1 the narrator of “The Arabian Nights”: storyteller, teller of tales, relater, chronicler, raconteur, anecdotalist. ANTONYMS listener, audience.
2 the film’s narrator: voice-over, commentator, speaker
From October 2011 to the end of following January, a gorgeous little 1890s house in downtown Bucharest hosted an event about the beautiful side of Haiti.
The beatiful house at 24, Batistei str.
I had just come back from a trip that had filled my heart with a hundred thousand smiles – and found everybody asking about the poverty and the horrors I must have experienced in Haiti.
There was so much to be said and shown. The gap between what we think about Haiti and what I saw is enormous – it reminded me of the many things Western Europeans assume about Romania under the communist regime.
I do not think one can ever claim to be objective. So I decided the exhibition was going to tell my narrative: I’d fill the ancient house with pictures that would not confirm your usual stereotypes and invite people to come over and hear the story of «Haiti Chérie» – the beautiful side of Haiti.
I’d be their guide through the 6 rooms filled with more than 180 photographs and artefacts I had brought along with me.
There would be music and rum-tasting and creole food and I’d tell them my story to it all.
I lived in the house the exhibition took place for those four months. People would come and walk through the rooms, try Haitian rum, ask lots of questions and buy copies of pictures they loved.
At first, one entered the «Roadtrip» room. Because Haitians are on the road every day for several hours, on their feet, in tap-taps (private 14-people cabs), on motorbikes, on trucks.
The next room was «Dwellings and people»: a map of Port-au-Prince on the table and many books from Haiti laid out next to it. Pictures of «gingerbread houses», of marketplaces and celebrations, of furniture and clothing being sold in the streets, of fruit and juice-vendors, portraits of kids coming home from schools.
In a corner «Nunuta» – the tailor mannequin – all dressed in white like Haitians would on elegant occasions. And a huge basket full of fruit for everyone to try: bananas, limes, passion fruit, pineapple, papaya and mangoes especially.
Then onto «Traditions» – the room with the story of how slaves fought for their freedom and became the first colony to turn into an independent state. The story of how the red and blue flag with «L’union fait la force» written on it came to replace the French tricolore. Carnival processions and the waterfall of Saut d’Eau. Students preparing for their exams and humming songs at the roots of the 300 year old justice tree in front of King Christophe’s ruined palace.
Candles would light the beautiful carvings done out of old oil-barrels from Croix-de-Bouquets.
Trying to explain that a machete is a tool, not a weapon
The «Sea» room – with its turquoise rimmed beaches and smiling kids around a hammock where you actually could lie in and see a photograph with the sun up in a palm tree over your head.
A picture of the mapou-tree with orchids growing on every branch – the only tree Haitians will never cut down, because spirits descend on it from the sky.Boats of fishermen floating in the waters around the islands, bringing ashore meter-long fish and the largest lobsters I’ve ever seen. Paradise.
The «Mosaic» room was about Haitian buildings and sceneries: Citadelle Laferrière, the UNESCO monument with its 286 cannons, Cap Haitien alleys lined with overburdened mango trees, goats on Ile-A-Vache, pics from a traditional thursday evening concert with the local band RAM at the Oloffson hotel in Port-au-Prince. «Hall of horrors» – After the narrative ended, at the back of the house, people could see pictures closer to what one sees in the news: shelter camps, collapsed streets, a rice paddy where the cholera epidemic had started – not really a part of the exhibition, nor the house – but still part of reality.
Initially, «Haiti Chérie» was to be shown for two months. I didn’t think a subject that far away from everyday life would find enough visitors, nor would I find enough strength to tell the stories again and again. Depending on the public the narrative would reveal different details and windings along the way. Some guests even returned to be a part of it several times.
The house felt like it had 180 windows through which one could see different sides of Haiti. It was kept open four months until the end of January, when I left for India.
Haitian cuisine is truly special. Its dishes are spicier than most other Antillean cuisine’s. Besides the strong African influence – there’s also French, Arabic and Amerindian – and every manman has her own secrets, inherited from ancient times and refined over generations!
Vegetables on Hispaniola are extremely tasty – and part of any dish. Furthermore, meals are based on seafood & fish, meats as goat (cabrit) and pork (griot), but also chicken and beef. Rice, with or without beans, accompanies every meal. It’s called “nourriture” – a meal without rice is not considered to be a meal.
Meat is usually cleaned and marinated in bitter orange juice, fish in lime juice.
To meals one can drink beer or fruitjuice.
ACCRAS DE MORUE – codfish pasties
The name accra is said to come from “akara”, which means “pasty” in Éwé, a Mandinga-language spoken in Ghana.
Codfish pasties are a typical dish made up of potatoes, bacalhau (codfish), eggs, parsley, and some other minor ingredients. The bolinhos or pastéis de bacalhau – as called on the Portuguese coast and in Brasil, where they are very popular as well- are deep fried and served before meals or as a meal itself (usually served with rice).
300g dry codfish, desalted for at least 1h.
300g potatoes, previously boiled in saltwater
1 egg, beaten
black pepper, garlic
optionally: clove, thyme, parsley, chilli, 1 tbsp. of vinegar
breadcrumbs or “pannade”
Desalt the codfish in water, drain it, clean bones off, shred and mash it together with the potatoes. Mash with beaten egg, garlic, pepper. Shape into small balls and roll in breadcrumbs. Fry in hot oil.
You can use flour instead of potatoes, in this case add a cupfull of water and some baking powder.
Serve with raw vegetables as starter.
The word ‘chiquetaille’ means ‘shredded’. As refrigeration is still scarce on the island, fish is often salted for conservation reasons.
Soak the cod in cold water for 15 minutes to rehydrate it and remove the salt; fillet it, removing the bones if necessary; flake the meat with your fingers. Finely chop the onion, garlic, chives, herbs and chili; blend into the cod; drizzle with lime juice and oil.
Serve it with baguette; alternatively in an avocado half or with lettuce-tomato salad. Or, like in the pic, with some green beans and carrot.
The time-costly method, more adequate for conservation
450g salted cod
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 large shallots, finely chopped
5 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 carrots, very thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups of young green beans, cut in half, vertically
1/2 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 yellow or red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 green jalapeno with seeds or 2 scotch bonnets, thinly sliced
1/2 cup vinegar
1 cup olive oil
3 or 4 whole cloves
Salt and pepper
Soak the cod in cold water in the refrigerator for 24 hours, changing the water 3 times. In a large pot, bring to boil enough water to cover the fish and boil for about 20 minutes. Drain in a vegetable strainer and when cool, remove skin, bones and any unsightly fish parts. Shred by hand.
Mix the shredded fish with the vegetables, olive oil, cloves, salt, pepper and vinegar. Refrigerate for at least 4 days. Serve spread on baguette slices for cocktails or as a salad with lettuce, tomatoes and hard boiled eggs.
SOUPE JOUMOU – pumpkin soup, the national dish
Slaves were not allowed to eat this nourishing soup. On the 1st of January 1804, they cooked soup Joumou (from “Giraumont” – a pumpkin type) for the first time. It became the national dish. It is served on National Day, Sundays and special occasions.
1 giraumon pumpkin, peeled and cut (or 1kg frozen)
1 turnip, diced
1 small cabbage, leafed
3 large potatoes, diced
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1-2 onions, sliced
4 cups beef broth
3 carrots, sliced
1 leek, cut
Salt, pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
Cayenne pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon butter
Wash meat with lime and water. In a large saucepan, boil the shanks and beef and lard cubes until each piece is tender. Add the giraumon. When the giraumon is cooked, puree and return to pot. Add vegetables, pepper, salt, cayenne to taste, cloves and rigatoni. Pour the beef broth by covering everything. Bake until rigatoni and vegetables or tender. Add oil, vinegar and butter. Simmer 20 minutes over medium heat. Serve with baguette.
LAMBÌ BOUCANNÉ – Buccanneered conch
lime, salt, hot chili sauce
Lambì is a conch that seems very hard to find outside the Caribbean space. Nevertheless, should you find one – clean it first: remove the ‘lid’, then the intestine; wash in plenty of water, until not sticky anymore. Clean all dark spots and hard parts away with a knife. Rinse again with bitter orange juice (or sea-water, if nothing else around). Then just place it over a fire until it gets cooked. Season with lime and chili sauce (e.g. tabasco).
Can be served plain – or with rice or plantain.
Alternative: cooked lambì
Same ingredients as before, same preparations required. This lambì was cut to threads, then cooked and seasoned with salt, lime and hot chili sauce.
Oma boukannen ak banann peze – Buccaneered lobster with plantain
salt, garlic, lime
Cut along the spine, grill. Add lime and garlic if desired, serve with fried plantain – banann pese (see below) or white rice.
POISSON GROS SEL
4 pink fish, i.e. red snapper or sea bream
1 tablespoon tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste
hot pepper to taste
juice of one lime
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 peeled tomatoes, chopped
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 cup water
Clean, shell fish and remove the bones and entrails. Rinse with cold water and rub with lime. Prepare the marinade by placing mashing shallots, cloves, pepper, lime juice, minced garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl. Make incisions in the fish to rub the marinade and let marinate for at least 3 hours. Heat oil in a deep skillet, add onion, minced garlic, tomatoes, tomato paste, thyme and parsley. Sautéd well. Add the remaining marinade, followed by water and bring to a boil. Add fish and simmer 20 minutes over medium heat.
Serve with rice and beans (see below) or plantains.
POISSON ROSE – Red snapper
4 pink fish, i.e. red snapper or sea bream
1 tablespoon tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste
hot pepper to taste
juice of one lime
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 peeled tomatoes, chopped
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 cup water
Clean, shell fishes and remove the bones and entrails. Rinse with cold water and rub with lime. Prepare the marinade by placing the following ingredients in a salad bowl: shallots, cloves, pepper, lime juice, minced garlic, salt and pepper. Mash everything together. Make incisions in the fish to rub the marinade and let marinate for at least 3 hours. Heat oil in a deep skillet, add onion, minced garlic, tomatoes, tomato paste, thyme and parsley. Sautéd well. Add the remaining marinade, followed by water and bring to a boil. Add fish and simmer 20 minutes over medium heat. Serve with fries or Diri kolé ak pwa (see below) or boiled green plantains.
Rub the pork in lime juice. Rinse with warm water. Combine remaining ingredients, except for oil and orange juice. Let the the pork soak in this mixture and marinate in the refrigerator (4 to 24 h). Place in large saucepan over medium heat and add the orange juice. Cover and cook for 30 minutes. Remove the meat, drain. Fry the pork in hot oil, turning the pieces occasionally, until they are crisp. Serve with pickliz and fried plantain.
TASSO – fried cubed beef/goat
1 kg steak or goat cut into small cubes
1/2 cup of chopped shallots
1/2 cup of orange juice
1/4 cup lime or lemon juice
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
salt, pepper to taste
1 tsp of parsley
Put all ingredients except the oil in a large pot and marinate at least 4 hours. Transfer meat mixture to medium saucepan or pressure cooker and add water to cover. Heat to boiling and reduce heat. Simmer covered until meat is very tender. Fry meat in a large pan until crisp and golden brown.
HAITIAN STYLE CHICKEN
Mme Jesula preparing for a grand dinner
garlic, salt, pepper
1 bunch parsley
2 tbsp. tomato paste
Cut the chicken into pieces, wash, season with the marinade made with garlic, salt, chopped pepper. Sauté the chicken in some oil, cover and cook for ca. 30 minutes on medium-high. Drizzle with water, so the meat won’t stick to the pan. When tender, lower heat a bit and add the chopped onion, parsley, cloves, tomato paste, dilluted in the marinade. Let simmer for a few more minutes and serve hot with rice and beans (diri kolé ak pwa, see below)
MARINADE for chicken, pork or beef
1 cup corn oil
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon chilli powder
1 laurel leaf
1 sprig of fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
1 mashed garlic
1 minced onion
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients together. Brush over meat and let marinate for 2 hours or more in the refrigerator. Use only as much as needed for marinating, keep a certain amount to use during cooking.
Marinate the meat (see marinade recipy above). Heat oil in a skillet, brown the beef so it is well cooked. Add okras/callalou to the meat and fry for about ten minutes. Add onion, shallots, garlic, salt, vinegar, oil, water, pepper, thyme and cloves. Cover and simmer 30 minutes over low heat.
Cleanse beans and cook in a saucepan with 8 cups water 1 tablespoon oil. Beans are cooked when they are cracked. Remove from heat, drain while preserving the cooking water.
In a saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons of oil, sauté onions, garlic, shallots, spices, red beans and cubes of chicken stock. Add 6 cups liquid from the cooked beans water. When the water begins to boil, add the washed rice and hot pepper, stirring.
Cook uncovered over low heat until the complete absorption of water. Add the remaining oil, butter and cover pan. Cook approximately 15 minutes over medium heat.
BANNAN PEZE – Fried plantain
2 green plantain
1 cup vegetable oil
½ cup water
1 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. Vinegar
Peel plantains and cut into 5 pieces each. Place oil in a deep frying pan on medium heat. In a small bowl, add remaining ingredients and set aside. Place cut plantains in hot oil, cook them for 5 to 7 minutes on each side. Remove plantains and lower heat, flatten them using a tostonera(wooden press – you can use other objects to flatten the plantain. In need, I once flattened them with the bottom of a beerbottle)
Soak flattened plaintains in water mixture and replace in oil on medium heat. Turn plantains on each side until crispy and golden brown. Place them on paper towels to remove excess oil. Serve hot.
The best pickliz in the world – at Lakou Lakay in the North, next to the Citadel
2 cups shredded carrots
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cups sliced cabbage
½ cup green peas
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 garlic, minced
6 jalapeño peppers, cut in half
Place all ingredients in a large glass jar, except the vinegar. Add enough vinegar to cover everything completely. Let marinate one week before starting to use it. Serve with meat or fish.
Haitians prefer making juices to eating the fruit whole. Use
You can make juices out of almost any Haitian fruit by patiently mashing the pulp against a sieve. Mix with icecubes.
Additionally, one can always mix a fruit punch with coconut water and pour it into a coconut.
Haiti is said to have the best mangoes in the world. There are over 100 varieties of mangoes across the country. There are mangoes with more fiber, others you can punch a whole in and suck the contents out; thereare sweeter mangoes and some that are more sour. Forms and colour vary endlessly. To name 3 popular ones: Francique, Corne, Muscat.
Mangoes can be eaten plain, best chill them before.
A very tasty alternative: add some Pastis (or another anise-based drink) and ornate with mint leaves.
The Citadelle Laferrière is a large mountaintop fortress in northern Haiti, approximately 17 miles /27 km south of the city of Cap-Haïtien and 5 miles /8 km uphill from the town of Milot.
It is the largest fortress in the Americas and was designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a World Heritage Site in 1982—along with the nearby Sans-Souci Palace. The mountaintop fortress has itself become an icon of Haiti. The Citadel was built by Henri Christophe, a key leader during the Haitian slave rebellion, after Haiti gained independence from France at the beginning of the 19th century.
The massive stone structure was built by up to 20,000 workers between 1805 and 1820 as part of a system of fortifications designed to keep the newly-independent nation of Haiti safe from French incursions. The Citadel was built several miles inland, and atop the 3,000 ft (910 m) Bonnet à L’Evèque mountain, to deter attacks and to provide a lookout into the nearby valleys.
The Haitians outfitted the fortress with 365 cannon of varying size. Enormous stockpiles of cannonballs still sit in pyramidal stacks at the base of the fortress walls.
The Citadel was part of a system of fortifications that included Fort Jacques and Fort Alexandre, built on the mountains overlooking Port-au-Prince. Dessalines ordered those forts built in 1805 to protect the new nation against French attacks.
Cap-Haïtien and the adjoining Atlantic Ocean are visible from the roof of the fortress. Anecdotally, it is possible to sight the eastern coast of Cuba, some 90 miles (140 km) to the west, on clear days.
Since its construction, the fortress has withstood numerous earthquakes, though a French attack never came.
Initially, one of the two chalk peaks was meant to become the site of the fort. As this construction was supposed to accommodate 2’000 soldiers in times of peace – and 5’000 in a defence case, there was need of a larger surface, so the location was chosen on a lower level: Pic la Ferrière on 970m altitude.
Being so far inland, this location was inaccessible for the enemy – the Citadel was an ultimate retreat place and not a defensive facility.
In his book about the Antilles, Louis Doucet comments that Roi Christophe constructed his Citadel in a similarly absurd way, as if Fort Gibraltar would have been erected on the Mont Blanc peak to defend the Atlantic coast.
Never has a shot been fired against an enemy from these of 1’500m -range cannons. They were lit only twice: once at inauguration – and another time, during a hurricane, when Roi Christophe chose to answer the divine challenge with gunpowder.
Two architects were engaged with the design: Henry Beese, an Englishman – and Frenchman Henri Barre. Their plans combine two successful types of fortification: Vauban’s- centering the construction around a bastion well adapted to the shape of the slope – and Marquis de Montalbert’s – distributing the fire power between several well-protected batteries.
The construction was started under Jean-Jacques Dessalines’ reign. In spite of the immense leveling efforts and the difficult work, the construction was almost finished after 13 years (1804-1817).
Slavery had shortly before been abolished, yet between 10’000 and 20’000 people were forced to work for this construction. Round 10% of them did not survive, therefore there’s a popular Haitian belief that there is human blood in the Citadel’s mortar.
It is said that a group of 50 forced laborers refused to continue pulling up one of the heavy 3ton- cannons when they were half the way up the steep road. Christophe shot down every second of them. The remaining were so terrified, that they managed to carry the weight all the way up.
In the 1950es the Haitian government decided to bring one of the cannons to the museum in Cap Haitien. This time the way went down the slope, but because of its weight the cannon could not be moved and was abandoned at the side of the road somewhere in the first one-third, meanwhile being overgrown with vegetation.
The fort was planned for 142 heavy bronze cannons, 124 heavy ordnance in casemates, 18 cannons mounted on „barbettes“.
Most cannons were obtained as French, English and Spanish booty. Hundreds of cannonballs are still stacked to pyramids all over the site today.
The citadel was constructed in 2 phases: The eastern bastions, the „Poudrière“ (powder-store) and governor’s quarters were first. Later on followed the fortifications on the southern and western part.
The distinctive 43m high- cusp was placed at the head of the fortress- and named Batterie Coidavid -after Roi Christophe’s wife’s maiden name.
The Poudrière exploded in 1818, killing Prince Noël, the kings son-in-law and Citadel’s commander….
…who was smoking a cigarette nearby. Smell of gunpowder is stil in the air to this dayAfter an earthquake brought great damage to the fortress in 1842, it was abandoned and covered graudually with vegetation – until restoration works took place 1979-1990.
Each side of the fortress’ was adapted to the geographical premises. The bastions are linked by 90m long corridors, 10m wide.
Confronted with the French army once, the king is said to have made his subjects jump down from the butresses in order to prove their loyalty. 16 had to jump, before French General Edouard put an end to this absurd waste.
Around the inner court there are the crew’s quarters, the kitchens and the storerooms, each of these 50 feet deep.
As there is no inner spring or water source, huge amounts of rain water were gathered in 8 huge cisterns, to supply the garrison and inhabitants for a whole years’ time.
In the western corner of the yard there is the Poudrière, which exploded in 1818, killing Prince Noël, the king’s son in law and commander of the Citadel.
The governor’s quarter was guarded by 3 sentinels. The King, his family and staff would occupy 40 rooms. In one of the rooms there was a pool table in front of an open fireplace.
Back in the times when he was a slave, Christophe had worked in Hôtel de la Couronne in Cap Français (today Cap Haitien). This hotel had a gambling room with pool tables.
Christophe married the owners’ daughter, Marie-Louis Coidavid and had 2 sons and 2 daughters with her.
Roi Christophe had been a builder and a very active king. After a stroke he suffered during mass in church St. Anne(?), his physical and mental capacities were impaired. When the palace guards mutinied against him, he shot himself with a silver bullet in the throne room of the Palace Sans-Souci.
A secret underground passage is said to lead to this peakMarie-Louise took his body to the Citadel and covered it in quicklime, to prevent the population from tampering with the grave. The jawbone was found though; it is conserved in the Musée du panthéon national (MUPANAH) in Port-au-Prince.
After Christophe’s death, the Queen fled to Port-au-Prince with her daughters and stayed there for one year, then headed for Italy on a British ship. Rumor has it she led a wealthy life thanks to the money deposited in Europe by her husband several years before. She died in Pisa in 1851, after having asked the authorities to grant her return to her natal Haiti.
One evening in Zürich, autumn 2010, I found this bag on the pavement, next to my bike. I put it aside, unlocked the bike and rode off. The next day I parked on the same spot. The bag was still there, as if waiting for me. In the evening I found it in my bike-basket. I took it out, hung it on a nearby fence and rode off. This game kept going on for the next 2 days. On the third day I decided that fate wanted me to have this bag.
I had been looking for a new bag for a long time. I always wear my favourite things till they fall apart – and tend to distrust new ones I am finally forced to buy.
So I looked inside, half fearing it was contaminated- or I’ll find an abandoned new-born inside! -but no. Creamy white lining, some blue and red stains from a pen – and a few bugs. And the smell of new leather!
I took it home, washed everything that wasn’t made of leather – and started using it soon. “Oh, since when are YOU wearing brand-stuff? This one must’ve cost you a fortune. I know a real DKNY when I see it, it’s my favourite brand” a friend said. – No, I found it on the street. – …
When I was packing for Haiti, I was determined to not show off with my things in any way. I even took down my old favourite ring and left it behind. What bag should I take? I only had this one – and a beach bag. You can’t go to a meeting with a beach-bag, can you? And this one looks rather modest, people will just assume it’s a fake.
For the last months it did its job well and does match most things I wear.
Then a few days ago I parked the car in front of the bookstore at Place St. Pierre, Pétion-Ville, the poshest part of Port au Prince. Got out just to see it was closed for Fête Dieu. A bunch of street kids were pestering me about watching the car. I said there was no need for that, I’m leaving right now, as the store is closed anyway. I get into the car, put my cellphone between my legs – where I alway put it when I drive – while I close the door, put the bag down on the floor and – just as I was about to push the “lock-all-doors”-button, someone opens the back door, darts over the passenger seat, grabs the bag – and runs away with it!
I jump out of the car yelling like crazy – and clenching my cellphone. Decide I can’t follow the guy and leave the car, cause he’s probably faster than me on high heels, he knows the neighbourhood a lot better – and I risk to have the car stolen as well. So I scream “SOMEONE STOLE MY BAG! GET IT PLEASE! THAT WAY! I’LL PAY A PRIZE TO WHOMEVER BRINGS IT BACK! RUN!!”
And all people start running down the street in the indicated direction. All of them- including the guy with the basket full of drinks on his head. The money-exchangers and the cigarette-vendors. The old lady selling fruit on the corner. The phone-company advertiser. The street kids. The school kids. Their parents. The toothless beggar. The passers by, on their way to church.
One street kid turns around: “Where there lots of money in the bag, Ma’m?” – No, but keys and papers, and it’s MINE… MY BAG!!! run, what are you staring at?!” – so he, too, gets in motion.
Only the old newspaper-vendor couldn’t free himself of the newspaper-burden fast enough, so he looked sadly after the others…
After a few minutes, my knees all trembling, the guy with the drinks-basket comes back. “Bag! go there! bag! there!!” and points a few blocks down the street.
“I won’t go anywhere – you guys think you can steal my cell now? or my car?” But I go. On that corner, in the dust, with 40 people gesticulating and quarrelling around it, was MY BAG. Open, like I had left it – and with the wallet on top! Nothing missing.
“This your bag, Ma’m?” Some old people from Mairie de Pétion-Ville, in some sort of sand- or dust-coloured uniform, all escorting me back to the car. Everyone else, who had been running, escorting me as well. I take out money to pay them, thinking that there’s too many of them… They refuse it. I give them the money, still: You guys just all go to the next bar and have a beer and think of me and the wonders of the church on this holy day!
They accept in the end – but only when I’m already in the car, with all doors locked.
I leave with trembling knees, this is incredible.
The next day I return to the store on foot, aware and nervous – what if I meet the perpetrator again?
So this guy comes strolling up to me, huge smile on his face: “Happy you got your bag back, Ma’m?”
Yeah, and who are you? “I’m the one who told the thief to drop the bag on the corner, Ma’m. I’m the Godfather of the street kids of Pétion-Ville. Enchanté!”
I’m eyeing him with distrust. He goes on, smiling: “The only reason why you got it back, Ma’m, is because we liked your reaction. You didn’t yell “police!”, like the other “blancs” do, when they get mugged
– you never even mentioned it. You promised ransom for the bag!
Yeah, because I grew up in a fucked-up country, where police was really the last you could expect help from when you were in distress. It never crossed my mind to expect help from them.
The one time I have, after being assaulted in the street – they wanted to charge me with street-prostitution, cause it’s not ok to be out at night as a woman. So, no, I don’t trust police in most countries either.
“You know, we are in the street all day long, we watch everyone, we know their habits. We spend all our life in the streets. I’m 29 now (he looked more like 45+), I’m out in the streets since I was twelve. I got locked-up for four years and a half. I wouldn’t wish a detention in a Haitian prison, not even to my worst enemy I would. I would do anything possible to keep other people from being locked-up. I don’t steal – I manage. Anything that gets stolen in this area, I get a percentage. I try to help the blancs get their papers back, cause I know it’s hard to get them redone, all ID’s and passports and everything. But if they call police, I’m out.”
I watched his brown hands while we were talking – the knuckles were so scarred, I’ve never seen anything like that. As if the guy had been walking on his knuckles through a field of glass-shards… While he was talking all the time with a peaceful smile on his face, he looked like a tired Bob-Marley.
“It would take a miracle to get me out of the streets. A woman – or death -will probably do it, like it happens for most of us. Out here, you don’t live long, you know? I’d so much like to learn something from you – a language, some story, anything. See these kids?”
The street kids were gathering around us, first 2-3, in the end there were almost 20, avidly watching his every gesture. He insisted on continuing the conversation in English, not French or Creole.
“Look at them. These kids have never been to schools, they can’t even read or spell their names. They left home, cause for them the street was the better alternative. Where to get the money for school? (NB: In Haiti you have to pay for tuition; only 15% of the schools are state-owned, the rest are private and a lot less affordable).
– But you speak good English, how did you learn that?
“Well, I worked around hotels and picked it up there…That’s why I am their godfather, I find ways.. If only one could teach them something useful, I’d organise the canteen, they would gather and they would learn. They’re willing.
I’m leaving soon.Are there no NGO’s or other organisations you can apply to with your idea?
No one talks to us, we’re scum, street people. There’s no money for projects like that from the blancs. We’re not flashy in the press – nobody likes being associated with. They just roll their window down and give us some change, they smile, wave and drive on. You think anyone stops and talks to us? You’re the first one in years.
Well, I can somehow understand people you mugged for not feeling like having friendly chats with you.
“You sent away the kids who wanted to guard your car yesterday. That was a mistake, should have let them – and tell them you pay some other time.”
I’m sick of being mistaken for an ATM all the time, it’s so annoying, you know? Think I’m a tourist here, just for fun? I work here – and I could work somewhere else, why do you think I’m here, man? I came for building schools!
“Yeah, but you pissed them kids off, so…when the guy made me a sign that he’s gonna steal you’re bag, I shrugged. But then when I saw the way you reacted, I thought you were worth it – and told the guy to ditch the bag, untouched, and run. Don’t worry, you’re cool. From now on, nothing bad is ever going to happen to you in this area again – trust me, you can leave the car unlocked. If anything should happen, ask for me, I’ll get it back to you in one hour.”
He gathered the kids around and told them some things in Creole, holding on to my shoulder. They were watching the whole scene rather puzzled. He turned to me. “See?”
If you guys steal like that, why don’t you make something smart with of the money? I guess a rather large amount comes together at the end of the day. Put your kids to school, do something for them!
“You know, money that you don’t earn gets spent fast. Stolen, gambled, drug money- it’s gone in a short while, no matter what amount comes together. The only money one respects is the one you earn through work – or get as a gift. You respect the person who gave it to you.”
I was becoming impatient. Too hot outside, work to get done – and the afterwork beer was calling as well. So I passed him some hundred gourdes, like 4-5$. He refused. “Ma’m, I don’t take money. As I don’t steal myself. I’m the godfather, money’s not for me. If you want, do a friendly gesture – show some care for me and the kids. But don’t be petty.”
So, at what amount does your friendly gesture start? (I always hate it when people who want something from you refrain from naming a figure. Like job interviewers – it’s always them asking you what you think you should earn! But it’s them offering you the job in the end; they have a clear idea about its details and the work that needs to be done – just make your damned proposal, so we can start negotiating!)
He wriggled around with the conversation for the next minutes. In the end he was at 20$ – “with this amount I take all these kids to a place were they get soup and a coke”.
Ok, you convinced me. Here’s 20 bucks: if I give it to you, means I take it from someone else in need, like… the cleaning lady… It’s not only you street guys in need, you know?
Ten minutes later I meet him at the grocery store and give him a questioning glance. “I came to buy sweet drinks for the kids, trust me.”
Well, I trusted you and gave you the money for something good. If you used it for something else, it’s you who will be ashamed of yourself and before your own god. I don’t care. I did my part. Why are the kids following me now?
“Cause they like you. They’re just curious. Good luck!”
I leave the store, the street kids waiting to the both sides of the entrance, then escorting me back to the Embassy, shouting various things along the way. “You’re beautiful, Madame!” was one of them.
I smile and clutch my bag.
Epilogue: The bag has a new owner now: my son’s nanny.
South of Hispaniola, one hour of boatride from Les Cayes, lies a little island called Ile a Vache. Map
Île à Vache was originally claimed by the Spanish Empire as part of Hispaniola, the first landing site of Christopher Columbus in 1492, and for the next two centuries it was known by its Spanish name, Isla Vaca.
You can either fly there directly– or take the road along the countryside to Les Cayes.
Cement-packers in Les Cayes
Port Morgan is named for the pirate captain Henry Morgan (c.1635–1688) for whom the little island served as a frequent base of operations.
Cement transport from Port-au-Prince
Cap. Henry Morgan was a British privateer of Welsh birth, who made a name in the Caribbean as a leader of buccaneers and roughnecks. He set Ile-a-Vache as a base in 1668 to attack the Spaniards fearing an attack upon Jamaica. His main ship the Oxford exploded killing 300 of his 900 men. A privateer was a private ship (or its captain) authorized by a country’s government to attack and seize cargo from another country’s ships.
Bay in front of the hotelMorgan planned and staged many of his largest raids from Isla Vaca and in 1676 he narrowly survived a costly shipwreck on its shore: Morgan’s ship Jamaica Merchant sank with a full complement of cannon which the pirate had been bringing to bolster his presence at Port Royal.
…and the bay behind the hotel
In 1697 the island of Hispaniola was formally divided between Spain and France in the Treaty of Ryswick which ended the Nine Years War. France assumed control of the western half of the island, Haiti, and Isla Vaca took on its current name, Île à Vache.
16’000 people are living on the 50km2 island today, scattered in a few villages, the main one called Madame Bernard.
Mangroves and plantations, little houses and fishermen’s boat along with yachts in small gulfs around the island.
There are two holiday resorts on the island: Abaka bay – Abaka was the original indian name of the island – with one the most renowned beaches in the Carribean – and Fort Morgan, a gingerbread-house complex with a smaller and more private beach in the shadow of pine trees and mangroves.
The restaurant at Fort Morgan
You can get everything you need there, including massage, a bath in a jacuzzi pool, scuba diving equippment for rent. The owner is a former engineer from Leman with a very good taste, so you will even find fine quiches for lunch, tasty wines and a lighthearted atmoshpere.
From Fort Morgan you can swim out to a little rock, admire the many starfish and seaurchins in the shallow water on the way.
Or you can take a boat to Ilet des Amoureux – lover’s island – a deserted little island with a white sandy beach.
But every break has to end sometime, so – back through Les Cayes and passt the cementpackers..
Taking the long, beautiful road eastwards, through green villages and plantations.
Odd structure – church? hangar?
On the return trip we passed through a storm and had to stop, in order to avoid getting run over by other mad drivers.
When it rains, it pours
Half an hour later all was calm and shiny, we passed lake Miragoane.
A few years ago the lake inexplicably flooded the valley and cut off the road from Miragoane to Petit Goave – and never retreated. So you can either take the route diversion or, like the locals, pass the water by boat.
Boats take you over to the other side, the road passes under the water
My body seems to adapt to the climate here by reacting with long, violent headaches – which, sadly, but truly, are in no way a result of immoderate consumption of alcoholic beverages every evening. I don’t even get there…
Nonetheless, the general assumption seems to be that I am going through a continuous hangover – as any local I’m talking to seems to see it. Most conversations start like that: ‘Bonjour Madame, ça va?’ – ‘yeah, all great, except for the headache’ (greenish pallor on my face, eyes narrowed to slits..) Answer vary from neutral: ‘oh, a hangover?’ to broad-grinned: “you must have spent a hell of a partynight, Ma’am!…’
There seems to be nothing like ‘natural migraine’ as a reason for headaches, so I am left to assume that people here like to drink and are well aquainted with the side effects.
Some basics: Prestige, the national beer. Rather acid, but consumed very cold and in a moderate way, perfect for the beer-lover.
Barbancourt rum. Aged 5, 8 and 15 years. Said to be the best carribean rum. See history below.
Brownsugar from cane and – any tropicalfruit you can think of, to ornate your cocktail with.
Bitter oranges from Haiti are used in Cointreau and Grand Marnier.
Music to go with the cocktails: a sugarcane-footage version of the song Ayiti Chérie from long time ago, closer to the 1920-original by Othello Bayard, here.
60ml golden Barbancourt rum
45ml lemon/lime juice
1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar
The Hotel Oloffson rum sour, quoted from Harris’ blog (see details below):
The standard way of making rum sours in Haiti seems to be to shake Barbancourt, freshly squeezed lime juice and sugar over ice, then serve, either strained or on ice, in a rocks glass with a sugared rim. The Hotel Oloffson rum sour differed in that a capfull or so of sweet vermouth went into the shaker.
On my search for the best Rum Sour recipe I stumbled upon a blog called bunnyhugs: Seamus Harris is a New Zealander who travels the world in search for excellent cocktails. His journeys, which include a travel through Haiti in 2008, are described in great articles. I reccomend the lecture in its original version – just follow the links below:
Alcoholic beverages are part of the history of Caribbean countries. Each country produces its warm liquid and several nationalized brands are recognized internationally.
Rum is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugarcane by-products such or, directly from sugarcane juices, by a process of fermentation and distillation. The distillate, a clear liquid, is then usually aged in oak barrels. Rum can be referred to as “ron viejo” (“old rum”) and “ron añejo” (“aged rum”). The history of rum began around 1640, on the island of Barbados. The word rum takes its origin from from the last syllable of the Latin word for sugar, saccharum.
La Societe du Rhum Barbancourt exports its products in over 20 countries and employs 250 people. La Societe du Rhum Barbancourt is one of the oldest Haitian businesses and indirectly generates more than 20,000 jobs across Haiti.
Three star, aged four years
Though, native to Asia, sugarcane has been spread by the Arabs in the eighth century and introduced to the Americas in 1493 during the second voyage of Christopher Columbus, on the occasion of the first European settlement in America on the Island Hispaniola.
The first official mention of the word rum dates back to July 8, 1661 in an order of the Governor General of Jamaica. It was after the improvement of the distillation process by Père Jean Baptiste Labat as rum distilled on St. Dominic began to have good reputation in France where it is compared to the best French brandy.
Nonetheless, each island or Caribbean countries, according to its traditions and habits, produces a rum with distinctive personality. Three main types of rum are defined according to the colonial tradition and the language spoken in the region. Spanish speaking countries produce light rums with a fairly clean taste. Anglophone countries are developing darker rums with a fuller taste retaining a significant taste of molasses. The agricultural rums from the French islands are distinguished by a production made exclusively from sugarcane juice. These rums keep the flavor of the sugarcane and are usually more expensive than molasses-based rums.
A symbol of pride for Haitians, Rhum Barbancourt is an agricultural rum produced in Haiti by the Société du Rhum Barbancourt, T. Gardère & Cie and widely regarded as among the finest rums in the world.
In 1862, Dupré Barbancourt, a native of Charente in France, founded the Sociéte du Rhum Barbancourt. He devised a rum by the method of double distillation used in Charente for cognac and aging in oak barrels from Limousin. This rum that still bears his name has received since its creation the highest international distinctions.
Dupré Barbancourt leaving no heir to his death, his wife, Nathalie Gardère, ran the company with his nephew, Paul Gardère, who succeeded him as head of the
company until 1946. At that time Rhum Barbancourt’s distillery, located on the Chemin des Dalles in Port-au-Prince, produced only limited quantities of rum. The older aged rums being exclusively reserved for family and friends. Paul then died in 1946 and his son Jean Gardère took up the baton, furthering the family tradition until 1990. An entrepreneur and a visionary, Jean Gardère was the instigator of Rhum Barbancourt’s modernization. In 1949, he relocated the distillery at the heart of the sugar cane fields of the Domaine Barbancourt.
By 1952, the factory began producing rum from sugarcane grown on its own plantation: Domaine Barbancourt. This allowed the company to grow from a small cottage industry to a proud international exporter, and by the middle of the 1960’s Rhum Barbancourt’s finest product, the 15 year old Reserve du Domaine was on public sale for the first time.
Upon the death of Jean, his son, Thierry Gardère succeeded him: he is now the fourth generation of family Gardère to lead the company and with his commitment to quality, fine natural ingredients, craftsmanship and the unique cognac-based production process that has ensured la Societe du Rhum Barbancourt has grown to become Haiti’s leading brand of rum.
The Hotel Oloffson is an inn in central Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The main structure of the hotel is a late 19th century Gothic gingerbread mansion set in a lush tropical garden. The mansion was built as a residence for the powerful Sam family, including two former presidents of Haiti. The hotel was the real-life inspiration for the fictional Hotel Trianon in Graham Greene’s famous 1966 novel The Comedians.
Thursday night with RAM
“With its towers and balconies and wooden fretwork decorations it had the air at night of a Charles Addams house in a number of The New Yorker. You expected a witch to open the door to you or a maniac butler, with a bat dangling from the chandelier behind him. But in the sunlight or when the lights went on among the palms, it seemed fragile and period and pretty and absurd, an illustration from a book of fairy-tales.” – Graham Greene, The Comedians
It was constructed as a private home for the Sam family. The head of a prestigious and influential family in Port-au-Prince, Tirésias Simon Sam was president of Haiti from 1896 to 1902. The mansion was built by Tirésias’s son, Demosthenes Simon Sam. The Sams lived in the mansion until 1915, when their cousin Vilbrun Guillaume Sam was selected from among a group of powerful politicians to assume the post of president, the fifth president in five years. Guillaume would be president for a scant five months.
Sam had acted harshly against his political opponents, particularly the better educated and wealthier mulatto population. The epitome of his repressive measures came on July 27, 1915, when he ordered the execution of 167 political prisoners, including former president Zamor, who was being held in a Port-au-Prince jail. This infuriated the population, which rose up against Sam’s government as soon as news of the executions reached them. Sam fled to the French embassy, where he received asylum before being torn to pieces by an angry mob.
United States President Woodrow Wilson, concerned that the Haitian government might be seized by Rosalvo Bobo, who was thought to be sympathetic to the Germans, ordered the United States Marine Corps to seize Port-au-Prince. The occupation would eventually extend to the entire nation of Haiti. The Sam Mansion was used as a US military hospital for the duration of the occupation.
In 1935, when the occupation ended, the mansion was leased to Werner Gustav Oloffson, a Swedish sea captain from Germany, who converted the property into a hotel with his wife Margot and two sons Olaf and Egon. In the 1950s, Roger Coster, a French photographer, assumed the lease on the hotel and ran it with his Haitian wife, Laura. The hotel came to be known as the “Greenwich Village of the Tropics”, attracting actors, writers, and artists. Some of the suites in the hotel were named after the artists and writers who frequented the hotel, including Graham Greene, James Jones, Charles Addams, and Sir John Gielgud.
A Connecticut native, Al Seitz, acquired the hotel lease in 1960. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the hotel enjoyed a brief period of fame and good fortune. Celebrities such as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Mick Jagger were regular guests, and like Coster before him, Seitz named favorite rooms at the hotel after the celebrity guests. After Al Seitz died in 1982, his widow, the former Suzanne Laury, continued to operate it. As the grip of Duvalierism closed over the country, however, the foreign tourist trade dried up. The hotel survived by serving as the desired residence for foreign reporters and foreign aid workers who needed secure lodging in the center of town.
In 1987, with the help of his half-brother Jean Max Sam, Richard A. Morse signed a 15 year lease to manage the Hotel Oloffson, then in near ruins after the final years of Duvalierism. In restoring the hotel business, Morse hired a local folkloric dance troupe and slowly converted it into a band. Richard Morse would become the songwriter and lead male vocalist and the name of band, RAM, comes from his initials.
Throughout the political upheaval of Haiti in the 1990s, RAM’s regular Thursday evening performance at the hotel became one of the few regular social events in Port-au-Prince in which individuals of various political positions and allegiances could congregate. Regular attendees of the performances included foreign guests at the hotel, members of the military, paramilitary attachés and former Tonton Macoutes, members of the press, diplomats, foreign aid workers, artists, and businessmen. Attendees included both black Haitians and members of the nation’s less populous racial groups.
During the January 12, 2010 Earthquake, the Hotel Oloffson was damaged. US photographer Teuila Minsky who was also staying in the Oloffson, told the New York Times that a wall at the front of the Hotel Oloffson had fallen, killing a passer-by, and that several neighboring buildings had collapsed. Richard Morse, using the social networking site Twitter, was a major source of news coming out of the disaster area in the early hours. In a Twitter post from January 12, he states “Our guests are sitting out in the driveway.. no serious damage here at the Oloffson but many large buildings nearby have collapsed.” The hotel appears open and continues to operate.
View down from the decading attic
all text from wikipedia and hotel webpage, see reference below
The city of Port-au-Prince is on the Gulf of Gonâve: the bay on which the city lies, which acts as a natural harbour, has sustained economic activity since the civilisations of the Arawaks. It was first incorporated under the colonial rule of the French, in 1749, and has been Haiti’s largest metropolis since then. The city’s layout is similar to that of an amphitheatre; commercial districts are near the water, while residential neighborhoods are located on the hills above.
Its population is difficult to ascertain due to the rapid growth of slums in the hillsides above the city; however, recent estimates place the metropolitan area’s population at around 3.5 million, nearly half of the country’s national population.
The magnitude 7.0 earthquake centered about 16 kilometres (10 mi) away from Port-au-Prince hit the National Palace as well.
The collapsed cupola has become a symbol of the devastated quake-hit nation. The second floor of the building collapsed almost completely, taking the attic floor with it; the palace’s columned central pavilion, a section containing the main hall and primary staircase, was entirely demolished.
January 2011. Posters of the presidential candidates, aligned in front of the palace
In April 2010, the Haitian government announced plans to demolish the palace in preparation for reconstruction. Sources were mixed as to whether the entire building would be razed, or merely the damaged/unstable portions.
In July, bulldozers appeared on site and began clearing the collapsed central pavilion.
As of August 2010, construction equipment remains on site at the palace, but demolition work appears to have stalled, with only the central rotunda demolished.
In front of the palace ruin, on the other side of the Champ de Mars avenue, on what once used to be a beautiful green park, 2’500 people are now living in a shelter camp.
Jean Jacques Dessalines’ statue, Chinese humanitarian aid
At the end of the avenue is a monument nicknamed “Aristide’s Folly” – built to commemorate 200 years of haitian independance in 2004. It was supposed to bear an eternal flame on top.
Champ de Mars Avenue. On the right, palace grounds. On the left, IDP-campIn spite of the image that is broadcasted by an indefatigable media in its craving for sensation, people here never lost their smiles.
One encounters happy and smiling faces even in the most miserable parts of the town. At Champ de Mars, a guy came out of the camp and cordially informed us about the presidential candidates and their different characteristics.
Remains of the cathedral. 21 people including the bishop died here one year ago. It is said they are burried on the grounds on the right of the building.
The artist Jerry is Banksys Haitian equivalent. The painting on the right represents the mourning country. (see Haiti’s shape on the map above)
Le Marché en Fer – newly reconstructed after the earthquake. On the 10th of January, painters were completing the finishing touch in time for the commemoration of the earthquake victims. One day later Bill Clinton held a speech here.
Gingerbread houses are called like that because of the graceful wooden artwork under the roof. This style was created by Haitian architects in the late 1800s. Returning from their study in Paris, they defined a “Haitian style”.
The bricks used for the construction were originally brought in as balast for the empty trade ships arriving here for coffee, sugar and indigo.
There are some 300 houses still left today in Port au Prince. They resisted astonishingly well during the earthquake.
One more thing: please don’t drive around like that, in the belief you’re doing a good humanitarian aid thing. It’s provoking, dangerous and stupid. Thank you.
Special thanks to Jacqualine Labrom at www.voyageslumiere.com for the wonderful guided tour through Port au Prince.