By Jean-Christophe Taillandier
Closing in on my first month in Haiti, I won’t lie: the first few weeks were not easy. Living in rural Haiti is far from everything I experienced so far. Luckily, local staff is extremely helpful not only for work but also to facilitate our adaptation to Haitian life and culture (and provide moral support when our street food choices are reckless). We live in a village with one of the fewest power outage in the whole country, meaning we only miss about half an hour every week or so, which is great. We are also lucky enough to have an apartment on the second floor of our office. Very useful to maximize hours of sleep (even though the sun rises with the roosters around 5AM). Nonetheless, after a few weeks it started to feel weird only to go up and down the stairs to get to and from work. We do move around during the day, but I realized I needed to see the country a bit more.
Last week, I visited the Citadel of King Henri Christophe and it was one of the most amazing historical sites I’ve seen in my life. It is a fortress built in 1820 by the King of Northern Haiti, Henri Christophe (who was actually from Grenada) following independence from the French Empire, to be used in case of an attack against Haiti. The size of its defenses was unmatched at the time. Built on the top of a 910 meters high mountain, it was strategically positioned to be able to defend itself from every side, and even had constructions on surrounding mountains to prevent any weaker sides. It also had one of the greatest artillery at the time, a vast majority of cannons and ammunition stolen from previous occupying powers.
One of our main challenges was the food situation. All the food is located in the outside market. Obviously it’s all natural foods: vegetables, fruits, rice, beans, etc., with no processed foods like we mostly see in our supermarkets. It’s a great thing but it also makes things a little bit more complicated when making meals. I had absolutely no experience cooking with such ingredients, mixed with the fact that there is no place we could go out to eat, we have to cook every meal, which again, I’m not shy to say, was a pretty big challenge. But now I’m starting to realize that this challenge became an opportunity for me to develop cooking skills with limited resources, and although I’m not one to brag, the lentil soup I made a few days ago was objectively amazing.
At work, everything is running pretty smoothly. Local staff is extremely helpful and the project is moving forward, some parts at an impressive pace. We still have some adjustment to make, as Haitian culture is very different from Canadian culture, which can be felt throughout various work assignments, but with all the help we receive, I have no doubt that we will be able to complete all of the tasks that were assigned to us.
I’m leaving now for a weekend at Cap Haitian, Haiti’s second town. Looking forward to see what many consider the nicest town in Haïti.
Jean-Christophe Taillandier is working as a Value-Chain and Agri-Business Coordinator with ISCA in Haiti.