Afroantillean Culture Park
Leigh Zisko has a Masters in Public Health and is volunteering at the clinic in a number of capacities. Among them are research, project development and grant-writing. Her husband is Dr. Eric Nau is a pediatrician here at the clinic as well. Leigh shared this story from their visit to the local Afroantillean Culture Park.
This past weekend I went with two other clinic volunteers to do a walking tour at the Roatan Afroantillean Culture Park, located directly across the street from the Roatan Airport in Coxen Hole. We weren’t sure what to expect, but our goal was to learn about how the Afroantillean people on the island use different plants, bushes, and flowers for medicinal purposes.
When we arrived at the Culture Park we were greeted at the gate by Clive, who would also be our tour guide. Clive was bornand raised on Roatan and has an amazing wealth of knowledge about the Afroantillean culture and the plants that have been used for hundreds of years to treat and heal infections, wounds, and illnesses. We started the tour drinking fresh coconut water while Clive told us a brief history about the Afroantillean people on the island. He was happy to answer our questions and was genuinely excited to share with us.
The Culture Park is located on what was once a resort, and remnants of this can be seen throughout. For example, you can still see the shells of the restaurant and pool hall that was once there. It is an interesting contrast to what has been built around it – a number of thatched roof houses, an outdoor kitchen with a stove and oven made from the earth, and areas to rest with benches and hammocks to enjoy the 130 acres of native plants, trees, and flowers around you. It is definitely a local Roatan experience!
On the tour, we learned about, touched, smelled and even got to taste a variety of the different plants that grow around the park. We learned about the Nut Tree, which grows huge nuts that can also be used to make plates and bowls. We saw and touched the Fence Bush that is mashed and used to treat wounds when you step on a rusty nail. We learned about and tasted plants that are used for lung and kidney infections, laxatives, and to make women more fertile. We smelled herbs like sage that are used for cooking and teas. We got to eat sugar cane, which was cut fresh by Clive that day! We also got to try what the locals call Island Bubblegum, which is a fruit with a large nut in the middle that you slowly chew on. At the end of the day, we even sampled a little cashew wine, made directly from the cashews grown in the park.
We have decided to go back next week in order to do a hike around the 130 acres that surrounds the main park area. Clive warned us to wear pants and tennis shoes! The hike should take about an hour to an hour and a half, but we will get to see even more of the plants that are growing in the area. He also said he would show us how to roast cashews and how they cook meals and make drinks in their kitchen. For clinic volunteers, he was willing to work with us to put together packages at discounted rates depending on the interests of the visitors – it could include medicinal tours, hikes, cooking, making teas and drinks, or a variety of other things.
It was incredibly interesting to learn about some of the bush medicines that are used on the island. It is very different from everything we know and practice in the United States. Nevertheless, the tour was thought-provoking and educational, and gave you a glimpse into a local culture and way of life. – Leigh Zisko, MPH, Iowa