Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Thirty Bahamians, One Hundred Fried Dumplings, Five Gold Rings and A Jitney

Family time should be the best of all. That explains why my wife's family spend an enormous amount of time in each other's company. At Christmas, this comes by the bucket load with dinners, visits to church, visitors dropping in, and a bunch of excuses to all hang around each other's necks. One tradition that has developed in recent years is to take this to "another level". The family has planned for the past five or so years a "dine and dash" progressive meal. In previous years, it was in the afternoon and was a roving dinner, ending at the house that houses the dessert queens who work under the title of 'Julie Blanche Desserts'. This year, things got a bit radical. I was not in on the planning but I heard that it was a breakfast theme. Now, a lot of these folks are not morning people, and I mean NOT morning people. So, when I heard that we were due to convene at 8.45am, a time that is like midday to us, I thought, 'This I have to see."

Here's how it's supposed to work. The family, in its various parts, meets at the house where the 'dine and dash' will end, and from there it takes a bus, or in Bahamian parlance, a jitney.Now, the list included about 30 people; I neither counted or needed to know precisely, as I had geared up to feed that number or near to it. The group then leaves the last spot--a bit insane when you realise that we have not yet eaten, yet we leave behind a bunch of grub and bounce around in a bus with the promise that "you will come back for the food that is here." What kind of madness is that? These are not Jamaicans, for sure. The trip gets better as we roll along because at the end of each stop we sing two additional verses of "The Twelve Days of Christmas".

So, what was the big dig-in going to have? Stop one: coffee and Mimosas at a house out east, occupied by one of this year's newly weds. First off, the jitney driver was not told early enough where to turn so we had to go back. Our version of Lewis Hamilton ripped the bus into reverse and started a manoeuvre into some one's yard, when there was a collective "Yiiiieeeee! Whoooaa!" from the back of the bus. I knew what had happened: a bunch of the 'I need one thousand yard clearance' crowd though the bus was going to hit a poinsettia. Our Formula One jockey got out of his seat. "Listen, y'all. This boat only has one captain and you looking at him." A Bahamian and crushed pride is not a pretty sight; worse still half a bus load. "Well, make sure that the boat don't capsize!" hollered a wag. 'Hamilton' stretched to his full length now: "This ain't no PLP [opposition party, last government] boat; it's not turning over!" That silenced about half the island, because this busload was full of supporters of the new FNM government. "Yea! I think we straight wi' this driva." came a happy voice from deep in the back.

Well, I am a champagne snob and if it's not a good Tattinger or Veuve Clicqout, or Dom Perignon, then I know that we joking, but I'm happy to go along for the laugh. My wife and I have earned our life stripes so we don't joke on these things. The newly weds did alright, and as they have a newly baked bun coming out of the oven in a few months, we know that the dollars are being well spent elsewhere.

One thing about some people in this region is that we are slow adaptors. Having messed up the driver once--and mind you he's being directed by people to their own home now--they only mess the man up a second time and get him to turn too early. 'Hamilton' looked like 'Sterling Moss' as his hair dropped out with fury. Next turn, then. OK. Stop two: fruit at the house of the second set of newly weds. Notice, no real cooking so far from the marriage neophytes. Yummy, munchy, fresh Caribbean (NOT) grapes, with Florida (NOT Caribbean) oranges, and wonderfully red (NOT Caribbean) strawberries. Have to tell them that next year it's 'native' or nothing, even if I have to get my Dad to ship them Ortaniques from Mandeville. How CSME and Caricom can hold together with this slackness?

Stop three: pastries and muffins at the Julie Blanche 'factory'.Well, these people never have a shortage of food, now. So, we had to deduct points because they added things to the buffet that were not part of the prescribed menu: yes, it was delicious sweet potato bread, and yes there were many more types of muffins than were needed for a 10 minute stop, but stop it, now. Excess means one thing to a Bahamian and I heard "Why you come on this trip with that little bag, girl?" and I knew "ferl" was on its way. Just a little som-un for the ride. Wrap, fold, twirl; four slices of potato bread nicely bundled.

The people had been getting on my case for a little while about stop four. "Hey, we are going to get 'sword' fish, but he Jamaican so he can' say that prop'ly; he call it 'salted' fish."..."Why he only cooking part of a meal? Where the pear and the ackee?"..."What are these 'dumperlings' anyway, do they have apple in them?" My Sherpa had been out scouting for the essential dried salted cod of quality and quantity; sure she bought twice as much as I wanted but I suspect that subliminally she wanted me to make lots so that she could feast on it later. She has no idea what ti takes to clean all that fish. So, soak, then boil, then skin the fish I did last night. Then chop the onions, and tomatoes and added the black pepper and goat pepper I did last night. Then cook the cauldron with love and care and sampling I did last night. Then to bed with aching legs and tired hands and head I did last night. Half way there. Before dawn, up did I get to make the dumpling (no 'er' in my cooking): flour, oil, water and more that only my daughters know did I fold together and knead and roll. Then into the frying pan went one load, two loads, three loads...a hundred dumplings made to fill those Bahamian bellies I did this morning. When 6am came I was ready to go back to bed. But to bed I did not go.

You see trouble early. "Take two dumplings," I said, so the first four people took three each and then someone took five. One hundred divided by thirty equals three carry ten... "Oooh, he can cook, now"..."I packing some for my husband; he loves this"..."Please leave some to the side for me when I come by later, please". Roly-poly, Humpty Dumpties left my mother-in-laws house with as good a view of Jamaica as I could ever wish for.

Onto the beginning again for the end. I had heard about this treat for a few days so was really intrigued. Stop five: waffles, strawberries, fried chicken, coconut chicken. All served by the grand space of Lake Cunningham. Roll me over, lady. The silence was deafening as the people got all their wishes to come true. I bowed to the chefs.

Severe cases of 'black man's disease' started to show themselves as eyes drooped and calls for whist partners fell on deaf ears. The Law would take none of this and out she came with the mega-version of 'Scrabble' and the dictionary; she was geared up. It was a surreal game with words made up out of the recipe book of urban slang, but no one really cared. In the background, children tried to drown themselves by falling off the dock into the lake, or break limbs by playing bouncing tag inside the trampoline net. Some of us tried to be athletic and play a version of wind-assisted badminton on a court amidst the bromeliads and palms and rockeries; nimbleness was on show.

We sang the last verses of "The Twelve Days" and then had a prayer read by one of the children, with perfect diction and great feeling. God's in his heaven, all's right with the world.

So, by about 2.30pm, breakfast was over. How could we pretend that we had not had a great time. I suggested that we carry on by drawing lots and descending on the chosen homes to eat whatever was available; many laughed nervously in case this idea got hold. Maybe next year. For now, we can just dash along and think about dining the same way next year.

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