08 November 2009

Conch Fest

Yesterday we celebrated South Caicos' first annual Conch Fest! It was a perfect afternoon for it: sunny and warm, but not miserably hot. (By contrast, today is grey, wet, windy, and stormy! Almost like Washington weather, but about 40 degrees warmer.)

Conch Fest 2009

The celebrations took many forms and featured a variety of competitions and activities. There was (gratuitously loud) music and some dancing. A few small stands also sold artwork and crafts made from conch shells, as well as local cuisine, including the staple conch fritters and fried chicken. One table even offered steamed turtle, which we learned came from a small green turtle caught by a local fisherman. Apparently, many of the Haitian immigrants eat hawksbills (the other turtle species that is common here), whereas the Belongers typically only eat greens.

Conch shell creations

Festival food

A discarded hawksbill shell from a catch a few days earlier

In addition to the edibles for sale, there were hotdog and conch fritter eating competitions, the winners of which were awarded brand new cell phones. One of our SFS students also won a $50 cash prize for being the first competitor to whack a frozen T-shirt against the ground until it thawed enough that she was able to put it on!

Conch Fritter eating competition

Hot Dog eating competition - ulghk!

As a group, SFS contributed to the conch fest in a number of ways. For one, Brett and the SFS interns caught three giant lionfish to be fried up by the DECR (Department of Environment and Coastal Resources) and served at the fest. It was the organization's way of launching their newest initiative: an on-going lionfish capturing contest. The contest is intended to encourage everyone on the island to do their part to eradicate the invasive species from the area, and it offers a $3000 reward to the first person to turn in 3000 specimens, alive or dead, before the end of 2010.

Will and Jan with two of the captures

SFS students also entered into a sign competition hosted by the Conch Fest. We were told that the South Caicos airport was in need of a welcome sign, and all of the schools on the island (which include the primary school, the high school, and us) were asked to participate. So, we worked hard on our entry in the days leading up to the festival. We even added finishing touches to it by flashlight the evening before it was due. And in the end, we were very happy with our creation!

The artist team at work

Last minute touches

The finished product

Unfortunately, when we turned up at the Conch Fest yesterday, we saw this:

How are we supposed to compete with this?

Clearly, a professional had snuck into the competition and blew the rest of us out of the water! We still don't know who exactly painted it, but it's beautiful. The only problem with it, is that the lobster painted in the bottom right corner is an American lobster, or clawed lobster, which we don't have here. The local lobster species include spiny lobsters and slipper lobsters, neither of which has the claws pictured on the sign. This detail makes the "who's the artist?" mystery all the more intriguing.

Probably the most entertaining portion of the Conch Fest for me, was the volleyball competition. SFS fielded a team, as did the SC firesquad, the school teachers, and the Indians who work at High Point. There wasn't much of a competition, as the High Point guys beat every other team handily, but it was fun to watch them play! And SFS has certainly made progress since the last time we went up against them.

High Point v. Teachers

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