Haiti – Strength in numbers
It has been said that Haiti’s problem is that it is too close to the United States for its own good, and this is true. It is easier for the average American to deal with a foreign country based on a nationalistic feeling or a journalistic impression than it is to develop a new and learned perspective. Of the four countries that are playing in the CONCACAF Gold Cup at Red Bull Arena, it is the only one that is not in a way, self contained. Rather its island is halved, divided by a line, one side for itself and one side that is the Dominican Republic. The nation occupies 10, 714 square miles, an area slightly smaller than Maryland, of the island known as Hispaniola, and is the most populous in the Caribbean, with 9.7 million inhabitants.
Haiti was settled by the French but, through the efforts of Toussant L’Overture, threw off their colonial rule and made their once slave state free in 1804. Its French heritage is reflected in its two official languages, French and Creole, and its origins as a slave state is seen in its population which is currently 95% black and 5% mulatto and white.
It is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, with 80% of its population living beneath the poverty line, and its susceptibility to natural disasters, earthquakes and hurricanes, makes it a hard place to live. But there is life there, and for all we don’t understand, there is beauty and joy. It is a nation of survivors, of strong men, women and children,
Haiti is a contradiction only if you look at it as parts and not a whole. It is, as I was once told, like the globe, the earth itself. There is light and darkness, good and bad, and while you want to stay on one side, you always have to remember that the other side is there, is an inseparable part of the whole. The woman I was talking to was describing religious practices, but it is a description of Haiti itself. We hear about Haiti when an earthquake happens or a hurricane. The rest of the time, it is not in the forefront of our minds, but there is something there that sits on the fringes, something we don’t understand and therefore ignore.
If there is a food that could describe Haiti, it would be pate, not the goose liver spread that conjures the image of outstretched pinkies and dainty napkins that sits in the mouth as idle chatter moves past, but lard, salt, water and flour and butter mixed for a savory dough that encloses beef, chicken, or as one recipe says, anything you want to put inside.
The Haitian national soccer team, like the nation itself, is a team that fights, and has widely been recognized historically as the third strongest team in the nations that comprise those in CONCACAF. In 2013 under current coach Israel Blake Cantero, who took the reins in 2012, the team lost 2-1 against Spain, and played Italy to a 2-2 draw. They will be a challenge for Honduras.
Honduras – Family ties
It is hard to write about Honduras because of the connections to the family, connections of blood to my son. He is ¼ Honduran, through his grandmother who moved to the United States, and moved to New York some 40 years ago. He may just be a ¼ Honduran, but he is the fourth step, the pause in the dance that makes things fall together, that keeps things from moving too fast for anyone to keep up.
Honduras is the Central American nation that borders El Salvador to the north-west. If El Salvador’s size can also, like Haiti, be compared with the state of Maryland, then Honduras is the larger state of Virginia. While the other nations are experienced through research, Honduras has been experienced through the generosity of my son’s grandmother. Through her I have heard the stories that sometimes begin in english and move into spanish, of her childhood, or the land where she lived, and where she and her husband built a home. They are stories of her brother the doctor and of teachers from Catholic school, of family and friends that are still as much a part of her life as the country where she has lived these past years.
Honduras is sided by both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean sea, and sandwiched between these two bodies of water, some 8,300,000 people live, a population that is 90% Mestizo. A part of the Mayan Empire, it too was taken by the Spanish who followed Columbus after he landed here in 1502 on his fourth voyage. It was Hernan Cortes, coming down from Mexico, that began the three centuries of Spanish rule. Independent in 1821, Honduras began a part of the Central American Federation, and upon its dissolution in 1839, spent the next twelve years trying to find a way to keep the nations together.
We look through a cookbook at recipes, and find pastelitos, beef, or bean, or cheese filled pastries that come to hand as a representational food as much as any other, as something typically Honduran, deep fried but soft on the inside and served with pickled cabbage. She knows of a place on Staten Island that has them, but we have no time to get there. It is like going to Honduras itself, it seems so close, but we just don’t get there. It exists as a place in the mind.
The Honduran national team, nicknamed Los Catrachos, which is another way of saying Honduran, is also known as the bicolors. The team made its first appearance, like El Salvador, in the Independence Centenary Games, and were defeated easily 10-1 by their hosts Guatemala. They would never be defeated like that again. Coached by Luis Fernando Suarez since 2011, the team comes in missing some players from their roster, but are looked at as the favorites in their division.