dorms however were having a different set of fun with their snoring comrades and weren’t ashamed to share it with everybody else via whatsapp. What a wonderful time we had!
On Tuesday morning, the sound of the wind woke us up. It was as if it was screaming, and I wondered whether there was a storm on the horizon. Being the brave one and knowing I had to meet my two companions for our morning exercise, I put on my sports clothes and stepped out only to find that it was not recommended to exercise during a windy morning (a fact I didn’t know). Oh well, I went straight back to bed and woke up an hour later. We did our daily routine and proceeded to church for our routine devotion, on a windy morning. Having heard the devastating news about the people who lost their lives in the incident involving Baricad Crew music truck, the only thing we were really able to do was to pray for the families of the victims.
Being still windy throughout the morning I had really started regretting that I didn’t take my jacket. Breakfast that morning was cornmeal mixed with vegetables and butter. It was so, so, so tasty that I had three bowls. I couldn’t help myself. Free time being once again present we received these retreat T-shirts. From 10:00am to 11:00am, guess who showed up? Tami and Angel family, Maestro along with their video crew graced us with their presence to do a video shoot. We learned a few dance moves for the video shooting. The clocks striking 1:00pm, it was time for light, camera, action, on a more deserted place on campus with a hot burning sun shining down on us. I had no idea that shooting a video required so much shooting, ouff! However I did have fun dancing and just enjoying myself, and now I can’t wait to view the video. By the way I only know the chorus “Chaine yo case (the chains have been broken).”
Right after, it was time to shoot the Dickson Guillaume video. Standing within the inner courts of the church in a choir style arrangement, our retreat T-shirts on, it was quite a beautiful sight to see. At one point I noticed the photographer, and I told Juline who was standing next to me, “let’s act crazy;” which we did and the photographer was more than happy to take our picture hehe! With the video shoot done around 3:00pm, it was time to eat du riz, sauce pois rouge and legumes (white rice with red beans sauce and vegetable), yummy! Our usual free time rolled by, which we spent chatting and relaxing.
Around 5:30am, we heard the sound of music. Thinking that the conference was about to begin, Juline, Merline and I proceeded to the location, only to find it a bit empty. We sat down and enjoyed the musician playing his instrument till the point where he hit a note that got us standing and dancing away and shouting. In record time the space was full and every one was dancing, shouting and jumping, performing salsa moves, compas etc… I was shouting so loud I thought I would lose my voice. I worshipped, danced, jumped so much that it gave me a headache that I couldn’t believe it either. After 20 minutes of just letting it go, they stopped and informed us that it was time for the conference, bummer- But the conference was great. Unfortunately, Pastor Valery had to leave us early that night. After the conference, there was only one thing possible for me to do, go to bed. Waking up around 9:00pm, I got up and was ready for the gala.
I must say since the first day of the retreat, I was inspired to write a poem about Pèp Beni, and I did. From then on, I kept modifying it ‘til I was satisfied with it, and of course I had some friends that were more than happy to look at it for me, and make a few corrections. I was encouraged to perform it during the gala which I did. Here it is:
Pèp beni de yon pèp beni
Yon pèp majestye
A la yon bel pèp
La priye yo mache nan san w tankou van kap karese po w’
Adorasyon yo, bouyi tout anndan w tankou yon chodye dlo kap bouyi
A la pou dim ou pa beni?
Sak pi red la
Medam yo klere, yo konn chame, yo an penpan e yo fre kou zezwa
Pou mesye yo menm, yo bel ti gason, yo gen stil, yo chelbe, yo konn fe manifestasyon hmm
Labouyi se pou ti bebe (pavre)
A la yon pèp amizan se pèp beni
Yo tankou timoun ki fe fet
Ke yo kontan tankou zwazo nan syel la e an plis yo pale plizye lang
Pa gen pi bon pase pèp beni non
Le swa ronfleman fe Kenken nan zorey mesye yo
Mezanmi! Gen pawol wi
Antouka, vle pa vle pèp beni pi red
Mesi Bondye pou pèp beni sa
Mwen, mwen santi m beni
E ou eske ou beni?
The guys were more than happy to hear the fact that they had style (wink). The night proceeded on, with dancing, singing from different performers. The kids a.k.a la relève, did an excellent job, but what surprised me that night was a short theater piece made by Nerline Yacinthe (the artist from my previous articles about remembering January 12th, 2010 earthquake.) Their piece for the gala was amazing and funny. Also a group of men from last year, who called themselves “Mother her”, (don’t ask, I still can’t grasp where the name came from), gave a beautiful performance that had the public rolling. Yes indeed, it was a great night! Dinner was served and it consisted of so many beautiful dishes. The labouyi se pou ti bebe team, mixed with the musicians had our blood boiling and laughing like crazy because of the crazy, and I mean crazy, song they came up with. The DJ played a song that started a dance contest: boys vs girls, I really wanted to go, but I was eating. So all I could do was cheer. It was a great, great night. Pictures were being taken from left to right and vice-versa. People were laughing, joking; it was just WOW! But all good things had to come to an end. By 300am, it was time to hit the bed.
Wednesday morning, found us doing our daily routine with a really tired body. Devotion started a little late but it was edifying. Ginou Taverne did such a wonderful job. It had us looking deep within our souls, to thank GOD and see all that HE had done in our lives. Worshipping him was not in vain. Although my eyes were closed, I could hear the cries of so many in the room. GOD’s presence had been with us all throughout the retreat but that last day, I believe it was more than 100% present. Can you imagine, floating in the air? Well that’s how I felt the room was like. We were floating and GOD was reaching out to us, touching our hearts and renewing our souls, making us a new creature. After such a sublime worship time, we were given 3 candies to give to the person who made the most impact on us during those 5 days and I received 3, awesome, right? As we left the worship area, the site of the buses graced our sight, making us realize that, Wednesday was indeed the last day. We had one more video to shoot for Dickson Guillaume, for the song titled, “He knows my name (Li konnin nom)”. Once done, it was group picture time. It was a time to say goodbye to our new and old friends, exchange phone numbers with the promise to see each other again next year. Sadness and joy surrounded our hearts. Merline, Juline, Daniella and I awaited our ride with sorrow. Once it did arrive the atmosphere in the car compared to our first day was sad but peaceful. Everyone lost in their own thoughts, not wanting to utter a single word for fear of bursting into tears.
An hour-an-half later, the car stopped in front of our gate, I couldn’t help but say “back to civilization,” which didn’t quite have a good taste in my mouth. Saying our goodbyes to Merline, we proceeded to our normal life but with peace and joy in our heart.
Do you think the fun ended there? Heck no, the fun continues on, on WHATSSUP with “Peuple Beni’s three different groups which, at the moment, I am quite enjoying.
Note: Claire Bijou is poet and essayist. She lives and works in suburban Port-au-Prince. You can read part of her collection by going to our section: Poetry and Literature. More pictures can be found on our Facebook Fan page. Like the page: www.csmsmagazine.org