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