Saturday, January 28, 2012

What We Leave Behind...

…are the manifestations of the memories we bring with us. 

Every day I consider that, beautiful, serene and unbelievable as this island may be, I am very far from the place I will forevermore know as home.  There is a consuming sense of isolation when you’re so utterly removed from your habitat.  The flow of your lifestyle is dammed, allowing just a trickle to escape, in the form of emails and videos, just enough to remind you of the rush behind the wall.  Despite the fact that you can list off everyone and everything that drives you to homesickness, what you really miss above all else is the comforting sense of predictability.

Oscar Wilde suggested that expecting the unexpected demonstrates a thoroughly modern intellect.  I don’t know that I would consider myself a modern intellectual, but I can identify an oxymoron when it’s staring me in the face.  There is a reason why humans have been referred to as creatures of habit.  Most of us flourish with a routine and, the more established the routine becomes, the more we understand and accept our niche in life.  We may seek to occasionally remove the monotony, but always rely on the rapid return of that complacent predictability.

When the routine is gone, we flounder.

Were I Wilde’s definition of a modern intellect, I would have nothing to discuss.  I would prance around the neighborhood, anticipating the charging cow, emaciated dogs, flocks of goats, and intimidating driving patterns.  My blog would go belly-up.  Then what would you read when you’d already read everything else and realized you still had time to kill?

I have been floundering since the day we landed in Grenada and a monkey climbed on my head.  Every day I am weighed down by more astonishing moments and discoveries.  The collapsing definition of my lifestyle is ready for a new description.  And frantically, I’m trying to erect some sense of daily structure.  But whatever comfort I can build for myself, I am still a stranger in a foreign place and, in the most significant sense of the word, home is agonizingly far away.

Fortunately, I’m not so naïve that I don’t expect some semblance of predictability to settle itself on my present situation.  Until it does, I’ll keep up my tailspinning existence.  And I’ll keep it up stoically, despite the subconscious struggle between my perpetually flailing id and constantly scolding super-ego.

Friday, January 27, 2012

What We Bring With Us…

…defines our concerns.  For instance, I was apparently concerned about oral maintenance.  So I brought a smorgasbord of flosses.  The pile constitutes my ever growing collection of miniature flosses handed out like party favors by our dentist (thank you, Dr. Falkenberg).  Having been blessed with the clichéd British teeth, I suffer daily concern that, in defiance of my oral hygiene, a series of cavities are still cultivating their new nesting grounds.  Also packed along with the floss were two tubes of Anbesol, because numbing a sensitive tooth is the only immediate release from the disproportionately severe pain caused by a microscopic perforation in a single molar.  I am sincerely disappointed that after suffering for years under the care of a slakeless bloodthirsty dentist, I finally found one I was not terrified of visiting; then we moved to a whole new country. 

My teeth may be labeled as subpar, but that level of imperfection is a gross understatement in respect to my vision.  If you are an optometrist or ophthalmologist, the prescription -5.50 and -6.50 listed on the side of the tower of Air Optix boxes in our bathroom might make sense to you.  I have no idea what they mean, but Bad Bat Leroy Brown tells me I’m like kin.  Constant use of glasses gives me a migraine and I understand contacts are very expensive in Grenada.  Bringing my tower of contacts was a necessity, then.  The tower includes 96 individual monthly contacts.  That is enough to last four years, if the contacts are replaced monthly.  For me, they could potentially last eight years, were I not so afflicted with my astigmatism that their strength will be rendered obsolete in less time.  Packing the contacts was a fun job since I was led to believe they are subject to a high rate of duty.  Boxes found their way inside dress shoes, within the sleeve of my tripod bag, wedged in a pack of new underwear, et cetera.

I took great pains to conceal my small fortune in disposable lenses.  Ironically, my bag was never opened by customs.  The only duty we paid was for our laptops.  We cleared customs without spending a penny on the contacts or our two Canon Powershots or the Rebel or my Kindle or anything else of value.  Potential crisis averted.

With the constant warnings I noted online, I also decided to bring additional contact solution.  My understanding was that solution is difficult to find and atrociously expensive when located.  Now that I’m in Grenada, I looked for myself.  Yes and yes.  IGA had three 10-ounce bottles of Renu stocked last Saturday, priced at about $52.00 EC which is roughly twice what you would expect to pay in the States.  That is also about one-third of our weekly grocery allowance.

Proud Pale People, unite!  And please try to unite under the beach umbrella, so no one gets burned.  And don’t forget to apply additional sunscreen on and around your nose and ears.  And also remember to do a weekly check for questionable moles or blemishes.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chiquita Wishes She Lived in Grenada…

…because we are being inundated with bananas!  This began yesterday when we went grocery shopping at the IGA.  We haven’t had bananas (or any fruit, for that matter) in a while.  IGA was selling standard bananas for $1.69EC per pound.  That’s not a bad price ($0.64USD per lb.).  So we picked up a bunch.  Then, to complete our grocery trip, we stopped by the fruit stand for some produce.  They had rock figs!  They never have rock figs!  Naturally, we bought two bunches.  Then, that same afternoon, Mr. Charles gave us two ripe coconuts and two more bunches of bananas from his garden!
The rock figs are the small brownish ones. They are not overripe, despite their coloration. They are only now ready to eat.

I am not sure what the warning signs are of banana overdose, but my vision is turning a little yellow.

I think I did mention in an earlier post that Ivan’s white coat ceremony was last Monday.  This is considered an important event—made evident by the fact that hors d’oeuvres are served in place of actual food—and students, as well as guests, are expected to dress formally.  The single formal dress I brought was solely for the white coat ceremony.  But I didn’t end up going.  I may have forgotten to mention that in my earlier post.

Prior to coming to the island, an email was sent to accepted students to make reservations for family attending the ceremony.  Assuming there would be a subsequent reminder, Ivan ignored the email.  One and a half weeks after we arrived in Grenada, Ivan registered as a term 1 medical student.  When he was fitted for a white coat, he was given a ticket of admittance for himself for the ceremony.  The hall was already full, so I couldn’t get a ticket.  There was the option to sign up to receive a ticket to view the ceremony on a monitor in an overflow room somewhere else on campus.  I said phooey to that because it sounded like a stuffy, lame substitute.  My unstuffy, less lame intention was to lounge in non-formals on our couch and stream the live feed online.  The live feed didn’t work, so a couple days later, I just settled on watching the online recording of the ceremony.

***Any future students: take note of our failure and just make reservations when you get that email!***

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Culinary Improvisation is Important...

…especially when every fresh ingredient is subject to radically changing availability.  The easiest way to avoid recipe catastrophe is to not follow a recipe at all.  What is a recipe, after all, other than a list of rules?  And aren’t we all at least slightly rebellious?  Throw off the chains of regulated meals, I say!  Reject the ambiguity of nonsense measurements like a dash or a pinch!  Make your own menu and be proud of it!

We had two chicken breasts thawed in the fridge and half a bag of penne pasta.  So I decided to make a pasta salad.  I would cook the chicken and dice it, toss it with the cooked penne, add some diced tomatoes and wilted callaloo*, throw in the last of our sharp cheddar, and stir it all together with a miracle whip/garlic/vinegar mix.  Serve chilled.

I thought it sounded good.  All I needed were the callaloo and tomatoes.  I had yet to visit Ali’s and not find both of these ingredients in stock.  Until today, naturally.  They had neither tomatoes nor callaloo.  Thinking on my toes, I grabbed an assortment of fresh produce as a replacement: local carrots, seasoning peppers (which resemble habaneros, but are nowhere near as spicy), and okra.  I figured, If I’m not following a recipe, then I can’t be disappointed, right?

My replacements turned out to be a big hit.  Ivan and I loved it.  Since it never was an official recipe, I can’t claim my substitutions made it better than the original, though.  In fact, maybe I’ll just claim that this version is the original.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Holy Flying Mammal Batman...

…we have a new neighbor.  It seemed marginally frightening, too, until later in the day when we were chased by a crazy cow and understood true fear.  That was after the downpour (actually, what is more severe than downpour, but less severe than monsoon?) in which Ivan got drenched, even with an umbrella.  The rain happened before the school bazaar, where we ate free food and listened to a steel drum band play Bob Marley.

Let me tell the story of Sunday, January 15th in chronological order.

The morning began with heavy rains, letting up for an hour at a time before crashing down again.  Ivan left late in the morning for convocation, braving the deluge to trek to campus.  He took an umbrella, but the rain let up just as he left.  Lucky, huh?

I had three hours to kill before Ivan got back home and we had to get ready for a presentation of student organizations at school.  My plan was to tidy up, do the usual weekend rounds, beginning with laundry.  So I stripped the bed and had a basket of sheets to take out of the apartment, down the hall, outside, and into the utility room with the washing machines.  Pretty simple, right?  Then I opened the door and, dangling by one long-toed foot from the ceiling, was a bat, characteristically wrapped in its wings.

I slammed the door.  (And maybe also made a little eep! sound.)

Then I cracked the door open again.  The bat wriggled around and looked right at me.

I slammed the door again.

Logically, it makes sense a bat would be hanging around (like the pun?); there are bugs galore and if it’s a fruit bat, there’s plenty of fruit too.  Logically, I should have been pleased to see the bat and even welcomed him into our home, “Please, feast on our mosquitoes.  We’ve had our fill.”

But I’m a girl and no girl is logical in the first moments of a confrontation with a bat, spider, rat or cockroach. My immediate response was: It probably has rabies.  It probably wants to fly into my hair.  Dwight Schrute is not here to save me.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

It's Seventeen O'clock...

…and twenty-six degrees centigrade out there.  Did that sound natural?  Think I’ve got the hang of this metric measurement system yet?  (I realize the time was military, not metric, but it tied in with the Family Guy reference.)  Today I made porridge for breakfast.  The instructions listed one serving size as 40 grams of dry porridge boiled with 300 milliliters of water.  Thanks to my kitchen conversion chart and my liquid measuring cup, with its clearly marked measurements, I managed to create a halfways decent breakfast.  I do sort of wish we had a kitchen scale, though.  Cooking might become a more precise art around here, rather than a crapshoot.  As it is, I’ve only followed recipes on the two desserts we’ve made.  Everything else is just riding on the hope that I have the faintest idea of what will happen if I mix crumbled mace and a heaping mound of curry to the kidney beans.  Sometimes I feel like I’m playing Jenga in the kitchen: If I add any more cheese to this casserole, the whole thing might collapse.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts...

…and now I also have a machete.  We bought one at the hardware store, keeping in mind the plethora of coconut trees our backyard boasts.  When we scouted the piles of coconuts under the trees, though, Ivan thought we might want to pluck one right from the branches for freshness’ sake.  So he scooped me up onto his shoulder and I twisted a fresh one down.  Following the actions of the vendors we’ve seen, Ivan hacked away at the top of the coconut until we had a little hole.  We popped in a straw and enjoyed a cool sip of coconut milk.  Then, more hacking ensued, until we were left with two meaty halves.  We gobbled up as much as we could, but ultimately had to toss some in the fridge (coconut is really filling).  I am pretty pleased to now be among the ranks of proud machete wielders nationwide and to have a tool with which access to even more free food is easily available.
First, you get yourself a coconut.

Then you, or a capable friend, chops off the top with a machete.

Next, plop a straw in the top and sip the sweet coconut milk.

After the milk is gone, chop the coconut in half.

And have yourself a lovely meal.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

And the Roaming Animal of the Day is...

…the cow!  Massive and dull-witted, these cud chewing mammals are well-known for their production of milk, cow pies and the Big Mac.  We owe them a great round of applause, but the one I ran into this afternoon just got a moment of stupefied silence and a few seconds in my viewfinder.  The stupefied silence is expected since I figured a goat was the only farm animal I was likely to run into on the island.  Beef is pretty hard to get; the only cheese locally produced is goat cheese; I buy my milk reconstituted in a carton at room temperature; I’ve only seen goats around the island.  So I just figured there were no cows in Grenada.  Today, I was wrong.  There are cows in Grenada, but they seem to be treated just like the goats: there are no formal fields, so you just drop off your cow wherever there’s grass and let them do their thing.  As we walked back from the school this afternoon (I got my ID badge!), we stumbled across two cows (actually, one was a bull), just mowing someone’s front yard.  Seriously, they were right next to the sidewalk with no one tending to them, nothing to stop them from walking right out in the road, just munching the grass.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Saying Goodbye Sucks...

… and that’s why, any time we visit with friends, we make plans for our next visit before leaving.  Unfortunately, when the visit relies on one-thousand dollars for transportation per person, setting up future plans is difficult.  That being said, saying goodbye to Mom after one week was especially difficult.  Although, we would like to extend a cyber-“thank you” for all she did for us during that very hectic first week.
Mom as she was entering security to board the plane back home

On Mom’s last day (Saturday), we went to Excel Plaza, where the theater is located, and poked around some of the stores.  Aside from another small market where Mom was able to pick up some more spices, it was uneventful.  We did, however, receive some advice from one of the shopkeepers to visit a grocery store in Grand Anse called Food Fair (Ivan and I now refer to it as Food Fart, but not because of the quality—it’s a nice store—because we can never remember the “Fair” part and Food Fart is easy to remember).  Taking his suggestion, we walked down (by “down” I mean we moved along a sloping grade, not south, because I still can’t say where south is) to the shopping center.  We bought a few groceries and toured the center.  There we found an ice cream vendor and each got a cone.  They were out of nutmeg, so Mom got a coffee flavor, I got rum and raisins (de-lish!) and Ivan got a flavor called “power.”  The ice cream was a very soft brown color, like coffee with a double serving of cream.  He asked the server what the flavor was and her response was “Guinness” (mind you, Guinness and Carib are about the most popular beers around here).  Never the timid one, Ivan chose beer for dessert.  Naturally I tried it.  And it absolutely tasted like Guinness (I know, I hate the stuff).  I can honestly say that the ice cream was tolerable, though I may not choose it for myself; if it were offered to me, I may not smack it away as I might a bottle of Guinness.  On the other hand, Ivan seemed to greatly enjoy it.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Quality isn't that Important...

…if I’m referring to photos that give you the gist of our living arrangements, right?

I figured it’s about time I post some pictures of the apartment.  I’ve already posted photos from the balcony—by far the most important part of the apartment, in my opinion.  But, there is this whole interior I’ve completely neglected.  The basic layout is as such: 2 main exits, one to a hallway leading to the front door, the other to the balcony and steps to the backyard; one large room divided by a long, tiled bar; on one side of the bar is the kitchen; the other side of the bar is a large living area; there is one small bathroom with a tile shower stall; two bedrooms lead off of the living area, both comparable in size and containing a full bed, desk, closet and bookshelf; one bedroom has 2 windows and the other has one window and a door leading to the balcony.  The walls are cement and white.  The floors are all tile and mostly a bluish-grey.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Even if I could Read Lips...

…I still wouldn’t understand half of the people here who are kind enough to instruct us in one way or another.  So most of the time we ask the locals to repeat themselves twice or, if they seem genuinely patient, three times before assuming we gleaned enough from their Caribbean jargon to get the gist of the message.  Usually, though, we still don’t understand after the third repetition and just nod with a vague, “yeah.”  Our misinterpretation aside, most of the locals are pretty nice.  They don’t typically engage in conversation, but are happy to direct a confused or lost tourist (since we are likely mistaken for tourists).  If anyone is overly eager to talk to you and goes out of their way to show you where to go/what to do, they probably expect compensation.  So, as unfortunate as it seems, you must be on guard when here for too-friendly folk.

We went to Grand Anse beach again today.  I was prepared this time for the strays we would meet and brought along a small baggie of dog food.  Lo and behold, we settled into a spot and, almost instantaneously, a sad little pothound mama skirted by.  I whistled to her, withdrawing my bag enticingly.  (Envision swinging around a sandwich bag of brownish kibble, doing your very best to make those chunks seem inviting to a frightened little stray—it was not easy.)  She yielded to the temptation and, despite the fact that she wouldn’t take it from my hand, gobbled the bits along with dollops of sand happily.  Unfortunately, she was so pathetic, I emptied the whole bag right there and then, leaving none for the three other strays I met later in the day.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Up! Up! And Away...

…reggae bus to the rescue!  The reggae buses are not buses.  I just want to make that perfectly clear.  They are vans with three rows of seats.  They flood the capillary roads like so much synonymous blood.  There is never a concern of being at the bus stop in time.  If we need to travel anywhere, we begin by walking down the road and turn and wave when we hear a horn honking.  Then we travel in the bouncy, blaring luxury of Bob Marley’s mass transit system.  Yeah, mon!

We made it to the market in St. George’s today.  Unfortunately the fish market was essentially cleaned out.  Our first stop was a coconut vendor where we bought a coconut as a refreshing drink.  The top was hacked off with a machete; then we were given a straw to sip out the coconut water.  After the coconut water was finished, the coconut was chopped in half and we scraped out the flesh for a little treat.  I have decided coconuts are not only awesome, but versatile as well.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Yo Ho Ho...

…and affordable rum!  It’s almost the only thing that is affordable here.  Also, we have found eggs, bread, pitted prunes, tinned sardines and chicken feet are affordable.  We have not yet purchased chicken feet since their only purpose I can think of is for making chicken stock and we have a frozen chicken neck in the freezer from the chicken Mom roasted a couple days ago.  To put expenses in perspective, a 50-bag box of Red Rose tea is $11.85 EC; one jumbo yam is $9.15 EC; a medium citronella candle is $23.15 EC.  The conversion rate is $1.00 USD = $2.68 EC (Eastern Caribbean).  Of course, the cheapest food we have found so far is the fruit foraged from our backyard.

We shopped at the IGA today in the Spice Land Mall.  The IGA is particularly stocked to cater towards students and tourists, boasting name brand items, such as Ben & Jerry’s, Ragu, Maxwell House, etc.  We prefer to shop at the very small store around the block from us.  It’s called Ali’s and is run by an Indian family.  The only problem is that it is too small to carry all the basics we might need (such as garbage bags).  They are, however, cheaper than IGA, so we will continue to patronize them more frequently than IGA.  Our trip—which included a number of unnecessary items purchased by Mom—ended up totaling a whopping $334.75 EC.  We were lucky to have enough money left over for the bus ride home.

Speaking of buses, I cannot emphasize what life savers they are.  Yes, they may be bumpy and swervey and choking in reggae music, but when you, your husband and your mom are hobbling down the road, tired, sweaty and towing more groceries than you meant to get, a thumping red “reggae bus” heading back to True Blue is the most glorious sight ever!

(Take note from the above paragraph: Do not purchase more groceries than you can carry when you do not own a vehicle.)

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Case of Cankles...

…and Fat Foot Syndrome.  It happens every time I fly.  My feet and ankles swell up like soggy loaves of bread and my toes look like a pudgy succession of mushroom stems.  Attractive, right?  Typically the swelling goes away a day after the flight, but considering the humidity here and non-stop foot abuse (I have been walking and hiking and even went for a run this morning), they are still in a state of horrendous engorgement.  So, for half of the day, we played the part of home bodies and relaxed on the balcony (me with my feet elevated).

Before settling in, though, we did a bit of running around.  First, we literally ran around.  This morning we went for a jog to and around the campus, then back home.  Next we walked to the True Blue Bay and had lunch at the Dodgy Dock.  I can honestly say it was an incredibly pleasant experience to be sitting on a dock platform, under a massive tent, mere feet from the beautiful clear waters of the bay, enjoying a cold beer and wonderful food.  The only other customers were English tourists, unless you also count the blackbirds that skipped from table to table eagerly awaiting handouts.  One tenacious bird was missing a leg, but still had a stick thin black stump.  We called it his peg leg and have affectionately dubbed him, Blackbird the Pirate.  Yarr!

(One of these days I’ll get tired of the pirate jokes.)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

I Might be Anemic...

…but apparently I taste good.  And, to certain prevailing uninvited party-crashers, I am also apparently a walking sack of delicious O-negative nectar.  In case you don’t follow my sarcasm, I am referring to mosquitoes.  However, to be perfectly clear, I am not referring to the typical run-of-the-mill mosquitoes.  I am referring to insane, guerrilla warfare, stealth-model SOBs that have already drained their fill, left a welt and buzzed away before you know something’s wrong.  And even if you do spot one, good luck killing it; with their tactical maneuvering and kamikaze-esque dive-bombing, you will never (and I mean never) squish one.

Last night was our first opportunity to sleep in the beds here.  Although they lack bedsprings, they are still comfortable.  We slept like logs (easy to do after so long without sleep).  Until we woke up at midnight.  And it was an abrupt wakeup.  We sat up in the blinding dark to a BOOM! And yet another resounding BOOM!  Being on a tiny island, I should have jumped to the automatic—and most obvious—conclusion of pirates.  Duh.  Naturally we were being attacked by nutmeg-hungry pirates.  Then common sense set in when Mom said, “I guess it’s New Years.”  Oh yeah, why didn’t I think of that?