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Most of you probably know that I am hardly a morning person. I come from a family of infamous sleepers who have been known to sleep for 16 hours straight through hours alarms, ringing phones, and blinding daylight. (I wish I were kidding!) We hate, hate, hate mornings. Even here, where I get tons of sleep, I have a hard time waking up early on weekday mornings. But somehow, I love getting up early on Saturday mornings to go to the market. Okay, maybe I don’t love the getting up early part, but I do love going to the market. It is exciting and full of color, and is truly an experience in itself, not to mention that you leave with bags full of goodies.
Dominica has the most incredible fresh produce. The tropical climate and volcanic soil make the fruits and vegetables fluorish, resulting in a fabulous bounty at the Saturday morning market. The market is open air with a covered section as well. Vendors sell their bounty at tables or out of the backs of trucks. It begins around 5 am and lasts until everything is gone, probably around noon or so. Everyone says you must get there early, like 5 am, to get the good stuff, so I was initially overwhelmed and intimidated, since I have rarely been known to get up before 7 am unless it involved a redeye flight. The first week here I set my alarm for 6 and finally erected my zombie-like self from bed around 6:45, throwing on clothes, and running down the road to catch a bus, worrying that everything good would already be snatched up. Five weeks in to life here, I realize that this is ridiculous. Yes, maybe the most perfect tomato or best pineapple will be someone’s first pick, but there is so much delicious, fresh food that you can arrive at 8:30 and still get more than enough tasty stuff.
This morning I set my alarm for 6:00 am. I am not sure if it even went off… but eventually I woke up at 7:45 and headed to the market around 8. I still got everything I wanted and more: green peppers, lettuce, eggs, tomatoes, scallions, basil, pink grapefruit, mangos, cabbage, christophene (jicama), green beans, carrots… I also bought a beautiful bunch of flowers (birds of paradise and anthurium) from my favorite lady who I buy my fruit from (she reminds me of Whoopi Goldberg) for 5 EC ($1.85)! AND I discovered Bernard, who sells local chicken fresh from his farm, so I snagged some of that, too. So wonderful! Eveyone is friendyl, although some of the vendors can be downright pushy trying to sell their veggies, but you learn to keep walking, be friendly, and pick what you want from wherever it looks the best. Many of the vendors love to chat and will tell you what unfamilair things are and how to prepare them.
A friend of mine had a hilarious conversation at the market last week. She touched a strange looking fruit (?) and the Dominican lady behind the table looked at her and said, “You not like that. You not Chinese.”*
“Okay, well what is it?”
“You not like it. Don’t touch. You not Chinese.”
“I know I’m not Chinese. I just want to know what it is.”
“I don’t know name. Only Chinese people like it. Not for you. Don’t touch.”
(*There are Chinese all over the place in Dominica. The Chinese government gave Dominica aid money to help build roads all over the island and sent Chinese workers to complete the project… so everywhere you go, there are a million Chinese restaurant, construction vehicles and backhoes marked with Chinese writing… And apparently the market carries special items, for the Chinese only.)
The market is colorful, lively, and bustling, and although I hate mornings, the market makes them worthwhile. Other market items that are usually available are bananas, plantains, sweet potatoes, potatoes, onions, celery, spinach, ginger, pumpkin, paw paw (papaya), okra, beets, bok choy, radishes, sugar cane… Seasonal items include guava, passion fruit, oranges, pineapples, avocados (HUGE ones!), sorrel, watermelon, squash. The market in Roseau has an herb man and last week I bought dill, rosemary, basil, leeks, and watercress from him. You can also get small bags of spices.
The grocery stores here don’t have any fresh produce — they only have shelf items — canned and packaged goods, bags of flour, sugar, etc. — so if you want to eat anything fresh, you really have to go to the market. If you miss it, there is a lady on campus who sells fresh produce, but it is much cheaper if you go to the market and get it yourself. I have been doing lots of delicious, healthy cooking for us here, and we are eating vegetarian meals a few nights a week, substituting eggs, beans, and lentils for protein. I pride myself on being a good cook, but am a novice baker… so I have also been working on my baking as well and making some good progress: I made pizza with homemade dough (made from scratch), plus peanut butter cookies, shortbread cookies, and pound cake for a bake sale. It all turned out pretty well. After 16 months here, I expect to be an excellent baker!
In short: we are having fabulous adventures — culinary, scientific/intellectual, and otherwise!