The Chef

Haiti, Cheri

The previous decade contained much catastrophe and started on a very ominous event, September 11th.  I was a schoolteacher back then, and I remember starving for information as my fellow educators and I tried to remain calm for the children, dismissing them to their families one by one.  There were no televisions to catch any news, and the information about the extent of the damage was difficult to ascertain.  I recall being home that evening and the following day glued to the set, trying to comprehend the madness of it all, returning to work a day later with children who due to demographic and socioeconomic backgrounds, were basically “untouched” by the tragedy.  I had lost a friend who was working at Cantor Fitzgerald, and New York was no longer a safe place, or at the least, shielded from terror.

Fast forward to a new decade which promises to be better, especially under the leadership of President Obama, and not two weeks into the new year a massive earthquake rocks Haiti, more personal to me because my mother was born there, and several relatives on my grandmother’s side still live in this, the most beleaguered of Caribbean isles.  Now my stubborn relatives who choose to remain in the glorious hills of Haiti may be at peril, their refusal to leave cheri Haiti sealing their fates.

Unlike 2001, I am in front of the television, and the shock of the available footage is palpable.  I am not sure I am better off then when I was kept in the dark at school with little information.  The sadness and worry is great.

It is difficult to comprehend why a people such as the Haitians suffer so.  I know that other peoples go through catastrophe, war and tragedy.  But it just seems that every time there is quiet on the other side of Hispaniola, the heavens deal a raw hand, an insurmountable calamity.

Much has been said about the resilience of the Haitian people, most of whom live in absolute poverty.  They are tough and proud and have a tremendous will to live.  It makes me think of my grandparents who fled the Duvalier regime at its apex, how the United States became a haven for my family and how I would not be here today save for that opportunity.  It is and always will be the foremost reason why this country can achieve greatness.  America was founded by immigrants and continues to thrive on immigrants.  We are the most international of places on this planet.

And now aid is flooding in, quickly, unlike during Hurricane Katrina, and the President is showing the compassion and empathy of the United States, a true measure of why leadership is paramount, and why this decade will be different than the last.

I remember fondly an article in the New York Times Dining In section in November 2005, featuring a cherished family recipe, the Haitian turkey, and how proud I am to be part Haitian (my father is Dominican, my grandmother Palestinian).  I recall the emails I received from Haitians from all over the country and Haiti, expressing joy and pride and thanks that Haiti was being displayed in a positive light for once, not the despair that is often associated with its people.

I have a resolution to try to finish a family cookbook, a long time project of mine, one which I generally find excuses and procrastination for.    But as I finish a plate of gateau de pommes de terre, shepherd’s pie, while watching the deluge on screen, I am filled with resolve to bring something positive about the Haitian culture and people to light.  I wish I could send trays of gateau to Haiti, and am anxious to have these recipes published to help feed the soul of a people who just won’t quit.

My thoughts and prayers to all the families of Haiti.  Let there be light.

By Chef Mateo

Just a man in pursuit of all things delicious. Eat and Drink life!

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