Friday, August 22, 2008

to market to market

This morning at 5:30 AM Sharon and I went to the market in Petionville with Ari and Junya. When Ben and Bryan asked if they could go, too, Ari said no. He explained that it's not a problem for white women to do marketing. "White women are just women." But Haitians in general don't see any reason for a white man to be in a market. Women here do the marketing - both the selling and the buying. So a white man in a market in Haiti is considered to be military personnel (abhorred here because of the U.S. occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934... more on that later), CIA or a photographer (sorry, Ben!).

The market is muddy and teeming with people all shoving their way through narrow aisles of produce. It was awesome. I got a chance to see what kinds of fresh foods are available here and get an idea of what they cost. Ari warned us that when we're shopping on our own, though, we'll be expected to pay the pri blan, or white man's price. On the one hand this feels unfair, but it's true that even on our meager MCC salary, we have more far resources available to us than most Haitians do. We CAN pay more.

I can't wait to move into our own place and be able to cook with fresh, locally-grown eggplant, sweet potatoes, squash and chard. Please share if you know anything about cracked wheat or yellow rice. Yellow rice is grown here and if it has any nutritional value, I would be perfectly content to never eat white rice again. Cracked wheat is imported, but sold fairly inexpensively in the market. We'll be making an effort to eat as few imported items as possible, but cracked wheat may be the only whole grain we can get here.

We're beginning to tire of our rice and white bread diet here in Gwo Jan. Haitians eat three meals a day, but breakfast and dinner are light. Breakfast is bread and sometimes fruit. Occasionally, we're served spaghetti for breakfast, though we've never been served spaghetti for lunch or dinner. This is the source of quite some mystery to us. For dinner we usually have bread and spicy Haitian peanut butter with something hot to drink (lemongrass and ginger tea or a sweet, thick drink made with spices and grated plantains or cornflour). The same combination of spices - cinnamon, cloves, star anise and bergamot - are used for just about everything sweet. Lunch is our gwo manje (large meal), usually around 2 or 3:00. For lunch we almost always eat rice, but sometimes have cornmeal or sorghum, with a black bean sauce ("sos pwa") and a sauce made with meat or smoked herring. We eat avocados with every meal. We also have freshly squeezed juice, ji, with most meals. Passion fruit is my favorite, but lemon and orange are good, too. When we can make our own juice, we'll use a quarter the amount of sugar. If you come to Haiti, my advice would be to steer clear of papaya juice.

I want to go fully vegetarian here, since meat production has the same kind of sustainability issues in Haiti as it does in the States. And here where people have so little, land and resource stewardship seems like an especially pressing issue. We told our homestay family that we don't eat meat, which also makes it cheaper for them to feed us. For the most part, it's easy to avoid meat, but every once in awhile I realize that what I've just swallowed couldn't possibly have been a piece of potato.

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