Monday, February 28, 2011

Nicknames and our little misadventure

Just a few observations about nicknames here. First, they are very widely used. Second, they follow you, good or bad, pretty much forever. Third, here you can know someone for a very long time without actually knowing their 'real' name. And fourth, they serve the purpose of providing an alias should you decide to do something illegal, with the idea that the police would look for you using your real name, which some may not even know. Sneaky. One of our regular bus drivers, Piley, which is embroidered on his dashboard Kleenex box, and Supa Ted, a driver we had on a Bridgetown-bound West coast bus, are just some of the names I have heard. In Canada, we generally call each other by our full name or a short or cutesy version of it. It is rarer to call someone another name all together on a regular basis. In Barbados, I have been known to respond to Shorty and most people’s nicknames correspond to physical features: Tall man, Big guy, Rasta, Red man, Picka (he is a picky eater), etc. We used to have some dancer friends here: Casper, Froggy and Scooby. But I like it all. Keep your eyes peeled for a future post on speakin' like a Bajan - Melissa is officially getting "lessons"!

On the weekend front, Saturday I met up for lunch with some friends of my dad’s – thanks for lunch, ice cream and friendly faces Jim and Silvia! – and limed the rest of the day away back at Crane Beach. And eating some coconuts right out the tree!
On Sunday, Melissa, Chris and I headed out to the West coast after my surf lesson with the vision of taking out the kayak, catching a glimpse of some turtles and snorkeling around the marine park. I had done it already many times on my own and even with Melissa last month, so by now I should have the routine down pact, right? How wrong I was. I heard swell was big on the West coast, since surfing Sunday morning at Freights on the South Coast was not that great wave-wise. Apparently when one is good, the other really isn’t. But even after dragging the kayak, snorkel gear, fins, anchor, waterproof camera, bread for attracting fish, towels and whatever else down to the water’s edge, the wave breaks along the beach seemed manageable. We had all the good intentions in the world, watching the wave sets and looking for a calm moment to push in the kayak and hop on. But we misjudged. Badly. And the kayak (which has a crack in it already) filled completely with water, making it an 8 foot long rock sinking and crashing into shore! It knocked Melissa clear off her feet, sprawling into the water, along with all of our gear! And me, who owns a kayak at home and is at least a self-professed intermediate kayaker, was at a loss to figure out how to drain the extremely awkward and weighty boat. Meanwhile, I am sure the row of tourists sunbathing nearby was particularly amused at our little chaotic antics. Essentially for about an hour, we wrestled with the waves and keeping the kayaking from taking in water on the launch. And then we realized that in the midst of all the confusion, we lost both snorkel masks – the whole purpose of going out in the first place!

Sam, if you’re reading this, Copper is looking for them, sorry! And your anchor as well. Not sure how we managed to lose that one. I suppose it’s a particular skill of mine.

All you can do is laugh it off, and after some good home cookin’ and a beautiful sunset, we headed back to the South coast, ready for the work week.

Check it out: post-surf lesson at Freights Bay!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunning and running!

With a cancelled surf lesson on Friday on account of high tides, I was hoping it would not be a bad omen for the rest of the weekend. With the success of the fishcakes last week, Melissa and I had two friends over for dinner on Friday, and headed off to Oistins for some dancing.

In case I somehow forgot to explain Oistins, it’s the central fish market on the South Coast, where fishermen sell their catch of the day and about 30 food vendors season, grill, fry, and serve up all varieties of seafood, chicken, salads, chips, macaroni pie and of course, beverages. Friday evenings, locals and tourists alike come out to enjoy good food, good music and in turn, some good dancing. For us, it’s a chance to unwind after the work week, run into friends (and foe), and indulge our foodie selves!

An invite earlier in the week from two new friends sent us to the island’s fanciest resort on Saturday afternoon: The Crane. I was told that the classification goes beyond the star-rating and is rated as a 4-diamond resort. I’m talking four pools, hot tub, a glass elevator down a cliff to the beach, ponds filled with coy fish - the works. Felt a little bit out of place, and as much as I try to avoid feeling or acting like a tourist at all costs, the day trip was beautiful and relaxing. And the cliff views out into the Caribbean Sea were breathtaking. I just feel bad for those tourists who come to Crane, with its restaurants, convenience stores and boutiques, and never experience everything else Barbados has to offer. And we got a tour of another relatively unexplored Parish: St. Philip. Mostly sugarcane fields and twisting roads, but the land is cheaper and it’s not too far from the action.

Sunday was time for my second race event in Barbados. And, like last time when I convinced Laurie to run the half-marathon with me, my friend Rodney was victim number two. And he did not come willingly and insisted on trash talking! The Holetown festival on the West coast has been going on all week, with Sunday being the last day. The festival consists mostly of vendors selling food, toys, art, jewelery and loads of other stuff. It was nice to see a familiar face, with Sam’s friend Maria showcasing her art. After poking around and resisting food for most of the afternoon, I caved and had a blueberry smoothie about an hour before the race. Probably not the smartest choice. And 4pm is not really an ideal time to be running in the heat, even it’s JUST 7k (Rodney hated that I was calling it ‘just’ which cracked me up). Actually finished better than I thought: 36:48, with Rodney coming in 30 seconds and a broken shoe later. He seems to think revenge will come at the Oistins Fish Festival 10k in April. We’ll see :) One funny comment came from a guy who I ran past during the race: “Hey sweetie, can I massage your feet when you finish?” I don’t think so.

After a dip in the sea, the arrival of Melissa’s brother Chris, the intake of many litres of water and many fishcakes, I was wiped. Now time for another week of work – at least there is the State of the World’s Children publication launch happening Friday to help with, plus a few other projects I have going on. And let me tell you, having Chris here is pumping me up for my little bro to come visit in a few weeks; my first overseas visitor!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Reflections on things I love

As I sit here in a sugar coma, induced by warm brownies and ice cream, I can’t help but turn my thoughts to all the love that I have in my life. My family, my friends here, back home and around the world, and countless things that make me smile. I ordinarily boycott Valentine’s Day, apart from the chocolate and sweets, as a singular day to express your love, preferring to do so the other 364 days in the year. I found it a bit odd waiting in line at the grocery store today, watching men buy fake roses wrapped in cellophane and cheesy cards from China, that in a country where it seems so many men, and increasingly women, have more than one partner, that V-Day seems a sort of day of redemption. On my part, I thought it nice to consider some of the many things I love in life, apart from people – they know who they are and I will make sure they know they are loved another day.

1. Skype – when phone connections suck, budget is tight and a voice isn’t enough, Skype answers the call and helps me feel connected!

2. Digital Camera – knowing my memory problems, photos help me relive moments over and over again, and reconstruct an experience on scrapbook pages.

3. Running – just you, body and soul, to exhert, unwind and reflect while you push yourself. Looking forward to the Holetown 7km run with our friend Rodney on Sunday. He seems to think I'm going to kick his butt :)

4. Ice cream – ok I couldn’t not include it. In fact, here is what my ice cream looked like an hour ago:

5. Stephen Lewis and Romeo Dallaire – two men I highly respect and admire for their humanitarian work in Canada and abroad.

6. Aloe vera – it’s the new windex; the current cure-all!

7. The feeling of a cool breeze on your face and through your hair, where you can just close you eyes and breathe it in.

8. Comfort food that feels like a rainbow in your tummy - you know those days where you can completely satisfy a craving, or when you try a new recipe out and it tastes divine; sit back and savour it :)

9. Peaceful, restful sleep - the kind where you really feel ready to tackle life when you get up; definitely need more of those mornings!

10. The feeling you get when you give a little surprise to someone and get their excited reaction - the best kind of egoism.

And while I'm at it, I want to thank in particular the friends that I don't keep in touch with as frequently as I would like, but who take the time to read here and keep posted on what I'm up to. When I see the stats and check out which countries are reading, it really brightens my day. Thank you with all my heart.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Surfing and fishcakes

I know that I haven’t talked much about the work I’m currently doing and I would like to share, but before I forget, let’s recap my weekend real quick. Essentially I limed my afternoons away, setting up a surf lesson for this morning.

Having only surfed with Sam on the West coast, I was a bit anxious about proving myself with a new instructor and a new surf spot – Freights Bay on the South coast with Christian and a group of EU diplomats (who are pretty cool). Even though I slathered on the SPF30 before heading out, I burned quite nicely. But it was worth it. When I’m out in the water, no matter how exhausted I am from paddling, it’s like I’m in my own world out there and life is good. I even watched a turtle stick its head out of the water and look around right in front of me! I rode a couple of good waves, one I even rode, thought it was over so I popped down then realized it was still going, so I jumped back up!
Burnt and worn out, I headed home to nap and make fishcakes for dinner, attempt number two at learning to cook Bajan.

I meant to make the fishcakes Saturday, but after forgetting baking powder and oil at the store, fatigue got the better of me and I tried them today. It’s essentially a fried ball of dough with spices, saltfish, onions, shallots and a bit of hot pepper – delicious! They turned out great ☺

Now back to another work week - but work is going fairly well. There are always challenges but I'm positive about the remainder of the placement. I'm working on a series of focus groups right now with teens to figure out how to engage this generation to talk and take action on issues that affect them, particularly using social networks. So far, a lot of interesting stuff coming out and a lot of social commentary that make my jaw drop! Apart from that, I got our office a social media presence with a Facebook and Youtube page, and trying to work on building up followers from around the region, particularly youth and those that UNICEF could partner with on projects. And I got the office using Prezi to make more engaging presentations for donors and stakeholders, which is fun for me and will involve some training of staff. Otherwise, as Tom, the Representative, joked at a staff meeting last week, he'll have to hire me as his personal consultant when I leave. Wednesday this week is the big meeting on presenting and discussing this year's Country Program Document (or CPD since the UN is very fond of acronyms) with Education and Social Affairs government departments in each of the (now) 12 countries that our office covers, since Anguilla was recently added. That's about it for an update right now!

And Melissa and I got a special (edible!) surprise from France this week, yummy! Gros bisous cocotte :D

And this is how happy I was to eat my first cheeseburger in months:

Sunday, February 6, 2011

In case you thought a conkie was a shell

That would be a conk shell you would be thinking of. This one is a traditional Bajan dessert made with pumpkin, coconut and sweet potato, wrapped up and steamed in a banana leaf. You may remember me eating some around Independence Day (think same time I tried pigs tail). Sherri-Anne, who works at the UN, lent me a “Best of Barbados Cookbook” and inspired me to at least attempt some of the recipes. And why not start big!

So after collecting all the ingredients on Friday, I woke up Saturday morning with the intention of starting early. After remembering the warnings from others that conkies take all day, I finally pulled up two recipes I decided on - the one from Sherri-Anne’s cookbook and this one - and starting assembling the ingredients.

Step 1: Leaf hunting
Luckily we have a banana tree in our backyard, which has rebounded at least partially from Tomas. I tried to pick big, green leaves that weren’t torn much, so I could get good square sections to wrap the mixture in. I found out that you need big pieces so that the mixture doesn’t fall out everywhere. Didn't really get that until later on in the process. I felt a little odd out there with my kitchen scissors snipping away, though by the end of the day I would have to go out about 4 more times to get leaves. I scrubbed them off with soap and water and let them dry.

Step 2: Singeing the leaves (and that means fire!)
This one seemed pretty straightforward at first: take the clean leaves, put them over an open flame so they will get pliable to be able to fold around the conkie mixture. After burning up my fingers and a little trial and error - how was I supposed to know the leaves actually change colour when you leave them over the flame for the right amount of time? - I got the first batch of leaves singed. I started separating the leaves from the stalks, which I chopped up to use in the pots to create a steamer for these little guys. Cut 'em up in squares and on to the mix.

Step 3: Grating, grating and more grating
I bought a 3lb piece of pumpkin and used about 2lbs of sweet potato, and without a food processor or blender, and with the help of Melissa and the finest side of our hand grater, it took about an hour to get a pile of orange and white goop into the mixing pot. Mix that with the pictured ingredients (plus a pack of grated coconut) and you some delicious conkie batter! I put in dried cranberries and some raisins - normally its raisins and dried fruit or candied cherries but it can be whatever your heart desires really.

Step 4: Packing those parcels
This is the most fun part! And also took even longer than the grating, since I had to repeat step 1 and 2 about three or four times after grossly underestimating how many conkies the batter would make. And I had a few casualties where the banana leaf split while I was folding them. In the end, I had three pots with the banana stalk steamers set up inside them going at once. I heard different cooking times depending on the recipe - anywhere from 30 mins to 2 hours. But I read that the conkies get fairly firm when they're done so I just waited until the leaves got darker and opened them up to check. Without anyone to ask, I just winged it!

Step 5: Steaming and sampling
So after two ronds of steaming, and burning the bottom of two pots from not have enough water, I ended up with about 25 pretty looking conkies, 2 that broke while cooking and stuck to the inside of the pot, and 6 that burst a bit out of the leaves. I thought I'd photograph the ugly ducklings of the bunch. Started just after 1pm and finished just before 7pm, with one very messy kitchen. I lay them all out to cool but was hesitant to sample - what if after 6 hours of work, I had made conkies that would either disgust or offend people? This was almost a national dish! Luckily a friend of my roommate Julie, a Bajan, dropped by an sampled one. And I quote: "That's a good conkie." Phew. Fears curbed, I set about dividing them up to give to people in the office, to a few friends and of course, for us! I can't wait to see the reaction of people :)

Now I just need to find some coconut ice cream to top it off - and it will be heavenly!

UPDATE: I brought conkies over to Copper and Agatha's place (where I snorkel, fish and kayak on weekends) and got a really enthusiastic response :) Copper said they were really good, and even said I make conkies better than some Bajans he knows. One of Copper's daughters said she loved it. Left some for Avalon, who was fixing the fishing boat I caught the big fish on. Bringing some to work tomorrow!