I love Saturdays in Haiti because the village comes alive for the market. I have traveled to many markets in several different countries like Spain, Guatemala and Costa Rica. This is my favorite way to taste a culture to see the nature of the people. Back home in California our family makes a regular trip to the Saturday farmer’s market. Not only is it our chance to buy less expensive fruits and veggies, but it’s also an opportunity to talk with local farmers and friends.
One of the largest markets I’ve ever perused was the Masaya Mercado in Nicaragua, one of the largest in the world. There were blocks and blocks, rows upon rows of stalls – vendors selling everything from suitcases to handmade jewelry to sides of beef to salted cheese kept in fish tanks.
The marketplace is the heart of culture here in Pignon, Haiti too. People sell their wares and garden produce every day of the week but Saturday is the big day when people come from the outlying areas to sell and buy items.
This morning our French housemate, Ben, took me to the market. I decided to leave the kids at home so I could savor the experience rather than worry about them in all the market chaos. I call it chaos because people park themselves all over the streets to sell. There is an actual “marketplace” with some markings of stalls but they are hardly identifiable on Saturday. All the adjacent roads are covered with people selling out of carts, baskets, wheelbarrows. Some women simply spread out a cloth or fill up a bowl/basin with pasta and
Ben and I head first to see our friend Louinise. She helps out at the house and I’ve known her since she was a teenager. She lived me when I was here teaching English in 2002. Louinise has her own little square where she sells near the center of the market. She makes piles of potatoes and garlic. She stacks small towers of mayonnaise and cans of tomato paste. I pick up a can of American corn and another of sweet peas she is selling. The most popular item she has is bouillon cubes that sell 5 for a Haitian dollar, which is about 12 cents. She sits on a bucket that holds her money.
I pull out my shopping list scrawled on lined paper. She snags it from my hand – her way of saying, “I’ll help.” Ben stays to watch her stall while Louinise yanks me through the crowds of people to find what’s on my list. We stop by her friends’ booths first. I get 3 onions for 5 gourdes, 3 tomatoes for 15 gourdes. Pretty sure most of it is organic. Mere pennies compared to the market back home.
We snake our way through the muddy streets (remnants of yesterday’s rain). My eyes bulge a bit as I see a hacked off head of a pig thrown on a table next to a woman who is cutting up goat meat in the middle of another crowd. A basket of shriveled up fish with no eyes are laid out on a tray next to her. Every large market I have been to has its “meat aisle.” I thank God I am not in my first trimester of pregnancy anymore. I know I would be assaulted by the smells. I hold my breath and keep walking.
Louinise grabs my arm as we venture down another street in search of eggplant. I hear a beep-beep and we all must press ourselves together on a curb so a truck can pass. Why they would attempt driving down the main street of the packed marketplace is beyond me. We repeat this routine two or three times throughout our search. One woman pushes me forward and says in Kreyol that I’m not moving fast enough. That makes me smile. Just a part of the Haitian market experience.
My bag is full now: carrots, eggplant, tomatoes, and onions. After a week of mostly fried food and rice & beans done several different ways, my stomach aches for more vegetables. It’s a good thing I practiced living out of the pantry back home because that has been our week. Our final stop at the market is to buy chicken.
At first, Louinise misunderstands me and I almost end up with 3 live chickens, feathers and all. Finally, I am able to find the words and gestures to communicate that I want cut-up dead chicken legs. A young man pulls out chicken legs from a plastic grocery bag using his bare fingers. I pay 5 U.S. dollars for 10 legs. A pretty price for someone else doing the dirty work of killing, pulling feathers and cleaning the bird. Maybe another day I will tackle that task.
Ben and I head home with the bounty. I am reminded of all I love about this culture – pulsing with life, people not afraid to speak their minds, and even the uniqueness of the cuisine.
*"Life in Haiti" an occasional series on our family's daily life in Haiti.