Saint Sara’s Celery and a Broth Debacle Averted: Thanksgiving Grocery Shopping from Port-au-Prince


Promising posts this week about the difficulties Sara and I faced last year, trying to celebrate Thanksgiving from Haiti, I’ve already outlined what I called the “oven-related challenges.”

Today, however, shopping-related issues take center stage—the consumer-driven hazards that nearly brought down what we hoped would be a tradition-centered holiday celebration.  In fact, it seemed the more I tried to model our Thanksgiving feast in Haiti on the one Grandma would have catered, the larger the obstacles threatening it loomed.

So, buyer beware.

Wisely, Sara and I had 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 in Haiti, even in the expat-oriented grocery stores in Petion-ville.

Largest and newest, ex-pat grocery store in Petion-ville--built since the earthquake--

But as you might expect (those of you who know my pathetic track record when it comes to poor packing), I anticipated incorrectly—finding in Haiti what I had brought 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 was not an ounce of Libby’s to be had on the whole of that 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 looked.

But we needn’t have worried. I may not have had a thermostatically controlled oven to bake the pie in, but I did have a full 29 ounce can of “America’s Favorite Pumpkin” to put in it.  That I did bring back.

Now about the celery—

I had a bit of scare two days before Thanksgiving trying to find this vegetable, almost as essential to stuffing as sage itself.

Standing in Giant Market, I came so close to a celery-induced heart attack, I found myself 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 a miracle in the end, 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 were that much closer to a celery-ed stuffing inside our bird that was to be roasted at a temperature the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were themselves to determine.  (Remember, we had an oven without a thermostat.)

Then there was the chicken broth—

The day before Thanksgiving 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 was 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 seemed to get it well enough when selling products on the street and doubling the price when any non-Haitian tried to buy.

Street vendors in Port-au-Prince

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 along the way.

So the bottom line was 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, had been (as she is in all things) probably right about this, as well–

—Since the anticipated shopping obstacles were, like the celery itself . . .

. . . “not very robust” obstacles, after all.

(Continued here  with photos of how it all turned out)

What strange, even borderline bizarre, shopping experiences have you had?

26 thoughts on “Saint Sara’s Celery and a Broth Debacle Averted: Thanksgiving Grocery Shopping from Port-au-Prince

  1. A true testament to determination! And making the resultant holiday more meaningful. It is much easier to be thankful for what we take for granted when we are in a postion to struggle to get it. Another great post, as always!

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  2. Pingback: Occupy Thanks, and giving it too! | The odd ramblings of a mind that does not quite fit

  3. Pingback: Occupy Thanks, and giving too! | The odd ramblings of a mind that does not quite fit

  4. Hadn’t really thought about such obstacles before…last year I had Thanksgiving aboard a small ship on the Panama Canal…with all the trimmings…the crew must have performed magic.

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  5. Eagle Market down on Delmas is an American grocery store and I also think there is another one in Petion-Ville. But i always found them over-crowded. Every time i’ve been to Giant, it was always empty.

    Have an excellent and blessed thanksgiving holiday, Kathy 🙂

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  6. Love Sara. Love the “not very robust” obstacles. But I also love the thought of even attempting to make Thanksgiving dinner heart healthy. 😉 Of course, the idea that celery might induce an actual heart attack is pretty awesome to And WWJD with the whole concept of our Thanksgiving overindulgence anyway? Great, fun post Kathy.

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    • I know, Lisa. Can’t you just hear Sara say that? She is such a total hoot–as you know. Actually, we didn’t try for heart healthy food. I just figured no MSG was better than MSG–beyond that, the meal was totally unhealthy. Happy Thanksgiving, my friend!

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  7. What a great and fun post. I can just imagine the trials and tribulations of getting through a grocery store this time of year. Since I don’t cook, I am not too affected. However, we usually start stocking up at the beginning of the month in hopes of not having to brave the crazed shoppers of MSG filled stock.

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  8. Oh Kathy, not being able to determine a price and therefore let you pay for the item just takes the cake. Or at least the pie. I once enjoyed an expat Christmas in Japan. I was riding to the store with the hostess who found herself yelling at traffic, “Don’t you people know it’s freaking Christmas?” The holiday spirit was everywhere that night.

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  9. Here in the U.S., we’re so used to being able to obtain whatever we need, whenever we need it, in unlimited quantities. I get frustrated when I can’t find one item in the store (and it’s probably there. I just can’t find it.) I can’t imagine improvising the way you did, although I would be willing if the situation necessitated it.

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  10. Too funny, Kathy! I can sympathize with your shopping ordeals– I had a really difficult time finding most of the foods I like to eat when we went to the Czech Republic a few years ago. It was nothing but bread and cheese for me! 😦

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