The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan review – high alert in Haiti

Celebrity travelogues are not my favourite TV genre, but if I have to go somewhere, I don’t mind going with Romesh

During a clearout the other day, I came across a couple of carved wooden figures I had forgotten about. I got them a long time ago at the Iron Market in Port-au-Prince. I cannot remember whether they had anything to do with voodoo, but when I got home I did not like them as much as I thought I did when I was (probably) having a pathetic and (almost certainly) unsuccessful attempt to haggle for them in a hot market a long way from home. They went into a box. It is probably why my life has been cursed ever since.

I went to Haiti because I was young and stupid and thought it would be an interesting place for a holiday. It was interesting, to be fair, but it did not feel much like a holiday. Mostly, I remember wondering what to do and pretending not to be scared.

Romesh Ranganathan does not even pretend he is not scared. “Having spent the 14-hour flight imagining the myriad of ways I might get killed, I arrived in a state of high alert,” he says. Actually, I think he is pretending to be more scared than he is (he has got a security guard with him), but then that is his shtick, better and funnier than the other way around, the macho way. And it is sort of the point; Romesh is going to the places others avoid because of their reputation. He is also going to Ethiopia and Albania. Albania? I thought it was the new Croatia!

Anyway, he arrives at his famous Port-au-Prince hotel, which has scary voodoo figures in the garden (“I mean, that is genuinely terrifying,” he says, not sounding that genuinely terrified). In the morning sunlight, he cannot even pretend to be scared by them. “Look at that, there’s a penis with spines on it,” he says, pointing at a penis with spines on it.

Romesh hooks up with local journalist Jeremy Dupin, who shows him around. They go by tuk-tuk, listening to raboday music (a sort of Haitian grime), to the area Jeremy grew up in and meet a few of his mates. It is loud and chaotic. And they drop in on Marinad 007, the raboday artist whose song they were listening to before. I hope Romesh returns the favour if Jeremy ever comes to London. Stormzy? Sure we can, we’ll drop in for a cup of tea … Marinad 007 turns out to be a man of few words; it is a bit awkward. But he performs for them. Romesh gets involved and comes in with a few English bars: Oh my gosh, I’m here with a Marinad/Romesh, and you know that I’m super bad/I’m with the mic, here with Jeremy/To get me off the mic you’re going have to bury me/I’m here, I’m not Haitian/My name’s Romesh Ranganathan.

Romesh Ranganathan in Haiti.
Romesh Ranganathan in Haiti. Photograph: BBC/Rumpus Media

Ha! Love it. And that it’s not all about the history, colonialism, the Duvaliers, Tontons Macoute, but about what’s happening in Haiti, culturally, today.

It is about poverty, and the 2010 earthquake, because it is impossible for a visit to Port-au-Prince not to be. And Romesh is clearly (certainly more believably than the fear thing) shocked by some of the things he sees. But he manages not to be hand-wringingly worthy about it. I like the way he is with people – not all overly polite because they’re poor and foreign, but just the same as he is with everyone else, deadpan – and if that sometimes leads to misunderstandings and awkwardness, well that is all right. It is – he is – very funny. And he gets a nice thing going with Jeremy – teasing, warm, genuine, that one I do believe. It is not my favourite TV genre, the celebrity travelogue, but if I have to go somewhere with someone, then I don’t mind going with Ranganathan.

He does go to the Iron Market, which has been badly damaged in a fire (Haiti really doesn’t get any luck, does it?) since it was rebuilt after being completely destroyed in the earthquake. He gets a load of stuff: a small chair, seven brightly coloured scarves, good-luck shampoo, rum, black fish, etc, that he needs for the inevitable voodoo ceremony. Which takes place away from town at what looks like a lovely place by the sea. Obviously, the ceremony is absolutely terrifying … Is it really, Romesh? He is honest about Haiti as a tourist destination at least. It might not be for everyone. That sounds about right.

My wooden figures? Well, they must have had something to do with voodoo, because I did what we do with unwanted stuff in my area; I put them out on the pavement in the hope that someone would take them away. And someone did, since when things have gone relatively well. Scary.


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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