For the past three weeks, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, Belande has sold the most delicious natural juices—grenadia (passion fruit), citron (lime) and cerise (cherry)—to patrons at Joe’s Bar, the local hangout in Léogâne. Belande’s Juice developed out of two tragedies that Christa and I witnessed in September: (1) the collapse of our nascent organization and subsequent unemployment of all staff—including our former cook, Belande—and (2) the complete void of natural juice vendors on the streets of Léogâne.
Though Christa and I have since relocated and begun volunteering at an international NGO only a short walk from our former home, I think I speak for us both when I say that there are aspects of our old lives that we miss, specifically our moments in the kitchen with Belande.
When we felt lonely and overwhelmed, we crawled into a chair at the kitchen table and watched Belande make patés, sauce poi, legume, and of course, an endless assortment of juices. While she cooked, we whined about our problems, told her about the boys we thought were cute, and talked about our respective lives in St. Louis and Brooklyn. In turn, she told us about her children, her eleven sisters scattered throughout Haiti and the diaspora, and her dreams for the future. Our daily chats with Belande anchored us in Léogâne like nothing else could. They reassured us that we were not merely working in Haiti, but living in Haiti, fostering relationships that would last us a lifetime.
Each day, when we sat down with other international staff to eat Belande’s meals at lunch or dinner, we never spoke, simply savoring the taste of her concoctions. Once our plates were scraped clean, we took turns shouting, “Li gou, Belande!” “It was good, Belande!”
Belande nurtured us both physically and emotionally. Now, she and her cooking are no longer formal fixtures in our day to day. Yet, since IFEWA’s end, Belande has become another member of our family in Haiti. Christa and I make surprise visits to her home, sometimes we attend church services together and eat Sunday dinner with her and her family, or we simply walk around town.
And now, together, we sell juice. A 16 oz cup sells for 30 goudes on Joe’s salsa nights. Throw a little rum in it, and you’ll dance the night away. The more juice we sell, the greater confidence Belande has in her abilities as an individual and a chef. We hope soon that Belande will find the courage to go beyond juice and sell her amazing cuisine so that all of Léogâne can know the magic of her cooking and shout, “Belande, li gou!”