Saturday, 17 March 2012

What We Saw in the West Indies 2

By Lola and Valerie
From Everyland magazine, Feb. 1917, researched by Alan Schenker, digitized by Doug Frizzle, Mar. 2012.

WE were up early this morning before the sailors had finished washing the decks, to get our first glimpse of Saint Kitts. A little girl friend of ours on board ship insists upon calling this island Saint Kittens and expects to see a lot of cats on their best behavior when she goes ashore.
Father told us that this island was named by Columbus in honor of his patron saint, and that Kitts really means Christopher, and that the island belongs to England.
The mountains on this island are much higher than at Saint Thomas and one of the officers pointed out the tallest mountain, which is a volcano called Mount Misery.
We have to turn around a corner and now we see the town and right back of it a place called Monkey Hill because wild monkeys live there. This town is built on low land and has bright-colored houses and everywhere there are many launches flying the English flag. We are going ashore in the harbor-master's launch with some friends among the passengers who have invited us for a motor trip around the island. It is very hot even with our thinnest summer clothes.
We had a lovely day ashore. The roads were fine for motoring and we passed beautiful homes of English residents, with wonderful flowers and trees and queer native huts with hundreds of fat, brown babies looking like chocolate candy that wouldn't melt in the sun. We stopped at one of the little huts and watched the way the people cooked their dinner. They use small charcoal stoves, made of clay, which they put outside anywhere, if it's not raining, and inside anywhere, if it is. They boil their food in big earthen pots and bake and fry things on pieces of old tin cans laid over the fire.
In the pots they put salt fish, a sort of green banana called plantain, some yams, peppers, and anything else they fancy, and when it is cooked the family gather around the pot and dinner is served without ceremony or knives and forks. Sometimes they have fresh fish and peas and cassava, but they never tire of salt fish and plantains. Many of the people have a very funny belief that codfish have human heads, for they never see the heads of the dried codfish which are sent down from the United States. At another place a woman was frying fish-cakes for sale by the roadside, and at a half-penny apiece they were bought as fast as she could make them. They use the brightest-colored oils I ever saw, and scarlet butter, and they buy it by the pennyworth, just as they do ice and other things. It makes their food look very pretty but I don't know how it tastes.
We saw two women cooks on their way home from market, standing in the middle of the road, and each had a lump of ice on her head with the sun beating down on it, but they had evidently to finish their chat before taking the ice home. It didn't seem to melt as fast as ours does. Each island has an ice factory and, if it's not broken down, the natives buy ice all day long at a penny a pound.
A refrigerator is unknown, we are told, even in the best houses, so the servants go to the ice-house as often as ice is needed. Before they had ice factories, all the ice was brought here in blocks packed in barrels and as the people had never seen ice in any other form they had an idea that the ice fell down from the sky in big cakes in the north.
We came back to the ship in time for dinner. Our friends sent us a big basket of all kinds of tropical fruits and two huge bouquets of the loveliest-smelling flowers. As mother's favorite is jasmine I was glad there was lots of that. We will not leave this harbor until after midnight, and our next stop will be Antigua. We shall arrive there to-morrow morning.
We went to bed so late last night and were so tired that we slept later than usual, so we were almost at anchor off Antigua before we were dressed. Antigua is one of the Leeward Islands but it doesn't seem of much account, for we have to stay way outside the harbor nearly five miles from the island and go ashore in a launch. It took us half an hour to reach St. Johns, the capital of the island.
We walked about the town and looked in the funny little shops and drank some kola made from the nuts grown here which we like better than any of the sodas we ever tasted. At lunch in the principal hotel we had a real West Indian meal and tasted turtle meat for the first time, as well as all kinds of queer vegetables, such as breadfruit, boiled yams and fried plantains, and some nice guava jelly.
In the afternoon father went about taking pictures, while mother took us to visit one of the native schools. It seemed strange to see only black faces, for the white children all go to private schools. The children seemed glad to see us, and they sang and spoke pieces and did sums in mental arithmetic in pounds, shillings, and pence instead of in dollars and cents, so we couldn't follow very well. I sang one of our school songs and Valerie recited a funny piece which they enjoyed very much. Mother, who used to teach school, drew some lovely pictures on the board. We found that the children had very little seat work, so mother is going to send them some of the things we use at home, for the teachers really work very hard and have very little pay. On our way back we met father and he took us to visit a famous old stone church, which has a wooden church inside, so that if an earthquake comes and knocks down the stone one the wooden one will still stand. And then, although we were very tired, we drove out eight miles to see a valley where all the trees are petrified, that is, turned to stone.
We missed the launch, so we had to take a sailboat out to the steamer. The captain said that he was just waiting for us, and as soon as we got on board the ship sailed.
We reached Dominica, our next stopping place, in a pouring rain, but the chief officer said it is always raining in Dominica and that it clears up so soon that no one seems to mind it. As we came close to the harbor the sun came out and it did make a pretty picture,—just as though a curtain had rolled up in a theater; beautiful green mountains on every side with their tops hidden in the clouds, cunning little villages among the palms along the shore and Roseau, the capital, looking as fresh and clean as if it had enjoyed its bath. A number of small boats came racing out from shore to greet us and though the island is English we notice that the native people all speak a sort of French patois. It was Sunday when we arrived, and a special feast-day in the Roman Catholic Church, and as most of the colored people belong to this church there were banners, flags, and decorations of all kinds in the streets and houses and the people were all dressed in the most gaudy clothes. Dresses made of the brightest plaids and dots with long, stiffly starched trains, bright-colored turbans and neckerchiefs, so that in the distance they looked like gorgeous butterflies.
As the steamer is to be here nearly three days, we are to stay ashore at a hotel so as to have a chance to see all the sights and meet some old friends.
The news of our arrival spread very quickly over the island, and when we reached the hotel we found a crowd of old servants and their friends, a regular mob, all jabbering and dancing with joy, thinking we were going to remain, and they were so disappointed to hear we were not.
At lunch in the hotel we had the nicest kind of stew made from "mountain chicken”. This is really crapaud, a kind of huge land frog, but they taste so much like real chicken that the natives call them that, for strangers might not like the idea of eating frogs.
In the afternoon Anne and Charlotte,—who used to take care of us when we were here before,—took us out for a walk while mother and father went to visit some friends.
It was funny, as we walked through the streets, to find people running out from their little houses to welcome us back and to say all sorts of nice things in patois and queer English, which Charlotte translated for us, like "Ay, ay, but these children grew big fine lady, yes," and "So nice clothes they make for to wear, yes," and "Come, me child, look me here for you see."
Old Ma'am Lucie showed us some pictures of ourselves which she had kept since we were here before and one showing us dressed up playing bride-and-groom is very funny, but I remember we used to like to play grown-ups. Then Anne had a picture of Valerie when a baby and there is one of mother dressed for a masquerade. Every one is so surprised to see us grown up, though mother says all of the people here look just as if it were only yesterday since we saw them.
The park, which is called the Botanic Station, is the most beautiful spot we have seen so far. There are such wonderful kinds of trees and plants. We thought the funniest one was the cannon-ball tree, well-named because fruits which look just like rusty cannon-balls grow in bunches from the trunk and branches. There are also giant rubber trees which we thought only grew in pots as we see them at home. The park was full of people and, as we sat under the trees near the cricket grounds, we held quite a little court talking with many old friends, who were glad to see us.
Everybody walks in the garden between four and six in the afternoon and we were quite surprised to see how up-to-date and well-dressed the people were. Charlotte told us all the dresses are made by the dressmakers without using any patterns. You bring them the cloth and an old dress to measure by and a picture in a fashion magazine and they are able to copy it exactly and they only charge from fifty cents to two dollars for the making. Many of the English people, of course, get their clothes from England.
One of the funniest trades here is making cups, saucers, watering-pots, and all sorts of utensils from old tin cans. There are lots of little shops where the men make these things by hand, and we watched one of them for some time with a great deal of interest. Hardly anything is wasted here, and old packing-cases are taken apart and the boards used for making furniture and fitting up rooms, and some of the houses have their roofs and even their walls made out of old kerosene tins hammered out flat and nailed onto the timbers.
We took a walk up a high hill, which we would call a mountain at home, and from the top had a beautiful view of the town and the ocean with our ship in the distance. We brought back bunches of beautiful flowers and nutmegs and mangoes given us by the people living here.
To-morrow afternoon we are going to the gardens again to see a game of cricket, but I am sure it is not going to be as interesting as baseball. (To be continued)

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.