Fall 2023 newsletter
Mike Lattanzi and Susan Silveus, Haiti
A world that knows no McDonalds
As in many countries in the global south, many of the clothes worn by people in Haiti are overruns of clothes made in the global north. This can lead to some strange something-is-out-place moments for someone who can read what is written on, for example, t-shirts.
One day, Lamage, our Kreyòl conversation teacher, comes to class wearing a McDonalds polo shirt — golden arches on the breast and the sleeves — in other words, the top half of a McDonalds uniform.
“So Lamage, you’ve taken yet another job?” I say in my best Kreyòl — a bad joke for someone who already works teaching jobs at several schools and manages his roadside kiosk.
I am met with a confused look. “Your shirt. McDonalds.” Still no. “It’s a restaurant.” He gets a kick out of advertising for a restaurant that neither he nor anyone else who might see the shirt has ever heard of before.
“It’s fast food.” And now we are back to incomprehension. What could fast food possibly be?
I am surprised. We have lived in other countries in the global south and they have all had either McDonalds or some fast-food equivalent. But here in our town in Haiti, there is a certain pleasure to be taken in living in a world where McDonalds not only does not exist; it is not even imagined.
A world without an electrical grid
The electrical grid in our town is no longer functioning — as is the case for pretty much all of Haiti. This does not mean that we have no electricity. Just that it all comes from solar panels on the roof. Or smaller panels on our flashlights.
This takes some adaptation: Making sure that the solar panels are clean. Setting lights out to charge in the sun. Charging everything else — computers, phones, lights — during the day. There is enough battery power to run the fridge and the WiFi at night but nothing else. None of this is really very difficult.
But then there is the problem of hot Haitian summer nights — with not enough power to run fans. Until Susan hits upon the idea of getting battery powered fans from the U.S. Another thing to plug in during the day — but then fans that easily run all night.
And now we are set: a few small tasks to remember to do each day — and then the pleasure of having been forced to get all of our electricity from the sun. A low carbon footprint chosen for us.
A world without hot running water
There is no way to claim that this one is a pleasure: There is no water heater in the house. So no hot showers — or hot water for dishes or laundry. And so, another adaptation. (Thank you, Anna Johnson.) Bags of water that you can set out in the sun. The water gets hot enough to scald — and it can be used for bucket baths, dishes and laundry.
Not a pleasure. And another important task for the morning: put out the water bags. But a way to get by.
A world without much food selection
Because the transportation network in Haiti has largely broken down, due to gang violence, most of our food is local. Some of the local food has been a revelation: breadfruit, plantains and truly excellent peanuts.
But there is not much variety. We are forced to be creative: chicken fajitas, with onions, carrots and green peppers; Kung Pao chicken, with onions, carrots and green peppers; ginger chicken with onions, carrots and green peppers; chicken curry, with onions, carrots and green peppers … and cabbage. Not so bad.
But then no dairy to speak of. No milk; no cream; no butter or cheese available locally. Powdered milk — and occasionally a single variety of cheese imported from Holland. I miss pizza!
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