Dominica’s people

We visited the Carib Territory today in the central and eastern parts of the island. The ancestors of these Kalinago people named the island Wai’toucoubouli (which means “tall is her body”) as they traveled up their sea highway in canoes thousands of years ago settling the islands of the Lesser Antilles. Unfortunately, due to Western expansion and colonization in the days of Columbus, the Kalinagos were reduced to living on Dominica because it was the least inhabitable Caribbean island. The Europeans began calling the natives “Caribs,” a corrupted version of their name, and the clash between the two groups continued for centuries, while simultaneously the Caribs retreated further and further into the interior of the island. Catholic missionaries attempted to ease the tension by forming the Carib territory. However, they neglected to take into consideration the Carib heritage of living off the sea, and to this day the Caribs have restricted access to the ocean.

Our travels for this last day brought us to their lands (see previous post for more details), and as I reflect on my experiences here the last week I am finding that the greatest thing for me here in Dominica is the people. I am by no means cultured, so this is a very new experience, but talking to the locals was fascinating. Everywhere the people are warm and welcoming, proudly saying “Welcome to my beautiful home. Enjoy your stay!” and happily wave as we drive by. The Carib territory is no exception. Even though they have been repressed for a long time, the are just as hospitable as all the rest. Walking around the church and old ruins today I met five girls from the ages of 3 to 15 standing on the steps of building nearby. They boldly said hello and asked me my name, so I went over and began talking to them.

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Our conversations lasted only twenty minutes or so, but they impressed me with their intelligence, courtesy and confident, yet humble manner that I don’t think I will ever forget the encounter. They spoke four languages: their native tongue, as well as English, French, and Spanish – three of which I’m positive they could do fluently. Their favorite subject was English, and when asked what they were going to do over their two week break for Easter Holiday, they giggled and said study for exams and play cricket.

I was sad to have to go (we had a tight schedule we had to stick to), but grateful to have had the opportunity to learn something from those with a modest living but incredibly rich minds and culture.

Bois Cotlette Estate

Today we did some more snorkeling in some pretty intense water at Scotts Head. I finally saw my first wild sea turtle! 🙂 That was amazing. I also got stung a few times by some jellyfish, which obviously wasn’t so amazing. I got to see an adult stoplight parrotfish which was also incredible to see. Next we moved on to our second stop for the day.  

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There, we visited a plantation called the Bois Cotlette Estate in Soufriere Valley. The plantation got its name from the Bois Cotlette tree (Citharexylum spinosum), which is common in the area. Michael Didier owns the estate, which has been passed down through his family since the 18th century. They are believed to be related to Empress Josephine of Napoleon.  In its hay day (the 1820’s), the plantation grew coffee and sugar, was 300 acres and utilized 20 slaves. In the 1890s the production of sugar had been deserted and the economy was shifting toward growing cocoa, which along with limes was seen as recovery for the economy of Dominica. The old sugar boilers on the plantation were modified so that they could boil lime juice. 

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Didier’s own background is in agricultural science, and he spent a lot of career working for the Dominican Ministry of Agriculture, where he developed sustainable banana harvesting techniques.  Currently, he is using the plantation grounds to cultivate and produce compost for local farmers.

It was a very educational and fun day. 😉

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Northeast Dominica

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Today we spent our first day over on the East side of the island. This is the Atlantic coast, and is the windward side of the island so it was much windier and had large waves. It also has some very interesting reef structures, such as fringing reefs. We first went snorkeling just south of the town of Calibishie. There was a not so friendly yet very photogenic young bull near where we were snorkeling, he posed nicely for some photos.

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After that we continued a little further south to Woodford hill beach. There were tons of kids all around some in their underwear and some even naked playing cricket, wrestling, swimming, and everything in between.

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Sascha and Demian were very surprised to see this much activity because usually the beach is empty. This week because of Palm Sunday and Easter the schools spend most of the days on “field trips”, such as this one to the beach. Either way it was cool to see all the kids, and we got to talk to and play with some of them, and Karen even let them bury her.

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Brian, Kate, Demian and I walked aways down the beach to a point of rock where we got in and began snorkeling. There was a huge reef structure in the middle the water. It had cliffs on all sides of it, and they were covered with beautiful corals, and zooanthids. It was really incredible, it would have been even more incredible had we had been permitted to use scuba equipment that would have allowed us access to the rest of the cliff, but apparently the school won’t allow us to use scuba equipment for whatever reason. I got some very nice closeup photos of the corals.

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Herping and our Beach Buddy!!!!

For all you who aren’t quite familiar with the term “Herping” it basically is the act of photographing or catching reptiles and amphibians. Today’s herping excursion started off with hopes of photographing or even possibly catching a Lesser Antillean Iguana (Iguana delicatissima), which was spotted in the canopy at this location by Tirzah the previous day. Clayton and I decide to wait until mid-day when the sun was at its highest, assuming they would be out to bask. We started walking around underneath the canopy keeping our heads facing up hoping to catch a glimpse of one, but we were easily distracted by all the Ameivas scurrying around us. After many misses Clayton and I finally caught a baby ameiva who was just adorable as can be.

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Baby Ameiva (Ameiva fuscata)

After a couple of hours of searching we came across an abandoned building. While trying once again to catch a huge Ameiva we came across this huge land crab!!!

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Huge land Crab!

After searching for so long we called it quits. We decided to go hike along the beach where we were approached by a very nice local by the name of Julius. He ever so nicely offered Clayton and I to smoke some weed (marijuana). Clayton and I have never smoked weed before and were definitely not about to start now. Once he realized that we were not interested he offered us some very nice looking necklaces that were very cheap. I personally was not able to decline the offer and I then told Tirzah, Nicole, and Karen about them and we all purchased one. He was so nice he even agreed to take a picture with all of us. This country has the nicest people I have ever met!!!!

 

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Karen, Nicole, Julius and I!!!

We got back to ITME and just when we thought our herping fun was over it wasn’t!!!! Lisa called to Clayton and I and pointed out what looked like to be a little skink, but actually wasn’t. It was actually a Worm lizard(Gymnophthalmus pleii)!!! That was our sixth herp species for the trip and still 3 whole days to go!!!!

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Worm Lizard!

Food, Glorious Food

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One of the goals of our group was getting the chance to eat local food.  We thought, if we were lucky, we might be able to stop by a restaurant or stand on a non-research day to sample local delicacies like goat milk and breadfruit.  We hoped we might get to find out if a meal influenced by French, African, an Indian food might be as good as it sounds. What we didn’t know is that ITME has a phenomenal chef named Miss Connie, who would be cooking us local delicacies three meals a day. 

Breakfasts here will seem very familiar to readers in the U.S.: yogurt, granolas, eggs, and toast.  The local flavor comes from the special extras like papaya jelly, fresh pineapple, and passion fruit juice.  Most of our lunches have been on the road and have consisted of interesting sandwich combinations like tuna salad with ham, or cheese with garlic mayonnaise.

The real event of the day for many of us, though, is Miss Connie’s dinner.  Each night she creates truly incredible buffets consisting of a main dish such as slow-baked chicken legs or tuna steaks.  Accompanying them are Indian-influenced side dishes including curried lentils with fried dascheen (a root vegetable akin to potato), or chickpeas in tomato sauce served on saffron rice.  Side dishes span from traditional produce, such as plantains, and newly-cultivated crops including cabbage, carrots, lettuce, and tomatoes.  Miss Connie has the ability to make these basic ingredients seems special each night by creating infinite varieties of salads ranging from plantain, fig, and corn, to cabbage dishes that seem a little like a coleslaw. 

As good as all this food is, many of us have picked a new entree as our favorite dish: Giraumon Soup.  This broth-based soup begins with chicken or vegetable stock.  Miss Connie purees it with roasted pumpkin, then adds cubed potatoes, green beans, and homemade dumplings.  Her secret ingredient for this and other dishes is what she calls “naturals”.   Each day, Miss Connie fills a large blender with chives, onion, garlic, celery tops, cilantro, and a few secret ingredients.  She purees this mixture until it forms a thick paste, then adds it to the soups or tops our fish with it.

Out of respect for limited natural resources and the island ecology, ITME has a “Clean Plate Club.”  Sascha, the director, warned us that there would be public shaming for anyone who took a greater portion than he or she could eat.  So far, that has most certainly not been a problem!

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Present Culture of Dominica

Dominica has a very rich culture that comes from its diverse mix of English, French, African, and Carib peoples. English is the official language of the island, however much of the population also speak kwéyòl (Creole), which is a French based patois. The clothing style on the island is strongly influenced by their history and traditions. Colorful garments are often plaid and batik-inspired patterns. Women particularly wear this unique style of clothing. The cuisine on the island is equally exotic, with a strong creole influence. There is an abundance of tropical fruits and vegetables, and an unlimited supply of seafood!