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Archive for May, 2010

Day 1

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
come before his presence with singing…
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving,
and into his courts with praise;
be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting;
and his truth endureth to all generations.

Psalm 100

***

It is late in the evening now, and we’ve just returned to the Guest House after the first day of the Caribbean Initiative Reflection Gathering. Most of the friends, blissful but exhausted from the intensity of the day, headed straight to their rooms after getting off the bus…but I—having a blog posting due tomorrow—set up camp in the communal kitchen to brew some coffee and write. I stared at the computer screen for a good while, wondering how, in my lumbering command of the English language, I’d be able to articulate the feelings generated by the the first day of this heavenly reunion.

But then Lionel from Barbados walked into the room, and began to sing.

“My God, my Adored One, my King, my Desire!” he intoned, his song filling the kitchen (I think even my coffee cup trembled). “What tongue can voice my thanks, voice my thanks to Thee?”

What tongue can voice my thanks to Thee?

I can think of no more appropriate way to sum up the day.

I will, of course, share a few more little details. But all you really need to know is contained in Lionel’s song.

***

We woke up yesterday giddy with excitement. May 25th had finally arrived! I should probably offer a little footnote for all these exclamation marks. Roushy and haven’t been counting down the days out of eagerness to leave the Carib Territory—and I have no doubt that by the end of these two weeks in Trinidad, we’ll be eager to return home to share all the learnings and joy and energy with our community in Dominica. But I don’t know how we couldn’t be bubbling over with anticipation at the prospect of reuniting with our friends and fellow pioneers from across the region, for fourteen blessed days of sharing and reflection (and hot showers!).

At around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, Roushy, Emelda, Francillia and I piled into the back of Mr. Ricky’s silver pickup truck, which would take us to the Melville Hall airport. Accompanying us were Ismenie, “Daddy” (Francillia’s father), Marvis, and Kimberly: a wonderful send-off crew. After many hugs, we boarded the tiny Liat plane, en route to Port of Spain, Trinidad.

What should have been a 30 minute flight (if we woulda flown straight there), took five and a half hours, stopping at Antigua, St. Vincent, and Granada before reaching Trinidad. But we were in such high spirits that the extra hours on the plane only heightened our excitement. It was raining heavily in each Island we alighted on, and Trinidad was no exception. But the night air was warm, and the moon was bright, and the downpour made the city shine. We had been searching for Bahá’ís on each stopover, but we didn’t spot a single nine-pointed star necklace, or World Unity tee-shirt, or any of the other obvious indicators. 😉 When we reached the airport in Trinidad, however, it was a Bahá’í deluge! There were new friends, old friends, islanders and foreigners, but no one was a stranger…and we all basked in each other’s warmth. Around midnight, we squeezed into an enormous bus, which trundled through the rain-drenched streets to deposit us at the guest house.

It was late, but who could sleep? There were too many stories to be shared, too many hands to shake, hugs to give, laughs to…uh…laugh? Laughs to be had. We were all a bit bleary-eyed the next morning, but—mercifully—the first session of the day didn’t begin until 1pm. And from then, until late in the evening, we sang. We prayed. We sang some more (well, praying and singing are really one and the same here). We shared our understandings of the purpose of the Caribbean Initiative. We read and reflected on the 2010 Ridvan Message from the Universal House of Justice, the subject of our study for the first nine days of this encounter. We feasted on lovingly prepared meals of chicken, rice and beans, greens, pineapple and passion fruit juices, cakes. And then we sang some more. When we were here six months ago, I lost my voice by Day Three. I suspect it may go even earlier this time, but it doesn’t matter. I will still clap my hands, and dance.

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Kwéyòl -la

Cé lang gwan gwan mama nou
Ay i bien dou
Eben anou palai Kwéyòl-la
Me’n pa abizai Kwéyòl-la
Non-plee pa ma-pwe-zai Kwéyòl-la
Kwéyòl-la cé un viay papa

Kwéyòl-la cé lang Dominik
Kwéyòl-la cé lang Martnik
Kwéyòl-la cé lang Scent Licci
Kwéyòl-la cé lang Scent-Vincent Occi
Kwéyòl-la cé lang Ahiti
Kwéyòl-la cé lang Guadeloupe
Kwéyòl-la cé un go soup*

A poem, called “Creole,” which I copied from the notebooks of one of the Junior Youth. A rough translation is available at the bottom of the page, but for now, please note that the last line reads “Creole is a big soup.”


Edible

They say hunger is the best sauce…but, here, I would modify that a little. In the Carib Territory—where one can virtually never go hungry due to the abundance of natural edibles—sharing is the best sauce. And as a general rule (whether one is cooking in a kitchen in Gaulette River, Dominica or Brooklyn, New York), I believe that innovation can be a rather good sauce as well.**

Finding myself with a couple of free hours on Monday afternoon, I decided to cook supper, so that when we returned from the evening activities, all we’d have to do is a bit of re-heating. I stood in the middle of the kitchen for a moment, pretending to weigh out my options…knowing all the while that my culinary M.O. tends to be “When in doubt, make soup.” Gosh, how I love making soup.

I surveyed the contents of our cupboard and fridge. Kitchen inventory-taking always happens in two stages. At first glance, the rations seem pretty low. By the second glance, however, one remembers that our “inventory” here includes the resources of the whole neighborhood…and this neighborhood contains generous souls, and a generous jungle.

The first glance took in the remainders of last Thursday’s shopping trip: a small bag of lentils, a few onions, salt, some oatmeal, and a bag of vitamin-C gummy bears sent from home. As much as I enjoy gastronomic experimentation, I wasn’t quite bold enough to try out oatmeal and gummy bears in soup. But I deemed the onions, lentils, and salt a good base from which to work. Oh, and there was also Strega Nona’s bag of Guyanese Curry. Did you ever read the story of Streg Nona? It was one of my childhood favorites: the tale of an Italian granny and her magical pot, which was able to produce an unending supply of pasta. The bag of curry I speak of is much like Strega Nona’s pot. It was given to Roushy and me during the Caribbean Initiative training in Trinidad***, from two dear Guyanese friends who’d brought the curry from home. This was back in November, and, since then, we’ve used the curry in almost every dinner. Yet the bag—impossibly—remains more than half-full! I just know Strega Nona has her hand in this, somehow.

Now, as soup-worthy as the curry-lentil-onion-and-salt combination may have been, I knew we could do a lot better than this. So I glanced again, taking into consideration the gifts of the neighborhood. First and foremost, there was the bag of Grafted Mangoes (yes, they merit capitalization). I think mangoes have been mentioned in the last two or three blog entries, but I don’t know that I’ve detailed the different types of mangoes proffered by the trees here. Even though I’ve lived in a couple of other tropical places, I always assumed that a mango was just a mango. Life on this island, however, has taught me that mangoes come many forms, each with a unique color and texture. And they don’t all ripen at the same time. First came Mango Was, then Mango St. Lucia, then Mango Bitterskin, then Mango Long…and now, the grand finale of mango season: the Grafted Mango. On the morning of the soup-making Monday, our 7-year-old neighbors, Keesh and Romeo (who are blessed with a Grafted Mango tree in their backyard—we have only Was trees and Long trees), brought over a gift akin to a pot of gold: nine Grafted Mangoes. Of course, they had to go in the soup (well, the ones that hadn’t already been devoured for breakfast).

Next ingredient in the Neighborhood Soup: a papaya or two from the tree beside my bedroom window. Both green and ripe papayas are actually quite good in soup, so I aimed to pick one of each. But picking a papaya—whether green or ripe—is a bit tricky. You see, the ripe ones are very soft and smooshy, whereas the green ones are tougher, and stubbornly cling to their stems. The best papaya-picking instrument I’ve encountered thus far is the handle of a broom…but more often than not, I end up stabbing it right through the center of a ripe papaya, or swinging so wildly at a green one that I nearly lose my balance. The act is much like hitting a piñata, sans the blindfold (Lord, can you imagine if I were to attempt this blindfolded?). Unfortunately, several good papayas are usually sacrificed in the process…and Monday afternoon was no exception. Eventually, though, I knocked down my sought-after two, and wobbled dizzily into the kitchen to deposit them with the rest of the ingredients.

While we’re on the subject of smashing fruit: our next ingredient is a coconut from Ms. Belle. Actually, I’m not sure if a coconut is considered a fruit, but I am quite sure that the best way to open it is a good hard smash. Dear Ms. Belle had handed us three lovely coconuts as we passed her roadside craft stand earlier this week, and one of them remained—just the right amount to grate into the soup. But first I had to smash it. This is how it works: you take the coconut out to the front porch, clearing a space of dog toys, mango pits (courtesy of Capacity and Shaloop), and flip-flops. You hold the coconut high over your head, take a deep breath, and hurl that thing onto the ground with the full force of your strength. If you’ve given it enough oomph, it’ll burst open, spraying you with coconut water, and spraying the porch with fragments of coconut shell. Good fun. You then break off grate-able chunks with a butter knife (or a cutlass), and grate it finely into the soup, making the broth creamy and coconutty.

I am a firm believer that any good soup needs a hearty dose of spice. Our neighbors Ennick and Aishema have several pepper plants in their yard, which look a lot like miniature Christmas trees, adorned with bright red bulbs. The red bulbs, in this case, are small but mighty “seasoning peppers,” which despite their diminutive size, pack quite the punch. I think you can see the pepper in the photograph above, bobbing inbetween the greens and shreds of coconut. And speaking of those greens: they’re called “callalloo” (that word rolls off the tongue nicely, doesn’t it?), and they were a gift from our farmer-friend Tony in Laplaine, whose livelihood is the cultivation of all forms of greens: callalloo, lettuce, spinach, broccoli… We visited him and his family (who are relatives of Francillia) last weekend, and returned home laden with leafy vegetables.

With the addition of the callalloo, the Neighborhood Soup was nearly complete. It just needed a splash of citrus. Limes, my preferred form of citrus, are not as easy to come by here as one would hope, and the vendors in Roseau’s produce market are disinclined to barter (if Mango Longs could be used as currency, we’d be living the high life during this season). In lieu of lime, then, we must look elsewhere for our citrus. Fortunately, we don’t have to look far. The stretch of Carib Territory Road between Gaulette River and St. Cyr—which Roushy and I tread half a dozen times per day—is bordered on both sides with seas of lemongrass. Sometimes we rub it onto our wrists as a natural perfume, boil a few sprigs of it in a pot of hot water when we’ve run out of rooibos tea, and, of course, chop it up and sprinkle it into our bowls of Neighborhood Soup.

We’ll let the soup boil for a while, becoming more flavorful and peppery with every stir…and then it’ll be ready to eat, and ready to share.

Spoken

Although English is the official language of Dominica, most folks also speak a French-based Creole/Patois, the language, as the poem says, “of our great great grandma.” The Grandmas (and Grandpas) do appear to be the demographic with the greatest affinity for the language, but even the toddlers mix in a smattering of Patois with their baby-speak.

This language, it seems, is much like Neighborhood Soup: a wonderful hodgepodge. Borrow some words and structure from French, add a portion of English, and season with some remnants of African languages and Kalinago, the language spoken by the original inhabitants of the islands (the Carib People!), mix it all together, stir vigorously and—voila: Antillean Creole, known by the locals as Kwéyòlla.

Not until recently did I become enamored of this language. When I first arrived, I’d let the words swirl in the air around me without attempting to discern any of them. They formed a sort of blurry background tapestry, and though I may have noticed the vibrancy of its color, I couldn’t be bothered to take a closer look. I think my excuse was “Hey, almost everyone understands English anyway…”

Lately, though, I have been looking. Or tasting, as it were. And with each spoonful of this sweet mishmash of a soup, my delight increases. I just know the very basics of the language so far (“Where’s the coffee?”/ “Let’s sing!”/ “Walk well”), but am making an effort to learn a few new words every day. I’ve become really pestery about it, too (as in, interrupting people in mid-conversation to say “Excuse me, what was that word you just said?”, or pointing to random objects along the road and asking whomever happens to be nearby, “Now, how would you say that in Creole?”), but my neighborhood Patois instructors have been infinitely patient. Most of them, in fact, are more than eager to give lessons…especially the Grannies. They get an enormous kick out of my accent.

As I described above, making neighborhood soup necessitates a willingness to look a little foolish. I mean, it involves batting at a papaya tree with a broomstick, for heaven’s sake. Learning a new language, I feel, is not a whole lot different. You’ve got to approach it with light-heartedness and humor, knowing you’ll repeatedly make egregious mistakes, provoke outbursts of laughter in those with whom you attempt to communicate, and be forced to gulp down your pride when your grammar is corrected by a four-year-old. But exercises in humility are good for us, aren’t they? And it’s all totally worth it when you behold the joy on a granny’s face when you tell her, in stammering Creole, “Good afternoon, Gran. Would you like a bowl of Neighborhood Soup?”

______

* Translation of the poem from Marvis’ notebook:

Creole

It’s the language of our great great Grandmother
And it’s very sweet
Let us all speak Creole
But not abuse Creole
Or belittle Creole
Creole is like an old papa

Creole is the language of Dominica
Creole is the language of Martinique
Creole is the language of Saint Lucia
Creole is the language of Saint Vincent
Creole is the language of Haiti
Creole is the language of Guadeloupe
Creole is a nice big soup*

_________

**Recipes are more fun, I think, when they’re regarded as suggestions, rather than directives. And the beauty of neighborhood soup is that it must, by nature, vary, depending on the neighborhood, and the resources available at any given moment. So, please, innovate! But for those who would like to try the Gaulette River version of Neighborhood Soup, here is the recipe in a more readable format:

Neighborhood Soup

Ingredients:

About two cups of dry lentils
A few onions, chopped
Salt to taste
Curry to taste
A hot pepper (or anything that’ll give the soup some kick)
Greens (spinach’ll work just fine if you can’t obtain callaloo)
One coconut, grated  (maybe about two cups’ worth?)
A green papaya and ripe papaya, chopped/scooped out/etc
Several Grafted Mangoes (or whatever the neighbors have on hand)

Cooking instructions:

Mix all together in a big pot. Stir often. Enjoy.

_________

*** Francillia, Roushy, Emelda, and I are headed back to Trinidad in four days (not that I’m counting down the minutes or anything)! I’m already starting to get fidgety and giddy with excitement. What a joyous reunion it will be—coming together with the other participants of the Caribbean Initiative to share stories and learnings and laughter and prayers. We’ll be there until June 8th, so the next two blog entries will be posted from Trinidad. Maybe I can find us a couple more guest writers there…it’s nice to hear different voices every so often, isn’t it?

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Hear Me, ye mortal birds!  In the Rose Garden of changeless splendor a Flower hath begun to bloom, compared to which every other flower is but a thorn, and before the brightness of Whose glory the very essence of beauty must pale and wither.  Arise, therefore, and, with the whole enthusiasm of your hearts, with all the eagerness of your souls, the full fervor of your will, and the concentrated efforts of your entire being, strive to attain the paradise of His presence, and endeavor to inhale the fragrance of the incorruptible Flower, to breathe the sweet savors of holiness, and to obtain a portion of this perfume of celestial glory.  Whoso followeth this counsel will break his chains asunder, will taste the abandonment of enraptured love, will attain unto his heart’s desire, and will surrender his soul into the hands of his Beloved.  Bursting through his cage, he will, even as the bird of the spirit, wing his flight to his holy and everlasting nest.

Bahá’u’lláh (Gleanings, p 320-321)

It is nearing the rainy season in Dominica, and the skies are baring their chests to empty their treasures upon the earth: countless drops, the water of life, pouring successively upon the grounds and forests of this tropical island nation. If the clouds will it, it will rain multiple times per day – the commas and semicolons to the hours that otherwise speak of nothing but hot, scorching sun.  And sometimes the bounties of the sky will come in pairs. The rain will of a sudden begin pounding on the corrugated tin roof, forming a cool curtain as you look out from the porch onto the palm and mango trees, and yet the sun will not shy away but illumine the scene, reflecting shimmerings of light off of the droplets and drenched leaves. When such an event occurs, you stand still on the porch and simply gaze out, in awe of the dual bounties from heaven.

While here this week visiting Denali and Roushy, I have basked in many of the bounties of heaven. This week has brought participation in multiple Bahá’í study circles, reflecting on the divine Word and its practical applications in our daily lives. It has brought sung hymns and prayers in Arabic, English and Patwa at multiple devotional gatherings. It has brought basket weaving, passing the shaved “lauma” reeds in and out of each other (one of the traditional crafts of the Carib people of this area). This week I have let the golden juice of mango drip from my chin, laughed deeply and sweetly the laughter of dear friends, deepened daily on divine verses and spiritually oriented texts, and prayed at dawn, watching the sun rise over the ocean and through the coconut trees. I have bathed and washed clothes in the river, swam in the rough waves where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean, and baked on a large rock in the sun (“baked” is appropriate here, considering the color of my skin afterwards).

This week also yielded the bounty of celebrating Denali’s birthday. Each year on the eve of her birthday, Denali recites the beautiful “Remover of Difficulties” prayer one thousand times. Yes, one thousand times. This is based on a passage in Shoghi Effendi’s history of the Bahá’í Faith, God Passes By, where Bahá’u’lláh is quoted:

`Bid them recite: “Is there any Remover of difficulties save God? Say: Praised be God! He is God! All are His servants, and all abide by His bidding!” Tell them to repeat it five hundred times, nay, a thousand times, by day and by night, sleeping and waking, that haply the Countenance of Glory may be unveiled to their eyes, and tiers of light descend upon them.’ (p 119)

We began well into the evening. You feel the first few hundred, each one of them. You are well aware of time, perhaps counting them all in your head to gauge how far you’ve come along. In the Dhammapada, Buddha says that the mind is like a fish out of water, eager to thrash about and hard to make still. But after a while, time seems to suspend. All that is left is the cool night, the undulating chorus of crickets, and heavenly communion. The words were floating in the clouds, and we were not here nor there, but full of light. Perhaps around 600, the skies decided to reach down to us, as we had reached up to them. Just as we stepped from the porch into the open darkness of the night, the heavens themselves opened. We became drenched in the cool rain, our hair dripping and our hands raised up to receive each drop kissing our palms. What love! What abandon! What reunion!

Breaking our chains, the chains of attachment to our material form and existence, to our personal opinions and conceptions of our limitations, we taste the abandonment of enraptured love. Love is that force which pulls all things to the earth, which holds firmly the planets around the sun and the electrons around the atom’s nucleus. It is that mysterious magnetism, that gravity that binds one soul simultaneously to another and to the source of creation. As the reeds of a basket, we are woven together in bonds of love and are put to good use in the service to humanity. What else but love can motivate one to wake up at 5:30 to bathe and dress the 3 year old daughter of an ill neighboring mother, to ready her for school? What but love can provide the energy and sustenance to allow you to continue on a path that you know is right, but you’ve not yet seen fruit or confirmation? In the words of the most recent message of the Universal House of Justice for Ridvan 2010, “…is it not love for God which burns away all veils of estrangement and division and binds hearts together in perfect unity? Is it not His love that spurs you on in the field of service…?”

There is a story of a drop of rain. It was falling through the clouds and musing about itself, proudly saying, “I am the water of life! Look at me! I am what causes all things to grow and flourish.” But as it passed through the bottom-most clouds, it saw the vast and expansive Ocean. At this sight, it was humbled. “If this exists,” it asked, “then what am I?” As it said this, the Ocean loved it, and welcomed it into its depths. The drop became part of the Ocean.

Both the ocean and the rain are near ubiquitous here this time of year, as the Atlantic is viewable from nearly every point of the Carib Territory and the hot days are punctuated by cool floods of rain. Like the rain drops, we each possess those elements from which life is made, those divine attributes that have been instilled within us. Yet, what are we when we are not bound with that mighty Ocean? With all of the enthusiasm of our hearts, let us strive to attain the paradise of the divine presence! Let us break our chains asunder, and taste the abandonment of enraptured love! That love, that sweet divine love, is the single force of integration in this world.

Let us put aside all thoughts of self; let us close our eyes to all on earth, let us neither make known our sufferings nor complain of our wrongs. Rather let us become oblivious of our own selves, and drinking down the wine of heavenly grace, let us cry out our joy, and lose ourselves in the beauty of the All-Glorious.

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p 236)

***Check out Caity’s pictures from her trip to Dominica: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2031324&id=33500426&l=da1bc39213

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Thursday

https://i2.wp.com/www.bardouille.co.uk/images/dominica_roseau_habour.jpg

We’ll go because it’s Thursday,’ he said, ‘and we’ll go to wish everyone a Very Happy Thursday. Come on, Piglet.’

Winnie the Pooh

__________

Today is Thursday, and we’re headed to Roseau.* Our weekly trip to “Town” is many things, and I feel it’s time to share a bit about them.

Let’s begin at the bench under the almond tree where we sit, waiting for the bus that’ll take us south: over the rivers, through the woods, and down the mountain. In our hands are a travel mug filled with hot coffee, a book or a crossword puzzle, and maybe a mango that dropped by our feet on the walk up to the road. Our backpacks are resting beside us, soon-to-be-filled with groceries, copies of children’s class drawings, and—if we’re lucky—packages or letters from home.**

It’s about 6:30 am, and the sun has already begun its steady ascent over the Atlantic. We’ll be headed to the Caribbean side of the Island today, where the sea is calm—almost mirror-like sometimes. On our side, it’s rare not to see whitecaps. We’re hoping to catch either Roger’s or Mr. Francis’ bus, as they drive slightly more carefully than the others, or Polk’s bus, ‘cause he almost always plays Michael Jackson music. The others play news in Creole, radio evangelizers, and Jamaican love songs. But not Polk. Sometimes he puts my favorite, “Man in the Mirror” on repeat, making for (at least) two happy passengers. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the beauty of these lyrics:

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could’ve been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and make a change!

Yet, timing and luck often have it that we catch a ride with neither Polk, nor Roger, nor Mr. Francis, and end up on one of the other buses (which are actually little white vans…Precious Ramotswe, anyone?). And a ride on any of the other little white vans is nothing short of harrowing. But it’s also majestic, hilarious, and cozy. We’ll start with the harrowing. I have been making an effort recently to be less theatrical in my story-telling, so I don’t want to write about these busrides with excess drama. I must say, though, that they’re pretty dramatic. I always offer extra prayers for protection on Thursday mornings (and, after visiting me here in February, so does my Mama!). The roads are windy, narrow, filled with hazards like goat-sized potholes or wandering goats themselves. The route from the Carib Territory down to Roseau passes through a cloud forest, so sometimes the rain is so heavy that all you can see is silver. When we finally emerge from the rain, the road zig-zags down several steep mountainsides, ‘til the Caribbean Sea opens up before us. And the drivers are fearless, apparently seeking an ever-stronger adrenaline rush. At first, I couldn’t even really open my eyes ‘til we reached Roseau. But, as the months pass, I’m able to focus less on the harrowingness of the journey and more on its majesty. The scenery is truly jaw-dropping. When I was sitting in the front of the bus with Mr. Francis one of these Thursdays, he motioned to the jagged green mountains to our left and our right and said, “God is great, isn’t He?”

We have now arrived in Roseau. Oh, but I almost forgot “cozy” and “hilarious.” These little white vans are, well, little. But gas prices are big. So the drivers, understandably, try to make the as much as they can from each trip to town—which means piling in the passengers til the little white van is bursting at the hinges. Thus, it becomes pretty cozy in there. But it’s highly entertaining, and becomes a hilarious juggling act for folks like me, who are trying to do a crossword puzzle without overturning cup of coffee on the lap of the fellow next to me. You also have to, at all times, sort of secure yourself to the seat ‘cause—even though we’re packed in there pretty tightly—the busride is much like a roller coaster, and every time we hit one of those goatsized potholes, or zoom around a hairpin curve, one is liable to bounce right out the open windows.

Ok, now we’ve really arrived in Roseau, which feels like another world. An enormous cruise ship, from which tourists are streaming, is docked at the bay, and a flurry of taxi drivers and tour guides—who think we’re from the ship—start offering us rides and island tours at a bargain price. We smile, tell them we live here, and head towards Rituals Café (one of the two coffee shops on the entire Island, I think). Roushy gets a latte to go and then heads to the internet café, but I stay there for the morning to take advantage of the wireless internet (if it’s working that day, which is a toss-up), and the donuts with rainbow sprinkles. It’s funny—I never cared much for donuts in the States, but here, where we spend six days of the week in a place where most of the food comes straight from the ground and the trees—that weekly donut from Rituals produces a kind of low-level euphoria. (I borrowed this term from Bill Bryson, who uses it in A Walk in the Woods, describing how, after many grueling days of hiking the Appalachian Trail, something as simple as a chocolate chip cookie can induce utter bliss). So, part of what makes Thursdays special is that they’re a reminder of how sweet “deprivation” can be. Being cut off from the internet for most of the week, for example, makes my Thursday email sessions feel like Christmas morning (Naw Ruz morning?). And after a week of rice-and-beans-and-fruit, a meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken becomes a royal feast. I love feeling hungry to check the news, open my inbox, peruse the Facebook updates, rather than doing it habitually, simply because it’s there.

Everything feels so readily available here in “Town,” even though there’s not a Target in sight, the tallest building is the three-story hotel on the corner, and the nearest Cinema is across the sea in Guadeloupe. Still, Roseau offers all sorts of goodies that are hard to obtain in the Carib Territory, such as toothpaste and cinnamon and teriyaki chicken. And there are so many people, so many noises and sounds here in town. It’s strange to see faces that are unfamiliar—up on the reserve, everyone is either a neighbor or a family member. I must say that, as much as I enjoy all the treats here in town, my senses quickly become inundated, and by the end of the day I’m more than ready to return to the leafy calm of the Carib Territory (can it be true that I once lived, quite contently, in New York City? I know humans are the most adaptable creatures on the planet, but there are certain things we just can’t live without—food, oxygen, coffee—and, I think, regular contact with the natural world. If I ever do move back to NYC, maybe I’ll see if I can rent a tree in Prospect Park instead of an apartment).

So, after a few more errands (grocery store, copy shop, vegetable market), it is now time to head back home. Our bellies are filled with special-treat food, our backpacks are filled even fuller with our loot for the week, but the fullest of all are our hearts, from the emails and little hellos we’ve received from loved ones (seriously, even a one-line Facebook post can be such a bringer of joy. Those words of love and encouragement really carry me through the week). So, with all this fullness, we climb aboard one of the Carib-Territory-bound little white vans. Now, the busride back up to the Territory is not exactly like the busride heading down. First of all, it’s now late in the afternoon, and it is hot. Everyone is dirty and sweaty from the city, and we’re all loaded down with shopping bags. We may have thought we were as Smooshed As Can Be on the way down the mountain, but the busride back up takes Smooshed to an entirely new level. But it’s cozy, it’s cozy. And nobody seems to mind that we’re all on each other’s lap. Once we and our grocery bags are all packed in, the little white van circles the city a few times, hoping to collect one or two more passengers. I can never conceive of how we could fit an additional tangerine in the van, let alone a person and all their stuff…but miracles happen at every moment here.

I’ve come to realize that these busrides are a great test for my lower nature, but my higher nature delights in them. You see, the busride down to Roseau takes just over an hour. The busride back home can take close to three. We stop for every last thing, whatever people need: dropping off a parcel for an Auntie who lives considerably out of our way, picking up box of fried chicken at a roadside stand, running into a shop to retrieve something you left behind there…you name it, the bus driver will stop for it. And this is great, for the person who names it. But it’s not so great for everyone else, who is hot and cranky and ready to get home. But wait…is that everyone else, or is it just me? The other passengers, in fact, seem to be smiling and sharing jokes and casually fanning themselves with newspapers. Yeah it’s hot, yeah it’s getting late in the day, but our brother Elwin has an important message to deliver to the house up that hill…and we prefer our brother before ourselves here.

Finally, after all the deliveries and pick-ups, we’ve reached Gaulette River. The sun is beginning to go down over the mountains to our west, Capacity and Shaloop are greeting us with yelps and acrobatic leaps, and another Thursday is drawing to a close. Our day in Town was many things, but it is good to be home.

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*Roseau, the Capital City of Dominica, is pronounced Rose-OH.

**And, up until two weeks ago, we also traveled to town bearing several large bags of garbage. The garbage truck only passes through the Carib Territory once every two weeks or so, and not always on the same day. “He comes when he feels like it,” our neighbors tell us. So most folks here usually just burn their garbage. Roushy and I considered this, but were terrified at the idea of accidentally burning down our house, or a chunk of the jungle. Thus, we decided to bring our garbage to town each week, where garbage service is regular. We tried to be as discreet about it as possible…but discreet has never exactly been my middle name, and I pity the poor passengers on the bus who, week after week, had to endure those trips to Roseau sandwiched between bags of stinky garbage. “What else can we do? We can’t just let it pile up in our kitchen!” we’d justify to ourselves. Recently, though, a good Samaritan informed us that we can simply double-bag our garbage and leave it by the side of the road, and the truck will stop to pick them up when he comes. Well, Hallelujah. There’s almost always a simpler solution, isn’t there?

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