An early morning trip up to Belle Garden in the eastern side of Tobago, called engine town, began just at 6 am on December 28, 2018. But the preparation for the traditional annual all-day gathering at Randy Davis’s 'wooden' getaway spot, which stands singularly atop a hill of the family estate, and overlooking a scenery of lush green, began since Boxing Day. Fish in all its glory was going to be the day’s menu.
Approaching the house, the smell of fried fish and hot cocoa invaded my nostrils, sending me back to my childhood days living in St Barbs, Laventille, at my grandmother’s home, where hot cocoa was a staple at the breakfast table. To my left stood a modern-styled outhouse, even equipped with modern plumbing fittings, again, sending me on a trip down memory lane.
Already I can see uncle Willy (William Davis), as he is affectionately called, an astute serviceman, seated at a makeshift table adorned with the finest array of spirits. He is the "connoisseur" of “fire water” beverages, and also quite the comedian, possessing a wry but yet infectious humour.
He is chatting with one of Tobago’s real estate "godfathers", Calvin Dick, who happens to be his cousin and brother in glass knocking. It’s at least three generations huddled at the house where these two patriarchs are enjoying the fruits of their labour. The jokes are non-stop, some clean while others should be censored, but all the same, they bring showers of laughter over the morning menu of coconut and fried bake accompanied with battered fried fish. Sada roti and baigan choka are still to come. But in the meantime, everyone is trying to ease their panting from the pepper hot murtani, made and served by a friend of the family, only identified as uncle Chatoo—a Fyzabad native living in Tobago.
Over yonder, Brian Davis, the "alchemist" of the family, is at work on his farm while simultaneously mounting bricks for the retainer wall he's now building around his home.
"Aye, come and take a drink!" yells uncle Willy. In no time Brian, a wise-looking Rasta man, often referred to as the "bushman" is strutting up the incline with a home-made wagon in tow.
From his garden, he brings giant yams and ochroe, not like I have ever seen before in my years of "making market".
But that's not all; he also pulls out some unlabelled bottles of a brown-black and pear coloured substance. I subsequently find out they are what he refers to as "roots drinks". These "roots drinks" or "tonic coolers", as he sometimes describes them, evolved from a mixture of various roots and herbs with the main ingredient being sarsaparilla. He is a huge fan of the sarsaparilla root, which has been scientifically proven to have many healing properties and has been effective in the remedying of psoriasis, arthritis, curable STIs, erectile dysfunction, and even in the treatment of cancer.
Davis is very diligent about how he prepares these "root beer-like" drinks. He obtains the roots in the forest himself and at his home, the final product is made through a process much like that done at a distillery.
It’s been 25 years since he has been making his potions. He was first introduced to the sarsaparilla root's healing assets when he suffered from a stubborn skin condition on the right side of his body, which he claims only disappeared permanently after using the root.
"That took it away, so I know that it was good. And I also felt renewed in my body, like I had more vigour," he says.
Davis's drinks are quite popular on the island among the health conscious. And he has recently gained an international clientele in Los Angeles, California. This, after a group of tourists visited him including a media crew from Hollywood, he reveals.
But quite the modest type, he doesn't regard himself as any 'major vein', rather, he said he finds joy in just making others well.
Needless to say, for the non-alcoholic consumers at the gathering, Davis's drinks came in quite handy.
As the day grew, the assembly multiplied—friends and more family joined the "sweet lime", all bringing with them bright smiles and more drinks. I could not fingerprint a recent memory or even a previous one, of when last I had this kind of experience in "motherland" (Trinidad). And for a split second, I was saddened.
Nonetheless, the latecomers were in time for the anticipated callaloo bush and fish soup—a first of its kind for the few non-Tobagonians present.
This meal was cooked outdoor on pure wood fire with the use of an old truck rim turned upside down in which the wood was filled.
Callaloo bush and fish soup may not have sounded quite interesting or enticing for that matter at first mention, but once it hit my taste buds, it was an entirely different story. Indeed it would become one of my "try it again" meals. Naturally, it was thoroughly enjoyed!
It must have been my last spoonful I was about to take when suddenly the sound of a rhythm section pervaded the atmosphere. It was the Davis men and 'company' beating bottle and spoon, iron and old drums, while the deejay sang in a "drunken man-type" tone, fumbling over lyrics of songs played by the selector.
Time flew and the sun was setting now over the 16 acres of land once worked by the Davis forefathers. But the 'vibe' was still nice and no one wanted to leave. After hugs and the exchanging of mobile numbers to stay in touch with new friends made and family reconnected, we reluctantly chipped our way down the hill we formerly ascended hours earlier.
A holiday in Belle Garden was over but the experience lingered. The food, new-found relationships and sense of family and community won my heart and so I anxiously await December 2019, when I could do it all over again!