Thanksgivng Haitian style: a shopping list

Yesterday, promising a series of posts this week about the difficulties Sara and I face trying to celebrate Thanksgiving from Port-au-Prince, I outlined what I called the “oven-related challenges” that could jeopardize our thankful feasting this Thursday.

Today, however, shopping-related issues take center stage—the consumer-driven hazards that could take down even the most well-intended and tradition-centered of holiday celebrations.  In fact, it may be that the more one tries to model any Thanksgiving feast in Haiti on the one Grandma would have catered, the larger the obstacles threatening it loom.

So, buyer beware.

Wisely, Sara and I anticipated some of these issues and brought back from the US several Thanksgiving menu items we thought might be needed—imagined we wouldn’t find here, even in the expat-oriented grocery stores in Petion-ville. 

But as you might expect (those of you who know my pathetic track record when it comes to poor packing), I anticipated incorrectly—finding here in Haiti what I did bring back but not bringing what I didn’t find.  Just my bad Thanksgiving luck!

Except for canned pumpkin—that is. 

Here I hit the pie-filling nail on its not-so-proverbial-pie-filling head.  I swear there’s not an ounce of Libby’s to be had on the whole of this damn island—cherry pie filling, yes—canned yams, yes—canned pumpkin in time for Thanksgiving pie-baking—no sir—none of it—anywhere.  And believe me, I have looked. 

But we need not worry.   I may not have a thermostatically controllable oven to bake the pie in, but I have a full 29 ounce can of “America’s Favorite Pumpkin” to put in it.

Now about the celery—

Here I should mention having a bit of scare yesterday morning trying to find this vegetable, almost as essential to stuffing as sage itself.  Standing in Giant Market (right here in Petion-ville), I came so close to a celery-induced heart attack, I was imagining, “What would Jesus do?”  What would the son of God himself (assuming he were a turkey-stuffing kind of carpenter) use in his stuffing were the stalks of stringy stuff not available?  If he turned water into wine, could he turn carrots into celery?

But, again, you need not fear, as Saint Sara herself performed the miracle, finally finding what she called a “not very robust” celery (but a celery-looking substance nonetheless) in the grocery store near her office. 

Catastrophe averted.  We are that much closer to a celery-ed stuffing inside our bird that’s to be roasted at a temperature the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will themselves determine.

Then there’s the chicken broth—

Yesterday Sara sent me to the super market for some cans of it, among other things.   Actually, Giant carried the item in both the Swanson and Campbell’s variety—the Swanson, carton-ed with no added MSG and the Campbell’s, canned with all the blood-pressure-raising MSG one would ever want.  And being a health-conscious, not-wanting-to-consume-excessive-amounts-of-salt American, I selected the broth without MSG.  In fact, I tried to check out with three cartons of the stuff, since Thanksgiving dinner calls for broth in both the gravy and as a moistening agent in any well-celery-ed stuffing.

Here’s the hitch.  Though the store stocked the Swanson’s (over-stocked it, in fact)—they wouldn’t sell it to me.  And, if sheer quantity were any indication, wouldn’t sell to anybody, for that matter.  They couldn’ t figure out the price.  So, when, after thirty minutes of trying to determine one, no member of the sales or management staff could still settle on the number of Gourde to make me pay, I suggested they charge me anything. 

“Over-charge me,” I even offered—a concept they seemed not to grasp—though they seem to get it well enough when selling products on the street and doubling the price when any non-Haitian tries to buy.

But undeterred and unwilling to waste any more of my time-is-money American minutes, I gave up, bought the cans of Campbell’s, and headed home, risking ill-health all the way.

So the bottom line is this— the shopping obstacles, though they were multiple and at times bizarre, did not obstruct in any hugely significant way.  These were more imagined obstacles than obstacles of real substance—

So Saint Sara, the wise and proper packer, was (as she is in all things) probably right about this, as well–

—Since the anticipated shopping obstacle was, like the celery itself . . .

. . . “not a very robust” obstacle after all.

17 thoughts on “Thanksgivng Haitian style: a shopping list

    • Good questions–

      About the shop-keeper–this store is more like a large super market you would find in the US–except that it’s newly arrived in Petion-ville, all items have to be priced by scanning, and these folks haven’t quite figured out the system yet. If it can’t be scanned, then the store employees don’t know what to do. There seems to be a bit of an issue with systems here and folks not quite getting them–not just in the grocery store.

      But then again I’m thinking systems in the US sense of systems. I’m sure they have their own very logical systems here, that I don’t understand, not having lived long enough in a developing country. Actually this would make a great topic to write about!

      About the pumpkin–I only know how to make a pumpkin pie using the canned pumpkin–probably the most common approach to pumpkin pie making in the US. I just don’t know how to bake a pie with real stuff–bottom line–the problem is my lack of skill.


  1. I bought canned pumpkin today. Thought I’d try making soup. We had our Thanksgiving in October (in Canada). But, I’m developing a habit of making everyday Thanksgiving. I think it’s working too. Happy Thanksgiving!


  2. I was thinking of your dinner tonight, Kathy and hoping it turned out well. You should get a Nesco! You can bake in it and roast meat (not at the same time). We cooked our turkey in the one I inherited from my mom–it’s a marvel, really.
    Can’t wait to read the next installment…


  3. I can’t believe that I just drove to Kroger (no guard required), and purchased Swanson Chicken Broth (no MSG) and took it all for granted! I think I may have even complained about the length of the check-out line! Shame on me!
    Love you and miss you!


  4. I don’t know why, but I found your Thanksgiving posts exhilarating! Something about making do with what one can get…turns me on I think 🙂
    Especially in a seemingly godforsaken place. Maybe that’s why I can continue living where I do…


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