Day 2: Coconut Chicken Curry in Saut d’Eau

Written by Gabe Kennedy

Over one billion people across the world struggle to live on less than $1 a day. In an effort to reduce that statistic, Concern Worldwide is partnering with the Live Below the Line project to challenge everyone to live on $1.50 a day from April 27 to May 1. Find out more here.

To promote this endeavor, we have teamed up with season three’s winner of “The Taste” and executive chef at Bon Appétit Gabe Kennedy. He traveled with Concern to Haiti to connect with people who live below the poverty line — here is his story!

This is the third in a series of three diary entries. View Day 1 and Day 3 of his journey.

Today we venture a few hours north of Port-au-Prince, to the village of Saut d’Eau. We weave our way through the cityscape of mainly shacks and through the other slums that were set up post-earthquake. Eventually we make it onto a road that runs parallel with the beautiful coastline.

We veer off the side of the main road and begin climbing one that Concern built. This dusty road winds up and through the mountains. We pass people on motorbikes and on foot, and I feel bad every time we leave them in a cloud of dust. It is rare to see a car, although the bikes tend to carry five people on the back.

Stopping at the top I can feel the gravity of this road, the journey to Saut d’Eau used to take two days by foot, but now with the road it is only a few hours. The mountains are barren from deforestation and eventual erosion and the top-soil is only inches thick. The resources are slim. We continue down the road, passing women on donkeys with buckets of water, and small boys on horses asking for a dollar in exchange for a picture.

It becomes clear they live a truly subsistence existence.

As we arrive in the village of Saut d’Eau, a small oasis in a desolate environment. The roads are paved and people seem to be better off than the rest of what I have seen. The Concern office used to be the weekend retreat of the Duvaliers many years ago, where they used to throw lavish parties. It is now the center of change and positivity.

We venture to a family’s house on the outskirts of town. They live on a small patch of land that is mostly dirt. A mango tree grows out back, but the fruit is not yet ripe. The naked baby has sores all over his body. He grabs my sunglasses and inspects them. The grandmother rocks on a chair and does not look up. We ask her age and nobody knows. We speak about life, food, family, and their dreams. It becomes clear they live a truly subsistence existence.

Gabe chats with a local family

Gabe chats with a local family; Photo by Crystal Wells

Concern provides them with a weekly stipend for projects that will better their life as well as materials for a garden and to build a more sturdy home. I am unsure if it is our presence, but there is a sense of apathy that is hard to describe. The family lives in a two-room house. The floor is moist dirt. There is one bed. The kids sleep on the floor. As we pack up, my heart hurts, shocked, but inspired by the level of resilience this family embodies.

We roll off to the market in the east. The town is lively. As we walk into the market, my senses are overwhelmed. Narrow streets, lots of people, and even more products for sale. Suzemanie, who works with Concern in Saut d’Eau and owns a small catering company, and I start to shop. I am in awe, loving every moment of this market. People yell blanc, the Creole word for “white person,” as we are the only three white people in the market. We settle on some sweet potato, spinach and watercress. A few limes, sour oranges, and bell peppers round out our bag. We have food. A lot of food. It cost me less than $9.

Suzemanie and Gabe purchase food at the local market in Haiti

Suzemanie and Gabe purchase food at the local market; Photo by Crystal Wells

I am shocked as I recall the shopping experience at a supermarket in Port–au-Prince. All the produce needed to feed 20 people was less then the jar of curry paste I bought yesterday at the luxury market.

Gabe demonstrates how to cook traditional Haitian curry

Gabe demonstrates how to cook traditional Haitian curry; Photo by Crystal Wells

We arrive back at the compound and I begin to cook, preparing all of the ingredients for the 15 guests who will be arriving shortly. Some of the people attending the cooking demonstration are part of Concern’s program to build a nascent tourism industry in Saut d’Eau. Two own B&Bs thanks to start-up capital and support from Concern, while four took part in tourism and hospitality trainings. Trying my best to cut the vegetables with a dull knife, I manage to get along and the aromas overtake me.

I want to teach these students a traditional curry, but this time it is a Haitian curry. I guide them through how to sear the chicken and build depth of flavor, layering ingredients and technique. These kids are smart and hopeful. Over beers we discuss their dreams about Saut d’Eau. They want to open a five-star hotel with 150 rooms — a lofty goal, but inspiring.

Saut d’Eau has potential for tourism, especially in July when tens of thousands of people come to the area as part of a religious pilgrimage to a nearby waterfall, but they must think through how that will work. I prompt them to discover what will draw people to the area, and how can they make their property and experience for visitors more appealing. They are engaged. I offer my help, something I hope they follow up on. We smile and laugh while the curry simmers.

As we pack up, my heart hurts, shocked, but inspired by the level of resilience this family embodies.

We revisit the curry and put the finishing touches on it, some sour orange, lime, and fish sauce. As they taste it, their faces light up. The curry and rice accompanied with some fried breadfruit and pikliz, a spicy cabbage slaw.

I am blown away by how the flavors meld together. This is truly something special. The curry did not taste as I expected it. It was a beautiful melding of culture and flavor, a true melting pot. The meal finishes and we say our good-byes. I hope to see them in the future and return to one of their bed and breakfasts.

Crystal, Kieran, and I hop in the car, and head to a Vodou ceremony. We arrive too late and find a few stragglers sleeping on the ground. The area is littered with alcohol bottles and a whip. It must have been a crazy night.

Gabe, Suzemanie, and the tourism program trainees with their feast

Gabe Kennedy, Concern Worldwide Gabe, Suzemanie, and the tourism program trainees with their feast; Photo by Crystal Wells

Gabe Kennedy in Haiti - Day 2