10.28.2011

Top 11 Haiti Food Photos and A Millet-Pounding Video

Back from our trip to Haiti for almost a week and I’m of course still processing the whole thing – the smattering of emotion and experience was deep and wide. I’ll let you know when I figure all that out... Right. If you'd like to see more photos from Haiti, check out The Shoofly's facebook page

Though most of my time was spent in the clinic, helping out in various ways, I (not surprisingly) found myself in the kitchen quite often, among the women in charge of the place's sustenance. And since this here is a food(ish) blog, here are, among the hundreds of photos taken, my top 10 11food(ish) photos. With a couple non-food ones just for good measure.

Oh and a video on how to pound millet with a huge mortar and pestle... 
just in case you were wondering. 


Rustic does not begin to describe the school and clinic compound's main kitchen. This handful of women, having 900 mouths to feed each day, blackened kettles, not a drop of running water, and a bottle of bleach amazing me. Their seriousness made sense. So did their smiles.

She spooned grain after grain after grain onto metal bowls. Topped off with a tomato based sauce with a small sardine finding the ladle if the child were lucky. At one point, she handed me the spoon to serve a few bowls, maybe because I stayed on after the photos or maybe because I returned time and again, looking pitifully enthusiastic for a spoon or knife. 

She cheered at my first ladle which dug non-accidentally for a sardine. No luck involved in that particular provision of protein. Her excitement for my spoonful sticks vivid in my memory. 


Along with no running water, there is no chopping board. Breeding ground for bacteria I suppose. The palm of your hand was as close to a board as you got. Knife skills being a craft. Elvie handed me the blade with hesitance, for fear of my clumsy fingers, but eased up a bit when she saw my mother had done me justice with a knife and palm.


I didn’t know what to feel in the space… 
Empathy. Gratitude. Humility. Curiosity. Pity. 
An Odd Joy. 


We came to the kitchen in the night for the goat kill. It was the following day’s lunch. Butchered on a large piece of cardboard in the same kitchen of the rice and beans, but much darker, save one harsh lightbulb above the anticipating animal. 

The adolescent boys grasped their role proudly – kill the goat, bleed it, blow it up, shave.  Blow it up? ... Once dead, he tied a string tight around the neck, below the throat’s cut. Then he moved to the foot and slid a knife between the meat and skin creating a small hole. He placed his sweet lips to the skin and exhaled into the space with all the strength his small, sinewy body could muster.  

It pushed the belly out, made it swell with his breath till it look like a bloated, sick thing, and a stick's tap sounded hollow and stiff. We were so puzzled at this - fascinated, curious. The matriarch, Elvie, explained - this will save the delicate rib meat from the boiling water they must pour over it before shaving. It will make the skin taut for ease of shaving. It will save the boys' delicate fingers from the slippery, straight edge razor blade.


Each person had their role, this dance clearly having been executed a million times. The man with large teeth and skin like twilight swooped in with an expert hand in evisceration. Elvie took the machete and knife at quick, practiced intervals and cut. 

Her helpers rotated the blade at some silent queue I never saw. The smell of the freshest meat permeated the pass of their knife to and fro. No words needed as each person knew the dance.


Outside the clinic compound, the women set up a makeshift market selling fried things and rice and beans. They were not wanting for color. Even the buckets within their reach had a vivid tone. Her dress was like the sun, and hers of the sky. Or blueberries, which don’t grow here. But bananas and plantains, smashed and fried – those are aplenty. Or mangoes - they say each family has a mango tree of their own. 



She has hues I love, painting a stunning backdrop for bright eyes, banana buckets, and a blueberry dress.

The hillsides came with their own dramas and novellas. Animals came tied up, and the children ran with a rare freedom. Shoes left at home, if there were any to speak of at all.
Each child gives you something with their toothy grin and grasping of our hands with such hope. For what I’m not sure. Maybe that we will simply hold their small, hungry hands back and give some mutual, happy gift. Whisper it sweetly with a photograph. Or pair of shoes.
I see you. I remember you. I love you.
Her own love requires so little. 



And now... How To Pound Millet with a Mortar and Pestle by Levi Cole

video




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