deBANANA REPUBLIC                                  11 07 08



Recently the Chinese restaurant in my ethnic enclave of Burlington County New Jersey closed its doors.  A closer look revealed scores of other stores owned by single but not singular moms, mom-and-pop   stores including the auto parts, green grocer, shoe maker and key cutting stores had also disappeared.

The only visible minority stores left standing are the ladies hair facilities, the barber and the liquor store and they are all adjoined and adjoining.  The shoe store that sold CLARKS and other trade mark items liked by folks from the deBanana Republics was closed but had a sign in the window which read “GOING OUT FOR BUSINESS”. Not only did the others disappear but they did so without notice and or fanfare.   Normally these stores also hold closing down sales and then is when you stock up and prepare a barrel or two with the junk stuff to send back to the deBanana Republics.  This year is so sad…something terrible must have happened?

Strange enough the music store is still there and so too is the money store that sells money grams, lottery tickets, calling cards and cell phones.  The nail salon is under new management and the Laundromat has moved to a new location.  All the other stuff owned and operated by folks from the deBanana Republics have sustained some change of some sort.

A group of Africans had flamboyant tailoring and craft stores in the area mall and they too went belly-up.  And a Guyanese family, who I knew from Linden by way of Buxton originally, that operated a bakery in one of the strip malls, also went south.   I went there when I wanted a lil bruk-mouth or a bust-up shut or a conkie wrapped in foil or a pine tart with real pine.  This baker man was a Seventh-Day-Adventist and you see on Friday by three/four o’clock you can get a dozen cheese roll longer than a ruler for a dollar; you can get a JIMMY JOPHN full a mauby for a dollar.

Fridays, rain or shine my neighbor from Belize and another one from Curacao used to make it a ritual to make the excursion to deBanana Republic bakery and restaurant to cash in on the Sabbath sales. And if you liked banga fry dry and chase down with some chilled sea-moss that would tantalize your mouth and energize the back, the BR-STORE was the place to go.  The closure has brought on a type of depression.

To add insult to injury the powers that be wait until we have mass celebrations in the original republics to shutter, reject, eject, evict, eliminate and delete the folks who were trying to harbour a sense of community pride and joy.  But wha you gone do eh? I have to go on line and click a mouse and wait for results.

There was also another GT “banna” who had a mobile thing like a donkey cart, without the donkey, and  he was selling batteries, watches, clocks, gold jewellery and repairing electronic stuff.   He would never disclose his true identity but when you want cricket updates, the latest chutney or you want a bride, he was the go-to-person.  Zamal used to pose as a Pakistani with three gold teeth in he mouth and a set a dancing girls fixing and repairing watch and watch-manning the “dullahin” (husband) from the deBanana Republic.

On this eve of Mashramani and Carnival and the whole string of shabangs and bang-bangs  and other cultural  events affecting people of color in deBanana Republics we have to reorganize our inner selves for growth and development.  It is not getting easier and at the same time it cannot get any harder.   West Indian hair dressers, butchers, shoe makers, clothiers et al, have a way of making the thing look right, taste right, feel right, and simply lift your spirits. “But then we also sometimes price ourselves out of business by charging exorbitant fees and offering prices based on the next utility bill we have to pay. When the Irish are celebrating St Patrick’s Day, bully beef (corn beef) is 99 cents a pound; cabbage is nine cents a pound.  When is Caribana, MASH or Carnival, you better walk with yuh check book.
The Jews too, when they have their rituals and observances, they make it easier on each other but the brainiacs from the cut-rass republics have it ingrained that they have to make it now or never.

Comparatively speaking, the prices at the Burlington Mall, near where I live in New Jersey, were not that outrageous. However, at the same time the impression I am getting is that they were not keeping up with the different cultural; and business associations and cooperating with the joint servicers and keeping security fees under control. When you are in Rome, you have to be like a Roman.

On my own, overnight and on line, I did some price checking.  Cow-face at the established consumer outlets starts at about US16.00 per pound.  Chicken foot is in excess of US 6.99 a pound. Fish head is US4.99 per pound and married-man-poke now comes in a squeezy bottle to justify the 4.99  cost.  You have to apply pole as a rub.

But the biggest blow of all in our region was when  WONDER Bread, in the non-heat of the winter, went “shuttteerttuttuttuer-up”.  They simply discontinued sales and operations in the entire north-east region. I know men who been in this country for 30/40 years and had a lifelong affiliation to the baker shops.  They bought homes and had second mortgages by making bread and delivering bread before day clean.  WONDER BREAD was their second job and now that it is gone, and the DeBanana  Republics have nothing to offer to replace it.

Work now is only for working people.

Things have gotten tough, real tough, and it calls for an un-commonsense and wisdom to get through this mother of all crises.  The children who moved on and had families of their own, have returned to mom and pop and have occupied the basements, attics. In some cases they have erected sheds adjoining the homes to find a space.  When you see people with mini-vans permanently parked you have to question if it is a home on wheels.   WALMART has taken the lead, and is offering free parking for mobile homes.  They are also offering other incentives like free changing of checks and one-stop-shopping for all consumer items, including gasoline.

They are also offering in-store restaurants.  In other words you can find a SUBWAY or LENSCRAFTERS, a RITE AID or a PNC BANK all under the roof of certain anchor stores.  Perhaps it may be a good thing for “DeBanana Republic crew to negotiate and sell their souse, mauby, salara, Jamaican festival or music and chutney under the same business model.  This is only a suggestion.

We Caribbean people like to do it alone; we want to be heroes in our own right, but the necessity and immediacy of the current situation is making it crucial to cooperate and integrate whether we like it or not.  Hint to Beneba make Quasheba take notice.

Going to restaurants is now a rarity. Valentine’s night, we cooking!  Mash night, we cooking!  Not only are we cooking but we cooking with the banana skin.  And when we baking bread we adding we own pumpkin flour or banana flour and give it a lil swagger to tickle the pallet and make the pan loaf more-ish.

Diabetics should also note that cooking with the skin does something.  I am not a doctor but personally, my glucose level has gone up significantly.  We have bananas boiled and fried for breakfast.  We would add one or two in the rice steamer and at the end of a productive work day, bananas would come again.

Bananas are the cheapest thing in the food market and you get about a dozen for a Yankee dollar.  It does not yield but it is a great filler.  When I first came to North America two decades ago, almost to the date, bananas used to be about five pounds to the dollar.  Plantains were ten and twelve for a dollar, irrespective of weight or size, ripe or green.  Plantains are now a delicacy.  One evening the check-out declared…”I would have to learn the difference between bananas and plantains.”  Plantain and banana have the “same difference” in the marketplace; is only the prices that really distinguish them.

The Guyanese and West Indian communities are leading the way in terms of adapting and being innovative in the light of run-away food prices.  The Italians, the Germans, The French, The Hawaiians, the Cubans et al take pride in all their national dishes and condiments.  We have to shed this idea that if it foreign it good.  Our forefathers and even grandparents ate what was nutritionally good and medicinally sound but we have kinas.  We want our staff straight from the can with label and shelf life in tow.  Balderdash.

One great life experience is to pick your food straight from the tree and into the pot, skin and all and allow it to simmer in its own juice rather than the readymade, ready mix and fix junk that defiles good living and torments commonsense.  Eat a little and live a lot.

The Caribbean regional farmers especially, should be dissuaded from doing drugs and do farming genuinely.  There are enough containers, boats, trains and planes to ferry all these needed products to markets overseas but apparently folks like the thrill of smuggling, wheeling and dealing.  Today’s prices almost guarantees just as much or even more returns when shipping bananas, avocadoes, shrimp, carilla, sapodilla and beverages to the emerging markets in ethnic enclaves in the north.

Dry foods like wheat, corn, rice and sorghum based products, have gone up by one hundred per cent.  Wet foods and perishables like meat, fruits and vegetables, have gone up significantly as well.  These days when you turn on the television there are men and women who look just like me and you creating mouth watering dishes utilizing all the foods from the different regions.  It is no secret that there is resurgence in eating well at home with resources that you can grow wherever you are.  Guyanese especially have been delinquent in paying attention to the lots and acreages they have left in neglect at home.  Set up new rules, new business arrangements and get the little buddies and sissies to see the light.  Let them turn to the channels that they pirate and see everyday people from deBanana Republics, cooking food in a cultured environment.  What man has done, man can do.

Ewalt “Waltie” Ainsworth –


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