Tag Archives: Festival

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.

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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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Community Action Day at American University of the Caribbean

What do you get when you combine packed buses, hundreds of purple t-shirts, smiling faces, and a giant rain storm? No, not the first day of your third-grade church camp– but good guess. You get American University of the Caribbean’s 2015 Community Action Day!

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An AUC Student Tutors in Reading

I love organized service projects. Our undergrad university put on a day of outreach each spring, and all the students got a day off classes to do yard work for the elderly, paint over graffiti, etc. I was happy to find out that AUC does essentially the same thing, although a day off school is not an option here. The event organizers offered about two dozen different CAD activities, and students and campus groups could sign up for whatever they choose. Ben and I decided to go help with the Little League Player Development Program, since I already volunteer with this organization.

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Coach Tom Shows Us the Science Room

We met our group at AUC and took a bus over to the baseball field. Not too many kids had arrived before us, so Coach Tom gave us a tour of the team’s clubhouse. The clubhouse is a wonderful place. It’s made up of three shipping containers– one filled with science stuff, one dedicated to reading, and one full of exercise equipment. Every week day and Saturday, the kids come to the clubhouse for tutoring and baseball practice. Coach Tom and his wife, Lisa, along with whoever shows up to volunteer, help the kids with math and reading. This kids are rewarded with baseball cards and time to play with toy trains and the science projects.

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Ben and His Classmates Tutor Kids

About 25 kids showed up on Saturday, and all the volunteers sat down with a child or two to help with reading. As they finished, kids and AUC students moved to the field to practice baseball.

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A Beautiful Day for Baseball

In the Caribbean, storms rise up out of nowhere and drench the earth with driving rain. It’s rainy season now, so it was not really a surprise when the heavens opened and poured the waters of all the seven seas upon us! We all congregated under tarps and into the containers to wait out the rain.

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Even AUC Professors get Involved

When the rain let up a little bit, Lisa drove Ben and I next door to the local university, where the Migratory Bird Festival was being held. She went back for a few kids at a time when the weather finally cleared. We colored some pictures of birds, learned about their feeding habits, and adopted a Gaiac tree to raise. Since Sint Maarten has been in a drought this year, there was an exhibit on drought and how it affects the birds–ironically, it was partially damaged by the rain and had to be moved inside!

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Raising and Planting A Gaiac Tree Helps the Ecosystem Thrive
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One of the Kids Discovers Pond Life

At noon, we walked the kids back to the baseball field. Most of the other volunteers were playing catch with the kids. We said goodbye to everyone from the team and piled into the bus to head back to Cupecoy. It had been a great morning.

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Most photos courtesy of Tom and Lisa Burnett