Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Visiting Haiti: Hotel Cyvadier Plage

Haiti is a great place to visit on it's own merit.  You don't need to do a project or go on a mission to visit Haiti.  And so I am going to create a tab on my blog where I am going to start reviewing places to visit and things to do when you visit Haiti.  I thought I'd start with my favorite place in the Jacmel area and that is, without a doubt, Hotel Cyvadier Plage.

Nestled into a cove right on the ocean, the view is perfection. The atmosphere is perfect for a breakfast with an ocean view, a quick lunch for business, a leisurely lunch for pleasure, a romantic dinner for two, or even a get-together with friends.

The restaurant, which overlooks the cover and provides and excellent view for sunsets, is the only place I've ever been in this area that has consistently good food, and everything on the menu. Oftentimes, when you visit a restaurant in Haiti they give you the menu and then they only have 3-4 things on the menu. So, most times, when you are handed a menu in Haiti, you must ask, “What do you have tonight?” And they will say they have everything on the menu. And then you will try to order off the menu and they will say, “No, we don't have that.” They usually don't have the next thing you want either, and so you finally get back to your initial question, “What do you have tonight?” Cyvadier Plage is not like that. They almost always have everything on the menu, other than the very rare occasion where something is in high demand and they sell out, just like you would get in any North American restaurant.

The other thing that makes Cyvadier Plage stand out is that the food is not the typical Haitian menu. Sure, you can get traditional Haitian dishes like Creole chicken or spaghetti, but you can also get some really neat Haitian fusion dishes. The proprietor, Christophe Lang, is a professionally trained chef and not just a guy who knows how to cook a few things. The dish I always recommend to people is his Lambi Thai. Lambi is Creole for conch, and so it's conch served in a Thai coconut curry sauce. The sauce is perfection. And I am not just saying, “Oh it's perfection... for Haiti.” No, it's perfection for anywhere. Because I am not a big seafood eater, sometimes, if they are not too busy, I can talk the kitchen into making chicken with the Thai curry sauce. Probably my favorite meal ever. And I really like food. (Obviously.)  They also always have a selection of fresh fruit juices that is based on whatever is in season.

Several times I've spent a night or two over in the hotel as a little mini-getaway from my life. The rooms are very, very clean. Most of the rooms are air-conditioned. (You can request air conditioning when making the reservation, it's not just luck of the draw.) There are 6 new “deluxe” suites that were just opened last year that are very modern and comfortable. There is hot water in the showers. There is a small pool and two different walkway entrances to the cove's beach. While the cove not the best swimming location in the Jacmel area (because the bottom is rocky in places), it's perfect for a little afternoon dip or a place to play in the sand with the kids.

Christophe does a great job with customer service. You will never have someone come hassle you while you are in his hotel/restaurant about buying something, or begging for something. There is usually a souvenir guy set up on one of the beaches by his cove, but they are very non-pushy, and I repeat, you will never get bothered in the restaurant or hotel. There aren't stray dogs coming up to your table, like at many other outdoor restaurants in the area. The staff is professional, clean, kind, and polite. The food is delivered in a reasonable time. (Sure, it takes longer than it does in most restaurants in the States) but it's always hot and fresh. And it's consistently delivered in a timely (for Haiti) fashion.

My favorite night to visit Cyvadier Plage is Friday night because it's when they have pizza night. It's standing date with Nick and I. We shoot to go every Friday but we only hit it about every other Friday or so. Friday there is a special pizza menu with some really delicious gourmet pizza options. My favorite is the vegetarian pizza which has spinach, peppers, onions, olives, and (the best part) fried eggplant. So unlike anything I've ever tried anywhere else. I recommend you ask for it to be served with a side of lwil piman (hot pepper oil) if you want, to dip your crust. So freaking delish.

Cyvadier Plage also does great parties-- we've been to parties there on Haitian flag day and on New Year's Eve.  Dance expositions, champagne, fireworks. So fun.

(fireworks over the water on New Year's Eve)

Best of all, the place is totally non-pretentious. It's a welcoming environment to lots of different types of people. You will see different classes of Haitians there, you will see ex-pats and missionaries, you will see European/North American/Dominican vacationers, you will see UN soldiers, you will see government groups doing lunch meetings/conferences. There's something for everyone there.

Next time you're in Jacmel, check it out!

(Note:  I was not asked to write this review, I just wanted to.)

Monday, March 31, 2014

NGOs and a third way

For the past few weeks, Nick and I have been taking a walk each morning before we start our day.  As I was walking on a road near our home, we passed this property for this big NGO, who shall remain nameless other than to say they do a lot of PLANning.  

As we passed their compound, I noticed the giant stacks of storage containers in their yard.

And then I looked across the street from these very containers and I saw these houses.

All of those resources just sitting in a big pile locked up in containers behind locked gates while the people in the neighborhood only get the protection of a tarp.

I know that responsible aid doesn't mean that we just give away everything we have.

But I have got to believe that there is a third way.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The cost of comfort.

Sometimes when Nick and I are in conversation, I make suggestions for him on who he should marry should I meet an untimely demise.  When people hear us having these kind of discussions, they often think that is morbid, but I think it's practical.  (People, I live in HAITI!) During one such conversation, I was mentioning a particular Haitian woman that was a friend of ours as being future wife material.  Nick paused and said, "Yeah, I don't know."

And so then I said, "What, don't you think she's pretty? I do.  Plus,  I think she'd be a good mom.  And I think she can handle the crazy-town family we have."

Nick quickly (almost too quickly if you ask me) replied, "No, it's not that.  I think she's very pretty." (Notice he said not just pretty but, VERY pretty.)  He paused again and finally said, "Here's the thing, when I am sick, I want my wife to make me chicken soup.  I don't want her to make me bread soup."  

I immediately understood Nick's point.  And it wasn't about the kind of soup at all.  It just comes down to the he drawing comfort from familiar things.  Y'all, cross-cultural living is insanely hard.  It's seems like for everyone one thing you begin to understand, you discover 6 more things that you do not understand.  That makes me realize how very difficult cross-cultural relationships must be.  I have known several people in cross-cultural relationships & marriages.  And some have really good relationships.  But a lot of these relationships just don't work.  And I wonder if the reason that so many of these relationships fail has to do with the fact that different cultures draw comfort in different ways.

Where am I going with all of this?  Hang on, I will get there.

A little over a year ago a new grocery store came to Jacmel.  It's called Star Plus and it's an import store.  Sure, there are some Haitian items as well, but the majority of its stock is imported.  And every trip to Star Plus is very Christmas-like for the ex-pats in Jacmel who used to have to travel 3 hours to Port Au Prince to get access to these imported treats.  The point of these items isn't really that they are any better than their Haitian counterparts.  Although some definitely are.  (And many items don't have a Haitian counterpart.)  The point is that there is something very comforting about eating a certain cereal you used to eat in the States.  Or having your clothes smell like a certain brand of laundry soap, or even just wiping your butt with a fluffy quilted toilet paper when you have giardia.  It brings you into a place in your mind where things make sense, even if just for the very briefest of moments.

But here's the problem.  

Comfort costs.

A lot.

How much, you ask?  Well let's me give you an idea.  Here's a few pics I snapped in my beloved Star Plus last week.  All prices are listed in Haitian gourdes on the the product and I changed that into US dollars with an exchange of 43 gourdes/dollar.  (The current exchange rate.)

Philadelphia Cream Cheese- 8oz. - $6.16

 Cheeze Whiz- 8 oz. - $7.55

Six-pack snack size Swiss Miss pudding -  $5.93

Cheez-It- 13.7 oz. - $7.90

Kellogg's Corn Pops- 12.5 oz. - $8.95

Borden Sharp White Cheddar - 8 oz. - $6.16

Kellogg's Special K - 12 oz. - $10.11

Country Daybreak Eggs- one dozen- $5.23

 Palmolive - 25 fl. oz. - $6.86

Gain Laundry Detergent - 1.17 Gal - $40.81

Tide Laundry Detergent- 1.17 gal - $50.58 (not a typo)

Clorox Clean-Up- (can't see how many ounces, but it's not big)- $8.72

Purina Dog Chow - 4.4 lbs (read: the smallest bag) - $9.53

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese- 7.25 oz. - $2.67

Prego Spaghetti Sauce- 24 oz. - $5.69

Always Maxi Pads - 26 pads - $16.16

Johnson's Baby Shampoo- 3 sizes - $8.72, $5.58, $3.48

Huggies Baby Wipes- 72 wipes - $7.67  

Head and Shoulder Shampoo - 2 different sizes - $16.51, $22.43

Crest Toothpaste- 6.4 oz (one tube) - $6.62

So as you can see, it's tough to afford comfort, particularly because most of us ex-pats who work down here are on a tight budget.  But every now and again buying a block of $6 cream cheese feels like a dream come true.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Our little house. (A photo tour.)

I have been promising for a while that I'd show pics of the inside of our home.  Remember, we have 4 small bungalows on our yard and Nick, me, and the American contingent live in only one of them.  (I would say they are each about 650ish square feet each.)  However, most of the houses are identical and so by seeing one, you're basically seeing all of them.

So, here she is.

The front has a porch that's just big enough for two rocking chairs....

...and one mastiff foot stool.

You head in to an open living room/kitchen area.  This space was hard to work with because it was SO small and you had to fit a kitchen, a dining area, and a living room.

So, we used the weirdo protruding concrete half wall to make a built-in table.  These two hanging IKEA lamps added a bit of extra light in a really dim house.

And we bought really small (in size) furniture for the living room.  It works, but it's not very comfortable.  Still brainstorming ideas...

Off of the orange hallway there are 3 small bedrooms and a bathroom.
This is Nick and my bedroom.  We've yet to decide how to decorate it.  

Here's Nia's little place in the world.

And this is the room shared by Nico, Josiah, and Schneider.

Here's our only bathroom.  It's ugly, but big.  Still trying to figure out how to decorate.  And yes, we have a baby blue toilet and sink.  And, for the record, sharing a bathroom with 3 little boys is fairly disgusting.

This picture is just to show off the amazing ingenuity of Nick Mangine.  There was no shower curtain for the shower and no way to hang one because the shower took up a large corner chunk of the bathroom.  Nick made a PVC frame and attached it to the wall and hung a wire from the ceiling to hold the corner up.  (And yes, as you can see, the house has some disturbing cracks that were very small when we moved in that are now not-so-small.  Our landlord is decent so hopefully we can get that taken care of soon.)

There's a back door off a narrow hallway.  That's (obviously) where we hang helmets and beach stuff.  And where we put junk.  Having ZERO closets is making us be creative with space.

And that's it!  That's the grand tour.  I will pick another of the four houses to show you sometime in the future.

Monday, March 17, 2014

FortiFried Rice.

Yep folks, you read that right.

FortiFRIED rice.

I know a lot of us who live in Haiti and work for missions get free fortified rice for use in our orphanages/ schools/ feeding programs, etc.  A friend recently told me it's called "diri ti pastò" in Port Au Prince, because it's usually exclusively distributed through Christian organizations and Haitian churches.

Now, I do realize that buying local rice might actually be more useful to the Haitian people in the long run.  (Google Miami Rice for more info.)  However, I am always thankful to get a delivery of the rice because it helps our food budget.  (Yes, giant paradox.)

There are three main problems with this rice (other than the whole Miami rice situation.)  The first problem is that oftentimes I will see this rice for sale in the market, which is not the intent.  But I am not sure if that's really a problem or not.   (The problems are similar to the TOMS shoes being for sale in the market that I wrote about HERE.)

The second problem is that, in spite of the fact that the rice is fortified with dehydrated soy protein and vegetables, Haitians don't often often receive the benefits of these extra nutrients because they sift out everything other than the rice (or almost everything, anyway) and eat the rice just as plain rice.  I *think* the reason this is done is because it is very common to sift through the rice when you buy it in the market before you cook it to get rid of bugs and small sticks/rocks.  In my experience, Haitian people like to clean the rice before they cook it. That makes sense to me.  It's also possible that some people don't like how the added nutrients taste.  (Or maybe there is a third reason that I don't know.  That's entirely possible.)

The third problem is that the taste, (while I think is good) gets old.  ESPECIALLY if you are eating it many times per week, like we do.  So this caused Nick to try to think outside the box and figure out other ways to prepare diri ti pastò.  And folks, I think he nailed it with this recipe.  This will not be useful to you unless you have a supply of fortified rice on hand, but if you do-- buddy, you're in for a treat.  The bonus is that you can find ALL of the other ingredients easily and cheaply in Haiti.  So without further ado...

Nick's FortiFried Rice
(I came up with that name, BTW.  I mean, not to toot my own horn or anything, but toot, toot! )


  • 2 cups leftover fortified rice, chilled through-- day old is best (cooked according to the package instructions)
  • 2 Tbsp oil
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp minced garlic (about 2-3 big cloves)
  • 2 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1/2 cup chopped cabbage
  • 1/4 cup carrots (matchstick thin)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce (also called Sos La Choy if you're Haitian)
  • 2 Tablespoons green onions, thinly chopped
1.  Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
2.  Toss in the onions, garlic, ginger, cabbage, and carrots, stir frying until the veggies are tendercrisp.
3.  Crack the egg into the pan and stir, scrambling it into the vegetables.
4.  When the eggs are cooked, add the cold rice and soy sauce.  Stir until heated through and well-combined.
5. Sprinkle in the green onions, cook for just one minute more.  Take off the burner and serve hot.


The Haitian American Divide

(Josiah and Yves, circa 2010)

A couple of years ago Nick and I went to a Willow Creek Leadership Summit. One of the speakers, I don't remember who, talked about the differences between tensions we resolve versus tensions we manage. Certain things that are tensions in life are straightforward to resolve. For example, imagine you are an employer and there is an employee who does a bad job and you don't like.  Easy, you fire him. That's resolving a tension. But maybe there's an employee that you don't like, but does a great job. (Or vice versa.)  You may decide that is a tension you want to manage rather than resolve. You have good reasons why you want him there, but the fact that he's there presents a tension.

We often get questions about what it's like to live with two cultures in one house. Specifically, Nick and I being both Americans and having 2 full-on American kids, 1 Haitian-American kid , a kid who is Haitian who we wish to make Haitian-American, and 8 Haitian foster kids.  There's a lot of ways to slice up the cultural diversity of our family. It is VERY tough to have more than one culture in a family.

But that is a tension we are managing rather than trying to solve.

There are a lot of not-fair things about the way our family is.
Here are a few-
  • It's not fair that our American kids get to travel to America but our Haitian kids don't.
  • It's not fair that our American kids don't get to grow up in their native culture.
  • It's not fair that the American kids sleep in the house with Nick and I and the foster kids don't. 
  • It's not fair that the Haitian kids get to go out to school and that our American kids have to be homeschooled. (And vice versa.)
  • It's not fair that Nick and I have to leave some of our kids behind pretty much anywhere we go because there are so dang many of them. 
  • It's not fair that our Haitian kids get to grow up around their extended families and visit them often and that our American kids have to go away to see their extended family. 
  • It's not fair that the American kids have to share their American grandparents when they visit with the Haitian kids, but the Haitian kids don't have to share their grandparents. 
  • It's not fair that our American kids stick out like a sore thumb everywhere we go and our Haitian kids can just blend in. 
  • It's not fair that we more often bring our American kids to Church on the Beach than we bring the Haitian kids because we need the American kids to practice English. 
I could go on and on and on. Our lives here are not fair. But NO ONE's life is fair.  And sometimes those non-fair situations create friction. Sometimes they create resentment or jealousy. But for us, most times they don't. Most times, we're just a normal family. (Well, not normal really, but you know what I mean.)

There's this Kreyol expression, “Gad nan pa'w.” Literally it means, “look in yours.” But the expression means to “mind your own business” or “worry about yourself.” And so yeah. That's sort of what we need to do. We all have different roles and jobs in our family, but everyone's place is important. Everyone is loved. And we are doing the best we can to try to create a good and normal future for each of the kids in the way that makes the most sense for them.

For example, it's not realistic to think that all (or any) of our Haitian kids will end up living in America. They might. But it's not looking likely. But that doesn't mean they can't have a really great, culturally appropriate life here. And so in many ways, (aside from the fact that it would be impossible and financially prohibitive to bring them all) it is for their own good that they don't go. On the surface, America looks like Disney World. And if they visit the States and everyone is making a big deal over them, and they are always meeting new, kind people who love them as an extension of their love for us, that creates a really unrealistic picture of what America looks like, or what it would be like to live there. After a trip like that, how are they going to feel about living in their home country? Will they be satisfied? Or will there be a lasting discontentment for what could be, when really, that's not what life is like when you live in America? (Nick and I say all the time, visiting a place is very different than living in a place.)

And then when you consider the amount of adjusting our American (read: traveling) kids need to do between cultures. Yeah, that's not that awesome either. Sure, there are awesome parts. But they don't feel entirely home either place. The differences between the two cultures is extreme. And their life is a yo-yo between buffet-style America, and no-second-helpings Haiti. Plus, there is a certain amount of guilt that they have experiencing great things without the Haitian kids.

I say all of these things not to complain. We have a great life. We really, really do. But we are always walking the tightrope between the two cultures. We are always managing that tension.  And quite honestly, I wouldn't prefer to do it any other way.  What we gain by living in two cultures is far greater than what we lose.  (Well, at least that's how I feel today.  Ask me again tomorrow.)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Dyabs

Another question I've received to write about was whether or not I've ever (personally) experienced some of the superstitious/voudou components of Haiti.

Being a Christian, I will be the first to say that this topic could very easily be divisive-- that's not my intent at all. Here's the thing. I believe the spirit world exists. I think voudou spirits are real. People in Haiti are very much in tune to the spiritual. (Much more-so than in the States.) I believe my faith in Jesus makes me immune to possession by a spirit other than the Holy Spirit, but I don't think I am immune to seeing and experiencing the everyday activity of the spiritual world.

And so with that in mind, let me tell you a story about what happened back in 2010. I don't know that this had to do with voudou, but I suspect it did.  I don't remember exactly what month it was, but it was later in 2010. We were involved in the life of a very sick baby for a couple of weeks who was the child of a family who was heavily involved in voudou. I saw them do what I perceived to be crazy things to him to try to cast out the spirit of sickness before they asked me to take him for a while. Things like swinging him (really, really hard and fast) around by the feet when he was naked. Things like sticking their thumb up his butt to see if they could feel any spirits in him... It was just weird. He wore little strings and ties of herbs and leaves around his neck that his mom/grandmother said were “redmed pou li.” (A remedy for him.)

But finally, I asked if we could keep him for a little bit. We'd take him to the doctor and we'd get him the medicine he needed. We'd keep him clean and well-fed for a time so that he could get better. Then he'd go back to the family. Those things were just too difficult for a family living in a tent camp at that time. (BTW- turns out he had typhoid.)

So. The baby comes to stay with us for a few weeks. Within a day or so, weird things started happening in our home. It all started with one of our staff members coming to me and telling me we had a dyab (evil spirit) in the house. I asked her why she thought that we did. She said that often times in the evening, when she's going behind the house to get water, she hears loud footsteps behind her but she turns, and no one is there. Then she told me about how one night she heard someone rustling around in the bushes and when she went and looked, “the spirit turned into a cat and ran off.” That's when I started not really believing her. I remember telling Nick, “Yeah, she didn't hear a spirit and saw a cat run off, she heard a cat in the bushes.” I sort of dismissed it.

Then all the kids were telling me about how they heard spirits in the house at night. Other staff members claimed to have heard the footsteps behind them. One staff member told us she was walking onto the front porch and an invisible spirit pushed her up against the wall. One of our security staff told us that we had to get a gun because he saw the dyab at night and he needed to be able to shoot it. (This is before we had a gun.) Nick and I were like, “Uh, no. If the security guard is scared at night, we need a new guard, not a gun.”

Well, just a few days later I was walking to the back of the house at night right next to Yves. As we were walking I heard footsteps run right up behind us. I heard it clear as day. We had lots of stones in our yard, so you always hear people walking. I turned around to see who it was and NO ONE WAS THERE. At first I thought it was a joke and someone was going to pop out from behind a bush or something. But y'all, no one was there. I turned to Yves and said, “Did you hear something?” He said. “Yes, I heard a dyab.”

So then I was a little bit more open to the idea that we might actually have a spirit hanging around. And then later on that night when I was sleeping, I woke up and felt like something heavy was laying on my chest. I tried to get up but it was like someone was pressing down on my chest. I couldn't talk, I couldn't move. And I was freaked out. I started praying like crazy. But I don't remember what happened next. I guess I fell back asleep. Or maybe the whole thing was a dream? I really don't know but it felt like I was awake.

All I know is that after that, I listened to what people said. The baby went back home after a couple of weeks.  We prayed together as a family more often. And, at the request of my staff, we threw out a voudou drum we had in our depot that we'd sort of inherited. And the weird things stopped happening. And they never happened again.

Weird, huh?