By Mutryce A. Williams
With the dawn of several reality shows such as Single Ladies, the Basketball Wives, and Love and Hip Hop Atlanta, our view of the life we ought to be living as modern and independent ladies has been changed drastically… and our culture is going right out the door with it…
Mutryce A. Williams is a native St Kitts and Nevis whose writings embrace and mirror the West Indian life. She holds a Masters of Politics degree and is a doctoral candidate pursuing studies in Public Policy Administration with a double concentration in Terrorism, Mediation and Peace, and Homeland Security Policy and Coordination. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
“How about coming over for some fried dumpling and a glass of wine?” I asked. “You can’t be serious. You have got to be joking!” was the response. “I called telling you that I have just got my nails and hair done, asking you to go out to La Vie! You are telling me to come over for fried dumpling and a glass of wine. Am I hearing you correctly? Who makes and eats dumpling in this day and age anyway… Yuck! For a new age woman, you can be so old fashioned sometimes… dumpling… Yuck! You know that I am a sophisticated and classy woman and you come telling me about dumpling!”
“Thank you, and yes, you are hearing me correctly. I have some dumpling in the fridge. I can fry it. You can come over, we can eat fried dumpling and have a glass wine. I think I have a bottle of Pinot Grigio. I am in the mood for fried dumpling, not for La Vie. It can be “Girl’s Night West Indian Style,” I suggested.
My mind reflected on a sublime evening of fried dumpling and a glass of wine shared with my best friend Fidelia, when I made the suggestion. The response I received was, “I can’t afford to waste my hairdo. I will call Jane, and see if she wants to go to La Vie. La Vie is the hot new place to be…”
After hanging up the phone I called my life coach, my sister Julie, and told her that I had finally figured it out. This young lady, who had been trying to befriend me for quite a while, was not interested in a true friendship but rather in living “The Life” that she had viewed on the VH1 reality shows. She just needed an ‘accomplice.’
This wasn’t just an assessment of that particular situation, but also from past conversations. There was always an invitation to some hip or trendy new place. There was always the lure of “don’t forget what it feels like to be young,” or “you need a break from the boys, so let’s get dressed up and go out.”
Now I have nothing against going out with friends, getting dressed up or the lot. It can be quite enjoyable. There is a time and place for everything. But I wasn’t going to get dressed up, and go out to a hip or trendy new place, just for the sake of “going out” or because this is something that would define me as being a “new age’ woman, or giving the false perception of me living “The Life.” There is much more to life than this.
This set me thinking. I thought not only on the perception of what is considered “The Life,” I thought about the quality of the friendships we forge as young women, and I thought about how the media, technology, and other cultures are having an impact on how we choose to live our lives as West Indian/Caribbean women. I thought about our dying culture.
As West Indians we speak about the negative influence that the media, technology, and other cultures have on our youth, but we don’t make this correlation to anything else. We blame the media, technology and other cultures for the youth’s recalcitrant behavior. Have we however taken the time to analyze the other demographics in our society? Whether we want to admit it or not we are all impacted by the media.
I speak to my demographic. As young women we fail to acknowledge how the media, technology, and other cultures have and continue to impact our lives. Let me clarify, I am not speaking about the impact on teenage girls, but rather the twenty – forty year old female demographic.
I am speaking about the ‘educated,’ ‘feminist,’ ‘modern,’ and ‘self described independent woman,’ who are just as blameworthy in causing destruction to our societal fabric, by banishing our traditions, thumbing their noses at our culture and way of life, in lieu of the hip, trendy, finer , more sophisticated things, or as it has been described, “The Life.”
I am speaking of those who instead of wanting to marry the fried dumpling with the Pinot Grigio would rather have no fried dumpling on their tables at all. Days are better spent at the beauty, and nail salon, or at the spa, as opposed to over a hot stove perfecting a sumptuous meal. All of this is because we have earned it, and we deserve it. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a balance though? I am just asking.
I recall one girlfriend who was so in love with Italian food telling me that she had stopped eating mackerel because the scent lingers, and my response was, ‘so does Italian because many of the dishes are garlic based.’ She paused, and then said that Italian food was simply more sophisticated and mackerel was for backward people. I couldn’t help but shake my head in amazement, and say, “Lord, where Aunty Elvira when I need her boy, because girl if I tell you what I thinking, you will surely stop talk to me…” She laughed it off, but I was a bit disgusted.
With the dawn of several reality shows such as Single Ladies, the Basketball Wives series, and Love and Hip Hop Atlanta series our view of the life we ought to be living as modern, and independent ladies has been changed drastically. For the woman of colour, for the West Indian woman, I suppose these shows are our version of the “Sex and the City,” something that we have long been waiting for. Although the content of these shows leaves a lot to be desired, it can be argued that they show ‘empowered’ women who seem to be living the life.
For many of us West Indian and Caribbean women, living the life now means having a core circle of ‘friends,’ no matter how superficial, dressing to the nines, ‘whether or not we could afford it,’ and going to trendiest restaurants to eat, ‘this can very well mean a boost for our economy,’ but again wouldn’t an even on the ‘landing’ be just as good with some fried dumpling and a glass of wine?
As the years fleet by, as we get caught up in the “veryness” of what appears to be or ought to be the finer things in life, what makes you the sophisticate, cultured, and all of those other “fluffy” yet seemingly “empty” words, we fail to realize that with each embrace of other cultures, dishes, or even lifestyles that we are losing our essence, and that we are losing ourselves.
Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with being “worldly,” “adventurous,” “a slave to a discriminating palate” or being “Renaissance,” but it’s scary, almost frightening when these things replace who we are as a people.
As West Indians, as Kittitians, and Nevisians food used to define us as a people. It was our tradition. It was our “soul food,” yet it is going out the door and being replaced by a taste for the more “global” foods. Our culture is disintegrating before our very eyes. I often wonder, how many young women my age or younger, can sit and make black pudding, souse, ‘turn corn,’ goat water, fowl foot soup, conch water, cassava bread, konky, and dumpling from scratch, no recipe book, no measuring cup, and no assistance whatsoever.
The responses may vary. “Why do we need to know how to make those things? I don’t eat half of them anyway! My grandmother or mother is there to cook it! I am an independent and modern woman and it is not my aspiration to be tie down in any kitchen. I need to stay fly, I can’t knead dumpling, to go do what… mess up my nails? I can’t stand over a hot stove, my hairstyle will flop. Where am I going to find the time? I am a busy woman, I don’t have the time! I can just buy it from somebody on the road.”
I suppose our generation isn’t to be entirely blamed for the lack of interest in our traditional foods or cooking. The art or chore of cooking is viewed as domestic, even primitive. Instead of having our daughters or sons stand on a paint pan assisting while we cook, we ‘shoo’ them off to read a book, or play a video game, and oftentimes in most homes, there are several pots on the stove. There are the pots with the traditional foods for the parents, and then the pots with the more modern foods for the children, because they don’t like to taste the traditional foods. We exclaim, “I am not forcing my child to eat what he or she doesn’t want to eat.”
Unpleasant childhood memories come back, “you ain’t working nowhere so you going eat wha I cook,” so in order to be a “good” parent we give in to our child’s every need, and catering to his or her palate by not forcing him or her to eat the dumpling and saltfish, but providing chicken and chips instead wins up the parental gold medal.
I also recall one mother saying, “My daughter don’t need to learn how to cook let her keep her head in the books when she get she big job, she could hire somebody to cook for her.”
There is also that twist to feminism. In our society it is our view that a woman or girl learns to cook not for her, but so that she can snag a husband, and become a proper homemaker. We have all heard the saying, “A way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”In the past finding a good husband was not only a sign of status or elevation, but for many it meant economic freedom. A good husband who provided was your ticket to success. The qualification for this was that as a woman you had to be “domesticated.”
The times have changed. Now as modern women, independent women, as feminists, we say, “I don’t need a man anyway… A man ought to want me for my brain, for the value that I bring to the table and simply for the woman that I am, I have worth! He shouldn’t want me because I can hot water. This thinking is primitive. It is so bane.”
Women, somehow in all of this we have sold ourselves short because we forget that at the end of the day, we have to eat. Our grandmother, mother or aunt will not always be there to cook the food just the way we like it, so we owe it to ourselves to learn. The lady up the road with the tray won’t always be there either, and if her daughter or granddaughter has the same mindset that you have then the traditional foods that you like would soon become extinct. Where are you going to get it then?
There is nothing wrong in wanting to embrace other cultures, try other foods, but does all of this have to come at the cost of one’s culture and traditions? There is nothing wrong with wanting to “Live the Life,” but why not marry this with your own culture of being a West Indian or Caribbean woman? If we want the appearance of the “The Life” why not throw a dinner party or have a “cook” as a Grenadian friend of mine likes to say, and feature West Indian dishes? You can pull out your best china; don your pearls and all. Why not patronize the restaurants that feature West Indian cuisine?
As I close this chapter, let me share an evening shared with my best friend Fidelia in St Lucia a few months ago, as it was a most sublime moment. Our sons were asleep. We fried some dumpling, topped it with some stewed saltfish, parsley on top, and we garnished the plates with some steamed plantain, and joked that the Giada, and Ina Garten definitely had nothing on us. As we ate our meals, we knocked our glasses filled with Pinot Grigio, and enjoyed Girl’s Night with panache of course… but we did it West Indian Style!