Thursday, March 11, 2010

Haiti and a new season of foraging

Last week I took a trip with to Haiti and was part of the construction team. Headed up by lama (turns out his real name is Lamarre, but lama is much funnier), we worked on a stone wall surrounding the clinic, and headed up by Osnell, we started a new pid (partners in development) house. Partners in Development, out of Ipswich MA, builds and runs health clinics, builds houses for people without them, and gives interest free loans to help people get their businesses going, in Guatemala and Haiti. After the earthquake, pid's role in Haiti increased a lot and they started sending down new loads of fresh blood, which is how I came to go down.

My camera broke on the second day there, sometime after I took some pictures of a church service in a makeshift church (a tarp and some benches) and then let a bunch of little ones see the pictures on my camera. I think they got their little fingertips right in the lens cover and poof, there goes that camera. Right away when I got home I bought a new one since it is foraging season again and I have to be good about photographs for the book. Anyhow, here are my favorites from the teams pictures:

The scene in Haiti was rough but sometimes felt a little hopeful, and this feeling of hope has everything to do with the fact that the kids are so fun and friendly and the adults aren't too bad either. After a couple of days hauling rocks and concrete in the worst wheelbarrows ever made, the Haitian construction crew (lama, osnell, alexson, ..) and the whites (me, joe, joe, steve, and dave) started to mix it up a little and we had a lot of laughs, especially given our lack of ability to communicate much more than MORCHE (translation: give me another shovel-full of cement) and WASH (give me another rock). The biggest laughs the entire construction crew had all week was when lama and alexson would start yelling for more morche and joe lee and I would go like crazy - ripping shirts off, attempting to lift the whole wheelbarrow full - trying to get them their morche. Those guys work HARD. Everyday back in Boston I'm sitting, like I am now, at my desk at MGH, nibbling on some veggies, and they are out in the sun adn the rain putting rocks together to make walls. Yikes.

Another good laugh was when I borrowed Dave's camera to photograph the well-diggers and the meanest looking one just at me like: who you taking a picture of. The Haitian onlookers thought it was bold of me I guess, anyhow, all in good fun.

My nickname on the trip - I didn't feel like telling the team that I already had a nickname -- big daddy -- became Mango because early on I grabbed one from a tree and ate it even though it wasn't at all ripe. The next day a cute little 8 year old girl brought be a mango, which I gladly took, rubbed it with hand sanitizer to keep my teammates happy, and ate. These kids have next to nothing but they brought me a mango, and the next day 3 more, and the final day Darlene, a girl who takes care of her sick mother, they live in a tent right near the clinic, brought me 3 too. I sucked down two on the plane but the other one didn't make it through customs in Miami. Then there was Martha, who tried to bring home four of the hugest yams I've ever seen and got completely stuffed at customs. There are a million little stories like this from the one week away.

One day I pointed up to a coconut tree and said COCO and about 15 minutes later Serge, of the all black turtle neck - likely his only shirt (I gave him my fort point open studios shirt, now he's got two) - comes back with about 6 of them, and all the workers take a break and suck them down. No hand sanitizer this time (because I don't know how to say in Creole - "ahh hold on guys let me just wipe down that machete blade with some cleaning alcohol..."). We were all fine and the coconut juice and slime inside hit the spot. Other foraging down there: when the sugar cane truck would pass by they would throw a couple of stalks to the kids who would run up to it, and those kids would then bring their haul back and share it with us. I was wondering if you eat sugar cane that counts as a whole food...

I saw some purslane too, but like everything else there, it was trampled on and covered in dust so I let it go. Man, I see purslane everywhere I travel, I love that stuff. Oh yeah, and almonds. Day one I tried to get something going right away with one of the kids, turned out to be one of our favorite, Pabush. Anyhow, without much by way of equipment, we started playing catch the almond, as there was an almond tree right in the clinic, a nice touch. I gestured..can you eat these, and sure enough you can so down they went. The almond nut we know is covered by a juicy red pulp which is pretty good, but a little stringy and difficult to deal with which is why we never see it. Speaking of which, whoever invents a non-stringy mango gets a pat on the back from me.

It was an emotional time, and given that I was often physically exhausted (roosters in Haiti get up and start squawking at 1 am, and dogs are always up, and then there are many other weird sounds too, it's a symphony all night long), I almost came to tears a few times, which is weird for me. The combination of the desperate situation (few jobs, tons of destruction, everyone living in tents, some of which are just sheets that can't keep out the rain, some living on the streets directly and thus unable to sleep whenever there is traffic) with the great attitidues for the most part of the Haitians, the generosity, the smiles, the effort, ugh, it just kills you. Samuel Joseph and I played opposites all week, where I would say a word and he'd have to come up with the opposite. He loved getting them right, and he almost always did, and then he would always spell it for me, and always like this: "short, like, s-h-o-r-t". Anyhow, a guy like that, he's trying so hard and is a good guy, and he might never get much past where he is now because there are so few opportunities there. And yet when I say coconut, they bring 6 of them over pronto. Emotional rollercoaster. We would unwind at night with a beer or some rum, and some bananagrams. I was usually too tired to try to get any yoga going.

Flew back through NYC, and it was great to unwind with Brian that night at Union Hall, a cool bar in Brooklyn (imagine that), and then hit the foraging tour with wildman steve brill the next day in prospect park on Sunday. Best finds were ginko nuts with the rancid smelling pulp all washed off from the winter snows, and goutweed, which was a new plant for me. Brill got excited when I pointed out a thistle. He dug it up. I gotta start carrying my trowel again now. I saw one the other day in the Arboretum but was not ready for it.

In cambridge, foraging is off to a slow start. I've just been picking some field garlic from the riverside, but I haven't really gone looking for much else yet. Oh wait, I DID tap the maple trees in my neighborhood and although I thought I was too late, one of the trees gave me a half gallon of sap (which will of course make about a quarter cup of syrup). Hopefully the gallon container hasn't fallen yet. Will boil it down tomorrow. Also finally got around to breaking open my black walnuts that have been in my fridge all winter. Got, what a job...almost as bad as acorns. Luckily, they taste a lot better than acorns and I've already eaten them all. Next thing to by, a Davebilt nutcracker.

The book is almost ready, watch for it in stores (even if I have to drop a bunch on the counter, I'll get those things in the local bookstores).




Anonymous said...


Kan said...

hey it's kan. i just wanted to apologize for never getting to you friday night about that sing-a-long. jameson never called me so i forgot to send the silence along. how are you? do you read chinese? see you thursday night? what's your email?

Anonymous said...

God helps those who help themselves. ....................................................