Sunday, March 11, 2018

Parlez vous anglais?

Some French words are easy to figure out

I am intrigued by languages, so the French here on Guadeloupe and Martinique has been most enjoyable for me. My primary “teacher” has been my phone app, Google Translate, which speaks the translated phrases aloud so that I can repeat them over and over again until they sound passably French-like.
Buying the daily baguette
My sister-in-law, a French teacher had told me that if the only thing I knew how to say in French was, “I would like a croissant” that I would probably get along well enough in a French-speaking country. She was pretty close to being right. With this one phrase, “Je voudrais avoir…” (I would like a…baguette, ice cream (glacee), accras, goat (cabrit), fish (poisson), pineapple juice (jus anana) I can ask for most options on the menu. 
AMAzing dessert! Toasted almonds and lots of fruit!
Le Marin, Martinique

Other random essential phrases have been learned as the need dictated.“We need some gas.” “May I take your photo?” And of course, “Parlez vous anglais?“ (Do you speak English?) I must have used the latter a hundred times in the past few weeks.
Sounds kinda like "Poozh prahnd footo footo"
.....When I say it

My other French “teachers” have been a very nice couple from Toronto that we met along the way. They helped us out immensely, translating for us at a pharmacy and negotiating a doctor visit for and with me. I don’t know what I would have done without them. 
Small town medical clinic, St. Pierre, Martinique

When we sat down to have a meal with them, as usual, I attempted to use my limited French to order my food.  The waitress seemed surprisingly delighted with me, although I had no idea why. Our French-speaking friends filled us in after she left the table. “She said, ‘Oh, I just love your charming accent. I could listen to you talk all day.’” She loved my accent! You understand what this means, right? I spoke French well enough to have an accent. Awesome!

Market in St. Anne, Martinique
The above boost in my self-confidence was ill-placed. Eager to use the little French I knew, I later picked something up in a market and asked, “Combien ca coute?” (How much is this?) and the woman told me. Now, a reasonable person might have thought this question through to its’ logical conclusion, but I had not.  Since I had not learned numbers in French yet, I had no clue what she answered me. Duh. So, she kindly held up the right number of fingers for me. As long as there are enough fingers available, I guess I can get along.
Anybody know what this is?

Still not having learned to think things through, I held up a large tuberous-looking vegetable and I asked “Quel est-ce?” (What is this?) I am a testament to the fact that magical thinking does not end in childhood. There was a part of me that thought the answer might just come back in English. 
But no, it was still a French vegetable; I didn’t understand a word she said. Duh.  At least Carl and I both get a lot of practice with “Bonjour, Merci, Pardon and Excusez-moi” and since no response is required for these, they are all “safe” things to say.
Wild goats in Bourg des Saintes, Guadeloupe.  Goat is delicious!

Sometimes speaking a bit of French is just asking for trouble. We had stopped at a little open air restaurant one day, the kind of place where the customer orders up at the counter.  But, first things first. I immediately asked, “Y at-il une toilette?” (Is there a toilet?) A woman pointed me in the right direction and I headed off to the restroom.  When I came back, Carl was up at the counter, and it was obvious that he’d been using his “Carl French” again.  Basically, Carl French involves pointing, gestures and speaking more loudly than he otherwise would. Sometimes Carl French actually does work.
Restaurant in Basse Terre, Guadeloupe

On that particular day however, I could see that it was not working for him. As I came alongside him, the food prep woman behind the counter was looking a little flummoxed, and Carl looked pleadingly at me. So I charged in to do my part to help the situation. I said to the woman, “Je voudrais avoir poisson.”  “I would like to have fish.”  
French deli counter.  

 She grinned, threw up her hands in obvious relief and then chattered away in French at me as if she and I were old chums. I was so sorry to disappoint her. It didn’t take long for her to realize that apparently fish was the only thing on the menu that I knew how to say.  In the end, neither of us actually had fish that day.  We used Carl French and got just what we wanted by pointing.
Beautiful pastries at a Patisserie

I practiced this one --“J’ai besoin d’aide” (I need help), diligently before going into a busy store when I knew I would need the clerk’s assistance. The phrase worried me because it was sounding a lot like “booze swan’s dead.” First of all, I found this to be very distracting while I was trying to concentrate, and secondly, I certainly did not want to say anything to anyone about a dead swan. Over and over I practiced the phrase.  

Storefronts, St. Pierre, Martinique

When I got into the store, however, I stumbled over my tongue, and then panicked for fear the dead swan was going to come out of my mouth again. . “Zhe behswan….” I said, focusing quite intently. The nice young gentleman looked me squarely in the eye,“Yes?” I took a breath and started again, slowly, determined to get it right. “Zhe bozwann dehd."  He responded, “You need help—yes?”  Without saying another word, I nodded and led him to the roll of rope that I needed cut.  It wasn’t until I had left the store that I realized that he had answered me in perfect English! Pffft. Moi<—Idiot.
I felt like a bit of an idiot.

A fabric store in Basse Terre, Guadeloupe was maybe the first place I tried to use some newly learned French words. I needed a relatively lightweight interfacing. I could find only a bolt of the heavyweight and tried to convey that I needed something thinner by squeezing my thumb and forefinger together.  Apparently that was not an effective way to illustrate lightweight interfacing. 
This store in Fort de France sells only ribbons and lace,
floor to ceiling

After some jockeying around the store and shaking my head several times at the things she was showing me, she finally pulled out the “right” bolt from behind the counter.  “Oui, Oui, Oui,” (Yes, Yes, Yes) I exclaimed, grinning.  In English though, I had just said, “Wee Wee Wee” which immediately set me off chuckling. 
Fort de France, Martinique

I was so pleased with my success at finding the right interfacing but beyond that, with my own little culturally sensitive pun. I patted myself on the back, ‘good one, Ardys.’ The other women shopping in the store seemed to be amused by our exchange as well.  Apparently the French have the same children’s story about “The little piggy (that) cried Wee Wee Wee all the way home.” Who knew?
Spectacular rainbows in the Caribbean

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Kalinaga of Dominica

East coast of Dominica, the Atlantic side

“In the year of 1492, Columbus crossed the ocean blue.”  Thus began my childhood American history education. Why was Columbus so keen to sail west? To impress his funding source, Queen Isabella of course, for one thing. To find a shortcut to the spice islands, for another, because frankly, European food was rather bland in those days; but more than anything else, Columbus wanted to find wealth and make a name for himself, the last of which he achieved in spades.  Ergo, Columbus Day.
The leaves of this plant shrivel when

Where did Columbus make landfall and where on earth (literally) did he think he was in those confusing days before GPS? He went ashore first on an island that he renamed San Salvador (to please the Spanish queen, no doubt). 
Hurricane Maria destruction is everywhere

Of course, he thought he had found India, thus the misnomer of calling the people he encountered, “Indians.” That was only the first of several embarrassing blunders by the uninvited guests.
Artist's rendition of earliest inhabitants on

An ugly relationship was bound to develop between the pushy white European sailors and the native peoples. The native people probably found the sailors to be dirty and smelly; they rarely if ever bathed. In fact, most sailors couldn’t swim worth a lick.  And, they waltzed around any island they visited, as if they owned the place. Furthermore, the white guys repeatedly took food from the native peoples without asking. Rude guests to say the least. 
Kalinaga village high in the mountains

The people that Columbus encountered called themselves “Kalinaga” or “Kalinarga.” Given Columbus’ penchant for renaming people and places wherever he went, however, he and all those who followed in the centuries to come referred to them as “Carib” or cannibal. It became a very popular, perhaps even titillating, belief back in Europe, that the native peoples of the islands were cannibals.  
Kalinaga home amidst defoliated landscape
from Maria

Research suggests however, that the Kalinaga’s spiritual framework may have led them to believe that they would acquire the strength and power of their enemies by ingesting some of their flesh. Perhaps the reader finds this distinction to be splitting hairs, but to me, this kind of partaking of flesh does take on a different flavor from cannibalism. (Pun intended).
Very steep roads wind through Kalinaga

Fast forward a hundred years or so. There were lots of white men (especially military) and a few white women, spread across the islands. They represented all the powerful European nations (Spain, France, Great Britain, Portugal, Netherlands, etc) all vying for domination over the “West Indies.” (They just couldn’t give up on the “Indian” theme, even after they figured out they were not in India. Some people are slower learners than others.) 
Surviving descendant of African slaves
and a wild dog

In addition to the white Europeans, tens of thousands of kidnapped male slaves from Africa were being unceremoniously dumped onto the islands as well, and replenished repeatedly.
Sugarcane windmill, no longer in operation

Why? Sugar cane. Europe was crazy for sugar!  Oh, and rum.  Sugar makes molasses which makes rum which makes money. 
Our excellent guide took us to the ruins
of an old sugar cane processing plant. 
Note massive wheel powered by water.

While those decent Christian Europeans were trying to develop some good, honest commerce in the islands—a place that was clearly ripe for development and domination, the Kalinaga continued to fight them off. 
Reservation land on far mountains

It wasn’t long before the European settlers voted on the question of whether the Kalinaga should be eliminated entirely.  They actually voted! “To kill or not to kill.” (Does it go without saying that there is actually a Commandment that already addresses this question?) 
The Kalinaga are learning to take
advantage of tourists' interest in their
history by selling handmade crafts.

However, not unlike the Nazi decision that would spawn the Holocaust many years in the future, the "final solution” for the Kalinaga was that the islands would be better off without them. Kalinaga were hunted down and systematically exterminated.  (The guys with big guns are traditionally the decision-makers, as we well know).
Steps are cut into the soil where needed.

With two notable exceptions, Kalinaga were “successfully” eliminated. One of those exceptions is on the island of Dominica. 
Home on reservation land

To the Kalinaga’s credit, they managed to thwart the settlement of Europeans on Dominican soil for almost 200 years! The extremely rugged mountainous topography likely contributed to their success. In the end, however, the only Kalinaga to escape slaughter lived where they had retreated, high up in the mountains.
Maria wiped out buildings, foliage and
electricity island-wide

In 1902, the Kalinaga on Dominica were awarded reservation land which is to remain under their ownership into perpetuity.  It is an 8.8 sq km area that is called WaitukubuIi Karifuna. Their land stretches from the water up into the steep mountainsides along the Atlantic coast of Dominica. 
Kalinaga woman's shop

The cultural losses of the Kalinaga have been dramatic, as have the losses of all native groups on this side of the Atlantic. Their native language is lost forever.  A few of their old traditional skills have been preserved, such as water-tight basketry, canoe building from a single log, pottery and carving. 
This woman, Elizabeth "Ma Pampo" Israel
died in 2003 at the age of 128.
*See footnote below for more information.

Physically, the Kalinaga people can sometimes be distinguished from the majority of the island nations’ inhabitants whose roots hail from the kidnapped slaves from Africa. I found it interesting that the Kalinaga facial features bear some resemblance to the peoples of the Orient.  Their eyes are a bit slanted, and their skin color might better be described as bronze rather than black.  
Fruits that grow on Dominica include coconuts,
persimmons, mangos, almonds, cocoa, bananas,
avocadoes, oranges, grapefruit, tamarind, breadfruit,
pineapples, and more.

Modern day descendants of the Kalinaga are welcome to live on the reservation land as long as the father of the family is Kalinaga.  When a Kalinaga woman marries outside the native people, however, she must go to live with her husband off the reservation land.

Most of the island remains without
Aside from the 3,000 or so Kalinaga living on Dominca, there is another smaller group of survivors that remain on the island of St. Lucia. 
A Primary school on the Kalinaga reservation

The only living members of an entire people and culture unique to the Caribbean islands have been all but obliterated.  I found myself hoping that the Kalinaga we encountered did not know that I sailed from a country that celebrates Columbus Day.  

*On Dominica, families vie for the honor of having an elder over 100 years live with them.  Those who live beyond 100 years receive free utilities, free rent, and many other benefits.  Imagine, a nation where everyone wants to have Grandma live at their house?
How many years will it take for the jungle
canopy to return to the east coast of Dominica?
It is difficult for an island nation to dispose of all the garbage after a hurricane.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Heroes Among Us

Photo taken from Fort Delgres, Guadeloupe, the city of Basse Terre below.
I’ve known a hero or two in my lifetime.  I’m sure you have too—someone who went above and beyond what was expected…who gave more than they were paid to give.  
Basse Terre today

Their actions were driven by reasons that were selfless and noble and required great courage; most likely went beyond what I would have done in that same situation, but of course, I don’t know that for certain until I’ve been put to that test. Maybe after such a test, I would not be around to be congratulated afterward, as is true of so many heroes.
Fort Delgres, PKA Fort Charles in 1802

This is a story of a true hero.  He was bold. Daring. Doggedly determined. And ultimately willing to sacrifice himself for the larger good. A man to be remembered over the centuries.

Fort Delgres is an enormous fort with many levels
His name was Louis Delgres and the year was 1802.  He was biracial, or mulatto as he would have been called in those days; his father a white Frenchman and his mother, a black woman on the French island of Martinique where he was born in 1766.  He was born a free man, was well educated and chose a military life.  
Entrance into Fort Delgres

When the French National Assembly abolished slavery on the French Caribbean islands in 1794, he was fully supportive of that action.  In his capacity within the military he was instrumental in dismissing the white French civil servants thereby allowing the free blacks to govern themselves. 

The fort encompasses the entire peak of the mountain
A few years later, during the French Revolution, Napolean came into power and decided it would be more advantageous for his coffers to reinstate slavery in the French islands.  Thus, he sent his army to the French island of Guadeloupe for that purpose.  In spite of having become an officer of high rank in the French army, Delgres then led a force of black troops (men and women) of Guadeloupe to fight against Napolean’s strong forces. Remarkably, he and his poorly armed followers held off the French army for 18 days at Fort Charles, in Basse Terre, on Guadeloupe.  

A bombed fort
He must have known they would not/could not possibly prevail.  Not against the might of Napolean’s army.  When he was wounded, he devised a plan that would hasten his own demise but with the intent of furthering the cause for which he fought. He had his followers set charges leading from the remaining munitions stocks to his injured body where he alone controlled the detonation. 
One of the levels of Fort Delgres

As he lay dying, he allowed time for the attempted escape of 400 of his troops through a hidden underground tunnel.  As Napolean’s troops stormed into the fort, he blew himself up along with as many of those French soldiers as possible. Not a happy ending to a story, clearly.
A secret tunnel exited the fort toward the river below.

Delgres’ choices were not based upon a paycheck, nor the temptation of elevated social status, but rather upon what he knew to be right and true. Although his actions did not prevent the reinstatement of slavery, that fact does not detract from his legacy and the respect his memory is due.

Louis Delgres, military hero.  The people's hero
Perhaps we tend to believe that heroes are few and far between.  I like to think that they walk among us—they are right in front of our noses.  We meet them on the street and cannot see anything remarkable on their faces.  They go about their days without calling attention to themselves.  They wake up, put their pants on one leg at a time just like everybody else and go off to work or to whatever tasks that are before them every day.
A Lutheran congregation with new organ, southeastern MN.  Note: Baptismal gown on the right.

There are heroes of all kinds, I think.  They are in our families. For example, a great grandmother who went out to draw water from the well while preparing dinner to feed the threshing crew. 
Great grandmother

While at the well, she went into labor. She delivered the healthy baby by herself, tucked the baby under one arm and picked up the water bucket with the other and returned to the cabin to finish making the dinner.  Sometimes just to survive is heroic. Remember all the heroes that came before you in your families.
Grandpa and my teenaged mother plowing with two single plows

There was my grandfather whose barn and team of horses were destroyed in a fire started by two of his children playing with matches in the barn.  The confirmed story is that he neither chastised his two young sons, nor looked at them in anger or treated them any differently after what was surely an overwhelming devastation in the 1940’s.  

Was such behavior not heroism just as much as going off to war?  I think so.  No one would have begrudged my grandfather some anger, some bitterness and yet…..he remained kind and loving to all of his children, and to everyone he met throughout his lifetime. A gem of a man and quiet hero.
My nephew and his daughter, painted by an Afghani

Then there is my nephew who was sent off to fight in the war in Afghanistan and in Iraq.  Four times he was ripped away from his family. He completed a total of 27 months living in danger every single day.  He became a strong leader for his men to rely upon.  Someone that could shore up the 18 and 19 year olds when days and nights became long and terrifying.  Someone who fought to pull young people back from self-destruction when the anxiety and horror of living in a place where any day may be the last became too much to bear.  
Corey Kampschroer, quiet hero

And then, and then, as if war was not enough to survive, he was sent to New Orleans to recover the bloated bodies from the floodwaters after Katrina.  

How do our men and women recover from such traumas? How do we thank them enough for doing the things that no one wants to do?  Could we possibly pay them enough for these sacrifices? No. Nor do we even attempt to do so, for which I should hang my head in sorrow when I look squarely at my life of relative safety.  Heroes.  They live among us.  They are everywhere around us. 

My brother on left
Police men and women, firefighters, Coast Guard, soldiers, people who dive into the water to rescue someone they don’t even know; not performers because they’re glamorous, nor football players because they’re “stars,” not wealthy people because they’re powerful and not politicians unless they go out on a limb to do what's right for you and me.  Today and everyday I want to live a life that honors those who sacrifice for us.  All of our heroes. 
A service to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice