Day 4 - Monday, June 4 - AKA an almost perfect day
Frederica wakes up at 4:45am almost every morning to leave for her workout at 5:00am. I felt pretty lazy rolling out of bed at the late hour of 6:30am. By the time I was done warming up and getting out the door for a morning run, she was already coming back in the front door. It was my first real "day off" since arriving in Dominica, so it didn't seem too bad that I had slept in. My legs weren't feeling great, but I wanted to do some exploring around my new neighborhood, and running around was a good excuse. It was quiet and overcast, and I was surrounded by small brightly colored houses dotting the green rainforest landscape. I returned from my run a half hour later and found Frederica preparing breakfast in the kitchen. She handed me half of a large papaya on a plate with a spoon, telling me that Dominicans call it "paw paw". Meanwhile, she enjoyed a breakfast of 1 whole fish, lentils, and rice. I can't say whether her diet is representative of most locals, but she told me she likes to eat a heavy breakfast and snack on fruits and nuts for the rest of the day. It's different, but I can get used to it.
Frederica asked me what I wanted to do that day, offering to show me around Portsmouth. I said I hoped to tour the Ross Medical University campus and see how it has changed since my parents lived on the island 20 years ago. In case you do not know, my connection to Dominica is that I was born on the island 20 years ago. I am a dual citizen of Dominica and the United States, but I have not returned to the island since I was born here. This is my chance to envelop myself in the culture and give back in my own way to the place of my birth. Frederica happens to have a number of friends at Ross (and everywhere else we go in Dominica), and she put me in touch with someone who arranged a private campus tour for me. At 10:30am, we drove to the campus gates, and I met Ross Student Housing Director Clayton Mervin. I'm certain they didn't have one of those when my dad attended. The campus has probably grown 10-20 times the size it was in 1992. It actually felt a lot like my campus at Brown, buzzing with young, sleep-deprived students of diverse backgrounds. I took as many pictures as I could of campus before thanking Clayton for the tour. Before parting ways, we exchanged numbers because I had learned that he was a "footballer," and he was going to call if he and his friends ever had a pickup soccer/football game in town that I could join.
After enjoying a quiet lunch alone on the beach, I called Frederica to ask how to meet up with her. She directed me to get on the local bus, which is actually a 12-person van. I had to hold my pointer finger out to flag it down. The driver took me about 2 miles down the road, where Frederica met me at the drop off location. She was with her good friend, Esther, who happened to work at the post office. This was one of the women my parents told me I had to look up in Dominica. My parents often stopped by the post office when they lived here, and the ladies in the post office had not forgotten. "Did your daddy have red 'air?" they asked me. I told them yes, and that his name is Geri. "Oh! Of course we remember your parents! They were some of the nicest students who came through here. And you look just like your Muddah!" I'm sure I was blushing at this point, but it was a scene I have been imagining my entire life. I was able to take a picture with the three women who were some of the first people to hold me as a newborn.
Frederica and I left to finish our tour of Portsmouth. It was a vibrant seaside village, packed with colorful 2- and 3-story buildings. Frederica said hello to almost everyone one the street, and we stopped a few times to purchase fruits from different stands along the road. At one stop, Frederica handed me an ear of roasted corn on the cob, hot off the grill. It seemed like a natural street food as we held the corn husk around it and ate with one hand. Frederica declared me a "real Dominican" eating corn on the street. I can only compare the taste to Corn Nuts, but the kernels were softer and very warm.
We stopped by the closest thing to a U.S. grocery store on the way home, where the prices were awfully expensive. A typical box of cereal ran about $16 ECD, which is roughly $6 USD. You could get a gallon of cow's milk for $24EC as well, or ~$9! I'm doing my best to eat locally while I'm here, so I found the ~$2 bag of powdered milk, bought some vegetables, but ultimately decided to forego the loaf of bread as there was no lunch meat in the store.
Frederica and I unpacked groceries and lazed around at home for an hour, but we had plans to go to the beach at 5:00pm. Frederica's physical therapist had told her to run in the hot sand for her aching knee, and I hadn't been to the beach yet! I was elated when we got to the beach. The sun was getting ready to set, and I loved the feeling of jogging around in warm sand without getting burned. My legs were feeling so much better than they had that morning, and I couldn't help breaking into a full stride. I'd like to say it was the happiest workout of my life. I also realized that the beach was like mother nature's training room. After running up and down the beach about ten times, I did "sand walks" to cool down my lower leg muscles and sat by Frederica as we buried our legs in the hot sand. I watched the crabs poke their heads out above the sand and bravely search for flies in front of us on the beach. We were otherwise alone, except for the occasional van that honked at us as it drove by.
Just before the sun dipped below the horizon, I shook the sand off and dove into the warm Caribbean Sea to stretch out. This was exactly what I'd hoped to find in Dominica. I'm sure Frederica wondered what was wrong with me as I spun around waist-deep in the water, drawing circles with my fingertips through the reflection of the sunset.
Regardless of the challenges I'll face in the coming months, that day has made my trip worthwhile.