Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Community Carnival

I feel so fortunate to have been assigned by the Peace Corps to this particular village on the beautiful island of Dominica! This is Carnival season, which is a big deal in the Caribbean. Carnival is similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans—a big celebration prior to Lent (although some islands have chosen to move the date of their Carnival celebrations to garner more tourists—see my story about Carnival on St. Lucia, which occurred while I was on that island during my Pre-Service Training).

Events kicked off a couple of weeks ago with a big parade in the capital, which I enjoyed attending (see my story here). Since then, there have been musical competitions, beauty pageants, and other festivities, all leading up to the big celebrations on Monday and Tuesday. There was no school on the first two days this week, plus Friday was a “fun day” rather than an academic day (see my story about Freaky Friday).

The biggest Carnival celebration was held Monday in the capital city. I've heard stories of the terrible traffic jams getting into Roseau, the difficulty in getting bus rides home afterward, and the recent news about some crime problems there (honestly, crime is not a big problem here on Dominica, especially when compared to other islands or the U.S.—I feel especially safe in my village). Plus, we are hoping that the influx of visitors from other infected islands does not result in the introduction of the Zika virus to our island, because so far we have avoided this new and growing problem.

I'm glad that I didn't have to make the long trip to Roseau to enjoy Carnival, thanks to the fact that some other Dominican cities also hold their own celebrations—including my own little village. It is an example of the strong community spirit that we are fortunate to have here in my village.

Our local Carnival celebrations started on Sunday afternoon with a rounders game with a visiting team from Guadeloupe (rounders is a bit like baseball, but played by women with a ball similar to a tennis ball and an over-sized ping pong paddle). The home team got beat by this traveling team, but it was still fun time down at the playing field, with the ocean and palm trees in the background. [The British tourists who I mentioned in the Freaky Friday story (linked above) happened to come back to swim at our beach, so I had a good time visiting with them again and showing them some more sights.]

I am not an expert on all the intricacies of the culture and traditions of Carnival, but I will try to describe what the past two days have been like for me. Sometimes it is easier not to question why things happen, but to just go along with the flow. It is just a given that Carnival is a big party time, and folks here celebrate it with reckless abandon.

I had been warned that Monday would start very early—at 4:00 AM. It is called J'ouvert (a contraction of the French term "jour ouvert," or dawn/day break.), and involves dancing in a street parade, often with some sort of costume. I had little to work with as far as costumes go, but I dressed in black and wore a long sleeve shirt tied around my head (peeking through the neck hole), with sunglasses (even though it was still a few hours before dawn). Despite my efforts, everyone knew who I was.

A short-sided dumptruck had been outfitted with a generator and music equipment (and a roof to protect it all from any rain). The speakers (on both ends) were huge! From about 4:00 AM to about 10:00 AM, this truck moved at a snail's pace up and down Main Street, turning around at the Church Street bridge on one end, and out on the main road at the other end. Behind and in front of it, the villagers walked, danced, jumped, bounced, twerked, or whatever, and sometimes they would take a break to just sit and watch others. There were a few times when some of them would run short sprints back and forth as a group. The loud calypso music was constant, with a relentless bass beat. Some were singing, some were laughing, but nearly everyone was smiling and having a good time together.

At the end of the parade time, a water hose was connected to one of the outdoor pipes, so that we could have ourselves a “wet fete.” This is a Caribbean tradition that in bigger locations might include fancy stuff like foam bubbles, a variety of different sprinklers, etc. However, a simple rubber garden hose created a lot of fun for our villagers.

Then, nearly everyone went back home to take a nap and whatever else, before the same street parade started again just before dusk on Monday. The unhurried parading up and down Main Street continued until 10:00 PM, but the partying continued well into the night. On Tuesday afternoon, it all started up again for one final time. It seemed that Tuesday there were more folks from neighboring villages who came to Thibaud for our parade (they had likely gone to Roseau or Portsmouth the day before).

I am not much of a dancer, but I had fun carrying young children on my shoulders, bouncing to the incessant beat of the music as we slowly made our way behind the truck that was creeping along the parade route. It felt good to be with a hundred or so of my neighbors and friends. Although I haven't memorized every name with every face so far, I think they all know who I am, and everyone seems to have accepted me.

Yes, our parade was perhaps a bit amateurish compared to what could be seen in Roseau. It didn't have a lot of glitz and glamour like I saw in St. Lucia or at the parade in Roseau a few weeks ago. However, had I gone to Roseau (or even Portsmouth), as a white person I would have been automatically assumed to be a tourist (and would always have been watching out of the corner of my eye for pick-pockets or any other problems). Here, I was one of them—simply another member of our village. Everyone was having a good time and festive attitudes were pervasive. It is this feeling of community spirit and acceptance that makes me so grateful to have been assigned here. I'm looking forward to next year! In the meantime, it is back to work tomorrow.

Here are a few Carnival pictures, all taken at J'ouvert yesterday.

Later in the morning with some of my friends (including the red-shirted Things 1, 2, and 3).
Here is what it looked like in the pre-dawn hours.
That's me in my “costume” with one of my kindergarten dance partners.
This is where our Main Street joins the main road. The sound truck is trying to loop around to start back up the hill. Notice that we even had a police motorcycle escort.
This remarkable woman is on the village council, is active with church and the choir, is a caring parent to a couple of our students, and has a great time celebrating Carnival.
With my phone out of commission, I only took a few pictures with my iPad. This was an attempt to show one of the times when groups of folks were simply running back and forth as a group, first one direction and then the other (most of them had already passed).
One dog was even dressed up in a costume for the event. This family takes great care of their dog.
Because of not wanting to get my iPad ruined, I stayed a safe distance away from the wet fete, but I think you can tell that the water is spraying up from the right side of the picture.


  1. Fun filled time....I am thinking your beard gave you away....Good to see you having such a good time...Thanks for sharing!

  2. I am so pleased to know about these carnival events!! Last year I visited NYC for attending couple of carnival events at local event venue. We had a great fun over there and I hope you also found this event interesting!