There's an island cure for whatever ails you
NEVIS - "Have you been to Mansa's?"
"You haven't met Mansa?"
"You must talk to Mansa!"
Everyone except me seems to know Mansa, who turns out to be a shopkeeper here. No matter where you go on the tiny island of Nevis (pronounced "Knee-viss") the name Mansa comes up, especially in the context of local fruits, vegetables, and medicinal lore. Mansa, it turns out, is worth meeting.
Located in the eastern Caribbean, about 1,200 miles south of Miami, Nevis is a lush and bountiful jewel, eight miles long and six miles wide, with a dormant volcano that rises 3,000 feet from its center. From the sky, the island looks like a green Mexican hat.
It's a low-key island. There aren't stylish boutiques, casinos, or towering hotels like on its larger, boisterous sister-island of St. Kitts, separated from Nevis by a two-mile channel. The noisiest part of Nevis might be the rain forest, where wild vervet monkeys screech. The densely packed foliage is more like a pharmacy for the local population, who seem to know the healing properties of every leaf, bark, and seed. And Mansa, it seems, knows more than anyone.
A reed-thin man with Rasta dreads and a twinkle in his eye, Mansa operates a roadside grocery store stocked with produce grown on the small organic farm he leases from the government. On a tour through his fields - where six dogs keep the monkeys at bay - you can observe the island's abundance, including guavas, bananas, papayas, avocados, carambolas (star fruit), soursops, mangoes, coconuts, cashews, sweet potatoes, and a strange looking fruit called noni.
"Noni builds the immune system," says Mansa. In case you ever get a hold of some, here's what to do: Put the whole noni in a container, like a glass jar, and wait for it to "weep." Then strain the liquid, throw the fruit away, and drink it. The taste? Not so good. But the residents of Nevis extol its healing properties.
Other island remedies include steeped black sage leaves (to relieve a cough), blood flower a.k.a. milky-milky (ringworm), wild cilliment leaves steeped in rum (soreness), joint wood tea (colds and flu), yellow dad a.k.a. dodder a.k.a. love vine (skin rashes), and hibiscus petal tea (high blood pressure).
In the event that you don't want to forage while on vacation, Mansa also sells - and comments on - a variety of homemade juices at his store that are healthy as well as tasty, including carambola, sorrel ("boosts your energy level"), and passion fruit ("good for passion, sweetie").
If this all sounds too healthy you can always opt for a bottle of Ting, a popular island grapefruit soda.
Mansa's can be found on the main road that circles the island, somewhere between Oualie's Beach and the airport. That's about as precise as addresses on Nevis go. If you can't find it, ask just about anyone and they'll point you in the right direction.