Sunday, June 17, 2007

Four white chicks out to save the world

There were four of us at the table, 2 peace corps volunteers, one Brit volunteering for the OAS, and me, an unrecovered hippie with Utopian dreams. We were celebrating the end of a week long bi-national theater program (Haitian Dominican-- on that more later) which one of the Yanks had started and the Brit had worked on all day. It was uplifting for me, to meet such women, who could live easily without running water for showers, had a sense that their lives and work would make a difference, would live on $300 a month.

Two of us had been reading William Easterly's books on how development aid isn't working, or at least hasn't worked 'til now. Somehow the conversation rolled around to beans. Beans are a major topic of conversation in the developing world. That and, well, rice.

Haiti is 99% deforested. Most Haitians cook with charcoal. Most cook beans every day.

So what would happen if they soaked them? I asked. They don't. They just boil away.One of the peace corps volunteers, who had served two years in Haiti before being evacuated during the most recent "unpleasantness" and then re-enlisted for two more years (bless her heart) started to shake a bit. "Don't get me started. I have had this discussion with them for two years. They don't. They won't. "

And those of us who have been reading development books, or working in the field, know that you can't impose solutions. They have to arise, sort of full blown somehow, from some local head. A new idea of how to make the wheel.

But imagine if the women of Haiti would soak the beans overnight! Half the cooking time, half the charcoal.

I asked my best friend Haitian when I returned to the Capital. "You soak the beans? We never do that." And then she explained a bit more of Haitian life. Middle class Haitian life. First there is breakfast, usually juice, bread and peanut butter. Then Mom starts the charcoal fire, over the three legged grill which is in most Haitian homes, the "recho" inside, but in the back kitchen. And puts the beans on to cook. Then she walks the kids to school and then goes to the market. By the time she gets home, the beans are cooked.

So soaking the beans to cut the cooking time in half would just not fit the schedule.

In very hard times, the money for the charcoal runs out before the money for beans.

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