Why does anyone want to live in the Caribbean?
Copyright Chef Michael Bennett’s (2009) new Cookbook, “In the Land of Misfits, Pirates and Cooks”.
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It is the weather, right? Not this guy. I grew up in South Florida and have spent most of my life in tropical climes. I ventured to the Caribbean to learn more about the food.
What lures so many is the stunning beauty of the Caribbean Sea. For centuries these islands have been attracting adventurers from all over the globe. The bygone eras of pirates and even modern day “misfits” made use of these islands as a refuge from persecution and for shelter.
It was a tricky play for me to convince my family to agree to leave the conveniences of the modern world. Eventually Miami’s gleaming towers of glass and steel were replaced by never ending horizon of blue. The aquatic surrounding our new residence on the Island of Tortola made for glorious panoramas. Daily scenes of mountainous isles jutting out of an azure sea so vivid you would might think this scenescape from our porch was an oversize post card. My family has lived our entire lives in the metropolitan landscapes of Miami and Fort Lauderdale and this new Virgin Island seascape was to me implausible.
In my most recent daydreams of our island bliss, the seascape of blue was enhanced by landscapes of green, yellow, orange and the crimson red of mango, papayas, pineapple and bananas. They line every road, trail and path, multiplying copiously on every corner of our island. These small rural positioned out-croppings were only dwarfed by my encounters with numerous wild groves.
As I pursued my food gathering more on foot, the high altitudes can really affect you. Did I remember to tell you that these islands are mountainous? Imagine a Caribbean island filled with tropical fruits. A chef’s dream right? I thought so at first, but found out what a chore it was to harvest these wild groves after hiking a combination of summits. The altitude unsettled my self confidence. Being someone that lived his entire life at sea level, this altitude made me confront and rethink my physical condition. Just about to give up this week’s attempt at finding another unusual food for dinner, I happened across a man and his donkey.
It seems that just a decade before the new millennium, this island had no automobiles or modern roads and donkeys were the best means of transportation. The sun weathered old man with limited dentistry encounters, wearing what
might be graciously called a tattered assembly of clothes and no shoes – told me that he climbs these hills daily to harvest provisions and that others have been doing this for years. They gather on Saturday and Sunday at an aged (to
put it in a nice way) open-air market to sell these wild foods and suggested I should check it out.
“It is not the amount of people that have crossed your path
But, how the path was accomplished”.
Being at the market only a few minutes, I could see that this was the meeting place for “ Belongers”. Not so much to sell their harvest but, being there was to be in touch with the community. Belongers are people that have lived on the island for a very long time if not their entire lives. This island’s populace is all about community. It seems as though everyone knows each other here. It is unusual for you to walk any street and not be said hello to. It is exceedingly
strange to me, coming from Miami where nobody knows each other and most people are from someplace else. The feeling of “island” community is strongest at this marketplace. All the gatherers sell their provisions but it really isn’t as
important to make a sale as it is to be with friends. Our time on this world can be assessed by how many people
have crossed your path and affected your life. In the Caribbean it is different. It is not the amount of people that have crossed your path but, how the path was accomplished.
Most Caribbean peoples share the same common ancestry. Discovering the social back drop like at the marketplace is just the tip of a very large iceberg. This entire social unification of islands and its cultures are different but, the same in so many ways. As a rule, Islanders are overflowing with the same atypical allegiance to their individual home island communities. Each Caribbean island has a potpourri of diver gent residents and not everyone originally comes from the same island which they now live. Jamaicans and the people from “Down Island” – those people coming from the Lesser Antilles – made up the diverse populace of my new Caribbean residence. It is inspiring to be apart of a community where everyone has commonalities and feels as though they belong to something greater.
“The peoples of the Caribbean, not only have a different spirit
of life that isn’t seen in America, it is poles apart”.
Just as the United States was for the rest of the world, Tortola and St. Thomas have always been the “melting pot” of the Caribbean. People locally call St. Thomas “little New York”. Being a financial center, second busiest in the Caribbean, people from every “Down” island nation come here to work. Commonalities bring people here but it is their uncommon allegiance to their home island that keeps them independently uplifted. People from “down island” always chatter on about the natural beauty or the cultural advances of their homeland. People from Dominique always say it is the most beautiful place in the world, with their rainforest and crystal clear rivers. Fishing is exceptionally popular and is their most valued industry. Meanwhile, other down-islanders brag about their homeland in the cultural aspects. The Trini’s are always yakking on about Carnival. If anyone knows anything about Carnival in Trinadad, they don’t try to compare their island’s festival to that of Trinadad’s because Trinadad’s is so immense.
The people of Jamaica are always talking about how beautifully rich their homeland is in natural attractions and their culinary culture. You can’t travel across the Caribbean without running into a Jamaican “Jerk-Shak” themed restaurant. Jerk shaks are so popular, you would think that every Island has the same Jamaican chefs.
Copyright Michael Bennett, 2009