>> Park Hill Community Market and Festival | Eat the World NYC

13 October 2017

Park Hill Community Market and Festival

LIBERIA 🇱🇷

Staten Island often gets looked down upon by liberals in other boroughs as a bastion of suburban, Republican-voting people that could just as well live on the face of the moon rather than New York City. While majorities in the borough might describe this as a whole, there are quite a few pockets of migrants like the well-known and sought out Sri Lankans as well as a rapidly growing Mexican and Central American population.

One of the biggest pockets is in the Park Hill Houses area just up the hill from Clifton, home to many people of Liberian descent and every now and then referred to as Little Liberia. Upwards of 10,000 Liberians have immigrated to the city, at least half of which came to this area of Staten Island. The biggest waves came in the 1990's and early 2000's when two civil wars caused many to flee.

These refugees, asylum seekers, and regular migrants have not found everything so simple here and have had to rely on each other and their social structures from back home more than anything. There are often small makeshift markets and food vendors set up on various streets in the area, but on a couple visits I was unsuccessful in discovering the prepared foods available or having any significant conversations. There are many good reasons they might have to be leary of an outsider coming in asking questions, and I was that outsider.


About a year ago, I discovered Napela, an organization that was created with the goal of helping women and their families navigate life here in the states and ultimately improve their livelihood. This group organized the community market and festival on the 30th of September and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn more.

Before the festivities officially begun, a few vendors had set up shop offering mostly colorful patterned clothing. On this windy day the weather always seemed threatening and they were constantly picking up dresses that were blowing down. Like the people I met traveling in West Africa, the responses to adversity were smiles rather than frowns, and there was always someone to help out when a big gust came through.

A popular vendor was also selling kala ($1 for 3, below), a slightly sweet ball of fried dough usually eaten as a streetside snack. This vendor and others may or may not be part of a group of women that normally sit under the shade from trees on Sobel Court a short distance away, just north of the Home Depot. I have approached this group a couple times without success as described above, but hopefully after this interaction a future visit will yield more.


West African and Liberian cooking are known for the use of scotch bonnet peppers and high heat in many of their dishes. A couple of the vendors had bags of these available and what looked like homemade hot sauces in reapportioned bottles. Even if a Liberian dish is not served spicy, one of these colorful peppers will be placed on top so that the individual diner can cut it up and add as necessary. In this regard, I would assume a Liberian kitchen must keep a healthy amount of the peppers around.


It did not take long to peruse the five or six tables of goods, but around this time the festival got going with some announcements and welcome remarks followed by dancing, a solo hip hop artist, and an award for one lucky princess. This all kept the audience very entertained while a few containers of prepared foods arrived.

It was unclear what the food situation would be at the festival, and I was happy to just be a part of what was going on already, but these food containers turned out to be free for all guests to try some typical West African food.


There were containers of both fish and chicken for the main entree, cooked in what appeared to be the same recipe of spicy leafy greens. They offered generous portions to anyone who wanted some, with plenty of rice and a slice of cornbread as well. The dish was delicious, and despite probably being toned down for an event with so many people, still carried a good amount of heat.


A big thank you must be said to Napela and the Liberian community of Park Hill for being so gracious as hosts for this fun event. I sincerely hope that there are more of them to come. To check out more of what they are doing, go to their website and social media.
NAPELA

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