Tonight my husband Jay and I went on an amazing culture date. We just moved to Roswell, GA, a community that while diverse is also polarized. Unlike my former neighborhood in Doraville, people of different backgrounds do not seem to mix here much, at least from my limited observation. We are making a conscious effort to get to know people from the whole spectrum right here in our backyard.
Driving along Grimes Bridge Road near Holcomb Bridge last week I spotted a restaurant called Ocho Rios, which specialized in Jamaican food. Making a mental note we drove on, but tonight it was time to enter into this new eatery with gusto. Walking in we were greeted by Jillian, who was born in England but whose parents were Jamaican. Caribbean music played in the background and the tables, brown and gold in color, invited us with their plainness and simplicity.
“The jerk sauce is our spiciest,” Jillian said. “It’s too late for seafood. That has to be called in an hour ahead.”
She made us feel at home and told us to pay her later after eating. We sat down with our drinks, a Jamaican soda and a ginger beer. They were full of food coloring and other interesting ingredients, but we didn’t care. We were having a cultural experience! I ordered jerk chicken and Jay chose goat curry, although he got a strange look from Jillian as if to say “Are you sure you want the goat?” That was not the first time he has received that look. What he can say? He likes goat!
As we waited, several groups of folks wandered in to order take out, which seems to be the main business in the restaurant. This was true too of the Caribbean place near where I used to live. Even our dinner was served in the styrofoam “to go” boxes. The food smelled spicy and full of flavor: jerk chicken, cabbage and peppers, rice and beans, fried plantains and of course goat. Jillian was right; the jerk sauce brought a slow flame to my lips and tongue, and within ten minutes I was wiping my eyes and sniffling from the spice. So what did I do? Put on more sauce! I loved listening to the people who came in. One couple shared with Jillian what kind of food they grew up on in Jamaica. The cutlery was plastic and a poster of Bob Marley hung on the wall, as well as a picture of some famous waterfalls that I had never heard of. The place had heart and I savored the food. Comfort cradled us into conversation about Jay’s students, the war in Iraq and food, my favorite topic.
Next we headed to the Super Mercado were earlier in the day Jay had seen a Spanish radio station broadcasting from their van in the parking lot. We walked into the market and no one seemed to think it odd, although we were the only non-Hispanics there. We perused the aisles to find goodies like Nestle Abuelita chocolate drink, dried peppers, flan, toys, pinatas, Mexican cookies and whole pig and cow heads. That’s right. Pig and cow heads. The cow heads were $35! Not cheap, but large.
I ordered Mexican cookies in Spanish, although I ended up with a pound of them when I only wanted four. Now I have some to share with neighbors, so all is well. I spoke Spanish to the check out clerk and it changed our interaction for sure. The language flowed for me, even when I struggled with the words. There were men eating from plastic bowls in the deli area and there was even a salon where families got their hair cut. The Super Mercado was more like a small community than a grocery store.
Tonight was an evening of soul, visiting places where we were outsiders but accepted and welcomed. I only wanted to penetrate both worlds further and I am inspired by the people living all around me. I cannot wait for our next adventure. Stay tuned!