I was in Port-au-Prince, Haïti during the last week of November, 1985 just two months before President Jean-Claude (Bébé Doc) Duvalier was ousted from power and exiled to France. It was also the time that AIDS was spreading and Haïti was hit hard by the epidemic and the loss of tourism.
Haïti was once known as the "Pearl of the Caribbean" and was France's richest colony (owing to slaves working in the sugar plantations). It is now the poorest of the Caribbean nations. A striking example of that is just a stones throw from the Presidential Palace, Cité Soleil, the worst slum in the Americas. This nation that is the western third of the island of Hispanola has had a long and difficult history. It has suffered from invasions, political unrest, corruption, hurricanes, floods and earthquakes. The poverty is overwhelming to the point that it has aggrivated the deforestation which in turn lead to mudslides that choked the ocean and killed the fish causing even more food shortages.
The people are very resilient and the smiles on the faces of the school children beam. My memories of Haïti include:
- the little boy who poked me with a stick (to see if I was real I guess) then laughed and ran off
- a visit to La Belle Epoch restaurant where I first ate conch soup and fried plantain chips
- the view of the very outside of Cité Soleil
- the amazing colourful paintings (which sadly I didn't buy)
- world's best vanilla and coffee
- visit to an orchid nursery
- seeing how snails are packaged for shipping to a US restaurant
- visit to the industrial park outside Port-au-Prince where they made baskets by hand
I feel for the losses of the survivors of the earthquake but live in the hope that they will be able to build a better Haïti out of the ruins.
Unfortunately I don't have any Haitian creole recipes to share but will work on finding some.