Destinations The Caribbean

Haiti Travel Diary Part 2: Cultural Differences in Haiti vs. The US

I’ll start off with the differences I’ve experienced so far with food. My first breakfast consisted of bread and peanut butter. The peanut butter had a kick and I was told spices were added and that it was traditional Haitian peanut butter.

The largest meal of the day was served around noon. This is different from the U.S. where our largest meal is served in the evening. It usually consisted of a meat (goat, chicken, fish, pork), and a starch (rice, barley, pasta). Sides included plantain, and other fruits and and vegetables. Each person has multiple plates. Foods are not put on a single plate the way it’s done in the States. I was told that that is the French way. I was privileged to bananas and avocados straight from the garden. Mangoes were also plentiful. Avocados are not spooned out, but peeled and eaten like a banana. And they were the size of my hand. Supper consisted of anything not eaten for lunch. I love how everything was so fresh.

Live chickens were carried in shopping bags the same way we carry dead poultry in our shopping bags in the U.S. The two roosters below spent one night keeping me up all night with their crowing before becoming food the next morning. Chickens were transported on the back of motorcycles. The same thing went for goats and other livestock. This brings me to another cultural difference.

Motorcycles are used as taxis. This is in addition to the Tap-taps in my first post about Haiti. These motorcycles may go up and down a single path, picking up and letting off paying customers. Helmets were rarely worn, despite the often rocky terrain. The riders also transported items such as cement and food.

Food is also transported by walking individuals as they sell it. They use fabric to form a round headpiece, allowing them to carry heavy loads on their heads. Many sell bread, while others carry large sacks of bagged water. Bagged and bottled water is a top seller as many do not drink the tap water.

Water is also sold in those large water coolers you’re used to seeing on an office break room back in the States. Culligan seems to be the largest distributor.  The refrigerator will keep your food and water cold as long as you have electricity.

The electricity is inconsistent and often turned off during the day. Many homes have an inverter, which stocks the electricity. This way you can have lights available 24/7. Things like refrigerators and other large appliances will not work during power outages though. Having constant electrical power is something I’d always taken for granted in the States. Something as simple as ironing clothes is a big ordeal without it.

Washing clothes is also done differently. Clothes are hand washed and hung to dry. I was told that you’re able to get your clothes a lot cleaner since you’re paying attention to each individual item. When it was time to do my laundry water was brought up from a well attached to the side of the house. This water was put in a bucket. I poured water from said bucket into a large plastic basin (seen below). I washed my clothes in that basin.

Doing normal business transactions was a lot harder in Haiti. I tagged along on a trip to pay an electric bill. The postal system is unreliable at best I’m told. Don’t think about paying bills online either. Bills are paid in person.

It always interests me to see how things are done in different places. We hear so many stories about areas different from our own. The best way to get the real answers is to actually visit for yourself.