Saturday, December 5, 2009

Portsmouth Market (and other such market related things)- Dominica

My whole life my mother has told me that I don’t like big crowds of people- that I’m a homebody and big groups of people make me uncomfortable and nervous.  Of course, since it was my mother informing me and not myself, I have spent the greater part of my life enduring unnecessary torture by forcing myself to go into big crowds of people.  Finally one day someone ELSE told me that same thing and I realized they were RIGHT.  I DON’T like big groups of people.  They make me very claustrophobic and nervous and I have a hard time focusing on anything.    It was such a relief to finally admit it.  The rebellion was over.                                                            

BUT, that aside, I’ve found that part of the reason I LOVE farmer’s markets is the crowds if people.  I love the jostling (this morning I was actually grabbed by the arms and moved out of the way by a little woman doing her shopping- I obviously was looking at the plantains for way too long), the laughter, the talking, bargaining, buying, gossiping.  I love to see people walking around eating things- or the people who are selling the food eating things.  I love little bundles of herbs tied with string, dogs walking around looking for scraps, children sniffing ginger, and people shouting as you walk by- hey! Buy this, look at that, some see this and you will have to buy it, it is so nice!    Of course this is not Riverbend or Wal-Mart size (yes, that counts as a large group of people to me- especially if you add the fluorescent lights and plastic bright colors) but is defiantly a big group of people and they are not shy.  (I did survive Terra Madre just fine and that was well over seven thousand people- a lot of which were also farmers.  I think it is the farmers and the people who love real farmers that I feel completely comfortable with- I could be around a million of those types for ages, just as long as I had somewhere alone and quiet to go every now and again).

Of course the other market I know well- the Main Street Farmer’s Market- is not quite up to this scale yet.  There isn’t quite enough shouting in Chattanooga in general.  Instead of waving here they just shout- they shout Ok! Alright! (the person they are shouting at’s) Name! Good morning! Hello!   It seems to work fine and you always know when someone’s coming.  But back to the market-  As a farmer’s daughter and another farmer’s sister I kind of have a little inside view on the market back home.   I’ve heard what the customer’s complaints and suggestions are- not enough signage as in… not enough information about the farm, prices aren’t clearly marked, or the farmers talk too much (I have yet to meet a farmer who doesn’t have that problem), the farmers don’t talk enough to new customers, the farmer’s daughter eats way too many muscadines, nobody has printed recipes….  All of these are TOTALLY legitimate complaints/suggestions.    I defiantly eat more than my share in muscadines- I also know I talk too much to people I already know and not enough to people I don’t.  There certainly could be clearer information about whether the farms are organic, what they believe in, where they are exactly, etc.  I am sure that recipes would be most welcome, especially if you really want to buy something you’ve never bought before and don’t know how to cook it.  All of those would be my personal expectations if I were going to a market I’d never been to.

I had to drop all that here.  Nobody is remotely interested in attractive display- they sit the food on the table and there it is (although it is usually in neat piles, pre-bunched, bagged, counted or weighed).  As far as I can tell most farmers don’t come- it’s usually the wives or some other clean looking woman.  I’m sure some of the woman are farmers too but they are the ones with dirt on them.  You have to ask the price for everything, ask what everything is that you don’t know, ask how to cook it (usually boiling is the answer).   Is this organic? is not a question that is very well understood.  I just look for bug holes in cabbage or discoloration in citrus.  Some of it most certainly has to be organic- avocados, citrus, pineapples, plantains and bananas, pumpkin, and all the starches among other things all grow like they are wild- whether they are tended or not.  Surely they are ‘organic.’  The other things like tomatoes, herbs, greens, occasionally pineapples, or carrots I can’t be so sure about.  Despite the fact that this place is lusher than Tennessee in June I have heard rumors that nasty chemicals got introduced here and now some people just think they have to use them.  But I really don’t have any way of knowing.  I guess I could stand there and question each farmers in depth but I just don’t feel like I want to.   It is hard enough to even get noticed.  Despite the fact I am an advocate for shouting I am not the shouting type in a new market situation.  I usually just walk up and hope my shy white face gets noticed and I stick the how much or what is this called question on them.  Sometimes they pretend like I’m not there and sit with their back to me talking to the woman at the stall across, maybe to turn lazily around after I’ve stood there inspecting their goods doggedly for awhile (I don’t want to seem rude, pushy, or demanding but if I want that particular bunch of bananas I’m gonna dern well get it). This is not happening as often as it did at first- I think I am beginning to get recognized (maybe as that crazy white girl who buys five bags worth of food and some tall handsome white guy in her tow carry them).  Unfortunately this makes me realize how a new Main Street goer must feel sometimes- you have to be persistent and really love fresh produce to get noticed.    Personally I don’t see anything wrong with that.  I feel like here they might be used to tourists who are just there to look and not buy.  They will sell out- or sell enough- regardless and aren’t really interested in hooking someone who may or may not buy and will probably not be around next week. 

One thing though that I find similar to Chattanooga and other US cities are the ‘buzz words’ that are used here.  I walked by a sugar can seller today (they bring whole canes and strip off the outer husk and cut the canes into pieces with cutlasses or cleavers- very dramatic) and he shouted at me Sugar Cane! It’s natural- It’s local!  How many times have I heard local or natural as selling words or words of interest pertaining to food?  It is strange that an island this size is having to use the word local as a selling point to it’s local customers.  I wonder if some of this is a way to attract tourist attention (someone tried to sell me a “local” cd the other day) or if the country really is having to focus back in on itself like every other country is having to do.    This is defiantly not a ‘touristy’ country.  I think they would really like to be but somehow this island has resisted tourism so far- despite the fact there is a boiling lake, the land is beautiful, and Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed here.  They are not being invaded too heavily with people with money to attract but still they use this word ‘local’ as a selling point.   I have seen several billboards urging citizens to “Eat more fish from the sea that surrounds us!” or to support local business or eat food from the farmers.  Half of it is political propaganda because there is an election coming up for the next term for the Prime Minister.  There are two dominant political parties here and one of them has billboards accusing the party in power of abandoning the farmers and fishermen and letting crime get out of hand.  I wonder how much of this is accurate.  I don’t really understand WHERE people would be buying if it wasn’t local.  Unless it is like many poor communities in American and they are simply not eating well at all- despite the fact the land is overflowing with wealth.  Maybe people AREN’T eating very much fish, though it doesn’t seem likely to me, counting the number of fishing boats out on the water, how quickly fish sells when it’s around, and how often it is actually is around.  But maybe it has been better- maybe lots of people sit at home and eat white rice and dried pork and canned mackerel.  Maybe people are losing the skill of cooking for themselves and eating out more (there are no non-local or chain restaurants besides two KFC chains in the two cities).  Like I said, I just don’t know.  Those accusations must come from somewhere.  I just don’t quite see where.  But still, it’s interesting.

Like Chattanooga, I have to limit how much I spend because whatever I bring I will spend it all.   Of course it all gets used, but at some point in my life I am going to have to start practicing self control.  But also like Chattanooga I never feel like I didn’t get my money’s worth.  I heard before I came here that local foods were very cheap, and for the most part that is true.  That doesn’t stop me from spending thirty US dollars (well over sixty here) at market- I just HAVE to get that big jug of coconut water (this is so awesome- there are three different pickup trucks that come to market full of green coconuts and you can fill up whatever container you bring with fresh coconut water.  They just chop the tops off the coconuts with cutlasses and pour it out- people bring spoons and stand around eating the ‘jelly’ out of the coconuts beginning to ripen (ooo man is THAT good), while laughing, talking, and of course, shouting.  I have to make sure I have an avocado for every day, citrus for every morning, and enough variety to make every meal super fun.  That isn’t a luxury- it’s completely necessary for me to survive.   So I spend almost as much as I do at market in Chattanooga- and I still feel like I am coming away set for the whole week- which is a good sign I suppose.

The nicest thing about a market (besides the food and farmers of course) is that I can choose to go into a big crowd of people and know for the most part they are just like me- they all cook and they all love to eat. 

I’ve learned a lot actually about these large groups of people from this experience- and that sometimes it’s just fine to be a little shy.  It’s fine to ask questions, even if I don’t know if I’ll get the answer.   It’s ok to say no (something I never learned in Chattanooga and ended up going home with garbage bag full’s of basil or crates of rotting tomatoes), ok to ask for more.   It’s ok to get really excited about things,  or to turn down cabbage because it is not heavy enough.  It’s just fine to relax, and stand around and wait til someone is done with a chat before asking how much something is.  It is also just as fine to interrupt if the chat is going nowhere.   And the best part that is the finest of all is to learn to feel richer than ever before every time you walk away laden down with as much fresh fish, fruits, and vegetables as your heart desires.

When I come back to the Main Street Market I’m coming back shouting.

No comments: