Haiti, our next country, has gotten a lot of mention in the U.S. news lately. The President has made derogatory remarks about the Caribbean nation. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently decided to end Temporary Protected Status for thousands of Haitian immigrants who have legally been in the U.S. since a devastating earthquake struck their home country in 2010. (2010 may seem like a long time ago, enough time for a country to recover from an earthquake, but Haiti has also been struck by a cholera epidemic introduced by foreign aid workers, and by a hurricane in 2016.)
While Haiti is a country with serious problems, dismissing it like the President did would just be ignorant. Let’s be better than that.
Some other notable things about Haiti: it shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with another country we’ve globetrotted to, the Dominican Republic. It was the first independent nation in Latin America and Caribbean, the second republic in the Americas, and can even be considered the first African republic because even though Haiti is not in Africa, about 95 percent of the population is of African descent. While there are many creole languages in the world, Haitian Creole is one of the few that has official language status (French is also an official language of Haiti). And now you and I may already know more about Haiti than the American president, but there’s still more to cover.
For breakfast on Saturday, I made us Haitian-style spaghetti, espageti. Our vegetarian-friendly version used veggie hot dogs instead of regular hot dogs or herring.
According to an Eater article, American troops brought spaghetti with them when they occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. As for why spaghetti is often eaten for breakfast, that’s probably because it’s a filling dish, and both easy and inexpensive to make. We were glad for the hearty breakfast, because after eating we had to go to the grocery store, and most of the sidewalks hadn’t been cleared of the few inches of snow that had fallen the night before.
After we returned, we turned to Geography Now for Barby’s take on Haiti:
As Barby explains, Haiti was once a French colony, but became an independent nation after a successful slave revolt in 1804. After the revolution, Haiti had to pay France massive amounts of money so France would recognize its independence, which certainly didn’t help the new nation’s economy. In today’s economy, Haiti’s primary export is textiles. Apparently I have some Haitian-made shirts in my wardrobe, as you can see at the top of this post.
We watched a video that filled us in more about the 1804 Haitian revolution. One interesting thing that I hadn’t known was that the outcome of the Haitian revolution had a direct impact on U.S. history. Because its attempt to retake the island were going so badly, France (then under the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte) not only withdrew from Haiti, but also sold its Louisiana Territory to the United States. The Louisiana Territory, which is better known as the Missouri Territory, was a huge amount of land that includes all of modern-day Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska, most of Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Louisiana, and parts of Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico and Texas. So if the slaves had not been successful in their revolt in Haiti, it’s likely that the United States today would look very different geographically.
Derek was busy in the kitchen in the afternoon, preparing a Haitian dessert made from sweet potatoes, pain patates, and Haitian pâté puffs, in which he substituted TVP for the ground chicken. We had time for a quick travel video that showed us parts of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, as well as Cap-Haitien and Jacmel.
While we would have to wait until the next day to try the pain patates, per that recipe, we had the pâté puffs for dinner, along with pikliz, a spicy pickled vegetable relish, that Derek had made ahead of time on Thursday evening, since the vegetables needed time to marinate. Although the pikliz looked innocuous like cole slaw, we both found it challenging to eat since it was so spicy, even though Derek halved the amount of habanero pepper.
After dinner, we watched The Agronomist, an American documentary about Jean Dominique, owner of Haiti’s first independent radio station and social activist. The documentary helped fill some gaps in our knowledge of the political situation in Haiti during the 1980s and 1990s. More importantly, I think, it shows the importance of a free press, something we shouldn’t take for granted. Here’s a trailer:
The next morning, we ate more spaghetti for breakfast, did chores around the apartment, and ran a few errands. Derek bought additional frozen puff pastry, and made more pâté puffs, since he had leftover filling from the previous evening. I made a batch of sos pwa, Haitian bean sauce, using a recipe I had found in one of our print cookbooks, Extending the Table, which we ate with the still warm puffs and white rice. My sos pwa looks a lot chunkier than online photos of sos pwa, more like refried beans than like a smooth sauce. It seems like most recipes for sos pwa instruct you to pass the pureed beans through a sieve, making the end result much smoother.
In the afternoon, we watched a documentary called In Haiti, about a young Haitian-German man road tripping through the country with a German schoolmate. The film showed us many sides of Haiti: people living in city slums, crowded schools, farmers struggling to make ends meet in the countryside, UN peacekeepers patrolling city streets, and a voodoo ceremony, among other things. The Agronomist had taught us about how the U.S. military had intervened in the 80s and 90s, but In Haiti taught us about how the U.S. crippled Haiti’s rice industry: heavily subsidized American rice was shipped to Haiti, and because it was so much cheaper than Haitian-grown rice, Haitian rice farmers couldn’t compete.
For dinner, we had more rice and beans, legume, and pikliz. Derek pointed out the fact that our fridge was full at the end of this weekend was incongruous with Haiti. (During one part of In Haiti, schoolchildren eat rice and beans at school, and a school administrator explains that the students are served the same lunch everyday because the school can’t afford other foods. This also may be the only meal the students have everyday, since most of the children come from poor families living in the slum. The fact that we have been eating a variety of Haitian dishes is also an indicator of our privilege.)
To conclude our Haitian weekend, we finally were able to try Derek’s dessert, the pain patates, the only dish this weekend that didn’t contain habaneros, besides the plain white rice. A sweet way to wrap things up!
We’ve globetrotted to many troubled countries, but for me, Haiti stands out not only because of its close proximity to the U.S., but also because of the roles the U.S. has played in Haiti (often with detrimental effects). For an American head of state to call Haiti a “shithole,” without acknowledging America’s hand, is a shitty thing indeed.*
Our next country is a stark contrast to Haiti: the wealthy and opulent Holy See. (After eating lots of habaneros for Guyana and Haiti, we’re rather relieved that food at the Vatican seems much milder.) Until then, orevwa!
*I’m aware that our Moms read this blog. Sorry for the bad language, Moms!