Drink. Drink! Drink?

Posted: 27 May 2016 in Cultural, Haiti
Tags: ,

Moonshine works, Milot, Haiti. (c) JC Coutausse

When I left Haiti, I was given a gift.  A kind appreciation for the work I had done this trip.  What did I fancy?  Coffee?  Haitian coffee is good.    Rum. Ah, Haitian rum is good too.  I always bring back coffee and rum.  Interestingly, neither alcohol or cannabis are big parts of life here in Haiti.  Though the land is most suitable for cannabis, growing, consumption is rare.  Far more likely to be found amongst the expats than the nationals.  As for alcohol, the national beer “Prestige”, a light lager is OK and the varieties of rum can be of very good quality indeed.  Out in the country Kleren, the local spirit is distilled from sugar cane in road side stills.  Like I saw in up country Uganda.  Like Uganda, these produce cheap spirits and can vary wildly.  Headaches, liver problems, even blindness, served by the glass.  This can be all yours sir after a few 6p a glass servings.  It can be good, and I bought 4 small bottles of a cane and ginger spirit mix – woa – a fiery liquid that is good for mixing.  So the local brew can be poisonous, and there is drunkenness and alcoholism.  But it does not carve a swath of desolation though parts of the countryside like it did in Uganda.  Odd really, considering stills are legal here, and not so in Uganda. And considering the number of stresses here that are absent in Uganda.

Christian people here – there’s a mix of reactions, but all are wary of liquor. Folk who take faith seriously – some won’t drink rum or beer, while some will drink beer but not rum.  None are keen on rum and won’t give it as a gift.  For foreigners, a good bottle of Haitian rum makes a great gift, both being a good drink and a statement in itself that good things come from here. Voodoo adherents are far less reticent of drink.

Comparing alcohol consumption with say Uganda and UK, WHO statistics show:

  • Haiti, 6.4 litres of alcohol per person per year are drunk – mainly spirits.
  • Uganda 9.8 litres/person/pa  – mainly moonshine.
  • UK 11.6 litres/person/pa – a fairly even split between beer, wine and spirits.

DSC_0050UK 11.6 vs Uganda 9.8 vs Haiti 6.4 – eh?  When I worked in Kisiizi Hospital, I knew lives damaged or even ruined by liquor.  Local stills in the hills around us made banana based moonshine. And occasionally it made people blind. Then there’d be disturbances and occasionally, bootleggers would be killed for what they had done.  Yet, large parts of society distained booze, and social drinking was a phenomenon for westernised classes.  Perhaps the numbers shows that our “western” society is not quite as sober as it thinks of itself.  No so “sophisticated”, then. In Haiti and Uganda “drinking” is restricted to a narrower group of people, while in UK alcohol consumption is almost universal.  You and me.

Easy to be condescending about other nations and their drink habits.
That limit of 14 units of alcohol per week?  Not such a bad idea then.



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