God is too busy to rescue drowning children, too busy to stop the flow of blood, too busy to notice the suffering of Haiti, so Gina Athena Ulysse prays to other gods. From behind the curtain, before her entrance on the La Mama stage, she sings a Vodou song.
Ezili, save us as we are drowning she chants repeatedly as if in a trance, as if it were an incantation, as one endlessly says a rosary, and it is interminable this chant, as one says a rosary, Ezili, save us as we are drowning, because as one says a rosary endlessly, repeatedly, interminably, one keeps in memory events or mysteries in our history and it is true that we are drowning and it is true that we should be saved, Ezili, save us as we are drowning.
Weaving her powerful storypoems with these chants, Ulysse is ruthless, tender, sassy, and sometimes heartbreaking in her one-woman performance “Because When God is Too Busy: Haiti, Me and the World”. Whether exploring her rage at the dehumanization of Haitians: because they are too dark, too rebellious, not French enough, never, never, ever French enough…the ones Soeur Cecile called burnt potatoes and for whose salvation Ulysse prayed nightly Forgive her God for she does not know what she is doing, or reminiscing about spending the night on her knees, punished by her father and praying God whom she appointed as father, disowning her real father as Ponce Pilate, she sends us messages from the interior which are at once intimate and generously collective in a fascinating interplay that blurs the lines beween herself and her country:
Look what the mortals are doing to me
I planted corn
it turned into a reed
the reed turned into bamboo
it turned into a knife
to stab me…
Dear Gina, I don’t know you but you know me, you don’t know me but I know you, we have eaten the same yellow-fleshed almonds from the same almond trees, passed by the same gates where vines intertwine, I have knelt down to pray as you have and I have tried to imagine, imagine, imagine all the people…but it’s hard girl, isn’t it? with what is happening everywhere in these countries we love…But tonight you made it sweeter with your poetry and your fantastic talent and I thank you for it.
Michele Voltaire Marcelin
Ulysse was born in Petion-Ville, Haiti. An anthropologist by training, she is also a poet/performer and multi-media artist. When she is not expressing her rage, she is a professor at Wesleyan University.
Photography by Andy Vernon Jones