The comedy of other cultures is tricky to write about at the best of times; in a new land, any commentary is fraught with potholes.
Take this photo of a bus, for example. A giant “Thankyou Jesus”, a little love heart, and two middle fingers.
To my eyes this is a splendid piece of comedy. I like to imagine that – apart from the fact that I should keep back as a fellow road user – this tells me something along the lines of: “Thanks, because I have to give thanks – but this is what I get? Stuff that.”
What I want to see here is a shrugging recognition of the implacable powers that shape life, married to a profound sense of the ridiculous. A parody of praise, underwritten by satire.
However last night someone far better informed than I told me – upon listening to my fledgling theories on Haitian humour – that this was all rather unlikely; that Haitians did not make jokes where God was concerned, and that this bus was probably a simple example of someone being rather rude.
Still, I do feel that a number of Haiti’s famously fabulous proverbs do feature a certain cynical irreverence.
Makak pa janm kwe petit-li led.
A monkey never thinks her baby’s ugly.
Sel pa vante tèt li di li sale.
Salt doesn’t boast that it is salted.
Santi bon koute che.
Smelling good is expensive.
Lanne pase toujou pi bon.
Past years are always better.
Sa k rive koukouloulou a, ka rive kakalanga tou.
What happens to the turkey can happen to the rooster too.
Bel anteman pa di paradi.
A beautiful funeral doesn’t guarantee heaven.
[A topic for a later post, certainly; I need to study these proverbs more deeply, under the tutelage of an expert.]
Am I making assumptions, fueled by my origin? Sure. Am I an ingenue here? You bet.
Yet I suspect there is a joyful grumbling fun-poking at life’s inanities to be found in Haiti. How else would the human spirit survive?