Sunday, July 10, 2011

The process of cooking in a Haitian kitchen

For those of you who do not know, and those who are not detail oriented and didn't read my last post, I am back in the States. What have I been up to you may ask? Many many things, activities including but not limited to: working at the Coffee Bean, working on web designs, eating, sleeping, not sleeping due to neighbor's dog's incessant barking, 4th of Julying, getting caught up on newsletters and making last minute preparations for Jori's wedding and my Kansas visit.

This last trip to Haiti was fantastic and I will probably go more in depth on it on my other blog but I would like to share some highlights. Since this past trip was my fourth time going to Haiti, I feel I was more comfortable to contribute in ways I hadn't previously. I kept finding myself in the Haitian kitchen (we have both a Haitian kitchen and a "western" kitchen at Royal Palm Children's Home) trying to help in whatever way I could. I think they thought I was an imbecile because I didn't know how to cook anything. Though in my defense they do things much differently in the Haitian kitchen.

I grated coconut for the rice and beans, ground garlic with cloves, cilantro, green onion and a variety of other ingredients, I was allowed to stir the pots and at one point was even able to roast coffee beans. I found all of their cooking to be an amazing process that took hours upon hours of work. As in America, I took my camera along with me to document the process (which furthered the assumption that I was some sort of imbecile but they humored me and allowed me to be there with camera in hand and occasionally asked to see the pictures themselves). The majority of my kitchen time was spent with Sola (seen below) and occasionally Madame Jordanny and a few younger ladies.

When I first started cooking with them, I felt completely ignorant. Whenever we would eat the rice and beans it seemed as if it was just beans cooked in rice with maybe some added spices. Though when I uncovered the veil, I realized that there was so much more to it than that. As I previously mentioned there were things like cloves and coconut in the mix, but in addition to that Sola didn't just use bags of plain rice. She was using bags of rice that was donated to her that were infused with soy protein chips that didn't work well with her cooking process. So for about an hour before the actual cooking began, she separated the rice from the soy by sifting it with a wicker basket and then blowing the lighter top layer of soy to the side and would flip it in the air and catch it with a separate plate.

Then there is a rinsing process. Then comes the peeling, grinding, grating, chopping, mincing, mixing, etc.

While cooking several girls of varying ages would come in and out, some with specific jobs to fulfill, others would just gather to spend time with those working. I love the camaraderie involved in the process.

I've always been intrigued by the roles of men and women in Haiti. Their roles are very distinct, boys and girls are exposed to certain tasks from a very early age. At any given moment I could go into the kitchen and find little Melissa (seen below) standing beside the older women observing and taking everything in. Though they have distinct roles, it feels like there is no question of equality amongst them but rather out of necessity all tasks are on the same axis of importance. I'm not going to do an in depth discussion on gender roles in Haiti right now, but I do want to note, I find it interesting.

Half way through our trip they ripped out the wall in the kitchen to continue building-on with some of the funds we had brought them. The new found ventilation it provided was nothing short of a miracle. Haiti is already hot and humid, then just add boiling pots of food over open hot coals in a small enclosed area and you'll start to realize what an inferno must feel like.

To further the illusion of an inferno, whenever Sola would start to burn the charcoals, the kitchen would fill with dense smoke as seen below.

Construction work

Also for extra space occasionally they will use an outside kitchen that looks like this.

The kitchen was just one aspect of my trip to Haiti, and even that I cannot convey the whole experience to you. The sights, smells, ambiances, etc. are being poorly portrayed here, and for that I am dearly sorry.


sukie said...

Rachelle, that first picture of Sola is just beautiful. That's not even the right word. It's stunning and amazing.

bowlcutsandchippedteeth said...

Aw, thanks! I am flattered, though I really love that picture as well! Its my favorite of this trip.