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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Cap-Haitien


Haiti Fact #10:
The national money is the gourde (pronounced goud).  The exchange rate is currently around 67 gourdes to 1 US dollar.

            A year ago I had never heard of Cap-Haitien.  Today it constitutes such a huge part of my daily life that it is hard to ever forget about it.  It’s a unique city, even within Haiti.  The “iron market” covers a full four blocks under one roof, creating an open space not accessible to vehicles.  The market sprawls for blocks in all directions, dominating the streets that vendors have claimed.  Going to the market has become one of my favorite parts of Cap-Haitien, or Okap as people usually call it.  While never a relaxing experience, going to the market is still fun.  The fact that produce is available so cheaply never fails to make me smile.  However, the market’s complex layout overwhelmed me at first.  But with a better understanding of how it’s set up, shopping trips are easier and faster. 

It still surprises me that I like shopping there.  Very few expatriates descend into the chaos of the market, making it so that I stand out a lot.  Combined with the fact that expatriates are (correctly) perceived as wealthier than average Haitians, my lack of anonymity makes me the target of endless sales pitches.  It used to really overwhelm me when someone would yell at me in a language I only somewhat understood.  Fortunately, improving in Creole and persistently trying again has made it so that I usually understand the sales pitches and have no problem issuing a quick “No thank you” and moving on.  As soon as the more aggressive, intimidating elements are filtered out, the market becomes a cool place. 

Food that I have never seen, let alone tried, is available for an insanely low price.  Most recently, I started buying eggplant and squash called meliton in Creole and making a sauce for rice out of it.  The best part is that I haven’t gotten around to trying everything that’s available so there’s so much experimenting left to do.  I like the market so much because it is probably the most tangible reminder that, despite a mountain of setbacks, I can function normally here and do things that outsiders almost never do.  Cap-Haitien’s market is rough on the edges but is worth experiencing if you have the time to learn how it works.  For shorter visits, the restaurant scene is a must-see.

The iconic restaurant in Okap is Lakay.  Translating as “house” or “home,” Lakay is where we see expatriates on a regular basis and hear a surprising mix of languages.  The good food and laid back atmosphere make it my favorite restaurant in Cap-Haitien.  There’s a lot more to try, though.  The “boulevard” or “carenage” runs along the ocean and has several restaurants drawing in the expatatriate community, groups of visitors and middle class Haitians.  The restuarants compete amongst each other to bring in music acts and entertainment, all for prices far below what you would pay in the USA.  In the sit down restaurants you can find a little bit of American food with plenty of Haitian food.  I’ve just started expanding into more options outside of the restaurants that draw in expatriates, simply because there is a lot to try just within that group. 

I’ll have to write more about life in Cap-Haitien in a later post.  Moving here changed how I live.  Cap-Haitien is hot, dusty, old and rarely smells good, but, similar to its market, has a surprising amount of redeeming qualities as you get to know it better.  There will be more posts about Okap coming up.  It’s a unique place.

A special thank you to these donors:

Emelia DeMusis
Rev. Folts and Family   

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