“You all right?” or “You OK?” — that’s Bahamian for “How are you?” Except here in Tarpum Bay, folks seem to listen to the answers. Even Miss Brenda, sailing at full clip through the grocery store, ‘you all right’s an employee and is alert should the answer be, “Not today, Miss Brenda”. She’ll stop in her tracks, me bumping up against her because I’ve been following too closely, and begin a series of rapid-fire questions to determine what the nature of the problem is.
That’s the way things are here. Nobody has any material possessions of significance, has never had any, and has no hopes of anything in the future. But does that mean that life is a dead-end street? No. It means that what you have you share, because this is a community. It means that on Thursdays, Miss Brenda goes around to people and collects food donations. Then, on Friday, she cooks the church supper, sells humongous plates of food at $5 a plate, and puts the income in a fund to make Easter baskets and Mother’s Day presents for the kids and their moms.
And Brenda’s not alone: two other mothers were working right along side her last Monday, doing the Friday night kids party food and teaching them crafts and singing. Kervin was home cooking the rice (not enough burners on the church stove). And the whole effort raised $65. Kervin couldn’t even get a plate of food or a soda for his efforts: “That’s God’s money,” Miss Brenda tells him. “We don’t mess with that.”
My friends here have so much to teach me. I’m not always a willing student, either. I got on the muscle with Bahamas Cable Company several times last week because my internet connection was quirky, to say the least. Every time the wind would blow, the connection would be lost. I called and snarled, to no avail. Finally, I changed tactics: at one point during a rare period of connectivity I very politely emailed the customer service department. Almost immediately I received a return email from Mrs. Jermeek L. Rolle, Special Projects Specialist. “I will contact the proper authorities,” she promised. Within a couple of hours, the Cable repair service was working on a pole down the road, and service was restored.
“Oh yes,” said Miss Brenda, when I told her about the incident. “They are trying to do right. And they aren’t slaves any more.”
Well, the service was down again for a few hours yesterday, and at 8 PM when it came back, I emailed Mrs. Jermeek L. Rolle again. I received an immediate answer that the crew would be out today. Then this morning at 8 AM she emailed me again. “Was the service working?” “Yes,” I replied. “Thank you.” I don’t expect it to work all day, but I have learned to be polite about it.
When I complained about someone else who was annoying me, Miss Brenda said, “Well, I just don’t worry about him. I feel sorry for him, but I don’t be critical. He don’t hot my pot.”
Later she explained to me that what she meant by this remark was, “You go to the stove to cook. You pays for the electric, you turns it on. Nobody else heats the stove for you, it’s just your job.” Nobody else can ‘hot your pot’, so don’t give your energy to them. I got it!
We went to Rock Sound yesterday, another shopping expedition. This time we were looking for cup hooks so I could make a key hanger on a piece of driftwood. Every door in this house has a lock (some have two), and every lock has two keys. So that’s a bunch of doors (eleven to be exact, and thirteen locks). The keys were all in a pile, needing to be sorted and labled. Hence the cup hooks and the drift wood.
At any rate, on the way back we stopped at a building site Kervin is working on. You have to imagine a field of coral rock which grows hardy scrub brush, weeds, and nasty little trees with tough root tentacles. It all needs to be cleared and the cesspit dug and the foundation laid: that’s what Kervin’s men are doing today. There’s a cranky earth mover, a couple of Haitian laborers with scythes and machetes, and a guy with a dump truck—all moving slowly in the hot sun.
However, what amazes me most is the totally ugly, partially finished structure right next door. It’s huge, grotesquely designed, concrete block and rotting wood. Brenda admits it gives her the creeps, and I can see why. I ask her about it, and she tells me that some man from Miami (I think) began building it for his mistress and their five offspring. She lived there with the children (there’s a satellite dish on the roof) until she had her sixth child, which was clearly not fathered by the property owner. The mistress was evicted and the house construction was abandoned.
“Why,” I ask, “would someone build a new house right next to this abandoned monstrosity” Brenda tells me that there is really very little land available for sale to non-natives. Most of the interior lands, at least around Tarpum Bay, are ‘encumbered.’ That means they can only be sold to natives of Tarpum Bay, this by government entitlement. And if you are going to buy land here, it is up to you as purchaser to prove clear title (in the US it’s the responsibility of the seller to offer clear title). This is totally a Buyer beware, caveat emptor situation. Kervin’s client, then, is limited as to what property he can buy and hence his choice of neighborhood..
Interesting concept of property ownership. And it does explain the large number of abandoned dwellings throughout Eleuthera: I can’t imagine most Bahamians investing in an attorney to research property title and, most probably, their right to own the parcel in question. I know our own acquisition of the lot our cottage was on was the most painful part of the process.
On the way back to Tarpum Bay, we pass a woman hiking in the opposite direction. “Walks like a brown dog”, Brenda mutters under her breath. “WHAT??” I ask?
“Walks like a brown dog,” she repeats. “You know those brown dogs all over town? Always running up an down the streets, never stay still? We say, ‘walks like a brown dog’ about somebody who can’t never stay put.”
“Oh,” I say, glad I am not like a brown dog.