Some of my earliest memories of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti involved waking up to the powerful aroma of freshly brewed Haitian coffee at my uncle’s house. I’d awaken to find the table set with a white mug of steaming java accompanied by hard dough bread and a jar of peanut butter that didn’t taste like the sugary Skippy’s I was used to in America. It was your typical Haitian breakfast. The coffee was way too strong for my 8-year-old self to appreciate. As an adult, however, I’ve come to understand just how excellent Haitian coffee is and how essential it is to the island nation.
Before political unrest and natural disasters destabilized the “pearl of the Antilles,” Haiti was once responsible for half of the world’s coffee production. Now centuries later, Elda Thorisson-Faurelien is hoping to re-introduce the world to Haitian liquid gold, one coffee shop at a time. She’s started in the unlikeliest of places — Reykjavik, Iceland.
I first heard of Cafe Haiti on social media. The shop is famous among Haitian vagabonds visiting Reykjavik, because finding another Haitian person in Iceland is quite rare. Visitors would take pictures in front of Elda’s restaurant, capturing the moment they found a slice of home on an island covered in glaciers. I was skeptical at first, thinking, “Oh they probably just named it that, and it has nothing to do with Haiti.” But after a quick Google search my skepticism morphed into, “Wow! How did a Haitian end up in Iceland?!”
I went searching for that answer on my own trip to Reykjavik, where I met with Elda at Cafe Haiti located in Old Harbour. I had to know more about this intrepid woman’s journey from tropical Haiti to subarctic Iceland. I was surprised to learn that, like many great tales, this one was a love story. A three part love story, at that: Love of a spouse; love of a homeland; love of good coffee.
“My husband was from Iceland,” Elda told me in Haitian Creole over a cup of hot coffee.
It was around 2 pm, her “slow time.” We were seated in the corner of her surprisingly spacious restaurant. The decor was a mix of Haiti and Iceland — with drawings of both palm trees and massive whales adorning the walls. Newspaper clippings and pictures were hung in the back of the space and were accompanied by a collection of wooden knick knacks. The coffee’s aroma immediately transported me back to the Caribbean.
“My husband was initially living in Haiti with me,” Elda said, smiling. “I already knew a lot about Iceland, even though I had never been, because he was always talking about it. He suggested I visit before deciding if I wanted to move back with him, but I agreed to live without ever coming here.
Elda wasn’t phased by the stark differences in culture or weather. She wanted to make the move for her partner.
“If he can live in Haiti to be with me, then I can live in Iceland to be with him.”