Posted by: universallearningcentreblog | August 11, 2011

Market Day, Pilate, Haiti

On any given Saturday morning in Pilate, you will find the main market of town buzzing with townspeople buying and selling necessities.  Saturday is the main day for shopping in Pilate, as it is in many places, because it’s a day of rest for most people and a day when they can “catch up” from a busy week of working all day and a chance to restock their pantries.

The main market in Pilate isn’t big enough to hold all the vendors on a Saturday, so the streets that run parallel on either side of the market are blockaded for vendors to set up.  People throughout the community come here to sell things they have grown in their own gardens and products they have made by hand to sell. The main market is open throughout the week, but its busiest day is Saturday.

Of course produce is seasonal so whether people buy inside the market or out, it changes from week to week, season to season. Inside the market, one of the few things that remains the same every week is the butcher stands. If you notice, it’s mainly women in this picture. Not surprisingly, it’s usually the matriarch of the household who does the shopping as she’s the one who knows what will be needed that week. Like many farmers’ markets, these street venders will close up in the early afternoon to get home and out of the sun.

If you look closely, you will notice the cobblestone street.  In Pilate, the main street in town is done in cobblestone. The rest of the streets are dirt, which is more common than cobblestone.  Most towns are not as fortunate to have their main street done in cobblestone.  Another characteristic that is different about Pilate is that it is lush and green, preventing dust from blowing around as it does in many Haitian towns.  Pilate looks much cleaner than many other areas for this reason.

As I was typing this, I wondered why Pilate seems untouched by deforestation.  Even after asking and doing a little informal research, the answer isn’t 100% clear to me, but it’s speculated that it has to do with the number of water sources (a large river and many tributaries) and the fact that new trees sprout up and grow quickly.  Looking closely at the surrounding forest, you will notice that many of the trees are very young.  The older trees are cut to make charcoal for cooking and to use for building supplies, as is the case in the rest of the country.  I still ask myself why Pilate is special, why the trees replenish themselves so nicely in Pilate where they don’t replenish themselves.  If you look on Google Earth, you will see that the entire region where Pilate is located is, in general, greener than much of the country.  I’m no agronomist but I suspect there’s something to do with the quality of the soil combined with the number of water sources that makes the region more fertile.  Either way, the town is less dusty than many because of the trees and greenery.

But back to market day…  On a typical market day, you would find everything from produce to clothing and furniture.  Pantries can be stocked with dried goods like rice, cashews, pasta and beans;  root vegetables like yams, yucca, taro, beets, carrots, jicama and sweet potatoes (yes, they are different than yams); fruit such as avocado, bananas, plantains, tomatoes, guava, coconut, citrus fruits of all types, (but no apples!) berries, mango, pineapple, and papaya; vegetables such as onion, celery, lettuce, spinach, sweet peas, green beans, herbs, and corn.  But more important than the fresh foods sold are coffee and peanuts, which are the primary product sold from Pilate.  People from Pilate are very proud of their coffee, and peanut butter is a very important staple in their diets!

There are also vendors at the market who sell clothing, some new and some used.  The clothing is mainly imported from the U.S., although some of the items are handmade.  Tailors are available to hem and custom-fit clothing on the spot.  And while I’m at it, let me just mention quickly how careful Haitians are about the fit and care of their clothes!  Despite being the poorest country in the western hemisphere, Haitians absolutely do not leave the house without a crisply pressed shirt!  So, having tailors available when they purchase clothing is very important.  Also interesting to me, who can’t sew a button on and would rather clean a toilet than iron a shirt (to the chagrin of my mother and my husband), is the fact that boys as well as girls are taught to sew and iron.  No child leaves home without having these two skills!

It’s sort of amusing that farmer’s markets are very trendy now in the U.S.  I myself am guilty of making a big deal out of the fact that I am becoming more and more conscious and making more and more of an effort to buy locally grown/produced goods.  But in all honesty, farmers’ markets are old news.  Traditionally, that’s how we all shopped.  It’s only the last generation or two who have become dependent on giant chains to sell us the goods we need to live.  Maybe what attracts people like me to a farmers’ market is that it makes us long for simpler days where only about 2 or 3 people touched the food before it made its way onto my dinner table and food that didn’t have a nutritional value label.  Perhaps that’s why I love the open air markets in towns like Pilate, or another favorite of mine, the Mercado San Juan de Dios in Guadalajara, which was much larger, but the same idea as the market in Pilate.  Forget the mall (or Walmart!)!  Go find yourself an open air market, or at least a farmers’ market, and get lost in the heady aromas of fresh produce and the colorful details on hand-stitched tote bags.


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