Thursday, November 7, 2013

Ah Gone Ah Mountain

For quite a while now I have been asking numerous friends to take me with them when they go ah mountain to farm or to the river to fish.  I had been once with a Peace Corps friend’s host brother, however, she lived in the next village and their farm was in the next village over from that so it was close to my house. The walk up there didn’t take very long and it was mostly along paved roads. We went crawfishing in the river with a basket. It was a lot of fun, but I wanted more. I wanted to go again at night, because apparently that’s when the river lobsters come out. Every time I planned to go it would be after/during a big rain, which means the river would be running heavy. So here we are, more than a year later, and I still have not made it up to the mountain.
I have another friend whose mother farms ground provisions in the mountains near Soufriere in Georgetown. I have always wanted to go. However, every time I'm up country, something always comes up and I never make it to the mountain.  I have always wanted to experience what every day life is like for him and his family. He has told me many stories about his childhood going ah mountain with mommy and coming back to sell vegetables in Georgetown before going to school.
My opportunity finally presented itself. Of course it had to be after a particularly exhausting week and on a day that I had to be running around for rugby for the whole day. But I figured this is my opportunity I must take it.
We woke up at 5am to get ready to go ah mountain. Mommy left at close to 6am and we left closer to 7am.  I had no idea how long it would take to get there or what kind of journey it would be.  Judging from the first experience I had had I figured it would be a relatively easy stroll along crudely paved roads. I should have known better, considering I was up country where the infrastructure is considerably less.
The “walk” which was what we would consider more of a hike took about 45 minutes. We started out on a relatively flat dirt road for about 20 minutes. Strangely, in the middle of nowhere, there was a section of road that was paved, seemingly going nowhere. Up until the paved section of road is land farmed and owned by a prominent farmer in Georgetown that owns a large swath of land leading to my friends village just inland of Georgetown.  The dirt road is lined with coconut palms and other bushes separated by barbed wired.  Just beyond the barbed wire are crops of sweet potatoes and other ground provisions, bananas, and cows. At the edge of his land began the paved section of road. It crossed a stream at which was another swath of cropland.  We met a neighbor there picking dry coconuts to sell. From there began the journey up the mountain.  It was heavily vegetated with tropical ferns, large trees and palms. It was very wet as though it just rained.  The path was indistinguishable from the rest of the bush in most sections.  You would not notice it unless you were accustomed to traveling the path or were familiar with the lands. I think I would have gotten lost if I was not with my friend and his aunt and two young cousins. The mountain path was very difficult to navigate; in some places it was nearly vertical, very steep. I still do not know how they can climb this path with slippers (flip flops), shoes that have only half a bottom, or no shoes at all.
There were really nice views of Georgetown and the Windward coast from atop the mountain path where his family farms. Once we reached the land, my friends mother and another aunt were already there digging up dasheen.  When we arrived, my friend began cleaning the dasheen, cutting off the callaloo, and scarping the stringy roots from the root vegetable. For a while I just sat there and watched, feeling rather helpless, as there was only one knife/cutlass. I couldn’t pick the dasheen because I had no idea which ones to pick and the stalks of the dasheen (callalloo) are extremely irritating to the skin. I sat there observing the scenery, the lush green vegetation and the most magnificent hummingbird I have ever seen.
Eventually I was given the task of separating the bad callalloo from the good ones to bring back home to make soup with, taking precaution not to irritate my skin.
After sometime, my friend’s brother joined us and started collecting the dasheen. We weren’t up ah mountain long before we filled nearly two sacks with dasheen.  In no time at all, my friend’s two young cousins left to head back home both carrying load of dasheen. Once our sacks were full my friend and his aunt and I left with our load, leaving mommy, his other aunt and brother to dig up and carry more dasheen.  Unfortunately at this time, dasheen sell by the sack, roughly only $70EC per sack, not by the pound (approximately $4EC/lb).  There’s close to 50 lbs in a sack, I would venture to estimate.
When we left the piece of land, my friend and his aunt both carried a sack of dasheen placed on top of their heads.  Luckily I had the easy task of carrying down the callalloo.  My friend tied up the callalloo with dry banana leaf, and made a hook also out of banana leaf so I wouldn’t have to touch the irritating callaloo. Going down was more difficult that going up because it was so steep and slippery.  Both my friend and his aunt walked barefoot carrying 50lbs of dasheen on their head.  I could barely do it wearing hiking shoes, carrying no load.
When we reached down to the clearing at the end of the paved section of road, we drank from the stream.  It was probably one of the best tasting water I have ever had.  So fresh and so clean. Cleaner than my pipe water in Mespo that’s for sure.
I can’t imagine doing that day in and day out. That is real hard work.  If you think you know what hard work is you’re kidding yourself. Not to mention, we got there after and left before mommy.  When mommy reach back she had to cook lunch, make coconut oil and wash all her grown kids (including mine) laundry (by hand).  Not sure if you have ever done laundry by hand, but that in itself is hard work. All this on top of an hour and a half walk up/down a mountain with 50lb of load on your head at 50years old.
Two days later when I was up country again, I was woken up by loud voices at 3am. Mommy was calling out to my friend letting him know she was going to the river to get Tri Tri.  Tri Tri are tiny fish (they look like sperm) that come down the river to the mouth of the sea only once a year.  People go early in the morning with buckets to collect the tiny fish to sell at the market.  They are bit of a delicacy since they are only available for a short period of time.

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