Monday, May 31, 2010

Dung by Betty

Cultural integration is an important part of the Peace Corps process, and at times it can be a lofty and elusive goal.  It is difficult to gage how Kittitian I have "become," especially when my local friend still laugh when I try to speak dialect, and some of my neighbors still refer to me as "the white gyurl dung de road." Still every now and then, I have these a-ha like moments where I say to myself (never aloud,  because that would contradictory), "yup, that was SO  Kittitian." My last visit "dung by Betty," was definitely a So Kittitian worthy moment.
Betty is a local St. Paul's lady who lives down the road (aka dung de road) on the other side of the ghaut (gully). She has little board shop where Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights she sells THE ISLAND'S BEST CHICKEN & CHIPS (chips as in french fries). Friday is the big limin' night on the island, and many Kittitians prefer to take it easy and leave the cooking for the weekend. So Betty Shop (lack of apostrophe 's' intentional, ala dialect) is literally filled to well over capacity with people from all over the village. Arriving any time after 7PM pretty much guarantees that you will be waiting around 45min-1hour for a drum stick and fries. But trust me, it is worth the wait. The tricky thing is though, there is no line to wait in dung by Betty. It is just a tightly packed group of Kittitians spilling all over each other and out the door while making jokes, having a drink, talking LOT'S of trash, and yelling at Betty (who never actually leaves the back of the shop, where the frier is) to hurry up with their food.
The first time I went dung by Betty, Annivea & Fostrona carried me (as in, they took me there). You should have seen the looks on every ones faces when "the white gyurl" came walking into Betty Shop. It lasted just a split second, but there was a collective moment of shocked silence. I was really intimidated, and had no clue how to navigate the place. I gladly let Annivea take care of all of the logistics, and patiently waited for my food outside with Fostrona. It went on like this for about the next 2-3 visits. Then one evening I asked Fostrona to go with me to the shop, but planned on trying to order for myself. I reached Betty Shop before she did, and as I walked up towards everyone, the children from my school graciously greeted me in the standard Kittitian, "Miss Tiffany, good night." This kindly signaled to the others that I was familiar with St.Paul's and people knew me, I was not entirely an outsider. I was very grateful for this. I walked up to the last person standing outside the door, and took my place behind them waiting to order. I stood there about 5-10 minutes before Fostrona joined me, and when she came up to me, she asked if I had ordered yet. I said, "No I am waiting my turn." Fostrona looked confused. As mentioned before, there is no line dung by Betty.So Fostrona kinda of laughed, took up my money and asked me what I wanted, "a big or small?" and then pushed her way to the front of the crowd and shouted pass the girl at the counter to Betty in the back, "Good night! Betty please for me two small!" 40 minutes later, we had our chicken, and it was delicious.
Now that I had taken note of how this was done, I worked up my courage to try it again. This time on my own, kind of. I went on a Sunday (the slowest of the three nights), and I took another Peace Corps volunteer with me. I'll admit it, I didn't get it exactly right. There were a few raised eyebrows and giggles, but we got our chicken, and it was delicious. It took me about 2 more visits before it went well. I kept calling it a large instead of a big, and I would try to order with the girl at the counter instead of past her and directly to Betty, but my last visit dung by Betty...integration success.
It was a Friday night, just before the rush. I walked directly to the counter with ease. Greeted hello & good night to the other customers; then in a clear, steady voice called out, "Good night, Betty. Please for me a big." With that, I kept my money in my pocket and walked outside to wait. Before long, more and more of my neighbors came crowding in, I was so glad that I had beat the rush. Then after about 20mins, I heard the standard yelling and complaints of "Betty, where my chicken. I hungry now." But this time, Tessa, the counter girl's response was, "Hold up, where Tiffany, her chicken ready..." With that I jumped up, nearly skipped inside, paid for my food, yelled my thanks and headed home. I played it cool, but inside I WAS ECSTATIC, and thinking that was so Kittitian!! 1.) Tessa called me by my name, not "whitey", 2.) I had successfully ordered chicken and chips BY MYSELF, and 3.) I was gonna have enough of Betty chicken & chips for breakfast!!
To me this experience epitomizes my integration process here in St. Kitts, and specifically in St. Paul's. Of course I still have challenges with the cultural barriers. My friends laugh at the American things I do, like wearing my backpack into town on a Saturday; and I can't get the primary students to stop laughing at my accent; and I'm having a very hard time convincing people that I am Latina, and what the significance of that is. Fortunately though, I am no longer just the token white girl in St. Paul's . . .and dung by Betty, they know me by name!

Friday, May 7, 2010

All colors . . .

A haiku written by the St.Paul's Primary Precious Girls Club:

Our caramel skin
Smooth, soft, beautiful skin
Dark shades. All colors.