Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Haitian Music

Music is without a doubt "The" universal language; it is the language of the soul, the medium through which any message can traverse the language barrier.It is also evident that music is a large part of every human society and undoubtedly an integral part of all the cultures in existence today. Haiti is no different. 

Haiti has a rich music heritage that is influenced by four main civilizations/cultures who mainly appear in Haitian History as their colonizers: The Spanish, English, Dutch & finally the French who's culture has stuck with the Haitians up to date. The french language is therefore an easily notable attribute in Haitian music. However the language the Haitians speak is a more "more personalized" form of french/slang that they call Kreyol/creole. Haiti has a unique variety of genres unlike most cultures in this century namely: Hip hop, mini-jazz & Rock which is 
common for majority of nations in the world today. The genres solely unique to Haiti are Rasin(Voodoo Rock), Zouk-Love, & Kompa(The sound of Haiti). On a special note, Compas/Kompa(spelled konpa in Creole) is currently the most popular style common in all music made in Haiti today. It is a complex ever-changing music that fuses African Rhythms and European ballroom dancing, mixed with Haiti's bourgeois culture. In Spanish the word compás means “beat” or “pulse”. One of the most distinctive characteristics of Kompa music is the consistent, pulsing drum beat, which makes it easy to dance to.

I have found in my little exposure to Haitian music that they are a people who are very proud of their country and it's history who have a very rich heritage in music that is as beautiful as the country and it's nation's people.Haïti Chérie is a traditional patriotic and most recognizable song of Haiti that was written and composed by Dr. Othello Bayard de Cayes and was initially called Souvenir d'Haiti. It represents the pride Haitian people feel for their country and culture. Within the Haitian community, at home and abroad, it is widely considered as a second national anthem to La Dessalinienne and the song has recorded several different versions. Haiti is definitely a place to be.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Une nuance interessante de la langue francaise et le creole...

Among the key tools that define a society or culture, Language has been one of them and most of all has brought a sense of Unity in the Universe.

Coming from a French speaking Country known as Democratic Republic of Congo, I have been having this interest of knowing different versions of French as long as our French is the best compared to the one spoken in France.

I have come across an interesting part of the world called Haiti where french is spoken in a broken way. And this has really moved me to see first of all that French had had an influence beyond Africa and Europe.

Let us go straight to Haiti and discovery how French has influenced this country and what are interesting results that come out it.   

If you have a sense for Haiti's literacy statistics (slightly over 50%), and the challenges regarding access to education that have characterized Haiti's history, then you may get a pretty accurate picture for the number of Haitians who actually do speak and understand French fluently; they are a minority, and come either from a privileged elite, or from a middle class that has expanded over the years, but still represents a small percentage of Haitians. French in Haiti is only learned in school and in church; the Haitians that speak French at home are few and far between.

Regarding the difference of French and Creole, here's the deal:

The majority of the Haitian Creole lexicon comes directly from French, and mostly old French (which is why sometimes there more similarities between Creole and Quebecois French vs. European French). This French lexicon enables French speakers with a sharp ear to pick up many terms in Haitian expressions, and rarely, to garner meaning. But otherwise, these are two different languages.

Something that caught my attention has a French speaking person is that Haitian Creole has a completely different grammar and syntax; for example, definite articles follow nouns instead of preceding them, and they do not have any gender assignment.

French: le chien
Creole: chen la

French: la boite
Creole: bwat la

Even when it comes to Conjugation, this is also totally different.

French: J'ai, tu as, il/elle a, nous avons, vous avez, ils/elles ont
Creole: Mwen genyen, Ou genyen, li/li genyen, nou genyen, nou genyen, yo/yo genyen

(Note, there is no difference between "he" and "she" in Creole, nor any difference between "we" and "you - plural"; these details are determined by context)

(Note, there is no difference in creole between the infinitive form of a verb, and the conjugated form)
(Note, the Creole etymology of "genyen" as "to have" is unknown to me, but it may come from "gagner")

Conjugations in the past and future are not performed by changing the root verb; they are formed by adding terms.

J'ai eu = Mwen te genyen
J'avais = Mwen te konn genyen
J'aurai = Mwen pral genyen

Another barrier to clean translation between Creole and French is the Vodou culture - it is intrinsically bound up in the Creole language such that even if French terms are used in some expressions, their provenance gives them a subtle, or sometimes grossly different meaning.

Example: Someone walks into a home and Says "Hone" prounced 'O-NEH' (French = Honneur)
Proper response "Respe" pronounced 'RAY-SPEH' (French = Respect)

Probably not much meaning in French. RICH with meaning in Creole.

These are some examples to demonstrate that Haitian Creole is not at all "broken French" - it is an altogether different language with significant French influence.

Other linguistic influences on creole include a number of African languages, Portuguese, Spanish and English.

It is possible, however, for the MOST RUDIMENTARY interactions in both French and Creole to be mutually understandable - but some luck is involved. Many greetings, all numbers, and some basic elements of everyday life are basically the same in both languages - air, water, bathroom, food... these all share similar terms.

Diri ak Pwa & Sos Pwa with coconut milk

A class that Cooks? Sounds interesting.... These were my sentiments last semester when I visited this class. I had no idea if I would be interested in going through it. This semester though, it was a different story. I actually pleaded with Dr. Wandia to add me to the class two weeks after registration.

The first assignment was to sample Haitian culture, including the cuisine. Everyone was to pick a meal they would make and come with to class on the material day.

I would pick the simplest, pocket friendly recipe. I went online in search of my cheap yet interesting pick. What do I see? Rice "Madondo", that is very simple, that even in Kenyan Kiosks it is a common delicacy. That is the folly of being too familiar with something.

Apparently,  rice and beans are a staple in the carribean. A meal is not a meal unless there is a side of rice and beans. Haitian rice and beans can be made with a variety of beans, but the most pouplar are Pinto, red kidney beans, and black beans.

After settling on the recipe, I went on an ingredient search. First stop was at Nakumatt Moi Avenue with my print out to act as a checklist and indicate the prices against ingredients. The exercise was an eye opener since I had no idea what spices like thyme and scotch bonnet pepper were. I even thought that scotch bonnet was the normal capsicums "pilipili hoho".

 To be safe, I decided not to use it altogether, because I realized that it was hot.

Next step after window shopping was the actual shopping. I found a wholesale Indian shop along Biashara street that sold spices. I have to confess that I took a shortcut on the olive oil. I used normal cooking oil. 

One mistake I made was buying canned coconut milk, only to go to the supermarket and find whole coconuts at 45 shillings each. Anyway, enough of the cheap talk. I don't want you to lose your appetite thinking that I made a cheap meal. (Not the case)

I went for a sleepover at my friend Judy's house, armed with all my ingredients. Whisper (I didn't have a blender, so I needed to use Judy's blender). It was also a good time to bond with my friend over cooking. We realized that the process for making Diri ak Pwa was similar to kenyan pilau. The only difference was that it was bean pilau.

We decided to make the Sos Pwa as an experiment. We discovered a new way of making beans, and could never have enough of it. You should try it and add coconut milk. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Haitian Pride in Fashion

A country that is proud of their culture and heritage, strives to portray it in everything they do. Haiti is one of few countries that have held this maxim true. Certainly, one of the boldest portrayals of culture is fashion.
Ordinarily, most Haitians wear second-hand clothing and shoes, known as “pepe”, sold by street vendors. 

The practice of sending pepe to Haiti began in the 1960’s and since then, people have claimed this practice has ruined the Haitian textile industry. A similar narrative has existed in Kenya. However, pepe can also be seen as a good thing, because it is so readily available and affordable for Haitians, allowing them to express their creativity through wearing designer clothing that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.
Haitian Fashion Week is 3 days long. There are no official fashion education programs in Haiti, so the concepts coming from these self-taught Haitian fashion designers are inspired purely by Haitian culture and imagination. http://crudem.org/fashion-haiti/

The bold Haitian flag could be a source of inspiration for their fashion. They use bold colors in their fashion. 

Some designs have the coat of arms  on them and the colors blue and red.








Some of Haitian Designers

As Clark explains, “What people see in the media almost never captures the essence of Haitians, their passions, their creativity, or their identity.” Moreover, as a Haitian-American struggling to navigate his new found “American-ness” while still maintaining his Haitian roots, Clark searches for an opportunity to merge these oft-alienated two worlds. 

It would also be interesting to know that Clark Pauyo was arrested in 2008, for driving a truck containing more than 3000 pounds of marijuana hidden in a legitimate load of commercial refrigerators. 


Davidson Petit-Frere

More designers at

Natural Hair Movement

Like all other Africans in the diaspora, Haiti has a Natural hair movement . 
Afro Alice is the online community founded by Amie-Christine Emilcar. They have a facebook page showcasing different natural hairstyles. 

Something that interested me was the models in colorful head-scarfs on the page. Could the headscarf trend have originated from Haiti? 

Friday, March 6, 2015

The political regime in Haiti

Haiti is the first 'Black' nation of slaves to have successfully revolted against colonial rule and fought their way to their independence. It is therefore important for us, as Kenyans and as Africans who also had to fight for our independence from colonialists, to understand how it happened and relate it to our personal experiences in the past.
People from Haiti, unlike other African nationals, take great pride in their independence that they actually compose songs in praise of their solidarity to their country. It is however interesting to note that the politics of Haiti  have often been defined with conflict when strongmen have taken over the government. Only within the later part of the twentieth century, has normal political activity established.
Haiti has had a series of presidents who have been ousted from office for various reasons including corruption allegations, misappropriation of funds, food shortage among other social reasons.
Parliament seems to have a lot of power bestowed upon them in the Haitian government as in 2008 it voted to dismiss President Preval's Prime Minister following severe rioting over food prices. His selected replacement for the post was rejected by Parliament, throwing the country into a prolonged period without a government. This is a situation unlikely to be seen in other African or European Nations.
Political corruption is a common problem in Haiti.The country has consistently ranked as one of the most corrupt nations according to the Corruption Perceptions Index, a measure of perceived political corruption. In 2006, Haiti was ranked as the most corrupt nation out of the 163 that were surveyed for the Index. In 2012, Haiti was #165 out of #176. The International Red Cross reported that Haiti was 155th out of 159 countries in a similar survey of corrupt countries. Here is a comparison of Kenya to Haiti: http://www.aneki.com/comparison.php?country_1=Kenya&country_2=Haiti 

French has been the major language in Haitian politics since the colonial era. Scholars have since referred to Creole, the other language of Haiti as linguistically inferior. Creole grammar is said to be simplified and lacking sophistication compared to its European ancestors. This original demotion of the language created an subordinate sociopolitical, economic, and biological status for the country's majority that had been relocated by slavery.
Today, Creole is spoken by 90-95% of the country. The remaining are bilingual and speak both French and Creole. Per the 1987 Constitution, both Creole and French are official languages of Haiti. However, French is still the main language taught in schools and used in politics. With only 2-5% speaking the language of the politics, Creole speakers are politically disenfranchised. Haitian Creole and French are mutually unintelligible, so the vast majority of citizens cannot communicate with leaders in the language of their choice.

This disenfranchisement is furthered by the lack of a systematic educational system. Literacy programs failed in the 1980s, and French is still the language being used to instruct students. Haitian linguist, Yves Dejean, recalls warnings posted in the principal's office forbidding the use of Creole. In the 1970s, only one percent of the children who entered kindergarten stayed on track to obtain state certificate at the end of the sixth grade. Even after the literacy programs of the 1980s, 90% of the teachers ten years after the decree were still not able to encompass the Creole language into the education system. The language handicap makes education and furthermore, political enfranchisement almost impossible.

Soup Joumou

My first impression of Haitian cuisine in general was that the food is inedible. This was probably because of how much most of Haitian cuisine is a mixture of meat, vegetables and all manner of spices all prepared as one dish and eaten as a complete meal.
As A Kenyan who really hasn't taken keen interest in matters concerning Haiti further than the earthquake that happened in the year 2010 and the fact that one of my favourite musicians Wyclef Jean, (namesake! *screams*) comes from Haiti, it was an interesting experience to actually make food eaten in Haiti from locally sourced ingredients and enjoy eating it.
Tasked with the assignment to select and prepare a dish, I settled on Soup Joumou which seemed economical (not really,LOL!) and less time consuming.
Soup Joumou, as I learnt later on, is eaten every 1 of January in Haiti when they celebrate the New Year as well as their independence. The soup has a deeper significance to Haitians as they describe it ideally as "traditional thick, hardy French Caribbean soup created in 1804 and represents Haitian defiance of the French colonial powers, who had declared that slaves could not eat soup".
The soup contains a variety of vegetables like I mentioned before but the good thing is that all these are available in the market at all seasons and at affordable price for each ingredient. The link to the recipe is

 The overall preparation process took an hour, exclusive of the time i took to marinade and season the meat overnight. Once you follow the recipe to the latter, you will have something that looks like this:
Being a 'doubting Thomas', I was not sure of bringing the dish to class lest it backfires and sends people to hospital at the end of the day. I therefore sought the impecable palate (but do I say) of Natalie Rand, a close friend of mine who hold the record of having the most sensitive stomach in the neighbourhood.
After Natalie tasted the food and did not seem to have any health complications, I deemed the food fit for consumption. My sincere thanks go to my mum for allowing me to use her kitchen for my "experiment", my friends Diana and Topistar who joined us for class on that day of my presentation and the entire class for their co-operation and positive remarks during the course of my presentation. Special thanks go to the one and only Dr. Wandia. If not for her, who knows, I'd never know people in Haiti even eat!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

We've been nominated for the Kenyan Blog Awards!

Our blog has been shortlisted under the Best Education Blog for the Kenyan Blog Awards 2015! This is the first year in which the awards have an education category.

We are really excited, not just because we've been recognized, but also because this is a class that we really enjoy. We also want to convince Kenyan students and students in Kenya that learning about other cultures is a truly enriching experience.

Why vote for us?

This is a blog in which the class is a community. Both the teacher and the students write posts about what they're learning, not just about the Francophone world, but also about life.

Winning would also be a romantic end to a story about a class that was initially written off but ended up getting recognized. We created this class called the Introduction to the Francophone World because we wanted to widen the pool of students who take classes beyond those who speak French. We did it partly as a response to criticism about our marketability, but more because we wanted to expand students' knowledge of the world beyond Kenya's borders, and most of all, because we wanted to have fun!

We'd love your support! 

Please vote for us by following this link or the link on the blog awards image. .

Monday, March 2, 2015

FRE 124 Season 2: Ayiti cheri

So the class started off for the second season this semester. Our first cookout was for Haitian Cuisine, and my assignment was to make a meat dish.

Initially, Juliet suggested that I try this shrimp recipe, but I was too scared of the cost, so I settled for looking for a pork dish. Just as well, because it was Morris's first time to eat pork.

I now can't find the recipe I used because I was so tired when I was shoppng the night before the class. I think it was this one. Whatever the case, it looked very much like the one I cooked last semester with chicken, so I just went through the same process. I washed the meat in lime juice, marinated it in lime, orange and herbs for a few hours, fried the meat and made the sauce.

I really like the tangy taste that lime adds to meat. I think I want to make this marinade something I do at home.

This was a really exciting class. Wait till you get to hear how Jean turned her neighbor into a taster for her pumpkin soup, how Mercy used cornflakes in her recipe, how Juliet discovered new recipes for beans, how Morris found out what some ingredients actually looked like, and how Armand discovered the charm of cooking for his "first lady."