It doesn’t look like it belongs. Mama’s Ti Marche bodega sits just outside of Boston’s busy Mattapan Square. But from its quaint sign outside to its colorful inventory inside–tropical coconuts, bananas, pineapples, and mangoes piled near sugarcane bunches and a few yards away, original paintings, scarves, and candles–the place looks like a general store on a Caribbean island.
Perhaps there is a reason. The round-faced proprietor, Jocelyne Francois-Toussaint (“Mama Ti”), is from Jacmel, Haiti, a town of 40,000 on the southern coast. It’s famous for its artisan shops that sell handicrafts, papier-mâché masks, and carved-wood animal figures, some of which could be found at Mama’s Ti Marche.
She’s been in this business a long time. Even as a small child she sold things. A few decades ago, she acquired a van, stocked it, and parked it at a farmer’s market in Mattapan. It was hard work for little pay, and she was sending her children to school, so she “prayed to God to send me a store.” God was apparently tuned in (or her social network rallied), for in 2006, just as her daughter was entering college, she opened Mama’s Ti Marche. She admits that while she runs the place alone, she does get help from her niece, daughters, and her husband Castel. “Without him, I couldn’t do the paperwork.”
A word on the naming of the store. You may think, that because her nickname is “Mama Ti,” that her sign should read “Mama Ti’s Marché.” Well, yes and no. She’s not named Mama Ti because her last name is Toussaint. She’s named it because of her size. Ti is Haitian slag for the word petite (little). So the sign literally means “Mama’s Little Store.” Of course, moving the ‘s one word over would be accurate too. But it’s not going to happen.
It doesn’t matter that her shelves are stocked with the most eclectic items in no particular order. She has survived nearly twenty years in an extremely competitive trade and has put her kids through school. Sadly, she doesn’t think they’ll manage the store when she retires, so it will probably close.
Photo-shoot Note: In order to capture both the artificial lights outside a bodega and the lights inside it, I take my pictures during blue hour, a.k.a. civilian twilight, the period shortly after sunset. I do this so that I can accentuate the colors and balance the lighting through the HDR technique. Unfortunately, stores like Mama’s Ti Marche are not open during blue hour most of the year, which means the inside lights are often turned off then. She closes at 7 PM; when I met her on 4/24/2012, blue hour was beginning too late (around 8:30 PM). To get the shots I wanted, I had to return on 10/12; blue hour was just starting as she was closing up.