Tag Archives: culture

Eight Things TCKs Want from Their Friends

Do you have a friend who grew up overseas in an expat family? Have you ever wondered how you can better connect with them? Often, Third Culture Kids can be difficult to get close to. They’ve had drastically different experiences than people who grew up in their home culture. They get asked the same questions a thousand times and have developed rote answers. They don’t expect most people to understand their perspective and experience, so they avoid the frustration and don’t often try to explain it. Instead of asking the same old questions, try this instead.

  1. Ask them about their life journey, not where they’re from. And be interested in the answer. Don’t ask where they’re from and expect a single answer. They don’t have an answer to this question! This week, someone asked this question to my husband, Ben, who is a TCK. His answer? “That’s a good question.” Ben will usually answer this question based on the person’s apparent interest level. To casual inquirers, he says “Phoenix,” which is where we lived in the U.S. To people he’ll see again, he usually tells them he grew up in Africa. To people who really seem interested, he will explain that he was born in Burundi, grew up in Tanzania, went to high school in Kenya, and lived in Phoenix for college.

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    Ben and his friends in Tanzania
  2. Ask thoughtful questions. I wonder how many times TCKs have been asked if they rode elephants to school. Or if they speak African. Or if they had a pet lion. Or if they know someone’s cousins friend’s sister, who lives somewhere on the same continent. Nothing will shut down a conversation like a thoughtless question. Instead, ask a meaningful question about the TCKs life abroad: Where did you go for family vacation? What was your favorite sport when you were a kid? What did you do in your free time?

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    Stevie at the source of the Nile
  3. Accept their life stories. When you’re sharing stories about childhood pets, and your TCK friend starts talking about the pet monkey or monitor lizard, just listen. Don’t make a snide remark about being shown up by your friend’s story. Don’t suggest that they’re bragging. They might be, but probably not. Remember that all they have are stories about cross-cultural life. While your normal was a suburban home, two cats, a dog, and a basketball hoop in the driveway, their normal was a cinder-block one-bedroom, a parrot and a herd of goats, and bilingual soccer games with a plastic-bag ball in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro.

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    Lizzie feeding a giraffe
  4. Be patient with cultural nuances. TCKs have grown up with a variety of cultural expectations, and although they’ve become adept at being cultural chameleons, they don’t always know exactly what expectation belongs where. That funny pronunciation, the way they use their fork, the avoidance of eye contact with the opposite sex, the different concept of time… all of that can be attributed to culture. Don’t make fun of it or act like it’s stupid. Roll with it. Or, if you feel it should be corrected and you’re in a position to do so, explain it with respect.

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    Zach on safari
  5. Make them your most trusted news source. TCKs get annoyed by Western media’s botched coverage of issues in their adopted countries. They get even more annoyed by people who trust the media more than their own experiences. Listen to your TCK friend explain the realities of their world, and believe them. You could never understand the issues better than they do simply by watching TV and reading a few articles.

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    Ruthie and a Burundian drum
  6. Let them teach you to think globally. Culture is so pervasive that we often fail to recognize our own cultural tendencies. Be open minded to the global perspective of your TCK friend. At times, he or she will challenge your Western attitudes, philosophies, and perspectives.

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    Crossing the river
  7. Recognize that they have deeper experiences than you do. Your TCK friend is likely multilingual, has lived in three or more cultures, and has seen things you’ve only ever heard of. Bilingualism means they can communicate with more people, and with a greater framework for thought. Multiculturalism means that they have a more well-rounded view of the world. More varied experiences means they’ve seen much of the world, experienced social studies in real life, and likely have gone through some sort of trauma that you cannot identify with.

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    Maiden voyage on Lake Tanganyika
  8. Be the friend that sticks around. TCKs are familiar with good-byes. They’re used to people coming in and out of their lives, and they certainly don’t believe you when you say you’ll stay in touch. People rarely do. Be the friend who follows through. Write letters. Ask how they’re doing. Set up Skype dates.
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    Ben’s zebra selfie

    Third culture kids, did I get it right? What else are you looking for in friendships?

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Grocery Shopping in French

“Ground beef. Like, beef– cow meat– but it’s all ground up in little bits.” I did my best unofficial international sign language to accompany my explanation.

“Ah! Bœuf haché?” The grocery store employee led me to the freezer and pointed at the package of meat, eyebrows raised. “This?” He asked. It didn’t look exactly like the ground beef at Walmart, but it appeared to be ground beef nonetheless. I smiled and thanked him, placing the package in my cart.

There are only a handful of affordable grocery stores on the island of Sint Maarten, and my options are to pay $170 a trip to shop in English or $102.75 to shop in French. I choose the language barrier and saving seventy bucks.

I spend a lot of time staring at labels, trying to make out what this can or that box holds. I’ve become pretty good at guessing, and I’ve even picked up some French in the process (although don’t ask me to try to pronounce it). Whenever I learn to speak French, I’ll have a head start. I will know the word for every single food item ever invented.

Some of the labels are easy. I babysat for a bilingual family, and their kids called milk lait at all times. The cow on the front also helps.

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Others aren’t so easy. I always thought fromage was just the word for “cheese,” but apparently it’s the word for every single dairy product on the planet.

This is not cheese. It’s yogurt. When I bought it, I needed yogurt, but it looked like it could be  cottage cheese or whipped cream. I decided that the risk was worth it. Ben hoped it would be whipped cream, so he was disappointed.

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This does not say fromage, but it IS cheese. Thank goodness this bag is see-through, or I would have been even more confused than I already was.

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The hardest products to find are the ones I don’t know the French word for, can’t see through the packaging, and don’t even recognize the packaging. It took me a few trips and some asking around to find baking soda. I was looking for the small orange box, but apparently Arm and Hammer doesn’t do French.

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I suspect the packaging issue is why I still can’t find baking powder. My friend Aqiyla went shopping with me yesterday, and she couldn’t find it either, although she speaks French. You don’t realize how powerful branding is until you’re dropped in the middle of unrecognizable foreign brands.

One thing that is not hard for me to locate, however, is Nutella! I think I have a Nutella radar built into my brain. I’m OK with becoming more European, if it involves chocolate for breakfast. Yes, please!

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I have encouraging moments, too. I’m getting to the point where I can read a lot of French words, even if I couldn’t use a single one in conversation. I can understand most French signage around town, and I can tell the difference between all-purpose flour and pastry flour. I can even scan package ingredients for allergens and be fairly confident that I won’t send anyone into anaphylactic shock.

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I never thought I’d say this, but there are days that I really miss Walmart. But at the same time, I’m glad I have the chance to make shopping a bilingual adventure. After all, I never quite know what I’m going to come home with…

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Goodies from Secnarf’s Place

Today on Foodie Tuesdays, we are going to meet a local food wizard and learn to make sweet potato pudding.

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Meet Frances! Born and raised on St. Kitts, Frances moved to Saint Martin 30 years ago with her husband, who relocated for work. She can work wonders in the kitchen. I met Francis at a local event, where she was selling delicious meat patties, pies, puddings, and cakes.  She calls her business “Secnarf’s Place,” and you can find her at almost any public trade show or market event.

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As you can see, Frances loves to cook. Before she retired, she worked in a store nearby. Now, she spends a lot of her time in the kitchen, baking for her family or preparing for an event. She told me that she stayed up all night to make fresh-baked goodies for her booth. She doesn’t mind the work, though, because she loves what she does. “I like to use my hands,” she says, “It’s like a work of art.”

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Frances’ culinary skills aren’t limited to the oven. She also makes her own all-natural fruit and vegetable juices. All she adds is a little bit of sugar for flavor, if it’s not quite sweet enough. Passion fruit is her best seller. “It’s so much better than what you can buy in the stores,” she says. No preservatives, no shipping. Just natural goodness!

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I asked Frances what her favorite food is. She thought for a moment before answering, “Sweet potato pudding.” The pudding is actually what sparked Frances’ interest in cooking. When she was a girl, her mother would make sweet potato pudding every year as a special Christmas dessert. As she got older, Frances would help. The rest is history.

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Here is how you can make sweet potato pudding, as described on Jamaican Caribbean Favorites. You can visit their site to learn how to make many more awesome Caribbean dishes!

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Sweet Potato Pudding:

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs sweet potato, grated
  • 4 green bananas, grated
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup grated coconut trash
  • 4 cups coconut milk
  • 3 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • raisins
  • rum to taste
  • 2 oz melted butter
  • Greased 9 inch pan

Directions:

  1. Mix grated potato, banana, coconut trash, raisins, flour and baking powder.
  2. Combine coconut milk, vanilla, sugar, butter, rum, salt, nutmeg and mixed spice.
  3. Add milk mixture into potato mixture and batter until smooth.
  4. Pour mixture into greased tin and let sit for 30 – 45 minutes.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  6. Serve hot or cold.

A Woman’s Heartbeat

Never before have I been brought to tears by a drum solo. I am brought to tears by newborn babies, adoption stories, and my sister’s piano pieces. Never by the banging of drums. But this day was different, and this drummer was different.

It was the kind of day where time slips away silently and unnoticed. I was at Sint Maarten’s annual Art in the Park trade show, surrounded by art and some of my favorite people. As at every public event, Youmay Dormoy brought his New Generation Drum Band to perform and collect donations for operating costs.  Cool, I like drums as much as anyone, and I was excited to see it. The kids and youth marched forward in their colorful, traditional island garb. Little shoulders supported big white drums, older boys placed expert fingers on trumpet keys; I even caught a glimpse of a musical conch shell in someone’s hand.

The drumming was great, all of it. It really was amazing to see twenty musicians keep themselves in step and in rhythm. I enjoyed it and took some photos. But nothing struck an emotional chord in me, until one young woman came forward to solo on the bass drum.

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There was something about her poise, her confidence, her posture that made me stop to stare. There was something about the resonating boom of her bass drum that complemented perfectly the delicacy of her lace hem. She was a picture of feminine strength and beauty. I felt tears well up behind my eyelashes.

Is it sunscreen in my eyes, I wondered? No, it was this woman, this living embodiment of beauty and strength. In the twenty seconds of spotlight she had, she became an icon to me.

If we are honest, every women wants to be strong and beautiful. In the deepest cores of our feminine hearts, we want to awe the world with deep strength and captivating beauty. It is innate in our souls.

I wonder how often we unknowingly bring others to tears with a show of the strong and beautiful. I wonder how many times we unconsciously step into our twenty seconds to play to the beat of our hearts. I wonder how many of us walk through life believing we are nothing, yet capturing the eyes of others with a life of inspiring womanhood.

Don’t despair, beautiful friend. You are strong. You are beautiful. You were created that way, and you will show the world in your way, in your time.

 

 

Transitioning Overseas with Ease

Moving overseas is a momentous operation. But it does not need to be a miserable one! There are many things that you can do to make your big move easier and happier. Before I made my first big overseas move, I worked for a company that operated internationally. As part of my job, I briefed and trained interns who were heading overseas for a few months or years. I learned a lot in the process and soaked up insight from my husband, who has made five major international moves in his life. And when I finally had my chance to go, I learned for myself what it’s like to transition cultures and countries.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way. Everyone has different experiences, and I’d love to hear your stories and insights in the comments, too.

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  1. Expectations. This is the single most important thing to consider when you’re moving overseas, especially if you’ve never visited that place before. The truth is, your expectations define your experiences. They are the biggest culprit in relationship breakdown and disappointment in general. Before you go, write down your expectations so that you know what they are. Read them over and remind yourself that you have a 99% chance of every one of those things being different than you think! For example, I was totally convinced that I would get fresh mangoes off the tree every day in Sint Maarten. Not so– everything is imported. Try to prepare yourself for this sort of thing. Have as few expectations as possible. Be open to new and surprising things, and make it fun.
  2. The big fights. One side effect of leaving is that you will find yourself experiencing tension with the ones you love most. Don’t worry; you’re not losing your mind. This is normal– and knowing that makes big blow-ups avoidable. The inclination to fight is your subconscious’ way to make leaving people easier. Obviously, it has the opposite effect. Remember that the people you are leaving are experiencing loss, too, as they say goodbye. Have grace for others, and ask them to have grace for you.
  3. Saying goodbye. Saying goodbye is hard, but closure is important. Let people know you’re going. Meet with friends and make plans to keep in contact.
  4. What you need to pack. What you need to bring? Probably nothing more than yourself and your passport. Of course, your clothes and books are nice to bring, too. As you prepare to go, redefine “need” and “want” in your mind so you can judge what will be helpful to you and what will be cumbersome. Be sure to bring a few things that will remind you of home– maybe some photographs. Don’t spend a ridiculous amount of money toting the entire contents of your home across the ocean when you can replace it for cheaper when you get there.
  5. Your first day. The last thing you should do when you land is go to your new home and surround yourself with American (or Canadian, or whatever) things and people. Even if you’ve been on a plane for fourteen hours, try to spend your first couple hours on the ground immersing yourself in the culture. Go shopping. Take a walk downtown. Ride the bus. And remember that the faster you force yourself to adapt to a new time zone, the faster the jet-lag will wear off.
  6. Staying sane. Culture stress is a real thing. Some people feel it quickly, others don’t. Generally, most people experience the “honeymoon stage” for about three months and then go downhill from there. Rock bottom is at two years, and then things start to look up. However, charts and graphs can’t define your experience. This journey is what you make it, and somehow you’ll have to survive the bad days and the homesickness. Go exploring, try out restaurants, shop where the locals shop. Journal regularly, and start a blog so your friends back home can follow your adventures. Skype friends and family regularly. Write lists of what you love about this place. Write lists of what you hate and turn them into positives.
  7. Take care of yourself. Unfortunately, people take advantage of foreigners. We see this in our home countries, and it’s just as true anywhere else. Being taken advantage of can range from being quoted the “white price” on buses to date rape and muggings. Learn what the safe and dangerous places are, get to know local prices, and don’t take unnecessary risks.
  8. Feel what you feel. Not what you think you’re supposed to feel, not what your boyfriend thinks you should feel, not what a “strong” person would feel. Adjustment is hard. And that’s OK.
  9. Have Fun! With all of these points on how to survive an international move, it might sound like I think moving overseas is a drag. But transitioning to a new place can be a lot of fun! Enjoy yourself. Take a thousand and two photos. Try things you’ve never done before.
  10. Community. Without community, you will have a tough time feeling at home. Build community with other expats in your area. Make friends with locals, too. Both are essential for being truly integrated in your new home. Find a church, find a club, invite people over.
  11. Get involved. Becoming part of the community and culture around you will bring you joy and save you from many days of loneliness and wishes of a return ticket home. Some of my friends and I volunteer a few days a week to tutor kids with a local program. This really was the best thing we’ve done on this island– we were all feeling a little lost and isolated until we started focusing on something other than our own lonely selves. A sense of purpose brightens life anywhere you are.
  12. Understand the culture. The best gift you can give to yourself is the ability to understand the place you are living in. Learn the basics– how to properly greet people, what is decent apparel, and how to get around. New cultures can be frustrating at first, but remember that just because things are different it doesn’t mean that they are wrong. In the end, you’ll have fun as you achieve little cultural victories and begin to be able to understand and use the new language or dialect around you.
  13. Be a good expat. Represent your country and culture well. I wrote a blog post on this that’s worth reading.

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Looking for more? Here are a few other posts from my blog that you might find helpful! You can also check out my list of favorite expat blogs.

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The Perspective of a Painter

If you take a stroll down the Rue de la Republique of Marigot on the island of Saint Martin, you will find a tall, 200-year-old building with red gingerbread doors and shutters. On most days, the doors and windows are flung open to allow passersby to admire vibrant artwork within. This is the art gallery of Sir Roland Richardson.

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It’s a Thursday, the day when the gallery is most interesting. On Thursdays, Roland paints portraits. Today, my friend Stacey is the chosen model, and I have come to watch.

Roland welcomes us inside his gallery and begins to show us around. The first thing that catches our attention is the bright reds and oranges of the flamboyant trees in Roland’s paintings. As he opens the gingerbread shutters, sunlight floods the gallery and illuminates the artwork– a scattering of flowers on this canvas, a still-life print on the shelf, a field of sunflowers on that canvas. Roland tells us that every single painting in his gallery was done from life. “If I’m not looking at it, I don’t paint it,” he says. For Roland, a painting is a historical object. He doesn’t want to invent something that doesn’t exist; he doesn’t want to extrapolate on a photograph. He wants to capture a moment in time.

We can see that he captures moments in the most beautiful way.

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Roland continues to set up shop, and we wander into the garden. The back wall of the garden is perfectly picturesque; it is one of the island’s oldest buildings, a French barracks that housed the army while they built Fort Louis. The garden itself is charming. We admire the voluptuous tropical flowers and chat with some of the other gallery guests.

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It is late in the morning, and the tourists begin to trickle in. Roland welcomes them with his usual zeal and immediately begins to instruct on art and light. He sets a prism on the sidewalk outside and snatches up a blank canvas to capture the rainbow it throws into the room. Light is everything to us, he explains, because it defines everything we can see. Except for the things within our reach, the only reason we can know anything exists is because of light.

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He gestures to the rainbow on his canvas. While our minds think we see seven colors, he says, there are really only three: red, yellow and blue. In religion, there is the Trinity, and in the physical world, there are three dimensions. In the world of light and color, there are the primary colors. Light goes back, it goes forward, and it goes outward in a glow. Three dimensions, and three elements to light.

Roland’s wife, Laura, arrives to manage the gallery, and Roland takes leave of his visitors. Up the stairs we go. On the second floor, There is still more art– mostly portraits. Roland sets up his canvas and tries every combination of shadow in the room to find the perfect light in which to paint Stacey. We open and close all the windows and all the doors until he is satisfied with a soft, sunlit glow from one side of the room. He focuses for a moment on his subject and then on his canvas, tracing invisible shapes on its surface with his hands. “The first gestures to me are the most important, because it is the way the subject wants to appear in the space you have,” he explains. The canvas, he tells us, is a unique space. in order to create art on the canvas, you cannot simply determine what you want to put there. Part of the art of painting is the art of discovery. You must discover how the subject wants to fit within the space of the canvas; you must draw it out of the canvas. “A painting is not a picture of something. A painting is a thing in itself.”

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The first strokes of the master are light, but strong; purposeful, but free. I watch in fascination as the image appears on the canvas. Roland talks as he works, explaining what he does and why. He works on all the pieces of the painting simultaneously so that it can grow naturally. That’s how babies grow, he says– the whole foot doesn’t develop first and then a leg and so on. A painting can’t develop that way, either.

To Roland, painting is not just an art. It is not simply a form of self-expression. “Self expression is not art,” he states. No, art is something more than that. Art is something spiritual. “I believe that paintings are an essential aspect of humankind that is really unique and that an awareness of the importance of art…is intended to nourish our beings. Our spirits.”

My mind ruminates on this thought as Roland continues his work. Art really does nourish our spirits. Supposing that the universe is random and has no meaning, then what is the purpose of beauty, and why are we drawn to beautiful things? We inherently love sunsets and recoil from spiders. God placed something within our souls that craves beauty. And He created beauty all around us. Beauty in our lives is the thumbprint of God on the world; it is His signature. Every flitting butterfly and every turquoise hummingbird whispers to us that God loves us and that there is a meaning to life.

My thoughts are interrupted as a group of students from nearby school enter the studio. They are part of an art class, and they are here to interview Roland for a school project.

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“Why did you decide to become an artist?” asks one student. Roland turns from his work, fistful of brushes in hand. “You don’t decide to become an artist,” he says. It is not a decision. It is a calling. Being an artist is more than simply a job, he says. It is the purpose that the Creator made him for. He tells the story of how he became the first St. Martin-born professional painter, from the seventeen-year-old painting his very first piece to the successful artist he is today.

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The students finish their questions, say goodbye, and file down the stairs. The painting is becoming more and more lifelike. With every stroke, it becomes more Stacey. As he paints, Roland tells us the difference between painting a person and painting anything else. With an object, you can decide what you are looking at. With a person, you must discover what you are looking at. Painting through discovery brings respect to the human subject, he admonishes. This strikes me as profound, and I wonder if biographers and photographers also think this way. Perhaps if we all approached one another in this way– not just in painting, but in everyday life– we would have more grace and respect for one another.

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It is now mid-afternoon, and the shafts of light angle differently through the windows than they did when the canvas was still white. The room is airy, and I can smell the sweet fragrance of the garden flowers. Outside, the bells break through the sound of downtown traffic to chime three o’clock. Roland puts the finishing touches on Stacey’s blue eyes. He invites her to come see. A smile lights up her face as she sees herself in fine art on the canvas. It really is beautiful.

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We take in a few more quick lessons on art and color from the artist, bid him goodbye, and emerge from the cool of the studio to the warm sunlight of the West Indies. Time ticks on, the bustle of town swallows up the moments. The ferry pulls out of port, someone is born, and someone dies. But upstairs in the studio, a moment of time is forever captured and will never be forgotten.

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One Hour in France

One week after the attacks on Paris, the French flags in Marigot, French St. Martin fly at half-mast. Although the crowds of tourists seem to obliviously enjoy the sun, sand, and sea, the denizens of Saint Martin–on both sides of the island– feel a change in the atmosphere.

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Fort Louis in Marigot, French St. Martin flies the French flag at half-mast

 

Although French St. Martin’s port flies only France’s flag at half-mast, the Dutch side of the island is hoisting all flags at half-mast, a gesture of support and compassion for its French counterpart. “Je Suis France,” cries a sign in Simpson Bay. It is times like these that the unity of the nationally-divided island is most evident.

The significance of the bombing hits close to home for many– for us, exactly .70 miles from home. I’m sure you can image the underlying fear that many people on our island feel. Besides sharing our land with the French, many of us, Ben and I included, have loved ones who live in Paris.

Security on the island is tightening as events continue to unfold. On Monday, the Dutch-side newspaper announced the arrival of a small group of Arab men with false Greek passports. The men were detained as suspected potential terrorists. I’m pretty sure they’re not– real terrorists would certainly have more realistic passports and would know better than to use Greece as their cover country.

Tuesday, the police created a road block and checked every single car on the route to the capitol. I’m not sure why, but it certainly slowed down traffic and I was glad to be coming back rather than heading toward Philipsburg.

The attack in Paris not only brought our attention and compassion to Parisians, it also (finally) opened many Western eyes to similar tragedies around the world: West Bank, Somalia, Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Chad, and Cameroon all experienced acts of terrorism in the month of November, 2015 before Paris was bombed. We did not hear about those on the news because terrorism in Africa and the Middle East no longer shocks us.

Perhaps our horror at the attack on Paris will give us renewed perspective on terrorism in any country.

Maybe it will get our attention so that we will stop re-posting and start doing something about it.

Dutch Sint Maarten is not the only place Syrian refugees showed up with false papers. I heard of incidents in both Honduras and Texas in the last 24 hours. Of all the people currently affected by terrorism, certainly Syrians are at the top of the list. It seems they have nowhere to go, so they are going wherever they can. Wouldn’t you?

Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do for the suffering of Paris except put up a French flag on my Facebook account and bear with the haters and the cries of “white supremacy.” It’s not much, but it’s a way to join with St. Maarten in supporting St. Martin and France.

Fortunately, there are tangible ways that you and I can help the people escaping violence in Syria!

I found this article from a UK-based news source that gives practical ways that “regular people” can be a part of the solution.

One of my friends offered this updated Amazon link. You can spend that unused Amazon gift card and send needed items to be distributed to refugees.

Friends, the world can be a terrible place. The acts of wickedness shock us, petrify us, make us weep. But we don’t have to live in fear, without hope. We can be the hope. We can be part of the solution. We can pray for God to bring comfort, peace, and justice. Then we can stand up and be the answers to our own prayers. We can bring light into this dark world. We can extend the hand of compassion to those who are hurting. This is what God has called us to do, and we can all do it, wherever we are.

 

 

 

A Sint Maarten’s Day Parade

Twirling skirts, bright eyes, steel drums and johnnycakes… this is Sint Maarten’s Day! Upon hearing about this holiday, my first  question was whether the day celebrated the island’s heritage or the actual feast day of Saint Martin. As it turns out, it celebrates both. According to the story of the island’s earliest known history, Christopher Columbus stumbled upon our island paradise on November, 11, 1483–Saint Martin’s Feast Day– and named the island in honor of the day. Today, Saint Martin the man is more or less ignored, and the island people celebrate their heritage and homeland.

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Ben and I had been looking forward to this day since we landed here because American University of the Caribbean gives its students Sint Maarten’s Day off classes. I was also looking forward to the day-long cultural celebration in Philipsburg, the capitol district. We took a bus in the early afternoon to join the throngs of people in the streets of the capitol. The air was absolutely electric with energy!

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I immediately felt a little out of place– virtually everyone else was rocking red, white, and blue t-shirts; most of them even had patriotic designs! I was wearing a green skirt with a pink top. Oops. We went in search of Saint Maarten t-shirts. I could see that many of the stores in the shopping district were selling such apparel, but all the stores were closed, as per the law of the land. We finally found some in Festival Village, but all they had left were XXLs. “They run small,” offered the lady at the booth apologetically. I said no thanks, but bought a Sint Maarten flag.

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Festival Village, a large, purple outdoor complex on Pond Island, was filled with shouts, laughter, bubbles, and flashing lights. The kids were having a heyday on the inflatable bouncers! Their parents enjoyed fried food and bottles of soda at gaily decorated food stands around the edge of the complex. Under a canopy, domino players determinedly focused on their annual tournament.

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The schedule said the parade would start at 3:00, so we made our way through the streets, under the bunting-covered palm trees, to where the parade would begin. We waved at a recording drone that hovered overhead and watched the crowd fill up the streets.

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The crowd thickened around us and began to build upward– people appeared in second-story windows, on balconies, and on their daddies’ shoulders. We smiled and greeted people we know as they pressed through the crowd to their favorite parade-watching spot.

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Ten minutes passed, half an hour, fifty minutes, an hour. Finally, we heard the sound of steel drums and dancing feet. True to Sint Maarten, the parade started on “island time.” Nobody seemed bothered. We crowded closer together and strained to catch a glimpse of the first dancers.

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Sint Maarten is home to people of many heritages, so cultural St. Maarten dance is diverse. My favorite were the women in hoop skirts who twirled and whirled down the street. Click on the thumbnails below to get a better look at the photos. So much color, so much movement! The women danced to the rhythm of the drumbeats that filled the streets and echoed off the buildings.

Dancing with a hoop skirt
Dancing with a hoop skirt

We loved the drums! I couldn’t help but dance a little myself. The whole crowd swayed and pulsed with the beat of the drums. The Jolly Boys, a local band, played their calypso beats as they drifted by on a float.

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What’s a parade without the smiles of children? There were dozens and dozens of kids in the parade– some dancing in patriotic tulle dresses, some dressed in historical garb holding their mothers’ hands, some waving like princesses and others peeking through windows.

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The car enthusiasts also contributed to the parade. This taxi is a little spiffier than the ones you usually see on the roads, but it still has the typical giant front-window sticker.

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This is my friend Lisa. She marched in the parade wearing cultural dress. The cultural clothing was probably the most visually interesting part of the celebration. There were clothes from every era in every style, from the drab and dirty slacks of the salt pickers to the Princess Julianna dress with a hoop skirt the size of New Jersey. I was excited to see professors from Ben’s school, American University of the Caribbean, representing the school and rocking salt picker hats!

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I was amazed at the stilt-walkers! The parade lasted about an hour and a half, and these people walked on stilts the whole time. That takes some serious skill. There were probably fifteen of these– I wonder who made the clothes for them? Equally as cool were the living statues. They looked so real! I’m not sure, but I think they were based on some of the statues on Sint Maarten’s round-a-bouts. This side of the island has more round-a-bouts than intersections, and each one has a statue with local significance.

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As the sun began to sink, the parade marched to its final destination– Festival Village. Tired dancers and sweaty but happy walkers disbanded and began to enjoy the celebrations for themselves.

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Happy Sint Maarten’s Day, everyone! What a wonderful way to celebrate our island home.

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Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights

As the sun begins to set on a small waterfront resort, people of all ethnicities trickle into the courtyard. One by one, candles and lights begin to illuminate the surroundings. As the courtyard fills, the aromatic scent of curry begins to grace the air. It is the second night of Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights.
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This is the West Indies, not India. Yet even here in the Western hemisphere, we are eager to celebrate the triumph of good over evil– and, of course, what promises to be the apex of human culinary achievement.

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Someone announces that the food is ready, and we all line up, plates ready. The menu consists of rice, banir (vegetarian red sauce), chicken tika masala (red sauce with meat), yogurt sauce to cool our mouths after the spice, naan (Indian flat-bread), and samosas (fried dumplings filled with potatoes and peas). We find a group to sit with and dig in. It’s as delicious as it smells!

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The group we sit with is comprised of people who were born in India or raised in Indian homes. The conversation quickly turns to Indian culture and geography as people discuss and compare their location of origin, lingual heritage, and family traditions. I take the opportunity to ask questions and learn about the diverse and colorful nation of India.

A university student explains to me the origin and traditions centered around Diwali. Diwali is a traditional Hindu festival lasting five days. On the first day of Diwali, people hope for wealth and prosperity. The second day of Diwali celebrates the triumph of light over dark, good over evil. The third day is the actual day of Diwali, the Indian new year’s eve. The fourth day, the new year, celebrates love and devotion between husbands and wives. The final day is a celebration of sisters. Siblings honor one another and exchange gifts on this day.

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The night grows blacker and sparklers are lit, illuminating the party scene. Indian pop music wraps us all in an exotic sheath of sound. Children dance and spin in the candle light. People migrate from tables to the bar and the dance floor.

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Before long, the deck is crowded with smiling and laughing dancers. The sky is black, but for us, the darkest night of the year is bright and joyous.

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Caribbean Cooking: Macaroni Pie

Meet my friend Aqiyla! Today she is going to teach us to make a yummy Caribbean dish called macaroni pie. Aqiyla hails from Canada, but her family is actually originally from the Caribbean. This is a meal that her grandparents brought from these sunny islands years ago.

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First, gather your ingredients:

-Elbow macaroni

-2 or 3 eggs

-1 1/2 cup condensed milk

-Cheese to your liking

-Oil or nonstick spray

-Salt and pepper

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Next, boil, your macaroni. You want it to be al dente at this stage, so don’t let it get soggy!

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While the macaroni is boiling, crack 2 to 3 eggs in a bowl and beat them. We used three eggs, but you may only need two. I bought the baby eggs because they are literally half the price of jumbo eggs at our neighborhood Asian market.

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When your macaroni is done boiling, drain it and mix in the egg. Make sure to stir it in quickly, so that you don’t end up with giant chunks of scrambled egg as they cook in your hot noodles!

Also, preheat your oven to 350* F or 170* C.

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After the egg, mix in your condensed milk. Make sure you have enough enough to thoroughly coat your noodles with a thin film of milk left at the bottom of the bowl. This means you’ll need to stir it in a bit at a time and fold it into your noodles somewhat slowly.

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Next, salt and pepper to taste.

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Now, your macaroni is ready to go into the baking dish! Grease your dish and pour in the macaroni.

I used a pot because I don’t own baking dish.

That’s how it goes when you sell everything and start over.

Once you pour it into the dish, sprinkle cheese generously, according to your preference. Yum.

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Put the macaroni in the oven. Let it bake for 30-45 min. When it the cheese looks dark, crispy, and bubbly, it is done!

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Serve and enjoy!

This was a win at our house. It’s simple to make and a good break from the pasta dishes I routinely make for dinner. We’ll be adding this to the recipe box for sure!

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