Haiti, Plants and Sarah Kombucha

I first came to Haïti in January 2016 to meet Sarah-Maude who had ran off with Lawyers without Borders to join the gang of NGOs. The president of the country had stepped down. NGOs were that day more than ever effectively running this beautiful but impoverished gem of the Caribbean.

Having arrived at the house I would stay at, the first thing I did was grab the guard and ask him about all the plants in the garden we were staying. It was my first time in the Caribbean and the local plants are always the first thing in my list of need to knows.

In the coming weeks I would learn that traditional plant medicine was common knowledge amongst Haitians, though few would admit it off the bat, it being very much part of the pagan religion of the country, known as voodoo.

Through a network of expats I met a Nun, Soeur Dieudonne who had a small workshop inside of a technical skills school where they made some food products, called Prosolma. They needed help so I spent the next weeks going into their classes and giving classes on using the scientific method for food product development. It went well, people were happy and the products got better. It gave me something to do other than having grainy skype meetings.

In the last few weeks of staying in Haiti, I had grown my kombucha making to a respectable size of about 20L batches. Some decent recipes had been developed with the help of the son of a voodoo priest named Junior. I got some labels made, stuck them on the ubiquitous national beer bottle, capped them and did a product launch. Sarah Kombucha was born.

The launch was a ruse to find someone to produce for me. Melior Joseph, Founder of Chocomax, a person of integrity, who had proven himself to be a great friend, would be that person.

So I left Haiti to continue business as usual travelling the world helping people make their kombucha and experimenting with a new flavor every week at Mabrasserie coopérative de solidarité brassicole in Montréal, Canada.

Fast forward 10 months, I get a call from the nun (soeur Dieudonne). She says they have some money to buy equipment and asks if I can buy for them a tea-bagging machine and come again to Haiti to make sure it works. For sure, I told her "that sounds like some great pro-bono work, let’s do it".

I found the machine, go it checked by my engineers, got it shipped and installed in Haiti, then I flew down to Port au prince. It took 3 days to get the machine adjusted and working. Suddenly the team of 5 people that previously could make 120 tea bags in a day could now make the same amount in 2 ½ minutes. “You guys will have to spend that extra time sourcing some more teas to package”.

Haiti is a wonderful country with wonderful people. Since one of our missions is to develop local economies, we hope our work can make a difference in some people's lives.

We had a little party to celebrate, I flew back home, then back to business as usual hoping to come back in the near future.

Once we got the tea-bagging machine working, I thought we would all try to act like the tea was cash money, and this moment happened!

Once we got the tea-bagging machine working, I thought we would all try to act like the tea was cash money, and this moment happened!

The accountant, whose name is Mwamem (directly translated as “Myself”) trying out the new pressure washer to wash down the ginger.

The accountant, whose name is Mwamem (directly translated as “Myself”) trying out the new pressure washer to wash down the ginger.

The view from the corner of the teabagging production room. Those 2 baskets of teabags would have taken them 2 weeks to make by hand, instead we wrapped them in 10 minutes using the new machine.

The view from the corner of the teabagging production room. Those 2 baskets of teabags would have taken them 2 weeks to make by hand, instead we wrapped them in 10 minutes using the new machine.

We decided to name the machine Fly Changbo, it’s got a nice ring to it, it also happen to be the people we bought it from (it's Chinese, we don't know the meaning of it).

We decided to name the machine Fly Changbo, it’s got a nice ring to it, it also happen to be the people we bought it from (it's Chinese, we don't know the meaning of it).

Got woken up on Sunday with a bowl of Joumou Squash soup, the traditional Sunday breakfast for Haitians. Being able to have soup for breakfast without fear of judgement is a defining quality of a country, in my opinion.

Got woken up on Sunday with a bowl of Joumou Squash soup, the traditional Sunday breakfast for Haitians. Being able to have soup for breakfast without fear of judgement is a defining quality of a country, in my opinion.

After 2 days of trying to get the machine running correctly, I resorted to negotiating with my tools. “Common wrench, just give me this one and I’ll bring you to disneyland”.

After 2 days of trying to get the machine running correctly, I resorted to negotiating with my tools. “Common wrench, just give me this one and I’ll bring you to disneyland”.

Caribbean sunsets are like sunsets at home, but like, with more emotions

Caribbean sunsets are like sunsets at home, but like, with more emotions

This is what the inside of a Cocoa pods looks like, the fruit kind tastes like a litchi or a baobab fruit

This is what the inside of a Cocoa pods looks like, the fruit kind tastes like a litchi or a baobab fruit

My Buddy Chesnel from AYITIKA brought me some Cocoa pods to play with

My Buddy Chesnel from AYITIKA brought me some Cocoa pods to play with

Miss Françoise taught me to speak creole while teaching me how to cook, I showed her how to make shepherds pie using goat meat and jackfruit

Miss Françoise taught me to speak creole while teaching me how to cook, I showed her how to make shepherds pie using goat meat and jackfruit

Make your own sourdough starter and then make  baguettes, that's the best way to get a good bread, if you have a phenomenal amount of time to waste.

Make your own sourdough starter and then make  baguettes, that's the best way to get a good bread, if you have a phenomenal amount of time to waste.

At Chocomax sticking our hands in the cacao grinder getting them covered in cacao and then taking photos. You never quite get that chocolate smell of of your hands.

At Chocomax sticking our hands in the cacao grinder getting them covered in cacao and then taking photos. You never quite get that chocolate smell of of your hands.

Some big stuff is happening under this mango tree, Chesnel knows how to take care of business.

Some big stuff is happening under this mango tree, Chesnel knows how to take care of business.

The Cocoa seedling are ready to go, hydrid trial are underway to determine the best ones suited for the area of camp perin in the south of haiti. As you can see from the man in yellow, the haitian people are perpetually dancing.

The Cocoa seedling are ready to go, hydrid trial are underway to determine the best ones suited for the area of camp perin in the south of haiti. As you can see from the man in yellow, the haitian people are perpetually dancing.

When a lady shows up at your door in the morning with a bucket of milk from her cows, you buy the bucket and make fresh mozzarella, then hang it from a banana tree in your last clean t-shirt, priorities.

When a lady shows up at your door in the morning with a bucket of milk from her cows, you buy the bucket and make fresh mozzarella, then hang it from a banana tree in your last clean t-shirt, priorities.

This is one of the classrooms we used for the product development classes, someone had written on the board in permanent red marker and the power was out, but we got it done! Full disclosure, I had them pose for this photo

This is one of the classrooms we used for the product development classes, someone had written on the board in permanent red marker and the power was out, but we got it done! Full disclosure, I had them pose for this photo

It seems stereotypical to say haiti has the best beaches, but it really do, they’re empty too, so no tourist traps, just sun, cheap seafood and fried plantains

It seems stereotypical to say haiti has the best beaches, but it really do, they’re empty too, so no tourist traps, just sun, cheap seafood and fried plantains

I even found my old buddy Jani we went to yanlavou of course translates to “ the place where you go”, like 90% sure

I even found my old buddy Jani we went to yanlavou of course translates to “ the place where you go”, like 90% sure

Canning a tests batch of epis blende, a mix of spice used for meats, with the students

Canning a tests batch of epis blende, a mix of spice used for meats, with the students

Also made some cacao bean pralines with sea salt, they didn’t last long

Also made some cacao bean pralines with sea salt, they didn’t last long

I got a few plants to play with to develop flavors. This is what you get when you ask your driver if he knows about medicinal plants.

I got a few plants to play with to develop flavors. This is what you get when you ask your driver if he knows about medicinal plants.

Just to make sure i wouldn’t have to use my health insurance, I picked up this amazing book about all of the medicinal plants in Haiti, complete with thorough references it definitely beats asking 3 people what a plant does and seeing if I get the same answer. I did always get the same answers by the way, Haitians know their plants like nobody’s business.

Just to make sure i wouldn’t have to use my health insurance, I picked up this amazing book about all of the medicinal plants in Haiti, complete with thorough references it definitely beats asking 3 people what a plant does and seeing if I get the same answer. I did always get the same answers by the way, Haitians know their plants like nobody’s business.

After drying and roasting the cacao beans we found out we had a pod of lighter cocoa, this is the rarer criollo type, the most praised for some reason

After drying and roasting the cacao beans we found out we had a pod of lighter cocoa, this is the rarer criollo type, the most praised for some reason

The final bottles look pretty good, they taste even better, pure Haitian love. There are 4 flavors, espire means “breathe” for calming down, Fos mean strength has green coffee beans for strength, netoyaj mean detox  and endirans means performance and its meant to help you have sex all night long, its our best seller.

The final bottles look pretty good, they taste even better, pure Haitian love. There are 4 flavors, espire means “breathe” for calming down, Fos mean strength has green coffee beans for strength, netoyaj mean detox  and endirans means performance and its meant to help you have sex all night long, its our best seller.

Some preliminary drawings for the Sarah Kombucha Logo

Some preliminary drawings for the Sarah Kombucha Logo

Eduardo Fonseca Arraes