One of the biggest tragedies to hit Haiti after the earthquake was one that you would never expect. We noticed it almost immediately once we returned to Port-au-Prince, after sitting down for some fine dining at the local pizza joint. Looking to the waiter, we absent-mindedly ordered our drinks, “Two Prestiges please.”
It was the clear choice of the three beers available, but unfortunately not the correct one. “No Prestige…Presidente or Heineken,” the server responded with a slight twinge of annoyance, as if she’s had to explain this to 10 million people before us. We looked at each other in amazement, “What do you mean, ‘No Prestige’?!”
Prestige is a staple in Haiti, the only locally produced beer in the country, and it’s the lifeblood of the happening afterhours of Port-au-Prince. It’s one of the products that Haitians talk about with pride, something that they have created that is wonderful. But the server explained to Jillian in Kreyol that the factory was “kraze”, or damaged by the earthquake, and production of the beverage had come to a screeching halt. “She says no Prestige until April!” Jillian translated.
After working at a restaurant that served over 200 different varieties of beer, I can tell you that Prestige is not going to impress any of the beer-connoisseurs out there. It’s a simple lager that doesn’t carry any overwhelmingly impressive characteristics. But with just a touch of caramel, it’s a deliciously easy-drinking sidecar to any meal. So when we asked Jillian’s old staff to come by this weekend for drinks and desert, we knew there was no other option….we had to find Prestige.
But that was easier said than done. It was nowhere to be found. The grocery stores were out, the restaurants were out, the gas stations were out, you couldn’t buy it anywhere. I even went with one of NBC’s local fixers to the Prestige brewery just by the airport to see if they would sell it to me direct. “We don’t have any…but we’re working on it,” they explained. It seemed hopeless.
So when I went to hang out with our friend Ben today at his house I told him that we had to look again. “It’s gotta be somewhere around here,” he said, “we’ll check the gas station.” So we jumped on Pinotage to do some other errands in the neighborhood, and on our way back we stopped by the Texaco on the corner of our street. They hadn’t had Prestige before, so I was pessimistic that this time would be any different. Unfortunately, my intuition was right, no Prestige there.
Across the street was our last hope, a wholesale drink depot that sold cases of sodas and juices. I had just bought a jug of water there earlier in the day, and hadn’t seen any cases of Prestige laying around, so I was again keep my expectations low. He walked out with a smile on his face, “How many beers are in a case?” “24,” I quickly responded. “Well, they have one case left, it’s going to be 800 goudes, and you have to exchange a case of old bottles.”
Jillian and I had scored big on this one. In the endless reasons why our Ti Kay is awesome, there just happen to be a case of empty Prestige bottle laying on the porch behind the bar! I jumped on Pinotage and gunned it home, praying that some lucky Haitian didn’t stumble upon the same news that we had just learned before I returned. I ran onto our porch, cleaned off the bottles, strapped them to the back of Pinotage, and gently navigated the pot-hole riddled roads that connect our house to the depot, careful not to destroy my precious cargo.
I think it goes without saying that today was a success.
This is SUCH a sweet victory. I really have been looking for this ever since we returned to Haiti after the quake, and to finally have found it (thanks to Ben!) feels so good. It’s almost as if I don’t even want to drink them, because who knows when we will find it again. And I think the fact that I took the case outside and posed it for pictures makes it pretty clear how excited I am about it.
But in a way, this is a good sign in a country that could really use some normalcy. Once Prestige is back, people will have some sense that things are returning to the way they were before the quake. Some things will never go back to normal, some things have changed forever, but if you can sit down and order an ice-cold Prestige with your rice and beans, well then, life if pretty good again.