Callaloo Lady Celebrates Diwali

This past weekend, we made our now monthly sojourn down to Claxton Bay, to sit on Chris Cayenne’s porch and get Nicole’s hair plaited.  This time, we invited our little buddy Isabelle into the world of extensions and plaits.
 From the looks of the final results,
I think she will stay in this world for a while.
(Nicole got her hair plaited just like her gym teacher’s, who we visited on the way home.  So now Isabelle, too,  is following the gym teacher fashion trend…)
While we were sitting there for the four  plus hours it took Chris’s skillfull hands to comb and plait two heads of thick curly hair, we launched into a wonderful morning of chatting.
 This morning, Chris also had a friend on the porch, along with Isabelle and her mom, so it felt more festive than usual.  Our early morning plaiting and chatting sessions usually revolve around the topic of Carribean fruits and vegetables, and how to prepare them.
Obviously, on this topic, Chris is clearly the expert.
On this sunny morning, with the big little crowd we had,
I decided to tell a funny story in keeping with our favorite subject.
I knew it would crack up these two Carribean friends,
whose sense of humor is rich and true and reveals itself in such wonderful open mouthed laughter,
which sneaks out in between the serious business of plaits and combs.

So I told them the story that went something like this:
After my first month of living in Trinidad, I ordered some Callaloo soup at a restaurant.  It was so delicious, I decided I would try to make it myself.  I found a recipe, bought the ingredients, and off I went to make some soup in my own kitchen.  How difficult could it be, right?  So we had company coming for dinner, they would be so impressed that, after a month of living here, I could already make Callaloo soup!
Here is where they both started glancing at each other, smirking dubiously… and I continued  with my story.
Well, I went on, since I wanted to get the most out of the nutrients of the dasheen greens,  I decided not to cook them too much.  Just steam them for a couple of minutes with the okra, and into the blender they went, with all the other ingredients.  (coconut milk, pepper, chicken bullion, garlic, butter…)  I tasted it before the guests arrived, and it was so delicious!  But my throat was a bit itchy..
This is where the dubious smirking blossomed into raucous laughter…
How many minutes did you cook the callaloo?
Yes, I answered, two, maybe even one.
I think you could have heard the laughter all the way in Port of Spain.
So, to make a long story shorter, I told them how I served the fated Callaloo soup to the guests, and they politely ate it, because after all, it tasted so so delicious, but the ahems started and requests for more water… As their throats started getting itchier and itchier.  
(I later learned that you have to boil down the dasheen leaves for at least 1/2 an hour, to get rid of the calcium oxalate, a naturally-occurring toxin that causes itching and burning in the throat….)
No one finished their soup that night, and I realized I, ahem, ahem, really wasn’t the master of Callaloo soup I thought I was…
Well, they just thought this was the funniest thing.
By now, you could have heard their laughter all the way in Brattleboro Vermont.
When Nicole started getting antsy about her hair taking so long,
she asked how many more plaits to go before she was done.
 I said, I thought about six.
Chris, still punchy from my story and the long hot morning of plaiting, said,
  “Callaloo Lady says six, must be six!”
We all knew why this was so funny, and had another good belly laugh.
 The truth is, it takes a long time to know a place;
to know new customs, to know the food, the people, the language, and how things work in general.
But the wholeheartedness of a newcomer’s attempts are appreciated, even if they aren’t quite on target.
 So here I am, a white woman from Vermont, imagining I know how to make Calalloo Soup or
how many more plaits to go.
(Callaloo Lady says six)
Or how to shop for a Diwali outfit.
Callalloo Lady says, stick with lime green and turquoise and you can’t go wrong.
But there are exceptions to every rule,
Callaloo Lady’s mom looks pretty beautiful in her pink diwali clothes.
Diwali is a Hindu celebration of light.
While far from an expert, Callaloo Lady will tell you a bit about this ancient and magical tradition,
from my very limited experience with it.
Diwali is, from what I understand, India’s biggest and most important holiday.
It is all about light, both metaphorical and actual.   The lights of Diwali  represent the inner light that protects from spiritual darkness.
It is also an honoring and blessing of Lakshmi, the Indian goddess of wealth, who can bring light into the financial well-being of her honorees, as Diwali is celebrated right before the onset of a new financial year.
People decorate themselves and their homes with beauty and light, and serve sweets and delicious food, welcoming Lakshmi into their lives. and homes.
People bring light  with their sparkling brightly colored clothing
often combined with delicious sweets,
and decorative henna.
Light is brought in
with sparklers
and deyas,
which are little clay pots full of wax or coconut oil that are lit,
either on bamboo structures
 or in windows.
Light is a powerful symbol.
Light conquers darkness,
good over evil,
knowledge over ignorance
positive over negative.
Light helps us see

each other in a new light,

and to not be afraid of the darkness,
to allow your inner light to shine,
and to welcome the new and  unfamiliar into your lives.
That’s what callaloo lady says, at least.
This week we also welcomed the familiar into our lives,
as we relished in a familiar face gracing our new world here in Trinidad.
Grammy has been braving all kinds of weather
and environments,
bringing a new splash of color
into our world here.
Even though strep throat has put some of us into recuperating mode,
and the rain has paid some visits,
We are all finding light in each other and in the journey itself.
In third grade this week, the children have been looking at the work of Alexander Calder
and exploring contour line through the medium of wire.
For most kids, this was a pleasant experience.  Especially those for whom the wire bending and manipulating came easy, and for those who understood Calalloo Lady’s instructions and encouragement.
For others, it was a lesson in complete frustration
resulting in nothing more than a pile of twisted wire and zero joy.
I think the light of Diwali must have been shining in the art room,
because, while this little third grade artist was kicking and screaming in a sad puddle of uncooperative wire and tears,
her friends all rallied around her,
and noticed how cool it was that her sculpture, which she had thrown down onto the floor in exasperation,
was actually standing up on its own.
“Wow, Katie, what a cool sculpture!  How did you do that?  It is standing up!  You are brilliant!”
“Miss, you must take a picture of this.  Katie is a genius!”
How many third graders does it take to illuminate the inner light of a frustrated artist?
Callalloo Lady says ten.

3 thoughts on “Callaloo Lady Celebrates Diwali

  1. There are so many things I love in this post I don’t know where to start. You guys all look so good in your diwali outfits! I especially love the picture of Grammy and Nicole. I love the idea of that holiday and the candles are gorgeous! Nicole looks so happy in the rain- where others would take shelter inside, Nicole is enjoying it.
    I love your students- I know that feeling, when everyone else in the class is getting it and you just can’t get it. They’re so encouraging.
    Your post made my heart warm first thing in the morning- Love you! XOXO

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