Thursday, November 5, 2015

Celebrating Independence!

Dominica became independent from Great Britain on November 3, 1978. In conjunction with their Independence holiday, several other interesting events take place. Here is a brief summary of what I've experienced in the past week.

Creole Day: On Friday, everyone wore their best traditional outfits to school for a fun day (instead of an academic day). Generally, traditional outfits mean some sort of madras plaid outfit. Fortunately, I had purchased a madras shirt for our Peace Corps multi-cultural night before I left St. Lucia. The classroom walls were folded back to create a large space and a local man gave a speech about Creole Day. Some of the students performed some traditional dances, and everyone had a good time.

These are a few of our students who arrived early that day.
Prior to Creole Day, students had been encouraged to have their parents donate some type of food for the big luncheon on Friday. The PTA and the staff fixed traditional foods for everyone to eat. There were a number of interesting traditional dishes, but I chose the Sancoche, which is saltfish and roasted breadfruit with a coconut milk-based sauce.

The other menu choice was Crab Callilou, but I still got to eat it because there was enough left over so they gave me some to take home for dinner. They don't use fancy utensils such as those little forks or those crab cracking. Here, you just use your teeth to break the crab shell and dig with the tine of your regular fork.

This is a large takeout box of Crab Callilou. As you can see, the crabs here are big. Callilou is a bit like spinach, hence the dark green bits and the broth.
That evening at dusk, as I was struggling to finish my crab (because since they gave this special free food, you know I was bound and determined to finish every last bit of it) while eating on my porch, I noticed the lights from a cruise ship pass between us and Marie Galland island (a small French island that is part of Gaudeloupe). As many of you know, I enjoyed Caribbean cruises in the past, and this was the first time I had noticed a cruise ship in our waters. I wondered if some of the guests were eating crab in an elegant dining room that night, with all the fancy utensils, while I was spitting out small pieces of crab shell I had cracked in my mouth. Those on that passing ship may be enjoying their cruise vacation, but at this point, I wouldn't trade places with any of them. I'm loving my time here!

Youth Rally Day: Monday was the big day for which we had been practicing for weeks. All the schools on Dominica are invited to send a drill marching team to the big sports stadium in the capital. The highlight is the parade as every school marches across the grounds and right in front of the Prime Minister for his review. It is very colorful as every school in this country has its own distinctive colors and uniforms. There are also some award presentations and speeches by some dignitaries, but everyone is there to see the big parade.

Here is a shot from the previous week of our rag-tag bunch practicing on our field (with the ocean in the background).
Never having experienced this event before, I was a bit worried as to how our little school would look—our marching practices had been far from perfect, and our leader ended up losing his voice in the days preceding the event. However, two things happened—first, not all the other schools were perfect at marching, so we didn't stand out in that perspective; and second, our students picked an excellent time to have their best performance. They did pretty good for themselves! Unfortunately, I was watching so intently that I forgot to take any pictures of them marching past the Prime Minister.

Independence Day: Another early bus run took me back to the sports stadium in the capital on Tuesday. This time, there were more awards and speeches. Instead of schools marching, there were a couple of bands and several precision marching units from the police units, the Coast Guard, and others. They gave a remarkable performance, but I must admit that I think I enjoyed more watching the colorful school students who marched the day before.

These marching units at the stadium were much more coordinated than our school children!
I also must admit that I missed celebrating Independence Day with fireworks. I suppose that fireworks are more appropriate for an independence won by a revolution against the British, rather than an independence won by a stroke of a pen, merely because the British finally realized it was the right thing to do.

National Day of Service: I think this is a fantastic tradition! Dominicans gather in their communities to perform some sort of civic improvement. In my village, we had a major beach clean-up as well as a fix-up effort at “The Spring”—which is sort of like the “city park pool” of my village (I promise to write a future story on the spring). I spent most of my time working at the beach, as we picked up driftwood, coconuts, the unburnt remnants of campfires, and trash. Some of the women brought a delicious lunch to both work sites that I enjoyed eating while watching the waves.

I think Jed Clampett might refer to “The Spring” as a “cement fishin' pond.”
I should point out that normally there is a big Creole Festival on the weekend before Independence Day, but because we are still dealing with the aftermath of Tropical Storm Erika, it was decided to cancel this year's festival and keep things more low key. Some of the other major events were also somewhat curtailed for the same reason. So I can't say that this was a typical year for Dominica's Independence celebration. But everyone still had a good time.
Even my students turned out to help clean up the beach.
I enjoyed all these special days, but I think my favorite day was the National Day of Service. It was great seeing so many villagers come out to do things for the common good of the community. Such joint efforts show the importance of getting along and working together. In America, a similar push has been made to do this on Martin Luther King day—to consider it a “day on” rather than a “day off” (although few Americans actually do any community service on that holiday). I am proud that Dominica does this and I think it is a wonderful tradition!

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