Football Field of Plantains

by Kayla Raymond

Yesterday, the ladies and I celebrated one year of work at ViBella. We are very excited for all the things that have happened in the last year and I told them I wanted to do something special for the occasion. They decided that having a party at my house and cooking a big Haitian meal was what they wanted to do.

So, in order to prepare for the big party, Vivian and I went to market this past Thursday to buy all the food.

This was my first time that I ever went to market without Webert or without someone who spoke English. That may not seem like a big deal to some of you reading this, but it was a big deal to me!

Americans have it so easy. I could make a very long list to support this statement, but instead just let me tell you about my market experience and you will see what I mean.

Instead of climbing into my nice, (this is a very generous word to describe my car, but since I live in Haiti, I consider it so) air conditioned Malibu back in the states, my market experience begins with Vivian and I climbing onto a motorcycle and riding to the highway. At the highway, we wait about 10 minutes for the next tap-tap (Haitian taxi, you literally “tap” when you want it to stop) to arrive.

Our tap-tap pulls over, we jump in, and off we are to Caberet. Monday, Thursday and Saturdays are market days in Caberet, which means all the vendors fill the streets with food, clothes, shoes, hygiene products, brooms and baskets.

When in market, make sure to walk with caution because the path is narrow, filled with trash and people are not gracious if you step in their way.

front street of market

Vivian and I make our way to buy plantains first. Plantains are a main dish in a Haitian meal, they serve them salted and fried. The “plantain” section of market is the craziest. Imagine a football field filled with plantain branches and big black women sitting in between yelling out their prices. Men come rushing past carrying large loads on their back to bring to the women sitting in the middle, jumping and skipping their way through the plantain maze. I try to understand Vivian as she bargains to buy two branches full of plantains. As I’m watching, wishing I could be speaking and bargaining myself, I’m nearly knocked over by a donkey passing behind me. I recover from the near fall, and then watch in amazement as a truck somehow passes through the football field full of plantains.

I have a moment where I say to myself, “wow, this is my life.” I’m standing in the middle of the most unorganized and dirtiest and most chaotic system I have ever witnessed. I’ve been going to market for over two years, but it never seizes to amaze me how busy, crazy and dirty the place is. But yet, this is where people come to make money and they depend on this system to make a living.

I am use to our organized, air-conditioned and customer-friendly Super Wal-Marts and Hy-Vees, but in the Haitian market I shouldn’t be surprised when I get shoved by a Haitian lady for stepping in her way as she passes with a load of plantains on her back.

We Americans have it so easy.

We finally make our purchase and a young boy, who we will pay, carries our new purchases in a wheelbarrow down the road to where we will buy the rest of our food. As we make our way down the road, police vehicles cruise past and people are yelling and pushing in every direction. Vivian grabs my hand and I jump three steps back onto the sidewalk, only to run into a lady carrying a goat with its feet tied, hanging it upside down.

We make our way to what I like to call the “grocery department” of market. Shaded under hanging sheets, the “grocery department” has everything from fresh vegetables (onions, potatoes, carrots, and peppers) to chicken and fish to rice and beans. They sell canned ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. And if you are real lucky, you will find some name brand Ragu sauce or Skippy peanut butter. The “grocery department” spans an area probably the size of another football field and what you smell as you walk through is an experience in itself.

Vivian and I fill our bags with onions, potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, chicken, spaghetti noodles, pineapple, watermelon, and numerous other ingredients needed for cooking. As we travel through the “grocery department”, I also catch people staring at me. I can only imagine what they are thinking; I will probably be the only white person they see today in market.

tap-tap heading home. writing translates to “life is not so easy”

We make our last stop outside near the road, under a stand covered with blue tarp being run by two women. They welcome me with “bon swa blan” (good afternoon white) and I respond with “bon swa nwa” (good afternoon black). They get a good laugh out of this, and as Vivian picks out the last few things on the list, they play with my ponytail and say they wish they had hair like mine. A moment later, an older Haitian women is standing next to me telling me she wants to come to my house with me.

I laugh and ask her why. She says she can wash my clothes, cook for me and even paint my toenails. We are all laughing as she continues to tell me all the other services she has to offer. I say no thanks, and she ends the conversation with “jwen mwen le ou vle mwen!” (find me when you need me!)

Vivian and I make our final purchases, find our tap-tap, and load up our two branches of plantains and three bags full of food. We return by tap-tap, make 5 stops before we reach our corner, unload our purchases and then re-load them onto two separate motorcycles, which drive us to my house.

After a long three hours at market, (yes, that is how long this market experience lasted) we return back to work just in time to end the day with the rest of the ladies and say a prayer together.

Now that I’m back home, exhausted from the long day in the sun, I’m regretting not taking that woman with me. I could use someone to cook supper for us tonight!

Too bad Haiti doesn’t have a fast food drive-thru, I could just bring the kids there for supper. Or I could go for a pizza delivery, too.

Yea, we Americans have it so easy.