It’s been a long, bone-chilling and brutally frigid winter on the east coast of the United States. Thankfully, springtime is quickly approaching and that translates into warmer weather; tantalizingly fragrant and colourful flowers to lift the soul as well as the excitement of the impending arrival of the Easter bunny.

Easter (or Pak as it is called in Haitian creole) is a sacred time amongst Haitians who spend the holiday dressed to the nines, worshipping their God at various church ceremonies. And for Haitians, no holiday would be complete without a feast to share with family and friends.

Hoping to capitalise on this time of year whilst simultaneously trying to expand the public’s taste palettes is entrepreneur, Katyana André. Born in Haiti and now living in upstate New York, Katyana has always had a great love affair with preparing her native food. “Cooking is spiritual, for me,” expresses Katyana. “It requires meditation, chemistry and attention.” For Katyana, sharing her food is also about spreading her love. She admits that after completing the meal and serving it, she even has to watch her guests eat it, in order to witness for herself what she hopes will be pure satisfaction. She is never disappointed by their reaction; they are always more than pleased.

Katyana adds a very distinct flavour to her dishes by using her special gourmet sauce. The spices she uses in the sauce are a fusion of what makes Haiti so unique, which include: Taino, African, French, Spanish, even Middle Eastern influences. Some of her ingredients incorporate: fresh cilantro, thyme, bell peppers, onions, and scotch bonnet peppers that are blended in olive oil and sea salt.

Katyana’s business idea came about whilst studying International Relations abroad in London. She would often cook for her roommates who were so impressed with her creations that they encouraged her to share her food with others. With her friends clinging to her side, she started getting people to sample her food at the local bus stop. She discovered that everyone who tried it, loved it, and the birth of her speciality spice business was born.

When it came time to give her business an identity, Katyana quickly settled for the name Madan Sara. Madan Sara is the name given to the Haitian women who haggle in the marketplaces of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital. Katyana grew up listening to tales of her great-grandmother who was one such Madan Sara. “I was fascinated by her story. She wasn’t well-educated and used to travel three to four hours a day to come sell in order to make enough money to send her kids to school,” Katyana affectionately explained.

Most Haitians regard these women as a national institution who would buy and sell with great aplomb, looking to get whatever money they could, in order to provide for their families.

The name, Madan Sara, originates from the native bird of the same name whose relentless chirping is akin to the women’s endless exchange and negotiations in the marketplace.
Not all Haitians regard Madan Sara as a national treasure, however, but consider them more like a national nuisance with their incessant bartering. Nevertheless, their tactics are quite effective and they work hard doing whatever it takes to earn an income.

Katyana’s business is in its beginning stages, and as a new entrepreneur, she’s learning all about what it takes to make her product successful. Because of the fashion in which her creation is made (naturally and organically) she aspires to some day sell her invention to Whole Foods Market, where she feels her sauces would be best suited.

Meanwhile, two hours away in her native Haiti, farmers face a significantly greater challenge getting their produce sold in and out of the country. Haiti has become a land of imports, even after having once been extremely self-sufficient. Once dubbed the Pearls of the Antilles, Haiti was THE main producers of sugar to all of Europe, as well as major generators of coffee and rice.

What made the 2010 earthquake even more tragic was the fact that the population in the nation’s capital was significantly larger than usual. This was due to the fact that many in the countryside had been forced to flee to the capital from their hometowns in search of greater livelihood. Times were always tough for the city dwellers, however, they were even more taxing for those living in rural areas, especially for the rice farmers.

During former US president, Bill Clinton’s, period in office, he forced Haiti to drop tariffs on imported, subsidized US rice, making it cheaper for Haitians to buy American rice, rather than that from their own back yards. A decision for which he has publically apologised during a hearing with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee shortly after the catastrophe. Despite this apology, however, bags of rice labelled USAID continue to litter the country as a stark reminder of what little control Haitians have over their own country.

A well-known proverb states that to give a man a fish, you feed him for only one day, but that if you teach him to fish, then you feed him for a lifetime! In the case for Haiti, this translates into giving Haitians the opportunity to grow their own food and export their goods to their neighbours in America and beyond. Haitians would once again be able to support themselves and be less dependent on the steady flow of hand-outs that only serve to keep the country dependent.

It is well documented that one of the reasons poor countries remain so, is because of their inability to form solid institutions that benefit its people, such as heath, education and agriculture. There is plenty of land in Haiti that can be used to establish a sound agricultural foundation, which would in turn encourage self-sufficiency. Unless this happens, Haiti’s economic growth will continue to stagnate. Forget about building more lavish hotels for rich tourists to occupy during their stay, Haitians are in need of something fundamentally more basic and that is, to eat!

Shortly after seeing the devastation in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, former Governor General of Canada, Michaëlle Jean (who is herself of Haitian origin) said it best when she expressed, “Haiti has got to stop being a dumping ground for failed economic experiments from elsewhere.”

So as we once again gather around our holiday tables strewn with mouth-watering Dijon racks of lamb and freshly baked hot-crossed buns following an exhausting Easter egg hunt, let us all remember to be grateful for our bounty and bear in mind that this is not the scene for many.

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