Tuesday, November 4, 2008

island hopping.

"i have seen many things in my travels, and i understand more than i can express. "
ecclesiasticus 34:12

so thankful for the opportunity to travel. to see new places. new people. my wise friend back in boone, mrs. mitchell, used to say that "travel is broadening, in more was than one" with her jubilant laugh. she has lived a well traveled life. and naturally acquired much wisdom along the way.

and i look at maps and wonder where else i might end up in life. where else my feet might journey.

recently my feet ventured to dominica. the nature island of the caribbean. to experience a different island. traveled during their creole festival. so the trip offered an abundance of nature and culture.

methodists are known for their connections. and through caribbean-methodist connections, i found a host family. romo, my host mom, was amazingly hospitable. welcomed me with tremendous love. like one of her own children. even though i had never met her before. i stayed for the week with romo and her husband steve and their daughter gisselle. other folks passing by for the festival from antigua and grenada also enjoyed the hyacinth hospitality.

i've learned that the way to travel is to have local folks to stay with. it means so much to be a part of a family. and gives so much insight into everyday life. my goal is to make friends all over the world with couches or at least floor space to stay on. there's so much more world to see...

to get to dominica, i landed in st. vincent. changed planes in antigua. landed in guadalupe. and finally arrived in waitukubuli. that's the name the kaliningo/carib indians gave to this breathtaking land. their name meant "tall is her body." describing the overwhelming mountains. and supposedly the depths of the sea around the island are just as vast as her heights. waitukubuli. land of boundless height and depth and beauty. and flying over her was amazing. she's different from the other islands i flew over. so much unspoiled, mountainous forest. much more sparsely populated. and just flying in i was anticipating falling in love.

the ride from the airport was long but inexpressibly scenic. enjoyed the commentary from delwyn the taxi guy. about dominican culture. and carnival. and creole festival. and food. and all sorts of things. romo greeted me warmly when i arrived. she was in the midst of cooking sunday lunch. and she let me hang out with her while she cooked. those are some of my most favourite moments. talking with women while cooking. women like mom. and glenda. and maureen. and amanda. and now romo. she prepared a ridiculous amount of food. but it was leftovers for the balance of the busy week. baked chicken. baked fish. stuffed fish. stewed pork. mixed vegetables. macaroni pie. mashed breadfruit. avacado balls. guava juice. cherry juice. and as she cooked, she wouldn't really let me help, we chatted and began getting to know each other. she's quite the host. thrives on entertaining people. so it seemed i had arrived at the right place. the methodist minister and his family enjoyed us to share in the meal. and we ate there in the living room as the pre-independence day festivities played on the tv. and it felt good to be a part of a family sunday lunch. to be taken care of.

eventually went to a harvest service at church and then a fashion show with romo and gisselle. not exactly my thing. but i went along with it.

monday morning, found my tea and breakfast on the table. as i would every morning. romo rising earlier than everyone else to take care of her family. we took gisselle to school in town. and then romo helped me get a ride down south to grand bay. the cultural centre of dominica. i was to meet tamara, romo's niece who is a secondary math teacher. tagged along with tamara to her classes. she even had me teach her youngest group, form one, word problems. it was neat to see tamara's camaraderie with the other staff. a sense of fellowship and friendship. and nice to get to chat with her throughout the day.

monday afternoon was traveling back to town with tamara to collect her five year old son zheim. the three of us ventured to creole in the park. sampling creole food and listening to live music. i tried sanconche, a broth made with codfish and coconut milk and provision. discovered that creole food means a lot of codfish. we eventually met up with some of tamara's teacher friends. and then found romo for the ride home.

tuesday woke up without a plan. everyone was working. and romo in her protective motherly way wasn't crazy about me navigating public transport. so she encouraged me to find some sort of tour or hire a taxi to take me around or something. the most reasonable adventure i found was to take a tour to the indian river and the beach. it sounded fun. before the tour, i walked around roseau with a brochure about historical sights. then met up with my fellow traveling companions for the day. a family from france living in martinique. who spoke some english. but elvis, our tour guide, spoke bilingually the entire day. i laughed on the inside at my random company. but appreciated the chance to explore. elvis expressed his extensive knowledge of plants and animals and all things dominican along the way. stopping to pick lemon grass. and ferns that made tattoos. and watch the iguanas. we eventually made it to portsmouth where we caught a boat up the indian river. a quiet, peaceful chance to be amidst creation. we saw a view from fort shirley. and bathed at the purple turtle beach. and caught the sunset there. a random day. but i was thankful for it.

wednesday, elvis invited me to go on a hiking excursion. he does botanical research and had to set up some weather stations anyways. so i tagged along on his adventure. met him in laudat, his village, and we journeyed to freshwater lake, titou gorge, and middlehem falls. amidst utter beauty. and the conversation was highly interesting. as elvis continued to share his insights about nature and politics and history and life. it was probably one of my favourite days. just felt happy. we met meryl, the lady from new zealand/england hiking near the falls. so i had another traveling companion back to roseau. and the liquid sunshine fell in abundance. but we didn't mind. it cooled things off. and we even caught a little creole in the park when we got back to town. and i awkwardly enjoyed some callilou and crab soup.

thursday, caught a ride to town with romo without much of a plan again. ended up catching a bus up to the carib territory. i find it fascinating that people of carib ancestory still live in dominica. there aren't any people of carib descent still living in grenada. and it was a pretty touristy thing to do. but it was something that interested me. so i saw a cultural performance. and toured the model carib homes. and saw amazing views of the atlantic ocean. and most of my favourite moments were riding the public transport. amidst everyday folks. diverse folks. and everyday conversations. taking in the scenery. i seemed to see more obvious poverty out in that part of the country than the town side.

also ventured to champagne beach to check out the hot spring bubbling sea. and passed by the last evening of creole in the park. found my way to the wob dwiyet pageant. in which romo was one of the main organizers. a contest of young women from each parish that involved traditional wear and talent performances with other interspersed cultural performances. it was interesting to see. and neat that there is such effort toward continuing traditions.

thursday evening helped me to understand friday's events. went to school again with tamara for creole day. everyone dressed in their plaid madras. including me in my creole skirt i found in a hole in the wall fabric shop in town. and there was a mini-wob dwiyet pageant at the school with singing and dancing and acting by the students. so much creativity and culture. much of the program was spoken in patois/creole. a language of broken french that evolved during slavery and is still used in dominica today. so i had little clue about what was being spoken, but the student beside me translated. patios has nearly died out in grenada. only a few elderly still know it. it was used more of a secret language among adults and failed to be passed on to many children. so the fact that it has survived and is still used today, especially among the young is fascinating to me. and of course, they had the traditional creole foods at school. smoked herring and breadfruit. callilou and crab. bakes and codfish.

friday afternoon was hurried souvineer shopping at the old market in roseau with tamara. and then getting ready for the creole festival that night. went with romo and gisselle and her cousin and romo's friend brenda to the festivities. lots of bands, local and regional, that played reggae and calypso and soca and creole music until the wee hours of the morning. enjoyed the chance to dance without inhibition. everyone just doing their own thing. however, i was quite exhausted by the end. i'm a music festival kind of girl. but a daytime music festival kind of girl.

saturday was lovely. slept very little. but met up with tamara to go see the trafalgar waterfalls and sulfur springs near where zheim's grandmother lives. enjoyed the moments with her. in conversation. in silence. and of course enjoyed the natural beauty all around.

relaxed back at tamara's in goodwill. and got ready for another night of creole music. like the night before, ended up sleeping with most of the crowd in the truck before it was over. i guess i'm not as hard core as the typical world creole festival goer. but i tried.

returning home was packing and catching the taxi back to melville hall. spending more time than preferred in the antiguan airport. but i was able to catch up on journaling and post card writing and things. and of course people watch. as airports are perfect for.

and there's always much more to say. so much more than words or pictures can convey. but dominica is a part of me now. and i will never forget her beauty. the sign at the airport said "thanks for visiting our nature isle. please come again."or something like that. and i wondered if i would see her again. but i was entirely thankful for our encounter at least this once. and i know if i ever find a way again, romo would gladly offer me a place to stay.

and something that struck me as i returned to grenada. especially to my community of grand roy. that i was happy to see people again. familiar people. people who know me. people who welcomed me back. people who had missed me. and my dominican adventure was lovely. but was just a taste. here in grenada, i've become a part of things. and for these adventures on the isle of spice, i am also immensely thankful.


Liz said...

abby - your trip sound refreshing and wonderful and beautiful! i'm so glad you got to go! but your last few lines are the most beautiful. i'm so glad that you have become part of that community there. sometimes, it takes going away for awhile and then returning to realize just how much a part of the community you are!

joanne gomo said...

Very nice. I love the Caribbean.I am a Trinidadian but hope to visit Dominica soon.