Rain, coffee and sòs pwa*, or the many ways Colombia reminded me of Haiti
*sòs pwa: bean or pea purée
The very mention of Colombia brings whiffs of cocaine and gun powder—I wish this would stop being their reputation. For years, the war against narcotrafficking and a civil war have torn the country apart. But the major traffickers have been neutralized* or arrested (anyone watches Narcos?). And the recent peace treaty signed between the government and the FARCs brought back some stability to an otherwise “dangerous” place.
*At the police museum, the guide used “neutralize” to refer to drug traffickers who were killed by the police. For example, Pablo Escobar was neutralized in the 1990s.
I saw three types of rain in Bogota. The rain-while-sunny: the type that falls when the devil is beating up his wife—as we say in Haiti. The drizzle: because it’s raining season and it must rain every day. The down-right-pour: the kind of rain Marquez* describes. The type of rain that floods streets. The type of rain that creates deep puddles which causes cars to splash pedestrians. The type of rain that makes people run for cover regardless of the umbrella they carry. Rain which cleans the street, leaving the city anew. I was looking forward for the rain in Bogota. I didn’t expect it to remind me of P-au-P.
*Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Colombian Literature Nobel Prize winner, has been a personal favorite since I read Love in the time of cholera as a teen. I’ve only read one book of his in Spanish: Isabel viendo llover en Macondo (Isabel watching it rain in Macondo). In that book, Marquez describes the rain in great detail.
But the rain wasn’t the only thing that seemed familiar. Their love for coffee also brought me back home. A cup of coffee is the first thing our host offered us. But they take it a bit more seriously than we do.
Their coffee industry is booming. If you live in North America, you’d think that Colombian coffee cures illness. That is how much of a reputation it has. Yet, I think that Haitian coffee is best (I may be biased). And I have a stash of coffee from Marigot to prove it!
They have their own version of Starbuck’s (Juan Valdez Café)—similar set-up and prices. They have several independent cafés, some of which cater to tourists and offer an experience. Customers can smell the different kinds of beans coming from various regions and pick the one they want. The selected beans are then grinded. The barista then comes to their table to explain the process of preparation.
While I enjoyed the coffee, I was disappointed by their traditional chocolate (I talked about it here—in French). It lacked the thickness and richness I’m used to. My cousin actually mistook my chocolate cup for a cup of latte. Oh! The laughs we shared when she realized her mistake.
But their sòs pwa, though, is as good and rich as ours. I’ve tasted two traditional meals in which they incorporate sòs pwa: bandeja paisa and frijoles rancheros. Interestingly enough, both dishes include white rice, meat, slices of bannann mi (ripe plaintain) and a slice of avocado. Friends, I went to heaven and back.
One thing I enjoy doing when I travel is finding similarities. I believe that our similarities are greater than what makes us different. And these plates of rice and sòs pwa reminded me that, despite the difference of climate and language, a Colombian and a Haitian could feel at home on each other’s land.