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.

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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