Monthly Archives: April 2016

Children’s Carnival Parade

 

 

 

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The air around me pulses with the rhythm of the Caribbean. All around me, the crowd lining the street moves to the beat of the music. This is not America, where we stood stoically and watched parade floats drift by. This is the isle of Sint Maarten, and we are a part of the sound and color here.

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Today, it is a holiday. It is Carnival, and the children are marching in their very own parade. Miniature dancers twirl in miniature costumes, nearly unrecognizable in paint, feathers, and glitter.

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The winners of last week’s junior pageant are here, dressed in their royal finery. They wave to us with the queen’s wave, and we wave back.

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The parade is filled with the heroes of a child’s word– princesses, super heroes, minions, even Kung Fu Panda!

My personal favorite were the candy dancers. I loved their giant hoop skirts and sweet designs.

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Ben liked the Lionfish Dancers. Their costumes really did look like the fantastic “feathers” of a lionfish!

Although this event was not popular with the tourists, hundreds of locals turned out. Many of the other expat families also came to watch! Some American University of the Caribbean students’ children came to watch friends march in the parade.

If you want to see the future of the Caribbean, this is the place to come. All around me, I saw the future of the islands in the faces of the children. If we want to invest in tomorrow, we must invest in them! Perhaps the whole reason for the junior parade is to remind us of this.

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God Save the King

A city flooded with orange…. food and drink…. bartering and bargaining. Why? King’s Day, or, as it is called in Dutch, “Koningsdag!”

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Source: RLT Nieuws

Koningsdag is celebrated on April 27, the birthday of King Willem-Alexander, the monarch of the Netherlands. Since Sint Maarten is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, it is also celebrated here. It’s not quite as a big a deal here as it is in Europe’s territories. Sint Maarten’s Carnival falls during Koningsdag, so it is someone overshadowed by that event. Still, I did see a few photos of friends’ children wearing orange for an early celebration of King’s Day at school.

 

I asked a few of the local kids what they do during Koningsdag. Big King, one of the teens who volunteers with our little league team, told me that they eat Dutch bread and cheese. I should have bought some. Instead, we ate chocolate on bread for breakfast, which is pretty Dutch thing to do!

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Wearing literally the only orange thing I own for Kongingsdag
It’s funny to think that because we live here, we have a king and queen. It’s certainly different than the U.S., but you have to admit that it’s pretty cool to be able to take a day off to celebrate your king’s birthday!

Stuff Dutch People Like has a bit more on Konigsdag, if you’re interested.

Dumb Trini Fry Bake and Saltfish

You’re not really from Saint Martin until you eat salt fish! At least, that’s what I read in an SXM cookbook last week. So today, I tried saltfish for the first time. You can be a “real” islander, too, when you try this recipe by blogger CS!

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My co-worker, who was born and raised in Trinidad, has been going on a Trini-kick for the past few weeks.  He booked his tickets to Carnival, and has been getting in the mood for it by speaking the language, and eating the food.  Last week, he brought up that he was missing fry bake and saltfish.  In his own words, “only us dumb Trinis would call it fry bake.  What is it, fried, or baked?  It’s not both, so why call it fry bake?!”  The man has a point!

I never got to experience true fry bake and saltfish when I was in Trinidad — what I did have though was Bake and Shark in Maracas, which is something everyone needs to go eat if you are a foodie.  Shark isn’t exactly an easy ingredient to find locally, however, saltfish is.

People who know me, know that I…

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Saying Goodbye, Caribbean Style

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American University of the Caribbean knows how to say goodbye in style. Dr. Testa, the senior associate dean, is moving on to a new place and a new position. So, the school threw him a tropical party for the staff and students to enjoy!

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The funniest part of the celebration was the Dean Testa bobble-heads that faculty members auctioned off. The best part was the yummy food. There were so many things to taste! Fruit juice, ice cream from Carousel, fresh fruit, coconuts… yes please!

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One of the tables was made to look like a traditional Caribbean dress, complete with someone wearing it.

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We managed to get one of the last coconuts from the coconut man.

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To top it off, a local youth drumming group came and played a few songs. It doesn’t get better than tropical fruit and steel drums! Happy trails, Dr. Testa.

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Caribbean Zoo with Kids

One bird.

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Two birds.

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Red bird.

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Blue bird.

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These colorful birds are just a sample of the animals at Sint Maarten’s zoo. Although the zoo is small, it has more than enough animals to delight anyone. There is a lot that makes this place special. One of those special things is that much of the zoo consists of endemic animals.

Endemic [en-dem-ik]  (Adjective):

“Belonging exclusively or confined to a particular place.”

This morning, Les Fruits de Mer, an organization dedicated to preserving and educating about the islands natural environment, hosted the Endemic Animal Festival at the zoo! The zoo was open to the public for free for three hours. I’ve been wanting to take some of the kids from our little league team to the zoo for a while now, so I was happy when Coach Tom asked for volunteers to drive the kids from the baseball field to the event.

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There is nothing quite like exploring the zoo through the eyes of a child. I love to see toucans, but even more, I love seeing little eyes light up when they see toucans.

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The Endemic Animal Festival was awesome. There were several activities for the kids: little jars of shrimp to examine, a checklist of animals separated in endemic and non-endemic categories, sidewalk chalk, and coloring. Anilda loved the coloring and crafts! I was impressed with the volunteers. They were so sweet with the kids, attentive to them, and made learning about the animals fun.

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The boys explored the zoo while Anilda colored. We caught up with them later, and here are a few of the things we saw:

Some of the boys were particularly interested in the snakes. Sint Maarten doesn’t have any snakes in wild, because European settlers released mongooses to kill them off. I tried to get a picture of the zoo’s mongoose, but it made a wicked fang face at me and hid in the shadows. Although the wild has no snakes, the zoo has a nice collection. Gabby was fascinated by a small snake that some of the volunteers and zoo staff were holding. They even let Gabby hold it for a minute!

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A few hours after the event, Ben and I went exploring on Green Cay. We saw an Anguilla bank anole lizard, and Ben pointed it out to me. “That’s an endemic animal,” he informed me. I guess everyone learned something new today! What wonderful memories.

A Gem in the Prickliest of Places

My top fears? Finding a dead person in a public restroom, centipedes, and stepping on a sea urchin.

Some say it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Whether or not she coined the saying, I believe that it’s a good one to live by. I don’t think it means that we should always do dangerous or ridiculous things. I think that it means we should slowly widen our comfort zone, one baby step at a time. When we first moved to the Caribbean, I was terrified of sharks. Irrationally so, especially since there has been no shark attack in Sint Maarten for about thirty years. I was shaking during our first snorkel expeditions. Soon, I was able to go further and deeper and enjoy it more. Now, I can happily surf offshore for hours with barely a thought in the back of my mind.

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Sea urchins still plague me, though. Ben got some spines in his feet during a tropical storm, when the urchins were washed onto the beach. My friend Jay got a massive urchin sting from barely brushing up against one while floating in a tide pool. The last thing I want is to be stabbed AND stung at the same time!

 

On Ben’s first day of break from medial school, we decided to explore a few little-known cays off the coast of Le Galion beach. This place is hard to find, but it’s amazing. In the winter, you can watch wales migrate from viewing towers. Year round, you can walk or snorkel to small cays in the shallow water.

Walking through the water to the first couple cays was easy. But the path to the last cay was slightly terrifying. We began to the slow trek through the rocky water, avoiding the little spiky balls of evil that dotted the sandy ocean floor. The water was only about ankle-deep, but the waves breaking on the nearby rock barrier sometimes spilled violently over into the shallow zone, roughening the water and obscuring our view of the rocks, shells, and urchins below. Slowly, we picked our way through the obstacle course. I prayed that I wouldn’t feel a needle-sharp spike shoot through the soft soles of my flip-flops. Why didn’t I wear water shoes?

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About halfway across, I couldn’t find a good place to set my foot. I searched carefully beneath the ripples, trying to find a clear spot. All I could see, for yards around, was the minefield of sea urchins. I could hardly breathe for a moment. My whole body froze. So this is what it means to be frozen with fear, I thought, How silly. I guess I can get out of this the same way I got into it. Still, I had an awful vision of slipping on a mossy rock and landing prone on the urchin-covered rocks. Ben stopped picking his way through the water and looked back at me to make sure I was OK. I looked at him, then back at the water. The red centers of the small black urchins glared at me from between the rocks, like wicked red eyes. “I don’t think I can do this,” I said, “There’s literally nowhere to walk.” Ben waded slowly back to me, watching his steps carefully. “Get on my back,” he said, “I’ll carry you.” He turned, and I jumped, clinging to his neck for dear life. He cautiously moved through the rocks, the thick rubber soles of his shoes protecting him from the smaller spikes.

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Before long, we reached the island, and Ben deposited me on the dry rocks. We had made it! And it was so worth it. The small island offered a gorgeous view of Saint Martin. Waves beat against the rock on one side, and a brilliant blue tide pool calmly beckoned on the other. A magical, lonely, unspoiled place.

 

Often, the places most worth going have a scary path. You have to face your fears and step out into an uncertain place to get to the solid mountaintops and peaceful tide pools of life. But you don’t have to do it alone. We need each other to face our fears and support one another. Don’t live in your comfort zone! Get out and do something that scares you, and don’t be ashamed to take a friend along.

 

 

African Beef Sauce

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I need a little Africa in my life!

Last week, my friends Taylor and Bethany came to visit. While they were here, they treated Ben and I to a special dinner. Since food is expensive here, and we don’t often buy meat or certain fruits and veggies, they gave us the gift of yummy by taking me shopping and buying me groceries for an awesome meal.

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We decided to make one of Ben’s favorites: meat sauce on rice, Africa style. Well, sort of. We didn’t have any curry powder. But I improvised, and it turned out great!

You need:

  • A couple pounds of beef
  • Rice
  • Oil for frying
  • An onion
  • 4 oz of tomato sauce
  • 2 T pilau masala
  • 1 T of garlic
  • 1 t of ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups Chicken broth (or bouillon cube and water)

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Prepare rice.

Cut the meat into one-inch cubes. Slice onions.

Heat oil in a frying pan. Fry onions until translucent. Remove from pan.

Fry meat until thoroughly cooked.

Add spices to meat and stir.

Add tomato sauce, water/broth, and onions. Allow to simmer.

Slowly whisk in corn starch until sauce is thick.

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Serve sauce over rice. Pair with tropical fruit and salad. Enjoy!

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Pastizzi from Malta

Yes, we’re talking about the Pastizzi, the small puff pastry filled with ricotta (pastizzi tal-irkotta’) or peas (pastizzi tal-piżelli’) and one of the icons of the Maltese gastronomy. Who has not tried one in the street food stalls? It is said that the best Pastizzi in Malta are served at Crystal Palace a small traditional bar in Rabat. […]

via The most famous Maltese —

Charge of the Light Parade

  
Isn’t a Caribbean Carnival on everyone’s bucket list? It’s on mine! In a few days, that item will be checked off as Sint Maarten’s Carnival kicks off.

  
Because we’re in the Caribbean and we take any excuse to celebrate, there are several events leading up to actual Carnival. One of these is the Light Parade! 

  
Sandy, Stacey, Aqiyla and I went to Philipsburg to enjoy the music and confetti that lit up the night.

  
One of the local kids told me that the buildings shake during Carnival. I thought he was kidding, but sure enough, the vibrarions could be felt in the very air. All around us, the environment pulsed to the beat of Caribbean rhythms.  

 

  

Seeing Myself on the Canvas

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It’s not every day that I get to model for a famous artist. But today was not just another day!

Sir Roland Richardson is called “The Father of Caribbean Impressionism.” He’s one of Saint Martin’s foremost citizens, and has made significant contributions in the art, history, and literary aspects of the island. Internationally, he is best known for his vibrant oil paintings. He and his wife, Laura, run his art gallery out of a historic building in the French capitol, Marigot.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may have read about the day that Roland painted Stacey. Today, it was my day to sit for the master. Last time I visited the gallery, I mentioned that my husband, Ben, is from Africa and I have a few sets of clothing from Tanzania. He asked me to wear one for a painting, so I chose a colorful dress and head scarf that Ben gave me for our first Christmas and a cowrie shell necklace from Ben’s mom. The outfit not only reflects the Johnson family heritage, it also represents the island’s African influences and the narrative of many of Saint Martin’s citizens.

The painting took about four hours. As he worked, Roland told Stacey and I about the island’s history. He knows more about Saint Martin history than almost anyone! If you’re around Marigot, French Saint Martin on a Thursday, stop into his gallery to watch him paint a portrait and ask about the island’s past. Roland is a wealth of fascinating information on the Caribbean.

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Don’t you love how the painting turned out? I can’t wait to see it displayed in the gallery! What a wonderful experience.

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You can see more of Sir Roland Richardson’s work at his website here.

Photo Credits: Stacey Culpepper