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Harmony & Healing on St. Maarten
Story and Photography by Mark Rogers

The best meal you might have in St. Maarten might also be the cheapest. St. Maarten has its share of great restaurants, serving up sophisticated Creole cooking in posh settings. I love white glove service, a sparkling wine glass and a magnificent view as much as anyone. But I also love to get down into the roots of a destination, and you don’t get much “rootsier” than Ras Bushman’s Freedom Fighters Ital Shack in St. Maarten.

Ital Shack interiorThe brightly-painted Ital Shack serves organic vegan dishes prepared with produce grown on Bushman’s farm, which is just behind the restaurant. It’s presided over by the charismatic local activist, musician and Rastafarian, Ras Bushman. This entry by Ras on his Facebook page will give you an idea of the man’s rollin’ and tumblin’ speech:

“YES I it’s a new week...Let’s see what is waiting for me...Prayer is the only thing i have to keep me going…With faith en hope don’t forget love I n I will go true...All stumbling blocks must have to move...SO i can walk without no disturbens....A New week don’t know what is waiting for
me....blessings blessings is what i know is waiting for me.....blessings...”

In addition to vegetarian dishes, the Ital Shack also serves fresh local juices that are in line with Rastafarian principles of health. I can recommend the ginger drink, which I had during my visit – it was sharp, pungent and delicious. I have a feeling the other juices on the menu are just as good, such as sorrel juice, soursop juice, passion fruit juice, and an intriguing concoction made of oat and lime milk.

Ital ShackDining at the Ital Shack is a boundary-expanding experience, and the owner is anything but shy
when it comes to sharing his opinions or providing his guests with parting words of wisdom:

“i rejoice for this blessed weather jah give me today....rain....we all need rain ...likewise the sun for the food to grow...but the rain is a mystic vibe...water a powerful vibe...let’s give thank en
praise...rain a mystic vibe...blessings…”

The Ital Shack is on the small side, with only 18 seats, but it’s so informal that the overflow is
accommodated on open benches out in the fresh air, surrounded by flowers and fruit trees and
the cheerful colors of a green, red and yellow fence. The restaurant is located on 7 Bush Road in Philipsburg. The Ital Shack is open at 10 a.m. for lunch only and closes shop around 6 p.m. The menu changes daily and lunch will set clients back $5 to $8. A tip: For the widest selection, try to get there before 3:00 pm; when some dishes are gone, they’re gone for the day.

“The Ital Shack started as an agricultural project by one of our beloved reggae performers and activists who sought to prove that St. Maarten can reduce its reliance on expensive foreign exports by growing healthier organic produce right here on the island,” said Regina LaBega, director of tourism for the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau. “The project was a huge success and has developed into a major source of fruit and vegetables for some of St. Maarten’s finest hotels and restaurants, however, no one serves it up quite like Bushman and his wife Raisa with their traditional Rastafarian home cooking recipes.”

Ras Bushman is not shy about sharing his opinions. As he manned two constantly beeping cell phones, he laid down a rap that veered from his views on local politics to why ganja should be legalized and then back to late summer plans for a concert with his reggae band, the Freedom Fighters.

When not on premises, Bushman can often be found at one of St. Maarten’s entertainment venues with the Freedom Fighters. The band founded the annual Black Story Celebration Tribute to Bob Marley, which has been held on Marley’s birthday every year since Feb. 6, 2000.

Bushman’s young son, Jawaran, (also known by his recording name Ku-J) helps man the Ital Shack counter. Jawaran is an accomplished musician himself and recently scored a hit with the song “Mr. Customs Officer,” recorded in Kingston, Jamaica with legendary reggae and dub music producers Sly and Robbie.

Click HERE to see a video of an earlier song by Ku-J called “In My Town” The video features the Ital Shack as a setting and has a cameo from Ras Bushman.

“All glory belongs to the almighty...Not u mouth can manifest him...but ur deed....”
Raz Bushman