Sunday, August 8, 2010


What Ti Eli Ate Today:

Before we hiked down from the mountain, we had coffee, laced with sugar. There is coffee now every day because I am here. Otherwise, it is not the way most rural residents here start the day – it is a special treat, rather a deal, when you are offered coffee. However, everyone here has gotten used to my rather princessy expectations, which date back about 10 years ago. Like when I first came to Haiti, you read in the guidebook that “In the morning, Haitians have coffee and bread.”

Hah-hah – the book is a guide to the city, to the Republik of Port au Prince, to some, not all, of the working class, the salaried class, the political class, biznis class.

But not us.

Still, long after I understood that morning coffee was not de rigeur, I still got to have my cup O’ Joe. So, now there is a small, very small, biznis on our mountain: Fixing Madame Randy’s kafe chak maten. They learned, I learned. I brought a large thermos to keep it hot most of the day. They tempered the sugar down a bit. And, I learned to share all the coffee. This was expected of me, call it Haitian good manners. As I come to understand, "Moun ki pa manje pou ko l pa janm grangou." (If you are not selfish with your food, you will never starve.)

I am used to the children having coffee with me. Ti Eli drinks too, as would any Haitian baby or child offered a cup. I blow on a small cup, and give it to Ti Eli, who is now 3 years old.

Coffee is now 25 goudes for a “cluster” of unroasted beans, yon “paket” up at the Kampon market. Toma tells me it is very expensive now, and getting scarce. What I notice is: no one is grilling and pounding coffee fresh every morning, as in years past. Kloteed has bought it already pounded! I used to hear the thum-thump-thump of the monch ak pillon every morning, with the rooster crowing, it was the sound of morning on the mountain. Now, all but the rooster is silent. Change has come to Mon Bouton.

There is no bread today. We will get some when we get “downstairs.”

A few hours later, at the river’s edge, we buy some biskwit and Ti Eli eats a few bites. Then in Darbonne, when we reach the town, after a ride across the rivers on motos, 3 plus the driver. It is now about 10:00 a.m. I buy some pate, freed dough for all 5 of us.

Still, 3 year old Ti Eli has not had much to eat. A few bites of fried dough, then he is not much interested.

Some hours and a jostling tap-tap ride later, we arrive in Kafou. Klotted buys a bag of chips. Ti Eli will eat a little of this. We mount motos again, thanks to my bankrolling our travel, and get up to the zone of Jericho, at the top of this road in Kafou in style: myself, the driver, Kloteed and Ti Eli.

Still, no real food today for Ti Eli or anyone else.

We arrive and Klotted unpacks, and sets to cooking. Rice and some black beans goes on the fire. A small onion, a bit of oil, some pate tomat, - there’s even one small carrot! There’s just one charcoal stand, so the meal preparation takes a while. No one, absolutely no one complains, but I am feeling really hungry! Ti Eli plays with his cousins. They roll on the cement floor, play with a stick too near the charcoal stand. I am the only one watching. Everyone else is chopping spices, chatting, catching up on news from Mon Bouton and waiting patiently for water to boil.

Me? I am starving.

Some time late in the afternoon, Klo and my hosts try to serve me first, in a room separate from everyone else. There are no tables. Klo puts a thin embroidered towel on a chair, and sets some beans and rice on that. I decide I will join everyone in the other room and take it there. I can see what Ti Eli eats.

He can feed himself, but he prefers his mother or someone to put food into his mouth. He is rather spoiled, isn’t he? So, he runs around, gets a mouthful, runs around. How much does he eat? Impossible to measure. Some of this, and some of that from someone else’s dish, even mine. Clearly, "Manje kwit pa gen met," - that is, cooked food is for everyone. And, indeed, whenever Klo is cooking, it is for me and everyone, and anyone, who is around. So, when I try to figure out what does it cost me for food nan Ayiti Cheri, I begin to sound like my Haitian neighbors, study participants. All say: "Sa depan." It depends.

Later, asweya, at night, someone will eat any leftovers. If there are leftovers. Klo would not have another fire going at night to cook, except for me bank rolling our dining pleasure.

Some nights, she will take diri kole, left over rice, and add it to a pudding, “la bwi,” made with canned milk, sugar and flour. If she has cinnamon or other sweet spices, she will add that in.

It certainly is delicious. Yet, the day has passed an except for the shared carrot, no one has had fruit or vegetables. Bananas are expensive, I note – that is to say, they don’t seem to, er, grow on trees. The sweet, “fig” bananas are what we are all craving for. Sometimes, when she finds them at a market, Kloteed will spend say 5$HD, 50 goudes, on a bunch.

Not today.

Next day, we shop for a meal together. We spend $350 goudes, or about $8.00 - $9.00 US (divide by 40 goudes to the dollar, or more accurately 39 if you are good with dividing). Here is what we buy: 6 pieces of fish, a godet of rice (about 20 oz.), a godet (20 oz.) of fresh beans (pwa vet) – not dried, a small (8 oz.) bottle of oil for cooking, some fruit for making juice (ji genadia), container of margarine (16 oz. tub) that Klo keeps without refrigeration, a large piece of ice, oil, onion, pate tomate for sauce. Some chabon (charcoal) for 15 goudes – Klo says it should last for 2 fires, 2 meals, maybe more. Some maggi cubes, garlic, for 15 goudes a “paket” (little bit). Not much else.

You know what? This seems expensive to me. We did feed 6 people, plus the kids (age 3 and 2) this one meal.

What do you think?

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