Doesn’t walk like a brown dog…

brown-dog

“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.

She gives the only help she can: “I’ll be praying to Jesus.”

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.

uglyhouse1


“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.

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Going Shopping

A shop in Rock Sound (Unknown photographer)

A shop in Rock Sound (Unknown photographer)

This morning I made a shopping list. It was for more than just a trip to Bert’s for the Best: I had a few things I wanted, like a comfortable bed pillow, and a sheer curtain for the front door, and some small wastebaskets for the bathrooms. Nothing I couldn’t live without, but I thought maybe I’d rent a car from Godfrey and head for Rock Sound for the day tomorrow.

Then, at noon, Miss Brenda stopped by. She had Little Thing and we chatted for a while. I showed her my list. “Ready to go now?” she asked?

“I’m gonna show you how to shop, Miss Judy,” she said. Off we went to Rock Sound: past the Tarpum Bay ‘Shopping Center’, past the Rock Sound Airport, past the Rock Sound Shoppers Paradise and the Scotia Bank. We pull up to a small strip mall of three stores. Three Bahamian twenty-something women were sitting on the front steps of the building, sipping sodas and laughing.

“Morning, Miss Brenda,” one said.

“Are you OK?”, Miss Brenda’s usual greeting.

We go in the middle store, a gift shop and Christian bookstore, and one of the young women follows us in. Mostly, the store has gift items: bowls, statues, picture frames, candles. And, in the back, inspirational books. We ooh and ah a little, as gift shop visitors do, but everything is pretty expensive and more fit for a wedding present. Brenda likes one leather picture frame with gold leaf vines and flowers, but it’s $60, far too much money.

So, we go to the next store, a clothing shop, and one of the other front step-sitters follows us. She’s very chatty, and it turns out she’s Kervin’s second cousin (“Kervin’s daddy and her daddy were brothers”). She shows us some clothes—again, Miss Brenda finds a sleeveless knit dress she likes and thinks that, with a jacket, it would do for church. But it’s $25, and we aren’t shopping for clothes. This store does have a sheer window panel, which is what we are shopping for, but it is a pale beige color with metallic threads woven through it—a little too fancy for our place.

The last store in the shopping trio is an art and handicraft store—lots of African and Island wood carvings of animals, fish and birds, and some craft supplies. I also notice a pretty good supply of handmade sandals: that store has some possibilities for some other day.

All three women follow us back to the car, where we have left Little Thing asleep in the car seat. She doesn’t waken as we stand around her and comment on what a beautiful baby she is, and Kervin’s second cousin sees her new relative for the first time and remarks that she has the Culmer chin. Once again I notice how warmly babies are regarded in this society: they are admired and hugged and bounced and patted by everyone from the smallest toddler to the oldest grandpa, and Little Thing is no exception.

We turn off Queen’s Highway, which is Rock Sound’s main road—and in fact, the main road for the hundred miles between the north and south tips of this island. Brenda pulls the car up to the curb in front of what looks like an abandoned house, and we enter through an open door. There’s a small counter and cash register on our left and sitting there is a small, very dark man. There are no lights on and he’s fairly well hidden in the shadows, but he turns on a dim light and greets Miss Brenda who says, “Are you all right?” and without waiting for his answer, “You got any sheers?”

The room we are in is stacked floor to ceiling with things: toys, clothes, household goods, cosmetics. Plastic bags containing large sized, shiny brassieres dangle from the ceiling,and stacks of pillow are squashed into a bin. We move toward the back down a narrow aisle between piles of merchandise and come to more stacks, this time plastic envelopes filled with bed linens, towels, and curtains. He does have some ‘sheers’ in his inventory and he pulls them out: they are a dark burgundy, embroidered busily with flower patterns in darker thread, and ruffled at the hemline. Brenda likes them, I can tell, but I quickly say, “No. I think I want something in white. And plain.”

“No,” he says. “No white ones.”

We look at some other items, and Brenda discovers a hat in a small alcove filled with clothing. The hat is large brimmed, a pale beige straw affair enhanced with matching netting and large silk flowers. It’s quite lovely, really, and Brenda is breathless. “Oh, Miss Judy, a church hat.”

“How much?” I ask.

“It’s sixty dollars,” she says. “Too much.” Catching the look in my eye, she says, “And I ain’t got nothin’ in these colors. Really.”

“That can be fixed,” I say.

“No,” she says firmly, “No, it can’t!”

We move on back to the car where Little Thing is still sleeping, and the proprietor turns out the lights as we leave.

Our last Rock Sound venture is to a store which I think at first is a grocery store. Well, it is a grocery store, with quite a lot of inventory as compared to Bert’s Best, but at the end of the aisles of food products is an addition, a room filled with household items. We immediately discover bed pillows, pillow cases, and a beige rug which is would work to protect my feet from the cold tiles in my bedroom. No sheer curtains, though, and no rods to hang them on. The prices are high, of course: I’d pay less at a big box store in the US, but these will do nicely.

We head home, making only one drive by detour: a small store at the corner of the Cotton Bay road. Brenda drives up to the open front door and yells out to the shadowy figure in the darkened interior, “You got any sheers?” The shape of a woman clad in jeans and a man’s wool sport coat emerges. “Sheers? You mean them curtain thingums? No.” Brenda thanks her and we drive on.

Our last stop is at the Tarpum Bay Shopping Center, a two story hardware and home furnishings store. Brenda is reluctant to go in. “Miss Judith,” she says, “I don’t never shop here. They got high prices, yesum, but they don’t do anything to help the community. They is all about themselves!”

But we are on a hunt for sheers, and the hunt wins out: we go in and find one pair of plain white sheers. We also find a curtain rod and I make my purchases.

Back in the car, we are only a couple of miles from home. Little Thing still sleeps soundly, although the ripe smell in the car tells us she’s been busy during her long nap. Clearly it’s time to end our trip.

Three Week Anniversary

Island Cottage, watercolor by Judith Lindenau

Island Cottage, watercolor by Judith Lindenau

How do I account for myself? The last three weeks are a blur, and the last two days have been lived inside my head, pretty much, because of the rain and the cold winds. Even with a jacket on, being outside wasn’t real pleasant (though I keep reminding myself how unpleasant it is in Northern Michigan right now).

But back to the question, what have I done? Well, I think, I’ve pretty much walked every day. That was a primary goal for me, because I certainly wasn’t getting enough exercise at home. I don’t go far: I still don’t have the stamina for a good, long, fast hike—but it’s fun to able up and down the little streets of the town. The houses are pretty primitive, many without electricity and most accompanied by outhouses. People don’t have yards, either: it’s hard to grow grass on a coral reef. But there’s lush vegetation everywhere—many plants we find in grocery stories to take home: elephant ears, corn plants, aloe. And flowering ones too: hibiscus and morning glories everywhere. And then, of course, coconut palms, sea grape, and various types of pines. Gardening here is not planting things you do want, but getting rid of the things you don’t.

And all the greenery covers up a multitude of eyesores. Abandoned buildings look romantic, with half-standing masonry walls and flowering fines. Rusting trucks and old appliances disappear from view in a matter of weeks. And glass and trash can be buried in the weeds of decades.

Most of the houses here are concrete, with thick walls for insulation. They stand up well against hurricanes—the roofs are the first to go, it seems. Niceties like window glass and screens aren’t always present, either—often the hurricane barriers like shutters or plywood sheets remain nailed to the windows until well into the summer months. As I walk, I play a guessing game: is someone living in a house, or is it abandoned? Often I can’t tell, unless there’s some laundry hanging out on the line.

So I walk, taking a few photos to use as subjects for photos or sketches. My leg still hurts some, and I’m not very graceful, but I’ve pretty much been all over town and up and down the shoreline, but I’m closer to my goal of getting some strength and endurance back.

I’ve done some work, too. Did a housing statistics analysis for one MLS, and completed some writing (which may never see the light of day) for another. I’ve done some blogging, too, and I’m starting another project which may assist real estate associations through some very difficult transitions. Right now, though, I am waiting on my internet connection: it got very sporadic during the last Big Blow, and as I write this, only two out of six green lights are blinking on the cable modem, which means that the internet connection is down.

And I’ve read and painted. Painting, too, was one of those primary goals, and I try to spend each day at it. Am I getting better? Probably not. I am a long way from those delicate watercolorists I so admire, and it occurs to me that may never be my style because I’m not a subtle personality. On the other hand, it may just be that as I try to cover up my mistakes, my paintings just get darker and more colorful. (I wish Roseann were here to be my gentle guide!)

Being the kind of person I am, it’s much easier to write about all the things I haven’t done…and the list is long. I am most tempted to launch into a full-blown recital of them, but hey! I remind myself, who cares? Only I do, and that’s only because I have many years of “shoulds” to overcome. I remind myself that here on the island, the boat only comes once a week!

The Dog Show

The Dog Show poster contest winner!

The Dog Show poster contest winner!

Life on an island doesn’t seem too constraining….I thought it would be. But then I remember being on Oahu and asking the question of a woman who was working in a small boutique: “You’re from Michigan,” I said. “Do you miss going back? Do you ever get Island Fever?”

“No,” she said. “I love it here, and I have my books and my CDs. My life is very full.”

At the time, I remember thinking, “I can do that”. Imagining how glorious it would be to have days of sunshine and and low maintenance living, with some good books and enjoyable music.

That was some years ago—and now, here I am in Eleuthera.

In part, this life style wouldn’t be possible for me without the internet as a form of communication: I use it for intellectual stimulus, work, phone calls, music, books, and artistic inspiration. But it also wouldn’t be possible without my year at Orchard Creek, where I learned the art of ‘creative waiting’–also something you have to do if you live on an island.

You can’t MAKE things happen here. You won’t have fresh milk and mail until the boat comes. In the meantime, you relax and enjoy other things—because you can’t get the boat here any faster. So, instead of cereal for breakfast (there’s no milk) you remember that oatmeal and eggs make a healthful and tasty pancake and you find it’s even better than the cereal you’ve grown used to.

It’s more clear to me why the Bahamian lifestyle is so relaxed: the boat only comes once a week. And while you think that’s gonna be a big deal, in the interim you’ve learned to live without the stuff the boat brings you. As a matter of fact, after a while, the boat doesn’t bring you anything of importance at all.

The same thing is true of time. I’ve always figured that even if I lived in a big city, I probably wouldn’t get out much to the entertainment part of life. I might as well live in the Michigan north woods, or on a tropical island. I make my own entertainment. The Bahamians understand that too—they have a rich social and cultural life, but it’s based on internal resources and the immediate community events: church, family, neighborhood.

My neighborhood here in Tarpum Bay is pretty small—smaller than I’m used to at home, even. I don’t have a car here, so my feet are my transportation, and it’s fine: I can get to the grocery, the restaurant, and the beach. Miss Brenda is always ready to drive me somewhere if I really need to go.

Yesterday, she decided I needed to go to the Tarpum Bay Dog Show. So, at 1 PM, she came by and honked, and away we went: Brenda, me, three grandchildren, and a cooler of pop for her to sell to raise money for the church kids. When we got to the park, it was already crowded: boys playing basket ball, people on the bleachers waiting with dogs and children, conch fritters and hot dogs at the food stand, children’s artwork pinned to the walls of the picnic shelter.

Dogs were everywhere. Now in Tarpum Bay, dogs run loose. Nobody seems to mind, and nobody seems to claim one dog or another. The dogs are mixed breeds, called “potcakes’ by the islanders and they all seem friendly enough, though you seldom see anyone patting one or offering one any attention.

This event seems to have been organized by the white community, probably with the purpose of teaching young people how to care for their dog friends: to to make sure they are healthy and well fed and cared for. It’s an annual event and, judging by the attendance, a very popular activity in Tarpum Bay.

The children and dogs were judged first. I wasn’t sure of the classes of dogs, but there were a couple of distinct groups and the judging seemed to be done on the basis of the over-all health and cleanliness of the dog. The animals all had brand new collars and leashes, but I suspect many of the entries were the same potcakes I’d seen wandering through the streets. The woman judge (here as an expert from Nassau) was busy teaching the children how to hold the leash and walk the animal on their left sides. Most of the animals, of course, didn’t have a clue, didn’t like leashes and collars, and appeared bored silly by the whole thing.

Sometimes, the dogs just didn't understand.

Sometimes, the dogs just didn't understand.

But every child who participated got a big, satiny ribbon rosette, and they solemnly pinned the prizes on the dogs. The children, who were dressed carefully in starchily ironed casual pants and skirts, and who had intricately plaited hair, were most pleased with themselves and their dogs. The dogs, however, were clearly bewildered by it all.

Next came the obedience trial: could your dog follow, sit, shake hands, stand on his hind legs? Now’s the time to show off.

Obedience Trial.

Obedience Trial.

Most dogs in this village were really confused by this one. Bahamians don’t train their dogs—they are not house dogs, they are community animals. Sit! Lie Down! Shake! Not in their vocabulary… They weren’t really interested in the kibbles the kids offered, either. The whole thing, the dogs told everyone in no uncertain terms, was not very interesting at all. There was a clear winner, though: a young boy of about ten who was truly a friend of his dog and the dog would, and did, do everything his human buddy wanted. Proud boy with shiny blue ribbon! Big hug from his mom!

There were a couple more categories and then it was time for Best in Show: all of the blue ribbon dogs gathered together to perform walking the ring, sitting, standing, walking the ring in the opposite direction. The judge again spent more time teaching than judging and in the end, most of the dogs were lined up obediently, the small children clutching the leashes in serious concentration. The winners were Marcus and friend, also the obedience winners. Everyone cheered and Marcus was again hugged warmly by his proud mother.

Now, without being too judgmental, I have to offer a word about the white folks. Many of them were older, and had little poofy dogs. They all had the coveted bleacher seats, and not one of them scooted over to make room for me or anyone else, though there was ample space. Most greeted me in a friendly enough fashion, but had no curiosity about who I was, and offered no introductions. The preferred mode of dress was LL Bean shirts and khaki shorts, white socks and clean athletic shoes. And furry, groomed little puffs of dogs—though one was a long haired chihuahua with a dyed Mohawk topknot and tail flag. They laughed and talked among themselves, took pictures of each other, ate conch fritters and ice cream, and drove big SUV s.

Fluffy

Fluffy

I don’t like them very much, I thought, glad to return to the Culmer Cottage and my good book.

Good times were had by all.
Good times were had by all.

January Storm in Eleuthera

Bahamas Tropical Weather

I am sitting here in my house in Tarpum Bay, early morning, Friday. Brenda came by yesterday with some fresh conch salad and said, “Bad weather the next few days.” She was wearing her usual house dress, as do most of the women here—only the very young wear shorts. In fact, as we were driving toward our lunch restaurant the other day we passed a spectacular-looking young woman in very short shorts and a cutoff top and I heard Brenda mutter, “Cover yourself, girl”.

At any rate, Brenda and most of the women in town wear dresses during the day, or a skirt and shirt if they are being really casual. I think I’m the only one with shorts, except for the other tourists who wander around. Yesterday, Brenda was cold as well: there was an onshore breeze and some rain, and the temperature, though holding firm at 75 degrees, felt a little chilly.

But I’d been sitting here at the dining table watching the waves roll in and reading on Facebook about the exploits of my Northern friends who were shoveling snow and wondering about going out in zero degree temperatures, and I didn’t feel cold at all. Shorts and bare feet and tile floors and breeze—nope, I am just comfortable.

What I did notice was that it took two days for my clothes to dry on the clothesline, because even when it wasn’t raining the air was filled with moisture. And the power kept going out yesterday—just briefly, but enough to have to restart the computer and make sure I knew where the candle and matches were. I must admit that I went to bed early last night, as well, searching for a reason to curl up under the quilt and read.

Guess this weather is supposed to last through the weekend—grey skies, wind and waves, and cool tile floors on my bare feet.

I can handle it.

Sunday Reflections

Tarpum Bay Methodist Church Bell Tower

Tarpum Bay Methodist Church Bell Tower

My Methodist brother would be proud of me: I went to church twice yesterday.

Well, “went” is probably not the right word. Let’s say I experienced church twice yesterday. You see, Culmer Cottage is right across narrow Adeline Street from the Methodist church, probably the largest church in Tarpum Bay.

And that’s saying something, because there are lots and lots of churches in Tarpum Bay. On my daily walks it seems I discover a new one each time I’m out: Seventh Day Adventist, Episcopalian, Methodist, and several evangelical churches in different flavors. There’s one in each block, I think—some marked with signs and steeples, some just tiny anonymous structures.

The Wesley Methodist Church of Tarpum Bay is the oldest church in the settlement: it was built in 1809. The walls are two feet thick, and it boasts a beautiful bell, given to the church by Mr. J.W. Culmer, a community leader who took the bell from one of his pineapple schooners and donated it to the church. Wesley Methodist Church also has a large Manse, now called the “Mission House”, which houses missionaries and volunteers visiting Eleuthera. (As a footnote, I have to add that the Mission House is currently undergoing extensive renovation, enthusiastically performed by volunteers who show up every morning, promptly at 7 AM. Completion should occur in two weeks, thankfully.)

The Methodist church is the only church in town with a bell—so there’s no doubt in my mind when it’s time for worship there: Sunday morning and evening, and Wednesday prayers. Plus Sunday school and choir rehearsal. There’s lots of activity in my little corner of town: the church, Miss Barbie’s Restaurant, and Bert’s for the Best. There’s also the Hi-Way Department Store, right across from Bert’s, but I’ve not been in it—it’s usually closed, and when it is open all I can see is one rack of clothing. I’ll venture in on a shopping expedition one day…

The church bell rings for each service, twice. The first ringing seems to be a warning, and the second is the actual call to meeting. The bell hardly quits ringing before the stentorian tones of Reverend DeWitt resound across the alley. The church sports a powerful PA system, which is beloved of its minister—and that’s how I am able to experience the service without having to dress for it and walk across the alley. I can hear every word, clearly. I can also hear every hymn, which the minister sings directly into the microphone. He’s not exactly pitch perfect, but he’s sonorous, and he takes every hymn at the same tempo—slow and ponderous.

Yesterday morning was different, however. It began as usual, with the children arriving in their Sunday best: pressed pants, and white shirts for the boys, and frilly dresses and shiny shoes for the girls. After Sunday School, the kids usually hang out on the church steps right across the street from my front door. This Sunday a nice lady came out and gave them each suckers. “Now don’t bite on them,” she says. “That will hurt your teeth.”

Then the parents arrive. Every Sunday is Easter in the Bahamas, as far as dress is concerned. The first time I saw the phenomena I was open-mouthed. These ladies really do DRESS for church. And it’s more than just pretty dresses. I’ve been introduced to a whole new fashion industry I didn’t know anything about before—it’s called the ‘Church Suit.’ There are catalogs of these glorious outfits, complete with matching hats, gloves, purses, and shoes. Often the wearer accessorizes with a corsage or silk flower, and always with jewelry. The one that stunned me yesterday was a lime green number, a suit and matching wide-brimmed hat and shoes. But there were others that rivaled its monochromatic flamboyance in shades of yellow, orange, red, and navy.

The men were also spiffy, some in suits but most in polo shirts and dress slacks. Even the cars and pickup trucks were washed and shiny. Imagine such finery in a country where the minimum wage (for those who are working) is $170 a week! Mizpah says she doesn’t know why Bahamians have this tradition—most can’t afford fancy dress, she says—but I think it’s born of respect for the church, just as teachers here dress in suits and ties for a day in the classroom.

Promptly at 11 AM, a change occurs. The call to worship is not issued by the regular minister, but by a woman! (Mizpah tells me later that she is the lay minister.) She’s not using the speaker system, or if she is it’s been turned down, yet in my living room her voice is clear, forceful, and lively. People hurry inside the church, and the singing begins. This time I hear an organ, beautifully played, and a variety of percussion instruments like shakers, cymbals, and a snare drum. The hymns are familiar to me and to the congregation, and their voices are upbeat and forceful. The tunes tumble out, one after another, each a little faster than the last, and soon accompanied by clapping and a few joyous shouts here and there. It’s quite a different sound than most Sundays—everyone is singing, not just the solemn minister, and the organ adds a full and resonant accompaniment.

The singing is followed by the message, again offered by the woman’s voice. Her statement is simple: this is a new year, and we have another chance to live our lives in meaningful ways. This is a huge gift, she says, another year of life, and we need to celebrate this opportunity and live fully and joyously in this moment.

Of course she had other language to use, other words with denominational connotations. But I was listening as a Unitarian with Buddhist leanings, sitting on my porch looking at the turquoise sea and cloudless sky and the bright colors of the women’s dresses as they walk home after the benediction.

I think of the moment, of the paths that have led me to it, and I see clearly that it is this very point in time which is the culmination of all the joys and sorrows I have encountered and all the choices I have ever made.

I am thankful, and I rejoice in this day.

Food and Thought

100_0594

Godfrey, a pencil sketch by Judith Lindenau

It’s dinnertime. I am starving. Ever since Claymore showed up today (a month later than promised) to hook up my internet, I’ve been sitting here at the computer catching up on my emails and paying bills. I must say this connection is slick, and probably faster than my DSL at home. Almost makes me forget how angry I was that had the cable tv hookup, but not the internet. (I don’t even HAVE a tv down here, nor do I want one…..)

Anyway, getting Claymore here wasn’t easy, either. Turns out Bahamas Cable has the wrong phone number listed in the phone book, for starters. And secondly, the ‘free’ number, once you get it right, doesn’t work on cell phones. And thirdly, Wednesdays and Thursday mornings are the only times Bahamas Cable has a service rep in the Tarpum Bay area.

I found all this out by going next door to Miss Barbie’s little restaurant and soliciting the assistance of her daughter, who is not only smart but beautiful and helpful. Claymore came on Thursday, plugged things in, and told me he was Irish. I don’t look surprised at these declarations anymore: like the McIntires and the McKinneys, Claymore has darkly burnished skin and no evidence of red hair. He does, however, have blue-green eyes and is built like a professional fullback. So, like any good Celtic musician, I whip out my whistles and play a round of Dick Gossip’s reel. We parted friends, vowing to have a St. Patrick’s Day celebration right here in Eleuthera…

Then my work began…emails gathering dust for a week. “Buffers are overflowing”, Outlook informed me. Do tell!

I had checked out the night’s menu at Miss Barbie’s when I was there earlier: chicken, pork chops, conch fingers, and ribs. Plus the usual sides: slaw, peas and rice, and macaroni and cheese. Barbie doesn’t vary the main menu much, but it’s always good, and a full plate (good for two meals for me) is about $10. But her door is locked! Even though there’s an ‘Open’ sign on the door. I hear lots of racket in the kitchen; maybe she’s just in the throes of cooking. In any case, I am too hungry to wait.

I walk down the hill to the new ‘fish restaurant’. It may have a name, but it doesn’t have a sign, so I have no clue as to what to call it. But I do remember that the food was quite good when I was here in October. As I near the place, I see that Godfrey is sitting outside on the picnic table, talking politics with Mike, the white guy from Illinois. Mike is stimulating his argument with Kalik beer, the Bahamian brew favored around these parts. Godfrey, as usual, needs no encouragement to talk.

The impetus of the discussion is the fact that the local authorities have closed down the restaurant. Godfrey is incensed: it’s because the proprietress was behind in her paperwork. “She could lose as much as $200 over the weekend,” he rages. “It isn’t fair.” Mike agrees. “It’s the government,” he says.

(I later hear that the issue is a bit more complicated than that: it seems that Diane the owner hasn’t paid her liquor license renewal fees, and so the authorities confiscated her booze supply until she pays up. Of course, if that’s true, she should still serve food, I would think…)

At any rate, Godfrey offers to take me to Papa George’s Pizza and Internet Cafe, which is about a half mile down the road, next to Godfrey’s house. It is well that Godfrey should offer: George is his son, and his restaurant is not busy at all.

I like George. He’s a pizza proprietor, but he is also a writer and poet, a big bear of a man who has a degree in electronics from an upstate New York college. He’s a bit of a disappointment to Godfrey, I think: George is not the hard living, swinging guy his dad is rumored to have been. I ask George if he’s done any writing lately, and he says he’s lacking in inspiration. “Discipline,” he says. “I should write every day, but I can’t.”

Besides,” he continues, “my writing responds to passion. And I don’t have any passion in my life right now.”

Difficult to get passionate about pizza,” I agree.

Godfrey suggests we wait for the pizza next door at his house, so I can visit with his wife, Mizpah. I’d never been to the Major’s home before, and I hadn’t seen Mizpah on this trip, so I was happy to wander over and sit in their crowded, comfortable living room with overstuffed couches and a huge TV. Mizpah’s house is spotless, as I would have expected, and she’s cooking something in a big pot and talking on the phone to a church friend about some retired missionaries who are coming from Idaho to spend the remainder of the winter.

We visit for a while, discussing the unfairness of the authorities shutting down Tarpum Bay restaurants. We also talk about the Major’s granddaughter, who’s 12 and needs to go to Nassau in April to a special needs boarding school. “She doesn’t want to go,” Mizpah explains. “Who would?” I think. She’s surrounded by loving grandparents and a welcoming household, on a beautiful island.

As I am leaving, Mizpah gives me some huge homemade hot dogs—one of her sons works in a meat processing plant in Nassau and these are very prized gifts from him. I pick up my pizza and frozen hot dogs and climb in Godfrey’s taxi for the short ride to my house.

Holding the fragrant flat box in my lap, I decide it really isn’t too difficult to get passionate over pizza.