This brave woman carrying her fresh harvest downhill is not an unusual sighting in the mountains of Haiti. Women like her belong to the community that plants and harvests our steepest mountaintops that I spoke of before.
Having lived all my life in the Fort-Jacques/Kenscoff area, I can tell you all about the bright and colorful tableau they create when they all head to the nearby town on specific weekdays to sell the fruits (and vegetables) of their hard labor.
Throughout my childhood, Tuesdays and Fridays – today this seems to have changed and I am losing track of what the real fresh market days are – were the days these men and women headed to one of the nearby open fresh markets, which I love to refer to as Haiti’s farmers’ market, forcing the area’s residents to attend whether they intended to purchase or not. Those were the days those proud abitan gathered around, or should I say invaded a strip of a road, with their vegetable and fruit offerings that they sold to the highest bidders.
They were impossible to miss for whether on foot or by car, everyone had no other choice but to circulate among this crowd that was fascinating to watch, listen to and even inhale.
Carrots, cabbage, tomatoes, lettuce, beets, turnips, onions, potatoes adorned each of their overloaded baskets that they carried on their heads like the brave woman pictured above or that donkeys brought on their backs not without receiving a good beating of a stem that was meant to speed them up. These sellers also made cars the anomaly of the day for they barely left any room for easy maneuver creating quite the challenge even for the most experienced drivers who had to watch out for toes, butts and produce baskets.
Needless to say that their presence often led to loud discussions between car passengers and street merchants who would not easily agree to move aside or even pull their merchandise off the road. These often heated exchanges mixed with loud chatter resulting from animated bargaining or casual conversations could be heard from a distance luring one in in the same fashion that a breath of fresh air let the entire neighborhood know which day of the week it was. They told us it was “jou mache” (fresh market day).
Indeed, on those days, the air was filled with potent smells of fresh fruits and vegetables and of course the busy crowd, a smell I both loved and hated for sometimes it was suffocating to be caught driving through that horde that was reluctant to move. Plus cabbage was almost always one of the fresh produce offered. That alone should tell you how it could get difficult to respire especially in a packed crowd. If that last statement doesn’t make sense to you, head to my article about life next to a cabbage plantation. It will all come to light.
Today, though still in our vicinity, the fresh market has moved and the seller profile has changed. We are no longer greeted by the smell of fresh produce when driving off our street onto the main road or by the seemingly casual but loud chatter.
I however take comfort in knowing that further up the mountains these brave men and women still bring their loads of fresh produce somewhere nearby.