Saturday, June 13, 2009

Greetings from the Bahamas

We are in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas. Find Florida on the map and just to the east you will see the Bahamas. There are about 700 islands in the Bahamas. Just like the United States the Bahamas were once part of England so they speak English. They got their independence in 1973. Many Americans visit the Bahamas. The Caribbean Sea around the Bahamas is very beautiful with many different shades of blue, green and turquoise.

There are three old forts on the island that were built nearly 300 years ago to protect them during wartime and from pirates. Forts were the Homeland Security of the 1700s!

The ancestors of many Bahamians came to the Bahamas to work as slaves on the plantations. Slavery was abolished 1834. Before the slaves were freed they were allowed three days off and it became a celebration of their African heritage called Junkanoo.

They still celebrate Junkanoo on December 26 and January 1 with a huge parade through the streets. Groups compete for prizes so they spend months creating brilliant costumes out of cardboard decorated with colorful strips of crepe paper, glitter and beads. The music is a vibrant mix of drums, brass instruments, and cowbells. We could feel the beat and had to dance with the music. Junkanoo is colorful and exciting. They also have Junkanoo in June so tourists can experience the exciting festival.

The people of the Bahamas want visitors to learn about their culture so they have a People to People program. They match tourists with local volunteers with similar interests. We signed up for the free program and told them we wanted to meet children in a school.

We visited the Carmichael Primary School and spent the morning with Miss William’s third grade. They use the same textbooks as the students in the United States. Their classrooms had many of the same decorations and posters. In fact, they knew a lot about the United States. Many of the students have relatives in the U.S. and they fly to Miami to shop. The island is small so they have to import most things. The students thought we were cute and wanted to know all the places we had visited. They were really interested in Alaska because it is cold and has snow. It is always hot in the Bahamas and they all wanted to see and feel snow!

When class was over some of the students brought their lunch back to the classroom. Most of them had chicken with rice and peas (which look more like reddish beans). It is a traditional Bahamian dish served with most meals. It is delicious. Bahamians love conch, which lives in a huge shell - the kind that people can blow into like a horn. Johnny Cake is a favorite dessert. It was also a favorite with American Indians and early settlers because it was easy to make and lasted a long time. It was originally called Journey Cake because they took it along when they went on a journey. The American version is made with corn but they make theirs with wheat.