Monday, December 30, 2013


New Year’s Day (January 1):  For most Dominicans, people tend to celebrate in the homes of family and friends, usually involving a great meal and spending time reflecting on the past year and their hopes for the coming year, and of course music and dance. However, there are a lot of people who celebrate out at clubs and restaurants as well.  Leading up to this holiday, people do a deep cleaning of their homes.  They get rid of the old things no longer needed, and then clean and repair everything to make new again.  On New Year’s Day, it’s considered bad luck to even pick up a broom – it’s feared that you might brush away the good luck. Many Dominicans even believe in opening up doors and windows at the stroke of midnight to let the evil spirits out to make room for the good spirits.  Some people hang 12 grapes to signify the 12 months.  And like some other Latin countries, the color of the clothes you wear into the new year signifies what you truly want: green if you want more money, yellow if you want a better job or to work better, red for a better future or for love, white for better health, etc. I think I’m going to wear yellow and green this year.

Atira’s Birthday (January 6): I have found this holiday listed in a couple of places, but there wasn’t any information on this anywhere.  I couldn’t find who Atira was or why they celebrate Atira’s birthday.  January 6 also happens to be Three Kings Day, so I don’t know if there are any overlapping celebrations there.  Please, if you know of any information on this, please let me know. 

Our Lady of Altagracia (January 21):  Our Lady of Altagracia is one of the patron saints of the Dominican Republic.  The portrait of the Virgin Mary of the same name is held in the The Basilica of Our Lady of Altagracia in the city of Salvaleón de Higüey.  It used to be held on August 15, but they moved this holiday to coincide with their victory over the French back in 1690.  Every year, people will trek to Salvaleón de Higüey to view the portrait and spend the day in prayer, all-night church services, singing, dancing, and enjoying special meals. 

Duarte’s Birthday (January 26): Juan Pablo Duarte is considered the Founding Father of the Dominican Republic.  He was one of the leaders who led the fight for independence from Haitian control of their side of the island.  After they officially declared independence, he was also declared the first president.  Even though his birthday is on January 26, the holiday is celebrated on the nearest Monday to this day, and it’s often viewed as a day of national pride.

Independence Day (February 27): This marks the Dominican Republic’s independence from Haiti.  Dominican flags are hung and everything is decorated in red, white, and blue.  The president usually gives a speech, and parades march through the streets.  In the Dominican Republican, Carnival celebrations pretty much last the entire month, so many of those celebrations overlap with Independence Day celebrations as well.  I’m guessing this would be a great time to visit. 

Good Friday / Holy Week (varies): The celebrations start at the beginning of Holy Week, or Santa Semana.  Palm Sunday is celebrated with processions with palms. It’s common to wash your feet in the morning and at night on Maundy Thursday.  Good Friday is the day in which there is the Procession of the Cross – some do it in the morning, others in the afternoon – but it’s always in the same direction that Jesus carried the cross.  It’s also common that many people do not eat meat on this day, but rather people fix a dish known as “sweet beans” to share with their friends and family.  Holy Saturday is spent without speaking, especially bad words, and children can’t be physically punished (I know mine would definitely take advantage of that).  On Easter, most people attend a special Easter mass, followed by fabulous, elaborate meals shared with family and friends. 

Labor Day (May 1):  Although Labor Day is actually May 1, it is observed on the nearest Monday.  For most Dominicans, it’s a long weekend of relaxing at the beach or doing some kind of recreational activity.  Like most countries, it’s usually a time of thanking the worker and addressing labor issues.  The Dominican Republic does have some problems with child labor in the agricultural industries and certain factory work as well.  Unemployment, underemployment, income inequality, energy inefficiencies, migrant workers, and safety standards are all issues that plague Dominican workers.

Corpus Christi (varies): This is the Catholic feast day in honor of the last supper. This takes place 60 days after Easter, or the Thursday after the 8th Sunday after Easter.  Many people attend special services at church in order to take the Eucharist, or Holy Communion. Many churches are decorated with flowers in honor of this day.

Restoration Day (August 16):  This is sort of the D.R.’s second independence day.  The first one in February celebrates their independence from Haiti.  This one celebrates the beginning of the war with Spain, which led to their independence again.  See, after they gained their independence from Haiti, they became part of Spanish rule again, only to have to fight for their freedom again.  The war began in 1863 and ended in 1865.  The largest celebrations are held in Santiago and in Santo Domingo, two of the oldest cities in the Americas.  Festivities include parades, music, dancing, street performances, lots of local food and drink, and military parades.  It's also celebrated in the Dominican diaspora, especially in the United States, where they have the annual Dominican Day Parade held in New York City.  

Our Lady of Las Mercedes (September 24): This is the second patron saint of the Dominican Republic.  Legend has it that when Christopher Columbus was trekking around the island, the Lady of Mercedes appeared and scattered all of the native Taíno people.  Sounds a little implausible to me, but I suppose it’s because it’s a legend. There are a couple of churches erected in her name and people take special trips to visit these churches on this day. 

Constitution Day (November 6):  This holiday marks the day that the Constitution was signed in 1844.  It was written up just after they gained independence from Haiti and was based on the Constitution of the United States.  The holiday is generally celebrated with a military parade, an address by the president, and the playing of the national anthem. 

Christmas Day (December 25):  The Dominican Republic celebrates Christmas almost as long as the US does.  They generally start around December 1 and go until January 6, which is also known as Three King’s Day.  Many people sing Christmas carols, eat special foods made during Christmas season, decorate Christmas trees and exchange gifts with friends and family.  A lot of weddings are held during this season as well.  Many people display nativity scenes at the base of their Christmas tree as well as display special decorations made of wood and straw called charamicos. Christmas Eve is when most families have their large special meal with expensive alcohols and other specialty dishes and sweets. 

Up next:  art and literature

Saturday, December 28, 2013


Last month, my husband and I got the rare opportunity to go on a date night.  That almost never happens.  And this one was rare even at that because it was during the week. My husband had surprised me on our anniversary (this year was our 9th), that he bought us tickets to go see spoken word poetry.  It was held at this small restaurant that had a unique menu: part Middle Eastern/Mediterranean and part from the Dominican Republic.  I knew I was close to doing Dominican Republic, so that’s what I was ordering: yaroa (French fries topped with shredded chicken, a ketchup-mayonnaise mix, and melted cheese – the perfect drunk food, like a Dominican version of Canadian poutine) and accompanied by a nice, cold El Presidente beer.  It was absolutely wonderful, and I knew I was getting into something good here.

The Dominican Republic takes up the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea, just east of Cuba and Jamaica and just West of Puerto Rico.  The island is mountainous; there are four mountain ranges on this side of the island.  It’s also dotted with many lakes and lagoons, as well as offshore islands. However, one of these lakes is listed as one of the world’s most polluted areas from a battery recycling center that was closed down years ago.  It’s also susceptible to hurricanes.  The last major hurricane to hit Hispaniola was Hurricane Sandy in 2012. 

The original people living on the island were the Taíno people.  They were basically hunter-gatherers who also fished and did some farming as well to supply their villages with food.  After Christopher Columbus’ crew arrived, the Taíno people resisted against being conquered by the Spanish.  The Spanish responded by giving them all smallpox, measles, and other communicable European diseases they had never come in contact with and had no immunity to.  Outside of intermarrying, the Taíno population was, for the most part, extinct within 50 years of the Spanish arrival on the island.  And while the Spanish had control of the eastern side of the island, French buccaneers had set up camp on the other side (eventually to become Haiti).  In 1805, Haitian troops came over and invaded the Dominican side, which was the start of a huge rift that lasted centuries.  This occupation lasted for years, and in 1844 Dominicans declared their independence from Haiti.  There have been several short-lived governments in its time, and in 1916 the US stepped in and took control of the island for eight years, which they gained independence once again.  Since then, there have been several governmental changes, assassinations, and years of political unrest. 

The capital city of Santo Domingo de Guzmán, or simply known as Santo Domingo, lies on the southern shore of the island. Christopher Columbus’ younger brother, Bartholomew Columbus founded the city in 1496 on the mouth of the Ozama River.  It’s also home to the first cathedral, the first castle, the first monastery, and the first fortress in Americas.  From 1936-1961, the city’s name was changed to Ciudad Trujillo, after the dictator at that time, Rafael Trujillo.  After he was assassinated, it changed its name back.  Santo Domingo is the country’s largest city and center for government, but it’s also an important port and point of shopping, museums, parks, universities, and sports events.   The climate is tropical – average highs in the mid-80s and the lows in the mid-60s.  Infrastructure is fairly stable in the city for major businesses, but they’re still susceptible to blackouts in certain areas using antiquated grids. 

In comparison to other countries in Central America and the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic has the second-largest economy, just after Cuba.  Their economy is largely based on the agricultural industry, followed by mining.  However, energy shortages frequently plague the country, one factor in rising costs of goods and services.  Tourism is one of the key industries that are driving their economic growth.  Beachfront resorts are especially popular destinations, as well as the growing trend in ecotourism. 

Almost 70% of the population is Roman Catholic, and about 18% is Evangelical Protestant.  There are also small amount of other religions practiced here as well, such as Judaism, Bahá’í, Buddhism, Mormons, and spiritualism. 

Spanish is the dominant language of the Dominican Republic, influenced by the strong Spanish roots in their history.  It does have a lot of influence from African words as well as the native Arawak language.  English is commonly-taught foreign language in school, although there is a small community on the island who speak a dialect of English called Samaná English – this area was settled by free African Americans escaping from the United States during the mid-1800s. It’s actually close to other Caribbean Creole English varieties.  Because of the number of Haitians that have crossed the border, Haitian Creole is also spoken in many communities as well. 

So, while it’s cold here in Indiana, and I’m a little jealous of their weather, that’s ok. At least I get to listen to their music and eat their food.  I’m excited about this – mostly because all of those Dominican Republic sites I kept coming across when I was trying to research for Dominica are now relevant. 

Up next:  holidays and celebrations

Sunday, December 22, 2013


Well, it’s been one hell of a week. I apparently showed up to work too many times and had a lot of time I had to use, so I had three days off this week. However, I was sick the whole time, and then I had to still do a million errands to do in order to get ready for Christmas this coming week.  So even though I lost my voice and still don’t quite have it back, I’m surviving.  And, I’m also skipping on some family Christmas stuff today to save a long trip that I’ll be making again in a couple of days anyway, make sure I’m well, and cook food from Dominica today.  (Hey, to be fair, I’ve had this on the schedule all year.)

Bananas and mangos and bread, oh my! 
I really struggled to find a bread that others with similar blogs haven’t already done. The trouble with searching for recipes from Dominica is that I would often come up with recipes from the Dominican Republic (which will be great in a few days, since I’m doing it next).  But alas, I went with the banana and mango bread that I kept seeing everywhere. On the other hand, I suppose it’s a tried and tested recipe.  I started off with two sticks of butter and a cup and a half of brown sugar (I actually only had enough for a cup, I used a ¼ cup of regular sugar to finish) and then creamed everything together, adding three eggs into the mixture as well.  In a separate bowl, I mixed mango puree (I peeled it, cut it, and pureed it myself) with some mashed banana.  And in a third bowl, I mixed flour, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg together. Taking a little of the flour mixture and a little of the banana-mango mixture, I poured a little of each alternately in with the butter-sugar cream and mixed everything together until it was consistent.  This recipe said it yielded two loaves, but when I poured it, it was only enough to go halfway up.  And after I put it in the oven for about 20 minutes, I realized I forgot to fold in the golden raisins and the crushed walnuts.  Oh, well.  It’s a little late now.  Regardless, it was wonderful – with a nice crust on the outside, and smooth and moist on the inside (even though I read that “moist” one of the worst words to use to describe food; not sure why, but I’m using it anyway. So, there. You’re not the boss of me.). 

Crab bake. Or something like that. I think I need to work with this to make it better.
The main meal for today is Caribbean-style crab.  This reminds me a little of the crab dish I made when I did for Benin. So, this may be an African-influenced dish.  This recipe calls to melt butter in a skillet and add in some scallions (or green onions as I call them), garlic, chili peppers (I used a mild green chile), then add curry powder (I used half turmeric and half chili powder since I was out of cumin).  Then it came time to add the crab, fresh cilantro and fresh parsley, salt, pepper and crab liquid (I used whatever liquid was in the cans the crab was in).  After this cooks down a bit, I blended in my breadcrumbs until it was all consistent. The original recipe suggested to place this mixture on clam shells, but I just used ramekins and baked at 400º F for about 10 minutes until it was browned.  I bought crab in a can this time, which is not something I normally do – and I’m not sure if I ever do that one again. It was almost like it was ground, and I thought it might work well, but I think it would’ve tasted better if it was more chunked (although the recipe called to shred it).  And I think it calls for too much breadcrumbs; it was a little dry, almost like crab-flavored stuffing.  I think this recipe needs to be tweaked a bit before it gets the Adams’ Family approval on this one. It left us a little wanting for something more on this one.

Pigeon peas and rice. This was awesome. Truly. 
Originally, I had found a recipe for pumpkin ginger soup, but my husband would literally gag at just the mentioning of the name. When I described the ingredients – which sounded really tasty to me – he would practically go into dry heaves and convulsions. Because I didn’t want to list this recipe as the reason for divorce or on the death certificate (as he was thinking the case would be), I chose a different recipe at the last minute. I noticed a lot of literature about Dominican cuisine include the Caribbean favorite pigeon peas and rice. I found a recipe for stewed pigeon peas that was also listed on the menu for a Dominican festival that I came across. This particular one starts by caramelizing some brown sugar in olive oil (but I used white since I used the last of my brown sugar in the bread).  Then I added garlic and onions; a minute later, I added fresh thyme, fresh cilantro, fresh chives, a can of pigeon peas, and a little coconut milk.  I cooked this down until everything was consistent and heated thoroughly. I served this on top of some white rice.  (The rice I used was actually leftovers from the other night. I poured a little coconut milk on top of it and heated it up in the microwave.  It brought it back to life surprising well.)  I think this was the best part of the meal (ok, it was tied with the bread), and what made it great was the mix of the green chile that I added at the last minute and the onions mixed with the coconut milk and sugar.  I may have to do this one again. 

Hey, two out of three ain't bad. 
Christmas is in three days, and New Year’s is a week beyond that, so that makes this is the last country I cook from in 2013. I am still ever more amazed that I’ve made it this far on this project (definitely makes this the longest I’ve ever stayed on a project that I’ve started).  I think I have a certain following amongst a few friends and family.  I’ve gotten some recognition for my work and have definitely made a name for myself as a writer and foodie. Who knows what the future brings us (besides new recipes and awesome childhood memories for my kids, and perhaps a book deal at some point in time)?  I’ve certainly learned a lot this year from all of the countries I have done so far. And I certainly have added a lot of really cool to my repertoire.  But just to recap, here’s what we did: Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Comoros, Republic of the Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Djibouti, and Dominica.  And next year will be even more awesome. Thanks for reading!

Up next: Dominican Republic

Saturday, December 21, 2013


If there’s one word that can describe music from Dominica, that would be diverse. It draws its influence from many different places: Africa, other Caribbean islands, French, British, the Americas, Latin America. But not only did they borrow styles and genres from other countries, it also took these styles and developed their own variations and sub-genres as well. It can be quite complicated to list all of these different styles of music performed on this small island.

During the 1950s and 1960s, music from Caribbean nations, especially Trinidad, had a lot of influence on Dominican music. Genres like calypso, samba, merengue, and funk were commonly performed. Steel bands also emerged and were widely popular as well.  A Haitian genre called kadans or compas also landed in Dominica, and Dominican musicians used kadans and merged it with other styles, like calypso.  Groups like Exile One and The Grammacks were heavily influenced by not only kadans, but also zouk and soca as well. 

During the 1990s, Dominicans developed a new style called bouyon music.  One band in particular, WCK (Windward Caribbean Kulture) was instrumental in developing this style, which is more or less a fusion of cadence-lypso and jing ping styles to create bouyon music. It tends to rely on a drum machine with keyboards, cowbell, and guitars.  The language used is a mix of both English and Creole (also called Kwéyòl) and is really influenced by dancehall and rap styles, making it more a young people’s genre. 

Starting in 1997, the World Creole Music Festival is held every year in Dominica and features Creole music from all over the Caribbean (including Louisiana’s zydeco).  Many people see this festival is the only festival aimed at celebrating indigenous music in Dominica, and some even extend that to the Eastern Caribbean. One day, I’ll definitely have to come.

Carnival is also an important time for music and dance.  A style known as chanté mas or lapo kabrit is a call-and-response type of music is commonly sung at Carnival – the lead singer does this while dancing backwards.  Dancing and dance contests are always a part of Carnival and other festivals. Some of the folk dances of Dominica have their roots from French and British dances (like the quadrille, lancers, mazook, polka, cotillion, schottische, contredanse, la ronde), but some have their roots in African dance, like the famous bélé dance.  This dance is accompanied solely by drumming, and the dancer dances in the middle of a circle. There are actually two dancers, but only one dances at a time, except in transitions.

One musician I came across is reggae musician Nasio Fontaine. I’m a huge fan of reggae, and I’ve been listening to his album Universal City.  I absolutely love this album. I asked for some iTunes gift cards for Christmas, and I hope I get at least one so I can buy this album.  I think his style has a lot of African reggae sound to it, very easy to listen to.

Of course, I also listened to Exile One’s album Old School Sessions: Green / Vert as well as The Grammacks’ album 1974-1976 Grammacks Collection. I think The Grammacks remind me of early Bob Marley.  The Gaylords were another group who came out of the 1960s who played calypso and steelpan styles from Trinidad.

Up next:  the food

Thursday, December 19, 2013


The earliest art in Dominica was created by the native Carib (or Kalinago) peoples.  Clay pottery was very common for many uses, and they were painted with earth-based natural colors, mostly red, ochre (a yellowish-brown color), white, brown, and black. These dyes were made from rocks, various plants/flowers, charcoal, wood, etc.  Annatto, which is often used in food and gives it a dark reddish color, is not only used in food, but also as body paint as well.

The capital of Dominica is Roseau, which is French for “reeds.”  It’s not hard to believe that since the French tended to name cities after what they saw in a place (which are reeds), then basket weaving would also be a craft that was done in every family.  Baskets are versatile, and they certainly can make work easier.  But they’re also an art form. 

Carving is also a common art form in native art as well and can be seen in stone, wood, and bone.  Bas-relief carvings can be seen on the sides of large rocks, which include drawings called petroglyphs. 

By Honychurch -- I love this piece!

Today, modern forms of art include painting and sculpture.  Like other art of the Caribbean and Central/South America, Dominican artists tend to use bright colors in their work. Caribbean landscapes, people, and scenes of everyday life are universal themes of Dominican paintings.

Mural paintings and public mural art are also seen throughout the island. Nationalistic themes and scenes depicting a brighter future and the best parts (or overcoming struggles from the past) can be seen throughout the island. 

Honychurch at work.
One artist that I came across who thankfully had the most information on Dominican art that I found is Lennox Honychurch, a Dominican artist. There is a lot of information on his website –you can check out his beautiful paintings and murals. Check it out at

Honychurch also wrote a book called “The Dominica Story” – a comprehensive history of the island. It was originally devised as a mini-series for radio in the mid-1970s, but it’s been revised many times for print.  It’s available through Amazon, but the sellers on there want a lot for it: the cheapest one I found was $99.51.  I might put in a request for my library to purchase it since I see they don’t have it either. 

Born in Roseau, Phyllis Shand Allfrey, can trace her family back to landing in the West Indies in the 1660s.  She’s most widely known for her novel The Orchid House (1953), she also worked as a journalist and editor for two local newspapers.  Allfrey was also involved in politics as well – founding the Dominica Labour Party and was also elected to the West Indies legislature in 1958 (pre-independence days), making her the only women who was elected to serve in this federation. 

Jean Rhys is probably the best-known author to come from Dominica, and her novel Wide Sargasso Sea is probably her most acclaimed novel. I have this book listed in my reading list but haven’t got to it yet. It’s written as a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre (which I absolutely loved!).  Rhys was born in Roseau to her Welsh father and her Creole mother (Creole at that time was used to refer to white people who were born on the island, whether they were mixed or not.) When she was 16, her parents sent her to stay with family in England to be educated there.  Her instructors were constantly frustrated that she would never speak “proper English” and her accent often left her out on outside and ridiculed.  She was later “coached” in writing short stories by her friend, English novelist Ford Madox Ford (whose book The Good Soldier is on my reading list as well.) 

Up next: music and dance

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


New Year’s Day (January 1): To do a simple search on how people from Dominica celebrate New Year’s Eve and/or New Year’s Day was not simple at all. For one, I kept coming up with info for the Dominican Republic. And two, I found a lot of tourist suggestions if you were going to go visit, but nothing New Year’s specific.  So, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that they celebrate it in similar ways that the rest of us bring in the New Year.   I did read that many people start off the celebrations by going to church and then following that with all of the typical celebrations, including a lot of dancing.

Carnival Monday (varies, February/March):  Dominica celebrates Carnival (also known as Mas Domnik) for two days, the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.  Most of the largest celebrations are held in the capital city of Roseau.  Dominicans did borrow some elements from Martinique and Guadeloupe as well as Trinidad.  Some of the main celebrations that are held year after year include a special opening ceremonies, music competitions, parades, and beauty contests.

Good Friday / Easter / Easter Monday (varies, March/April):  This is an important holiday weekend for many Dominican Christians. Again, it was hard to find information that was relevant to Dominica and their Easter traditions.  Since it is an English-speaking country, I’m guessing that they also have the tradition of eating hot cross buns, like other Caribbean English-speaking islands do.  Good Friday is generally treated as a day of solemnity.  People may attend special Good Friday services at their church. Easter is far more joyous and usually starts off with church services, followed by an elaborate luncheon of fish, bread, and a variety of fruits. Easter egg hunting isn’t really done like it is in the US and parts of Europe (probably because of the heat and spoilage), but many islands have a tradition of kite flying on the beach.  Easter Monday is usually spent as a day of relaxation, partaking in some sort of recreation with family and friends.

 Labour Day (first Monday in May): Businesses and schools are closed on this day in honor of Labour Day.  It’s a day to celebrate the worker and address labor issues.  They do have a 23% unemployment rate and about a third of the people work in agriculture, which can drastically be affected during hurricane season. (The last major hurricane to his was Hurricane Dean in 2007. Estimates say that about 95% of crops were destroyed, including about 99% of the banana trees which is a major export. It’s expected to take several years to regain what was lost.)  Dominica also has opened up to other countries and gave them a tax-free status in order for them to bring their businesses to Dominica.

Whit Monday (varies, May/June): Traditionally, this is the day that falls 50 days after Easter in which Christians believe is the day that the Holy Spirit came to Jesus’ disciples to give them the gift of tongues.  On this day, many Christians will attend special church services and special hymns are sung. 

Emancipation Day (first Monday in August):  This holiday is primarily celebrated in the former British colonies of the Caribbean and celebrates the emancipation of the slaves. This year, there was a special monument put up with a special concert ensuing afterwards.  People usually take this time to reflect upon Dominica’s history and give some sort of homage to their forefathers. 

Independence Day (November 3):  This is the day that Dominicans celebrate their independence from Britain.  It always includes a large parade and plenty of parties and get-togethers.  Everyone has a lot of good food and drink.  Just prior to this, there are a couple of other national pride holidays that are celebrated: Heritage Day and Creole Day – which include the famous World Creole Music Fest. Ok, actually, almost every day from about October 18 to November 5 is one huge festival.

Community Service Day (November 4):  This holiday is part of the on-going national pride holidays and was established by Dame Eugenia Charles administration in 1981.  It’s designed as a day for volunteers to help clean up and beautify the areas in and around their communities.  The government gives each community a stipend to use for supplies, such as garbage bags, disposal costs, flowers, etc.

Christmas Day (December 25): Dominicans celebrate Christmas with a lot of the same type of traditions that the Americans and British do. Christmas trees are seen up about a month beforehand, and every building is decorated.  However, people don’t really start buying gifts until Christmas Eve (I started buying gifts here and there starting in October).  While most Dominicans consider themselves Christian, Christmas tends to be more of a family holiday rather than a religious one.  One common theme of Christmas traditions is the meal – it’s almost always filled with roasted pig, fruitcake, rum, desserts, and tons of other sweet and savory treats.

Boxing Day (December 26): This is more or less considered a second day of Christmas.  Many people take this day to have a picnic lunch on the beach or by the river. 

Up next: art and literature

Saturday, December 14, 2013


This makes the second country that I’ve come across since doing this blog where I’ve learned that I’ve been pronouncing it wrong my entire life.  (The other was Benin.)  In fact, I’m sure 99.7% of Americans probably pronounce it wrong.  What I’ve always called “duh-MIN-i-kuh” is actually pronounced “DOM-ee-NEE-kuh.”  Partly to confuse everyone, but mostly to try to keep it separate from the Dominican Republic (which I get to next).  I’m sure the effort was lost on Americans. We try to make anything remotely close pronounced the same way – especially if you live in the South or various places in the Midwest.  (Which is why when we read MacBeth in high school, the line “All hail MacBeth” came out as “Aww hell, MacBeth.”) 

 The island of Dominica lies in the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean islands, right between the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique.  It’s sometimes referred to as the Windward Islands or the Leeward Islands.  Although this youngest island in the Lesser Antilles is known for its mountains, rainforests, flora and fauna, it’s also home to the second-largest hot spring called Boiling Lake.  The Sisserou Parrot is so important to Dominicans that they put it in the middle of their flag.  Morne Trois Pitons National Park was recognized as a World Heritage Site, showing off Dominica’s natural volcanic beauty.  It’s also a great place to do some whale watching – the coastal waters are teeming with sperm whales year round, but is also home to a variety of other species of whales and dolphins. 

 The island of Dominica was named by Christopher Columbus, the name referring to the day of the week that he spotted the island.  Both the French and the English had their eyes on this island, and France ending up counting it as part of the French Antilles; however, they did little as far as settlement goes.  During the early part of the 1700s, some of the white residents of Martinique to the south migrated to Dominica. France decided to make Dominica a coffee-producing territory.  When France lost out to Britain after the Seven Year’s War, the Treaty of Paris granted the island to be handed over to British rule. Within 60 years of the British taking over, they freed all the Africans that were there as slave labor and became one of the few British colonies whose legislature was made up of a majority of African members.  It became a member of various Caribbean island political organizations, and the Commonwealth of Dominica was granted its independence from England in 1978. 

 The capital is Roseau, which is the French word for “reed” – the French tended to give city names based on what they saw there.  With about 16,500 people – about the size of Frankfort, Indiana – it is one of the main ports on the island, which is important for major exports including bananas, grapefruit, oranges, bay oil, and cocoa.  It’s located on the Roseau River and has very little green space, although it does boast a Botanical Garden.  The architecture is reminiscent of French-influenced style mixed with modern designs.  Even though the city is only about 80 blocks spread across 74 acres, I read that its city planning is irregular and makes it easy to get lost, although I suppose that's a matter of opinion.  As with most capital cities, it not only houses the central government, but also universities and colleges, sport facilities, theatres, restaurants, etc. 

In recent years, Dominica has suffered from an economic depression and general economic instability.  It’s been trying to push forward a tourism industry (and especially an eco-tourism industry) since in the past, it has come in with the least amount of visitors in comparison to other Caribbean island – half as many as even Haiti.  The island is subject to hurricanes that come in off of the Atlantic, which devastate the country’s infrastructure and its agricultural industry.  Most of its exports include exotic tropical fruits, coffee, aloe vera, patchouli, cut flowers, and soap.  And actually, I read that if I had a lot of money (like around $130,000 for my family), I could buy a second passport to Dominica and bypass the seven years residence.  I better start selling a lot of books. 

The official language is English, which is spoken and understood by the vast majority of the population, although French Creole, English Creole, and a Dominican Creole are also utilized by many of the locals as well. 

Because of the European influence on its history, around 80% of Dominicans consider themselves Catholic and have their own diocese in Roseau.  They also have a small Muslim population – the country’s first mosque was erected near Ross University in Roseau.

 Dominica has one of the remaining populations of Caribs, the pre-Columbian native peoples who inhabited these islands. Most of them were either killed off or fled to other islands, including Dominica.  There are about 3000 Caribs living in a designated protected area on the eastern side of the island. Dominica also has a large number of centenarians (people over 100 years old) in comparison with the total population.  Students at Ross University are studying to find out what exactly causes or impacts this phenomenon.  (My guess would be a slower pace of life and less chemicals in their food, perhaps?) 

Check out for a different perspective from Americans (I'm assuming) living in Dominica. I read a few posts; there are some great photos. 
The island has made headlines throughout the years.  They elected their first female head of state, Mary Eugenia Charles, in the early 1980s (something the US has yet to do).  Parts of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies were filmed in and around Dominica (especially scenes from the second and third films, “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End”).  Dominica also does have a large number of active volcanos; however, there hasn’t been an eruption for centuries.  I look through photos of places in Dominica, and then I look outside my window as it’s snowing another couple of inches, and I think, “I’d much rather be there than here. I wonder if my company would let me work remote that far away.”  That being said, I’m excited to delve into Domi-NI-ca and its food, a country that I feel is calling my name.

Up next: holidays and celebrations