Morning, noon, and night brings the misty fogs of various essences and textures wafting gently up and over the wall or cascading down upon us as wildly as a cavalry charge. Sometimes it originates in our own area as we burn our “fatra” or yard debris. It’s an integral part of Haiti - smoke in the air around us, and it can be very pleasant. Inhaling may bring a hint of sandalwood, mesquite, or other various woody odors. Or, it may literally “choke you up” as a neighbor tries to eliminate part of the ever present plastic of western packaging by burning it on his fire. I recall an incident about three years ago in which a German lady was traveling with us lamented that “Haiti was so clean and beautiful when we first arrived years ago”. With so few landfills, much of it get burned especially in the countryside. That’s not so pleasant.
But, smoke in the air tells me that life is happening, and here in Haiti it usually means that someone is, or is about to start, cooking. Often, as a precursor to the rising smoke, you will hear the “thwack”, “crack”, and “hack” of a machete biting into a dry log in order to make smaller pieces (moso yo) of wood for the cooking fire. It never ceases to amaze me as to the variety of food dishes the ladies can produce over an open wood fire. It’s truly amazing! “Gato” (or cake), “diri ak pwa” (rice and beans), as well as any number of meat dishes such as “kabrit” (goat), “poul” (chicken), “bef” (beef), and, if you are near the water, “pwason” (fish). “Soup Joumou” (pronounced joomoo) is a personal favorite of mine, and is a stew that is made from local pumpkins or winter squash along with chunks of beef, potatoes, and/or plantains. It is seasoned with parsley, carrots, and onions, and often has some type of pasta added in and spiced up to suit the individual cook. Of course, there is always some great homemade bread to eat with or dip in the soup. Soup Joumou is always served on January First here in Haiti, because the Haitians under the French were not allowed to eat soup joumou! After winning their independence, they now enjoy this tasty dish all year long, but especially the first day of the new year.
Smoke - it is in the air here in Haiti, and we bathe in it daily. It is also an indicator of God’s provision for the people of Haiti. Using what God has given them, they work, live, and eat well for the most part. More often than not, they do all this with a smile on their face and singing joyfully for all to hear while in the midst of the all encompassing smoke. I recall from my youth my Grandfather “smoking” meat as a means of preserving it. In the same way the smoke here in Haiti helps to preserve the culture that developed over the years. In Matthew 6:26, Jesus says, “look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you (any of us, emphasis mine) more valuable than they?” Lord God, as we continue to live in Haiti and soak up (understand) its culture more and more, give us sensitive hearts to relate well to our neighbors, and preserve us all by your grace and the smoke from a thousand fires.