Monday, January 31, 2011

Hard to say goodbye

No no, I’m not leaving here any time soon. But I am saying goodbye to a really good friend here, who is really a big reason why I have been able to experience so much of the culture here. Not the time to be selfish, and I really do wish Sam all the best in the UK; you never know when you might see someone again. If the connection I share with a pile of wonderful Americans who I met in Tanzania is any indication, I know that you make the effort to see people you care about – and it’s always more than worth it. Looks like I will need to venture off solo to find more things to do. Or become extremely fluent in Spanish.

Our last weekend hanging out couldn’t have been complete without a pass off of knowledge of how to make the best fire for roasting breadfruit. I can guarantee a beach fire with roasted fish and breadfruit to any island visitors :) I had another surf lesson that went really well. On Friday, I watched this inspiring surf movie Riding Giants about big wave surfing emerging in the U.S. It was absurd! So for Saturday’s lesson, I was probably a little too pumped. After about 30 minutes of paddling around and trying to catch a wave, Sam took pity on me and started helping me out with timing. I’m telling you, I can pop up, ride the wave and pop down – but catching the wave requires reading the ocean. Not so easy!

Other than the surf, I ended up going with Sam up to Speightstown, the most historically significant town in Barbados, where Brits first landed on the island. The coastal winding streets displaying colonial architecture now contrast with modern hotels and resorts. Even though the island is relatively small, the size of Ottawa with less than half of its population, there are still so many places that I haven’t seen yet! And I got my first glimpse of the all-inclusive tourist life and got a chance to use some of their goods! I got my first sailing lesson – though I’m nowhere near ready for a real regatta – and it was really fun just coasting along the beach. After another breadfruit roast, Sam convinced a friend to let me water ski for a few minutes, which made my legs feel like jello. Another tidbit I found out this weekend is that there is a festival going on in Holetown in a few weeks – and there is a 7km afternoon race. Motivation to keep up the running! And to ignore the CONSTANT ice cream truck bells I hear everywhere. I’m telling you, I hear them in my sleep – it’s my official anthem in Barbados!

So this week, I get to learn more about what it feels like on the other end. How it feels to say goodbye. Time to keep things in perspective and make my favourite caveman proud. Time to hone by exploration skills and pretend iza Bajan!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Happy Errol Barrow Day!

Who was this lovely gentleman, you may ask? Errol Barrow was the founding father of Barbados, so why not celebrate his birthday – any excuse for a good, family BBQ Bajan-style! Unfortunately, the UN only gets a certain number of holidays so we had a rainy half-day of work, but as soon as 1pm rolled around, my roommate Melissa and I hopped on a bus to the West Coast, to Roadview, St. Peter, to enjoy the rest of the beautiful day with our friend Sam’s family. With juice and chocolate in tow, we had no idea the home cooking that was awaiting us. Sam had mentioned something about roasting breadfruit and fish, but the wood slotted oven built from sliced scraps would have made any caveman proud! The gist of it is that you build up the oven around the breadfruit, set the thing on fire, and wait for it to fall apart into ashes. Then the veggies are ready. And somewhere in there, you throw in some aluminum-wrapped sweet potato, a whole coconut and seasoned whole fish. While we watched it all be built up and fall apart, we sampled some fresh fried flying fish (tongue twister!) and bonita fish. Yum!

But the best was yet to come. Caveman’s ingenious bonfire yielded amazing roasted breadfruit – which reminded Melissa and I of ugali but better, with a dip of ketchup, pepper sauce and butter. How can you go wrong! And the roasted coconut was really nice as well.
And as the piece de resistance – the roasted fish were out of this and we revenged it right out of the foil. It felt so good and natural to eat stuff right out of the ground and sea. And a lovely sunset dip in the Sea to end off the day. And Saturday had even more down-to-earth cooking after Melissa and I went out to learn to catch big fish. After seeing some crazy looking splashing not so far from the boat, we circled around a few times before I felt a tug. After enlisting some help, I pulled out an 8-pounder – not bad!

Melissa steered the boat for a bit, but I’m not so good at that stuff, so I just played around with some flying fish that we caught earlier – flying fish is the national animal of Barbados and they have very large fins that spread out to allow them to jump out and almost hover in the air for a split second. I guess pretty fun to catch with nets.

And after that excitement, another bonfire was set up and, after guts were removed, roasted the flying fish “in their jackets” and got the 101 on de-boning, taking off the skin and what not to eat on the inside. Taking the skin off and dunking them in the saltwater provides as much seasoning as you need on these babies. Needless to say, I’m eating a lot of fish and loving it.

Caribbean Cricket

Not your grandpa’s 3-day cricket that breaks for afternoon tea. I’m talking about decently exciting 20/20-style where each team bats for 20 overs (think innings where only 6 balls are thrown) and each time runs are scored, dancers are wukking up and people are jumping out their seats and waving 4 or 6-run mini-posters! Overall – a surprisingly fun atmosphere! So Wednesday night Canada was playing Barbados at the Oval downtown, so with a (patient) Bajan friend in tow, I was off to my first match. First off, I was told that cricket wasn’t dissimilar to baseball, except that you only run back and forth in a line with wickets (tall stick things) at either end. But what I didn’t know was that one team bats the full 20 overs (takes about an hour and a half) before the other team takes over.

We arrived a bit late for the 8pm game but it didn’t end up starting until closer to 9 – typical Bajan time. Barbados was up first, so after a barrage of questions about what has going on, I was finally starting to understand. Mostly I just liked cheering and jumping up with everyone else! But the rain wasn’t holding up so the game was interrupted about four times in the first half, so a lot of what I watched was this:

So what do you eat at a cricket match you might ask? Fishcakes with pepper sauce and Banks! I think I might be mildly addicted to fishcakes. It seems like a large number of people from the Canadian ex-pat community came out to the game as well. Here is a highlight of why I was cheering for Barbados and keeping my nationality a little hush-hush:

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Coconuts 101

In the spirit of positivity, I really had a great week and a really nice weekend. Of course the week it had its glitches – embarrassing myself in my first Spanish lesson, finding out that more friends have ulterior motives – but work and meetings with Trinidad and Tobago colleagues went well and I even got to present my work on social media at the all staff meeting on Thursday. I was happy with how it went and received a lot of positive feedback, which gave me a bit of natural high the rest of the morning! My weekend started early with a tour of Parliament and Harrison’s Cave in the afternoon. Parliament was cool, just essentially a smaller version of Canada’s Senate and House of Commons, but with all the same silly formalities. The Caves, advertised as a “must see” for tourists in Barbados, was very beautiful but a little too built up. I love seeing natural wonders, in a naturally wonderful place. Glass elevators and fancy Segway trams aside, the winding tunnels of stalactites and stalagmites, with carved waterfalls and calcium deposits made me wonder how Barbados came to be formed geologically – which luckily they showed in a film after the tour.

With the surf not so ideal, I opted to learn a little something about coconuts. Who knew they would be such a complex…fruit? Sam was asked to pick coconuts and do some trimming at an old (and adorable) German lady’s place so I tagged along to get what Sam dubbed a “coconut education.” And now I will bestow my newfound learnings on y’all.

Essentially, there are three main stages that a coconut goes through while it’s on the tree. When the fruit is still young, it’s green, smooth and the coconut water inside will be at its prime and the flesh is really just a gel at this time. And generally you see alcoholic drinks being served in young coconuts. Over the next few months, the coconut starts drying out, becoming more fibrous and getting brown veiny spots on the outside. The water tastes sour or bitter but the flesh inside is getting meaty so it’s apparently at the best for using in coconut bread. Finally, about six months after the youngin’ popped up, the “old” coconut, with most of the water gone, will be ready. After hacking off the outside and middle fibers, the core is what we see, at home, as a coconut – with a hairy, hard, brown shell and white flesh. I had no idea! Part of me really wanted to learn to climb the tree, but Bajans learn from young so I think I will leave that to the professionals.
Topping the rest of the day off with snorkeling, napping on the beach, fish soup and ice cream, I got introduced to the indigenous sport of Barbados. Want to wager a guess? Road tennis! Take the look of a ping-pong tabletop, enlarge it on pavement and combine it with tennis rules and you got road tennis. Apparently the game has been played here for close to 50 years and now a few other nations are jumping in too. I can see the appeal – super cheap to play, you can draw up a court almost anywhere and it’s a pretty good workout. It looks like this:

I should get to practicing some Spanish so that I don’t stick out like a sore thumb in lessons next week!

Hasta luego!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Christmas in Canada

Why would you trade the warmth and beaches of the Caribbean for the cold, barrenness of a Canadian winter?! Are you crazy?!

Apparently so. So now that we’re past a discussion of my sanity, I had a really wonderful and energizing time in Ottawa over Christmas. I have to admit that getting off that plane that first night, I thought I could never be warm again. I definitely have a better appreciation for new Canadians and winter visitors – it was as if my bones were cold too! Needless to say, my weakling ways wore off (mostly) after a few days of being back. I got to enjoy a bit of snow, make new friends and spend some quality time with old ones, reconnect with my family and get my fill of Canadiana – though I forgot to have a poutine!

Seeing friends and family over the holidays was a privilege, something I don’t always get to do when I’m abroad. But this was the first time I actually had two separate lives running parallel and active at the same time!

I couldn’t help but be curious about what roommates and friends in Barbados were doing and get the scoop on what I would be going back to. Don’t get me wrong; there was nowhere else I would rather be than home for the holidays. It was just over in a flash and now I’m back in the swing of my Caribbean life, though there seem to be more challenges than I remember. But my new years ‘resolution’ (not big on the formality of making one) is to seek positivity in my life and be responsible for my own happiness. All that to say: I plan on not letting others affect my ability to enjoy life. There are always people who want to put you down, who treat you as though you are a lower human life form and who see only what they can gain from you.

So here I am, starting my first full week back to work and to life on a small island with an unwavering optimism that, while being tested, is making me feel grounded. Plus, we have UNICEF colleagues from Trinidad and Tobago coming in this week to make sense of our new programme for this year – quite the challenge to merge two offices. And Patrick, my supervisor, hasn’t once called me Julie this year! UPDATE: Scratch that, he did this morning.

Welcome back to Barbados! Looks like everyone is coming for a visit:

Side story from the trip back: On a positive note, while overnighting in Toronto Pearson Airport on my way back here, I helped an elderly Chinese lady who couldn’t speak a word of English to go across terminals to catch a flight to Hong Kong. She sat beside me on the flight from Ottawa and after landing she latched on to my arm and never let go, pointing excitedly at the boarding pass in the pouch around her neck. So without so much as a word, I took her up and down escalators (did I mention this might have been her first time out of China), on moving sidewalks, trying to get to Terminal 3 where international airlines depart from. So we hobbled onto the skytrain and got off in a deserted corridor. It was at that point that my heart sunk. I never checked to see if her baggage was going all the way through! What if her bags were still in Terminal 1?! Luckily the woman at the Cathay Airlines counter could speak with her, and after outfitting her with a wheelchair (why hadn’t I thought of that?) and a pin with her seat number, she told me that indeed her luggage was on the plane. Phew! And I got a heartfelt thank you via the Cathay translator. At least I only had 7 more hours to kill before my morning flight!