Sunday, February 22, 2015


It’s been a great couple of weeks here. I got on board with a part time ads rating job, and we got our tax return check: we had our one week of living the lifestyle of the nouveau riche, despite the fact that we were hit with super cold wind chills again – but that didn’t stop us from being out and about. We mostly paid up bills, bought a few things for ourselves and the house, and my husband and I went on a rampage of eating out at new restaurants, including Red Lion Grog House (British food) and Sushi Club (all-you-can-eat sushi – 68 pieces of sushi later, we ate until we hated ourselves. But we’ll definitely be back to hate ourselves again.) And today, it’s Honduran food. 

What I thought was sure-fire food poison turned out pretty good.
 I started with a recipe for Ceiba Conch Ceviche. We’re all still a little scarred after my first tryst with conch back when I attempted to make conch fritters when I was cooking from Antigua and Barbuda.  So, I went for the alternate suggestion of using a mild fish (I used pollack, although I’m pretty sure pollack is only in northern Atlantic waters, and pollack is probably a little stronger flavored than “mild.”). I’ve always been a little leery at making true ceviches, which basically “cooks” the raw fish or seafood using the acidity of the limes. From a Western point-of-view, this seems to give the potential for food poisoning, but if it is done correctly, it should be safe. Otherwise, millions of people in the Caribbean and Latin America would have died from ceviche poisoning and no one in their right mind would ever share the recipe. So, basing my faith in statistics, common sense, and logic, I started in on this. I flaked my fish and squeezed the juice from two limes on top, stirring it to coat. Then I chopped up my vegetables very small (larger than minced, but smaller than diced): a red and green bell pepper, celery, and onion. I mixed in some salt and pepper (accidently forgetting to put in the garlic), and drizzled it all with a bit of olive oil and topped with fresh cilantro. It called for a serrano pepper, and I was going to add in a little bit of chipotle peppers that I had on hand, but I forgot that too. Then I stirred in my fish with lime juice and let it chill for about four hours in the refrigerator. But after the four hours, it magically wasn’t raw anymore. And it actually tasted pretty good. I actually liked it. My daughter liked it too, but my son thought the cat might prefer it (I stopped him before he got that far). 

I have no words for this. This recipe took banana bread to a whole new level.
 Next, I got started on the Honduran Banana Bread. This sounded amazing from the moment I read the recipe. I started this by beating my margarine with cream cheese, then adding in a cup of sugar and beating in an egg. Then in a different bowl, I combined the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set this aside.  In a third bowl, I mixed my bananas, milk, vanilla extract, and rum (I went with a mango-infused rum by Bacardi since I can’t drink dark rum. Brown alcohols make me so sick. Apparently so does mango-infused rum if it’s following a half-bottle of pinot grigio).  I left out the pecans, but added in the flaked coconut. After mixing in a little bit from all three mixtures, stirring constantly until it was all consistent, I poured the batter into a greased loaf pan and threw it into the oven for an hour.  The interesting part is that this banana bread has a glaze that is drizzled on top. For this part, I added in a little brown sugar, margarine, lime juice, and rum in a saucepan and brought it all to a simmer, stirring constantly.  Once I removed it from the heat, I stirred in more coconut (and pecans if you’re using them, but I’m not for this recipe) and spooned the mixture over the bread once it’s taken out of the oven. This was the best part of the meal. Hands down. I think it was actually better that I used the mango-infused rum instead of the dark or spiced rum the recipe suggested. The mango with the coconut accented the tropical flavors in this bread. I actually think it may have been better with the pecans in it to counter some of the sweetness of the bread. But even at that, it was still delightful. 

I can't wait to have this for lunch tomorrow. We eat pretty well over here.
 Finally, for the main entrée. I chose a national dish called Baleadas.  This easy recipe can be adapted for lunch or breakfast or snacks and can be generally made to serve what ingredients you have on hand.  I didn’t make my own tortillas, but I’m sure it would’ve been better if I had. It’s not hard; I just had a ton of pre-made flour tortillas already. To make these, I took a tortilla and filled half of it with warmed refried beans, topped with queso cotija (I grated it myself) and a little Mexican sour cream called crema agria. That’s the basic version, and people can choose from a variety of different toppings to add. I went with some chorizo, minced spiced avocado that I made a few days ago, and curtido (I bought a Salvadoran version from the Mexican grocery store. This version is pickled shredded cabbage, carrots, red bell peppers, and onion. It’s so good – far better than when I tried to make my own when I cooked for El Salvador – we put curtido on top of hamburgers we made last night.).  One you have the toppings on half of the tortilla, fold it over and it’s ready to eat. Many versions include adding scrambled eggs.  I liked this with the chorizo and curtido. I thought it was fabulous. Although I didn’t care so much for the type of refried beans I bought, but I couldn’t remember the brand I bought last time. My daughter was leery about the crema agria (“Mom, is this sour cream? Because you know I hate sour cream.” “No, honey. It’s a type of Mexican cheese called crema agria. It just LOOKS like American sour cream, but it’s Mexican.” “Oh, ok.”), but she liked it more or less. My son, on the other hand, is six years old and hates everything. 

What a wonderful meal! It was delightfully tasty!
 This was an easy day of cooking. Some of the meals I pick make me feel like I’m on my feet all day. But today gave me plenty of opportunities to sit down and rest for an hour or so while cooking. Although Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, their food is wholesome, fresh, with a complexity of flavors. It always confirms my theory that most of the time, a country’s “national” dish often comes from the poor people’s cuisine. It has to contain ingredients that are readily available, and it also has to be easy and cheap to grow, to buy, and/or to store. These are the type of recipes that makes people reminiscent of home and brings families together. I’m certain that I’ll pull these recipes back out again for holidays and get-togethers. Because that’s what these recipes are for.

Up next: Hungary

Saturday, February 21, 2015


Surprisingly, Honduras has a very diverse music scene and has always been diverse. It incorporates the musical styles of many of the countries and regions around Latin America and the Caribbean: reggae, salsa, reggaeton, merengue, cumbia, bachata, and others. Punta is one of the most popular styles in Honduras.  Guitars, marimbas, and a variety of percussion instruments are also common in Honduran folk music. 

The Garifuna people were African slaves who the British brought to the Caribbean countries and traded them around, only to be freed and brought to Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and other areas where they intermarried with the native people. They pretty much stayed to themselves; subsequently, their music was not as influenced by outside forces as much as others. They are known for their dominant musical styles of chumba and hunguhungu, which also has a circle dance to accompany its three-beat rhythm.  The Garifuna, like other Hondurans, sing Punta music as well. Punta has a dance that accompanies the music, and almost every community has an area where people can get together to sing and dance.  


I found a lot of Honduran bands/groups available on Spotify. In fact, I liked the metal rock band Diablos Negros so much that I bought their album right away. The album Revolución is phenomenal. The song “Ahogame en Dolor” is the best one on the album. Seriously, I love this song. I’ve played this so many times, and I still haven’t got tired of it. Actually, my husband and I were talking about how we celebrated out 10th wedding anniversary a few months ago, but neither of us exchanged gifts at the time. The traditional gift for the 10th anniversary is tin/aluminum.  So, I burned a copy of this album and gave it to him, and said, “Hey, it’s Honduran metal music. Close enough.” He’s been blasting this album in the garage, and I’ve been blasting it in my car. What we appreciate is that there are moments where they sound like Disturbed, and other moments where they sound like Rob Zombie, and sometimes I can hear a Linkin Park influence, a Live influence, and a White Snake influence. And if you like this band, another Honduran rock band you might like is Delirium. I listened to their album Abismo. It’s also a great album that shows some insight on part of the writers. 

I’m not quite sure what to think of the band Pez Luna. Definitely on the lighter side of Latin rock, especially compared to the previous two bands. Reminding me a little of Carlos Vives, this band uses the accordion, flute, piano, and a variety of guitars and percussion. At times, it almost sounds like lounge jazz mixed with indie rock. The band Khaoticos is a pretty basic rock band. They weren’t horrible, but they just didn’t really do much for me. They have a few good songs, though. 

The band El Sol Caracol is full of catchy songs, mixing reggae and other Caribbean flavors with rock. Sometimes I think there were still a lot of traditional influences in their music. El Pueblo also mixes reggae with jazz and indie rock into their music. I kind of like their music.  I’m a fan of both reggae and indie rock, so if that’s not your thing, then this might not be for you. 


Finally, Honduras has certainly made its own mark in reggaeton musicians. I am a fan of reggaeton, believe it or not. I found two that impressed me. The first one I came across is Bullaka Family. They use the autotune a little too much for my taste, but otherwise the songs are catchy. I think they tend to stay on the side of pop-reggaeton, although a couple of songs sounded like Don Omar. The other group I came across is Yerbaklan. I liked them a little better. They also are not afraid to mix other Latin and Caribbean genres with reggaeton. There are a few songs I listened to that sounded like they utilized some styles from dancehall or soca or even pop.

Up next: the food

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Art in Honduras is so intertwined with its culture that it’s hard to distinguish it on its own. It’s often utilized in the home as well as with religious celebrations and festivals.  

The early Mayans and other indigenous peoples of the area had their own art. It consisted of primitive drawings depicting hunts and other life events, but it also includes a large number of sculptures that are amazingly still preserved today. It’s quite noticeable that there is a high quality of craftsmanship in these sculptures. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have survived so long, right? Pottery and handicrafts, such as woven mats, have also been found in pre-Columbian settlements and are still created to this day by current members of the dwindling number of indigenous communties. 


After the Spanish arrived, the brought along their own art to the area. Indigenous art was now combined with the most popular styles in Europe –Spanish, Gothic, Moorish– and these artistic themes were adapted to new world art and architecture. As Hondurans gained independence, themes of the struggles of poverty, everyday life, religion, and their natural environment were commonly depicted in their paintings and sculptures. Jungle animals, especially that of the jaguar, were often painted into pictures. 

One of Honduras’ most prominent painters is Miguel Ángel Ruiz Matute. As an expressionist painter, his paintings show an array of emotions, often using muted tones and painting an object or person in such a way to give the audience a double exposure of the emotion he’s trying to portray.

If you ever get the chance to visit Honduras during Easter week, you’ll probably get to see first-hand the Easter carpets. People take bits of colored pieces of sawdust and arrange them on the sidewalks along the path of the Good Friday procession and create intricate pictures. These pictures usually depict scenes of the Easter story or other Catholic-related themes.  I would imagine that these carpet designs take a lot of planning, talent, and patience to put together. But when everyone has completed their square, the street looks amazing. 

Honduran literature is predominantly written in Spanish. Early Honduran literature topics primarily covered religion and historical documents. But it really didn’t get its push until the late 19th century and early 20th century. 

Writers here ventured into many genres. Some of the most notable poets include Juan Ramón Molina (a national library and a bridge are named after him), Óscar Acosta (poet, diplomat, journalist), Roberto Sosa (award winner, has had several books translated into English, didn’t publish his first book until he was 30 years old), and Amanda Castro (award winner, has several works available). 

Froylán Turcios
 There has been many novelists emerge in the last century and a half: Froylán Turcios (politician, journalist, often considered one of the greatest intellectuals in Honduran history), Lucila Gamero de Medina (romantic novelist, one of the first women writers to be published in Honduras), Ramón Amaya Amador (known for his leftist politics, was instrumental in promoting social realism), and many others.

Honduran writers also represent other specific genres, such as historical writings, scientific writings, memoirs, political writings, and plays/drama.

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, February 15, 2015


When I was in college, I used to meet a lot of people from a lot of different countries. It helped that I was part of the Languages, Literatures and Linguistics department at Indiana State University. I met a few people from Honduras there as well as when I used to tutor in ESL in various places. And oh, what I wouldn’t give to be there right now, where it’s warm and fresh fruit is always in season, instead of here in Indiana, where we’re bracing for wind chills below zero and fruit is expensive now because it’s out of season. Those things make me sad.

The name Honduras means “depths,” which may be stemmed from many sources. Some historians believe it may have been based on a statement from Christopher Columbus, or it may have referred to the Bay of Trujillo. Before 1580, Honduras only referred to the eastern part of this area whereas Higueras (“fig trees”) referred to the western portions.

The country of Honduras is located in the middle of Central America, surrounded by Guatemala to the west, El Salvador to the southwest, and Nicaragua to the east. It has a very long coast on the Caribbean side (700 km/435 mi) and a very short coast on the Gulf of Fonseca (153 km/95 mi), which opens to the Pacific Ocean. Because of its tropical climate, Honduras has a wide variety of flora and fauna. They’re quite known for the number of native plants, including 630 varieties of orchid along with over 700 types of birds, and over 50 types of bats. Honduras’ rain forests and cloud forests keep ecotourists arriving year after year. The Mosquito Coast, named after the Miskito Indians who first lived there, spreads along the Caribbean coast and extends through most of the Nicaraguan coast. There are still many areas of the Mosquito Coast that are scarcely populated and contain untouched rainforests.

Before Columbus arrived in this region of the world, the Mayan civilization extended through what is now known as Honduras. On his fourth and final trip to this area, Columbus landed in the Bay Islands and near where the city of Trujillo currently lies. Hernán Cortés later came in from Mexico to conquer these lands as well; however, much of the Miskito Kingdom did not fall to the Spaniards at that time. The Spanish counted Honduras as a province of Guatemala, and eventually moved the capital from Trujillo to Comayagua to its current-day capital of Tegucigalpa. They set up silver mines, basically using the native peoples to work the mines in exchange for protection from other warring tribes along with other promises (this legal system was called encomienda). But as disease spread, the Spanish brought in slaves from Africa to pick up the “slack” from the dying native population they were more or less responsible for. Honduras did eventually gain its independence from Spain in 1821, but it was difficult for them to find their place. It was part of the First Mexican Empire, then it was part of the United Provinces of Central America before settling on becoming the Republic of Honduras.  There have been many skirmishes and rebellions throughout the early years in Honduras’ history. The fruit companies, and more specifically the sale of bananas, carved out a significant corner of Honduras’ economy, thus leading to the term Banana Republic (given by no less than the US author O. Henry). The downside was that although these were very large companies and had a lot of influence on several governments, they were tax exempt, and therefore didn’t contribute very much to the economies at all. In 1969, Honduras and El Salvador became engaged in border tensions that escalated during elimination matches ahead of the World Cup.  This became known as the Soccer War. The US has had a military presence in Honduras many times in the early part of the 20th Century as well as on and off again during the 1970s and 1980s in an effort to keep peace in Central America among other reasons. Honduras has also been ravaged by hurricanes and flooding many times, causing millions of dollars in damage and taking years to rebuild its infrastructure.

The capital city is Tegucigalpa, or commonly referred to as Tegus by the locals. Lying in the interior of the country, yet not far from the Pacific side, this capital city has about 1.3 million people in its metro area. The origin of the name Tegucigalpa is disputed, although many historians and anthropologists believe it is derived from a Nahuatl word. The government of the newly founded country decided to alternate the capital city between Tegucigalpa and nearby Comayagüela, although eventually the capital included both cities, each city holding different functions of the government.

Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Central and South America with a high unemployment and underemployment rate and a high poverty rate. Although they do have a substantial mining industry, mostly in silver, gold, zinc, and lead, the country is still highly indebted to foreign aid. There seems to be a lot of debate over whether government-owned or private-owned utilities and subsidies are better and how much actually goes back into the economy. Honduras’ infrastructure is one area that varies widely on where it is. Urban areas generally seem to have better roads, cleaner water, and better functioning sanitation systems. The rural areas can be far less sophisticated in what is provided. In 2003 a new law was passed that essentially took the burden of handling water and sanitation off of the federal government and placed it in the hands of regional and local officials. Many towns banded together to improve their own conditions. I would be interested to see if conditions increased for the better.

While officially Honduras often considers itself a majority Catholic nation, studies have found that the number of Protestants of many denominations is gaining popularity. Many people often attend more than one church, which may be skewing the numbers. Honduras also has significant followings of Buddhism, Bahá’í, Rastafari, Islam, and Judaism.

The official language of Honduras is Spanish, although there are several other languages that carry a recognized regional language status: Garifuna, Miskito, Bay Islands Creole English (also referred to as Caracol), Samu, Pech, Jicaque, and Ch’orti’ (a Mayan language).

For a country that lies along the infamous Ring of Fire, and unlike other nearby countries, Honduras does not contain any active volcanoes. But it does have the oldest clock in the Americas, located in the city of Comayagua, which is still actively keeping time. Thought to have been built during the latter part of the 1300s, this clock still apparently does keep time after all of these years (even though parts of it have been replaced and refurbished over the years). The clock was built in Spain and received as a gift, but it’s disputed as to who exactly gave the clock as a gift. One of the craziest things I read was the “raining fish” phenomenon (called lluvia de peces) in the town of Yoro. There are a number of theories as to why or how this happens, especially given the fact that this town is 140 miles from the Atlantic coast. Whatever is causing this ichthyoidal gift wrapped in superstition, it’s been going on every year for more than a century. I’m excited to jump into researching Honduras. I’ve already downloaded an album by the Honduran metal/rock band Diablos Negros, so this is bound to be good.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, February 8, 2015


So, it’s been an interesting week. I finished the project I was working on, and now I’m waiting for another project to start. So in the meantime, there’s no money coming in. I did, however, manage to finally self-publish my first book. Not the first book I’ve written, but the first book I’ve published. It’s called O as in Circle – And Other Stupid Things Heard While Filing Claims, and it’s available right now through and iBooks. It’s currently under review by other e-book retailers (Kindle store, Nook store, and Kobo). Hopefully, it’ll be released soon. And I am finalizing my book proposal for a book on essay writing that I just finished. I’m determined to make this writing thing work. 

Seriously awesome.  Like, how can you go wrong with this?
And all of that brings me to cooking food from Haiti today. I started with marinating the meat for Griot. My marinade consisted of lime juice (and I threw in the limes themselves as well), some orange juice, seasoning salt, rosemary, oregano (in lieu of thyme), parsley, garlic powder, and a few jalapeños with their juice. Then I cut my pork into strips (I used pork butt steaks because they were on sale, and yes, I laugh every time I hear the words “pork butt” because apparently, my humor is that of a six-year-old boy at times), mixed it with the marinade, and put it all in the fridge before we headed out to finish up our taxes. After about four hours of sitting in the marinade, I put the meat into a saucepan and covered it with water and boiled it until most of the water evaporated (it took about 45-50 minutes or so). Then I let it cook some more before I took it out of the saucepan. In a skillet, I heated some oil and fried the pork until it was browned. I thought it was very good. I absolutely loved this. It was a little bit spicy, but not too much. Letting the meat boil for nearly an hour before lightly frying it gave it this wonderful texture: tender yet crispy on the outside.  My son didn’t eat much of it; he basically just laughed at “pork butt” the entire meal. But the rest of us ate it up.

I wish my abs looked like this bread. But I love chocolate and wine too much for this to happen.  
While the meat was marinating, I made Pain Haïtien. For this, I mixed my yeast packets with the warm water and let sit for a few minutes to proof. Then I added in agave nectar (I think it’s much sweeter and a little cheaper than honey; I found it at Aldi’s for around $2.50), vegetable oil, salt, nutmeg, and half of the flour. Once I stirred it until it was smooth, I slowly added in the rest of the flour until it was a thicker, elastic-y dough. I poured a little oil into the bottom of my bowl and rolled my dough in it before covering it with a towel and letting it sit for nearly an hour. When this was done, I punched down the dough and then pressed it into a greased loaf pan. I didn’t have a dish the size the recipe recommended (15” x 10”), so I was hoping a loaf pan was ok. Then I drug my knife over the dough, cutting roughly 2/3 of the way through the dough to create pull-apart squares. Then I let it sit for another half hour. Just before I placed it in the oven, I added a bit of espresso grounds into some milk and brushed the top of the bread with it.  After about 35 minutes in the oven, it was ready to take out and cool. This bread turned out beautiful. The outside was crisp but the inside was soft, and the hint of nutmeg was wonderful. I really couldn’t taste any hint of the coffee in the milk that I brushed the top with, but it was still very good.

So comforting. I was quite impressed with this.
And to accompany the Griot, I made a popular side dish called Riz Dion or Riz Djon-Djon. This dish is supposed to use black mushrooms, but it’s really hard to find here.  And I was on a super tight budget, so I was sort of forced to use white mushrooms. I removed the stems from the mushrooms and placed the stems in a bowl of water to soak for a half hour. I threw out the stems but kept the water after they finished soaking. I also put the caps in a bowl of hot water as well. In a pan, I melted the butter and fried the garlic in it. Then I added in the rice and stirred it around to coat the rice, adding in the salt, black pepper, and oregano (because my thyme went bad). After this, I took the liquid I reserved from soaking the mushrooms and poured it on top of the rice mixture along with the mushroom caps (I chopped them up a bit). It roughly took about 15-16 minutes for the rice to cook and completely soak up the liquid. My daughter absolutely loved this. I had to stop her from eating it all up and save some for my husband. I liked it too, but I think the next time I make this, I want to make it with oyster mushrooms. I think that would be totally awesome. 

This was a very good meal. Haiti, you surprised me. I loved it all. 
There were so many other recipes from Haiti that I came across that sounded amazing, and I wanted to try them all, but I just didn’t have time. I suppose if I stopped binge watching Dr. Who, or reading three books at the same time, I might’ve been able to make some of these other things. I copied down a recipe for Haitian Cake that the kids requested. That might get done later. (Along with that other cake from Guinea-Bissau that failed.) A friend of mine told me about a dish called pikliz, which is generally used as a garnish or side dish. It’s shredded cabbage, carrots, red bell peppers, peppers, and other things stored in vinegar for five days. I looked up the recipe a little too late to make it for this blog. Judging from the photos, it looks almost like a Haitian version of Korean kimchi.

My friend has been living in Haiti for nearly a year now and is a part of an organization called myLIFEspeaks. They are a non-profit organization and do a variety of projects in Haiti including education and special education as well as providing medical resources and food for many families. If you’d like to donate to their cause to help these Haitian kids and their families, their website has a page listing items they need and a page where you can donate money so they can purchase these items themselves. As you get your tax refund check back, you might want to think about giving some to a good cause. Every little bit counts. 

Up next: Honduras  


Haiti’s music is as diverse as its culture.  It draws inspiration and utilizes traditions from Taíno, African, French, and Caribbean musical styles.

Méringue is related to the merengue styles that originated in the Dominican Republic; however, méringue doesn’t use the accordion, but rather sticks with just the guitar.  Its popularity has waned over the years, giving way to kompa (or compas). Musician Nemours Jean-Baptiste brought kompa to the forefront of popular music during the 1950s.

Rara is a type of religious-based music traditionally performed during Lent (from Ash Wednesday until Easter). It ties Christian themes with Vodou themes. Often, these rara bands perform during Rara processionals, seemingly many times at night.

During the 1960s and 1970s, another variation of méringue formed called mini-jazz.  Many of these bands were usually made of two guitars, a bass, a brass section, a saxophone, drum, conga, cowbell, and sometimes a keyboard or accordion.  Another style that developed out of méringue is zouk and zouk-love, and it’s related to another style called cadence. These styles spread out and created variations throughout the Caribbean.

Rock bands emerged during the 1960s, but it was very much mixed with kompa music. Haitian rock music did incorporate a lot of Caribbean sounds (like reggae and others) during the 1990s. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, a youth movement developed out of frustration with the Duvalier dictatorship. Much of this movement involved a move back to rural life and shunning corporate capitalistic life; people donned the Bob Marley-esque hippie look with peasant clothes and dreadlocks. And out of this environment came a style of music that fused rock, reggae, and funk called mizik rasin, or roots music.

Dance is very much an integral part of Haitian life and Haitian music. Kompa dancing obviously accompanies kompa music. Fast movements accent the upbeat tempos. Méringue dancing is slightly slower but still uses the whole body in its movements.  Dancing is often performed during various religious ceremonies and celebrations. These religious dances also are heavily based on Vodou themes and symbolism, which are often based on dance traditions brought over from West Africa. Dance is an important part of Haitian culture, and they are very proud of it.

Haitian hip-hop is also a pretty popular genre starting in the 1990s.  A lot of Haitian hip-hop incorporates kompa rhythms and melodies as the basis of the music, and much of the lyrics reflect the socio-political struggles that are often reflected in hip-hop music around the world.  It also can pull from other genres such as jazz, blues, reggae, or dancehall. 

One of the most famous musicians from Haiti is rapper Wyclef Jean. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. He first gained fame from his work with the group The Fugees along with Lauryn Hill and Pras. I have the album The Score, which was released in 1996. I’d say the best songs on the album are “Ready or Not,” “Killing me Softly,” “No Woman, No Cry,” and “Fu-Gee-La.” I also listened to the album Playlist: The Very Best of Wyclef Jean. There were a lot of songs on here that I like. I like his style; it often incorporates funk and reggae and other US-Caribbean-Latin styles with hip-hop. Many songs often utilize skits and sentiments on the struggles of urban life with a socio-political commentary. 

Another hip-hop artist I found is Fam-Squad, who has very much of a typical US sound. Several songs almost have a jazz or R&B sound underneath it, but other songs almost have a dance or electronica sound to it. I also ran across an artist named Muzion who tends to use a lot of sampling from classical music styles to jazz and funk. I liked the two songs found. Barikad Crew has a pretty good album called R.E.D. Many of the songs sound like reggaeton, but without the characteristic reggaeton rhythms. Most songs are accompanied by accented strings motifs with lyrics sung in Kreyòl.

Another musician I came across is Boukman Eksperyans.  This music falls in the category of mizik rasin. I listened to the album La Révolte Des Zombies. It seems like the music was influenced by hip-hop, a style called twoubadou, reggae, and other styles. Eddy François is another musician in this style, but his music reminds me of a little more smooth jazz.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, February 4, 2015


Much of Haitian art is deeply integrated with African and Taíno art traditions as well as European traditions from France and Spain. Haitian artists tend to portray their history, their struggles, their families, their religion, and their culture in their paintings and sculptures. 

example of Jacmel School art
In Haiti, artists tend to group themselves based on which school of art they prefer.  Each “school” has its own qualities or set of styles they tend to utilize, based on its location. For example, artists at the Jacmel school (on the southern coast) tend to use the majestic mountains and coastal regions in their paintings, while artists at the Cap-Haïtien School (on the northern coast) depict city life. The Saint-Soleil School embraced abstract art, especially of humans, and much of their art is intermixed with many Vodou themes and symbolism.

example of Cap-Haïtien School art
There are several painters from the Artibonite region who have developed their own styles that seem to be what many people identify as Haitian art.  These styles often use earth tones or subdued tones, and figures are often outlined in black along with the use of geometric shapes.

by Levoy Exil
Some of the more well-known artists in Haiti include Levoy Exil (abstract and primitive style painter, founding member of Saint-Soleil Art movement), Prosper Pierre-Louis (another founding member of Saint-Soleil Art movement, painter of mystical and vodou themes), Louisiane Saint Fleurant (known as a vibrant folk painter, she was also active in the Saint-Soleil Art movement), Laurent Casimir (famous as a market painter), and Jean-Michel Basquiat (American graffiti/street artist, his father was Haitian).

Literature in Haiti is written in French and in Creole.  There’s actually a kind of debate over which language to write in.  French is normally the language of anything official and of education in Haiti; however, Creole has kind of became a national language, a language of the people. Linguistically speaking, Haitian Creole, or Kreyòl, is based on French, but it also has elements of Taíno and of African languages (namely Fon, which is part of the Niger-Congo language family spoken in Benin. And this makes sense considering many slaves were taken from West Africa.). While many writers choose to write in French, viewing Creole as more of spoken language, other writers use Creole as the language in which they want to communicate through their writing, telling their stories from the inner part of their souls. And it also depends on what kind of writing it is and who the audience is. Oftentimes, poetry, drama, and dialogue will be written in Creole. 

A lot of Haitian literature falls under political writings and encompasses social and political themes. Early literature here (most likely written by the French colonists) was still centered around Paris and France. Very little of what actual Haitian life was like was recorded. There were, of course, historical accounts and journals published, but it was no doubt from the colonist’s perspective. Poetry was still a popular form of literature, and newspapers were beginning to be established, publishing many poems written during the early 1800s.

As the 20th century rolled around, magazines started to be published, and much of the literature during this time was starting to reflect the people’s sentiments toward national identity and political stability (or rather instability), and social realism in literature was a key characteristic of this time period. Many Haitians left the country during the middle part of the 20th century in search for a more stable life elsewhere. 

Some of the notable literary figures from Haiti include Frankétienne (poet, playwright, considered one of Haiti’s most prominent writers who writes in both French and Creole), Lyonel Trouillot (poet, novelist, journalist, professor), and Edwidge Danticat (Haitian-American, she’s the author of Krik? Krak!).

Up next: Haitian music and dance

Sunday, February 1, 2015


Four years ago almost to the day, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rattled the area around the city of Léogâne, about 18 miles west of the capital city of Port-au-Prince. This city of around 90,000 people had about 80-90% of its buildings damaged during the earthquake. Damage and destruction spread all over Haiti and was also felt in neighboring Dominican Republic (on the other side of the island). An estimated 100,000–160,000 people lost their lives (although government estimates were practically doubled). Because there are practically no building codes in Haiti, many homes collapsed under the shifting of the earthquake or its 52 aftershocks. People lived in shanty towns or refugee camps for weeks and months even, or they tried to cross the border into the Dominican Republic. The oppressive heat was a fiend to those who tried to bury the massive number of deceased. On top of it all, a cholera outbreak ran rampant from lack of clean drinking water and poor sanitation. It was a horrible time for Haitians and the rest of the world as we numbingly watched on.

The name Haiti is the French form of the Taíno word Ayiti, meaning “land of high mountains.” In French, it’s spelled Haïti, indicating that the first i is pronounced: ah-EE-tee. In English, we drop the umlaut and pronounce it as a two-syllable word: HAY-tee.

Haiti is located on the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean. It shares the island with the Dominican Republic. The Turks and Caicos Islands and The Bahamas lie directly north, Cuba lies to the northwest, Jamaica to the west, and Puerto Rico to the east.  If you travel directly south for quite a distance, you will most likely hit the Colombian shores. Haiti has a tropical climate and is subject to hurricanes as well as earthquakes. Deforestation and desertification is also a problem in Haiti.

The Taíno Indians were the original inhabitants on the island and other nearby islands. Christopher Columbus and his crew landed here in December 1492 and subsequently brought with them European diseases that the Taíno had no natural immunity against, such as smallpox, and killed off most of them. However, later on the French laid claim to the island as well and they fought over it; the French received the western third of the island in the treaty. African slaves were brought to Haiti to work in the sugar cane fields, and the brutality they received was no secret. They were given some rights later on, and many were freed, but many of these slaves and freed blacks who still had very little fought back not only against the Spanish and the British who were there, but also the French government and the colonists. In the end, the slaves persevered in this revolution and gained their own independence in 1804. This kind of revolt made the US very nervous, wondering if its own slaves would attempt the same thing. In fact, the US along with many other nations didn’t even recognize Haiti’s independence until after the US Civil War several decades later. I found it interesting that in 1824, over 6000 slaves from the US were given the opportunity to go to Haiti, but they found “the conditions too harsh,” so they came back. Wow, really? Makes you wonder how harsh it had to be in Haiti that coming back to US during the slavery years was preferable. Haiti had some periods of civil unrest and also felt the impact of having a lot of debt during the first part of the 20th century. In fact there were over 70 dictators in Haiti’s first 109 years of existence. However, it later became a tourist destination starting in the 1950s, and many famous writers, musicians, actors, and dignitaries vacationed in Haiti. By the end of the 1980s into early 1990s, Haiti underwent a couple of coups with another coup in 2004. 

Reminds me of photos of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The capital of Haiti is Port-au-Prince, a city of about 2.4 million people in the metro area.  Situated on the Gulf of Gonâve, this city is the center of government, although many of the governmental buildings were destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. The city houses several universities, hospitals, and is an important port city.

Sugar cane field
Haiti relies on its agricultural exports such as mangos, papayas, cacao, coffee, spinach, watercress, corn, bananas, and sugar cane. They also rely on its tourism industry, albeit it comes with travel advisories depending on where travelers go. Because Haiti still has a shortage of skilled labor and high numbers of unemployed and underemployed, the country depends on foreign aid; it’s still the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  Haiti’s infrastructure is moderate at best, even in the cities. The 2010 earthquake took out a lot of their roads, electrical grid, communications, etc. Much of it has been restored since then, but there are still many areas that have intermittent access to electricity and Internet access.

Haiti has two official languages: French and Haitian Creole. French is used for official government business as well as the medium for education. Haiti is also one of two countries in the Americas where French is an official language (Canada being the other).  Haitian Creole, a French-based Creole, is actually related to Louisiana Creole in the US; not only is Haitian Creole (or Kreyòl) based on French, but it also utilizes a lot of words and grammar from Spanish, Portuguese, Taíno, and West African languages.

Most Haitians lay claim to either Catholicism or Protestantism. However, native vodou (voodoo) is also intertwined with Christian religions as well. You’ll find this practice of mixing indigenous belief systems with Christianity or Islam in many West African countries as well. Ex-priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide established Voodoo as a state religion along with Catholicism. There are also a number of other religions brought into Haiti, such as Islam, Bahá’í, Judaism, and Buddhism.

Looking past its poorness, it’s rich in culture and things I find interesting. Gourds are so important to Haitians that their currency is named after them: currently, $1USD = 46 Haitian gourdes. Carnival and New Year’s Day are two of the largest celebrations of the year for most Haitians and incorporates a lot of music and dance and voodoo traditions. The Citadel (Citadelle Laferrière) in the northern end of Haiti is the largest fortress in the Western Hemisphere and considered one of the Eighth Wonders of the World. A lot of work needs to be done in Haiti: rivers are polluted leaving many people without clean water, causing a myriad of health problems and diseases; only a little more than half the people are literate, even less so for girls; girls only attend an average of two years of school; sanitation conditions are barely adequate in places; there are only about 8 doctors per 100,000 people; violence toward women is often not dealt with as a problem; child labor is also not necessarily dealt with as a problem. There are many people and organizations doing their part, but there is still much work to be done. But despite these conditions, the people still are able to have some fun at times, make music, dance, paint, play soccer, enjoy what they do have, and share a good meal with friends and family as well.

Up next: art and literature