The Bells Was Ringing

community-communication

Ed. Note: This blog was written by Lynn Larson, who remains in Eleuthera to enjoy the fun and excitement–and the sunshine.

The sign under the Methodist church bell which rings for all church services, has a sign under it: “To be rung for church or only in case of fire or lost”. Today at noon the bell rang and rang. The air was acrid with smoke, and the salt pond which was to have retained yesterday’s big brush fire, didn’t. It was dried up.

The pealing bell brought neighbors into the street (s). “Why didt de dig de trench las night?” “Why dint de cut de brush from de path of da fire?””How close be it?” “Where is de new truck?” So many questions.

While the women asked, the men mobilized. “Who has a well?” “Bring de bukits” “Get da shovels.” and off they went, each on a particular mission, a few to watch and report back to the women and children who waited.

The big mystery was the whereabouts of “Beauty“, the new fire truck whose dedication Judith and I attended several weeks ago. You might remember that Beauty failed on her first mission, a fire run to a home in Cotton Bay. Once her tank was empty, her hose, stretched into the nearby sea, was plugged, and only drops dripped from her nozzle.The house, newly remodeled, burned to the ground.

Beauty is one of the two rescue vehicles in South Eleuthera, the other being the ambulance. Together they form SEEP (South Eleuthera Emergency Project), an unfortunate acronym if ever there was one. Well today’s fire was Beauty’s opportunity for redemption, as the traveling minister yells thu his microphone every night about six. Beauty was not up to the challenge. Seems Beauty had a flat tire and couldn’t be driven.

Out went the call for the trucks at Governor’s Harbour, and Wymss Bight. From my vantage point on the hill, I watched and listened as they came roaring into Tarpum Bay, sirens wailing, from north and south. A huge earth mover was toted past on a flat bed. The ambulance joined the procession. Trucks of men with shovels, buckets, loose hose, loud voices shouting instructions tore by. The women waited.

Gradually it became clear that the fire was under control. No one was hurt,no house burned, although Ann’s Take Away was almost taken away by flames.

The men returned to the waiting women smelling smokey and with tales of personal heroism. As the vechicles started their homeward journeys, Beauty limped gamely down the road. wanting badly to be part of the action, but too late to claim her place., There surely will be another opportunity…. Let’s hope Beauty will be up to her third trial by fire..

Return and Regret

snowy-driveway1

Here I am, back in Northern Michigan. I’ve survived a Significant Snow Storm, two beautiful 60-ish days, a snow melt that buried my driveway bridge under about a foot of water, and the profound silence of a rooster-less morning.

I’m not passing judgment on any of these things: it’s good to be home, to see my friends, family and dog. I’m happy. But as I was sitting in a large Chamber of Commerce meeting today, I was looking at the faces of the men and women who were entering the room. They were white—pasty, unhealthy white. There were tension lines around their mouths. They were frowning.

And we listened to L. Brooks Patterson tell us about Michigan’s economy. Oh, he tried to be positive—he’s a salesman, for sure, and a wordsmith. He has a kind of gruff charm that’s appealing. But basically he said little to easy the pain that etched the faces around me: our state is hitched to the automobile, single-mindedly chained to a product which is not meeting consumer demand. Our schools are not teaching the next important world language, Mandarin Chinese. As a state, we are not working as a team to identify our economic possibilities—like medical manufacturing and health care research. And we need free broadband access in our cities.

Listening to LBP and watching the creases deepen around the mouths of my colleagues, I grew saddened. I thought about the smooth brown faces of my Bahamian friends, their ready smiles, and the economic success worries that are absent when nobody has any treasure except themselves and their loved ones. My mind wandered back to my last afternoon in Tarpum Bay when Brenda knocked on our door.

She was carrying a plastic bag filled with pedicure supplies. “You’re not going home without nice feet,” she told me, and set to work filling a bucket with warm soapy water and massaging my feet.

“Wait a minute,” Lynn whined. “Today is MY birthday, and SHE gets a pedicure?”

“Okay, Miss Lynn. You’re my friend too. You can have one next.”

100_0853

Lynn, of course, then volunteered to do Miss Brenda’s toes as well, and so when it came time that evening to go out to dinner, we three women had such beautiful feet! Delighted with our gifts to each other, we celebrated Kervin and Brenda’s wedding anniversary, Lynn’s birthday, and my farewell. Our toes were magnificent! (And the conch fritters weren’t bad, either!)

Looking around me in the meeting room today, it all seemed so far away. Only two weeks ago, but such a long time and distance.

beautiful-feet

Housewarming

Miss Donna's Housewarming Cake
Miss Donna’s Housewarming Cake

It’s been a little over a year ago since Lynn came down to Tarpum Bay and helped Kervin initiate construction on our wonderful Culmer Cottage. Purchasing the land and shepherding the transaction through to closing an permitting had taken another year—really a short amount of time when you think about it—the Bahamas government is not exactly ‘user friendly’, not to mention the fact that everyone down here works on ‘island time’.

During the Year of the Transaction (taking a lesson from the Chinese, 2007 was “The Year of the Slug”), Lynn opened a Bahamas checking account which included two criminal checks in Michigan, we got our self-financing together, and initiated the permitting process. Together we obtained the required architect drawings made from our rough sketches and hired a builder (who later defaulted on the process). Then, while I was languishing in Orchard Creek and Munson medical center, Lynn came back and hired Kervin, bought some furnishings, initiated the permits, and Culmer House was under way!–the Year of the Jaguar!

Now in March 2009, we are both here in our wonderful cottage which sits pink and gleaming above the turquoise blue water of Tarpum Bay. Time to thank our friends!

We chose Monday, March 2 as a day for a party—one which would not interfere with the activities of the Methodist Church next door. It’s tough to find a night in our town where you don’t conflict with some church-related activity, and on the first Monday of the month, we unknowingly scheduled over the other crucial community event—the meeting of the Rock Sound Planning Commission. But because our party started at 6, we were still visited by several on their way to the planning commission meeting.

We planned a dessert party—cake, soft drinks, snacks, and sodas, and we invited all our friends, especially those who had been so helpful in the process of building our house. We were a little worried about whether Kervin would make it: “MizLynn!”, he said. “I gotta be in Nassau. You want me to come back here just for a PARTY?”. He looked aggrieved.

“Yes, Kervin, we do. This party is all about you and the wonderful house you built.”

“MIZLYNN! Listen to me! I got work to do! Fish to sell! I can’t be comin’ back here for no party!” But there is a pleased twinkle in his eye, and he arrives only a little late, resplendent in his new Nassau-purchased jeans and t-shirt and a clean, red ball cap.

Miss Reen
Miss Reen

Almost everyone else we invited arrived as well. Our neighbor on the other side, the elegant Miss Nottage (or “Miss Reen”, as she is called in Tarpum Bay) stopped by around noon to offer us a housewarming gift (guessing correctly, I think) that others would not bring gifts and would be embarrassed by the omission if she brought one. She offered us our choice: a lovely table runner she had purchased in Nassau, a case of soda for the party, or Tarpum Bay Homecoming t-shirts from her store, the Hi-Way Department Store. We accepted the table runner, and bought t-shirts later as gifts for folks back home.

Miss Sheila enjoys cake
Miss Sheila enjoys cake

Promptly at 6 PM our effusive neighbor Matt arrived, decked out in black pants and an oversize Obama t-shirt. Matt does not have the conventional Bahamian metabolism, operating at warp speed most of the time, as evidenced by his constant flow of words—we were exhausted by the time his mother, Miss Sheila, climbed our front steps. She was followed by Miss Barbie (of Barbie’s Restaurant, home of the guava duff and other delicacies we love),Miss Nottage, Godfrey and his family, Papa George the pizza man, Kervin and Brenda, Mr. Kinky of the Shell station on Queen’s Highway, LeShan (daughter of the first builder we hired), and our three friends from Bert’s for the Best Grocery.

Others came and went throughout the evening, and it was all quite wonderful!

Power Women of Tarpum Bay
Power Women of Tarpum Bay

When the majority of the guest were there it was time to bless our house. All of our guests joined hands in a circle, and the venerable Miss Sheila offered up a long and extensive invocation. In it she blessed the house, the builder, our families, the families who went before us (Miss Sheila’s husband was born on our piece of land), and a wide variety of others who deserved recognition in the eyes of God.

As I listened to Miss Sheila, I was reminded of another more secular occasion when I was in the Republic of Georgia at a dinner following a three-day class I taught. The dinner seemed to last almost a long as the class, and was punctuated at increasingly frequent intervals by high-octane toasts honoring every relative any of us ever had or will have.

It seemed to me that both occasions were a reminder of the present moment, an honoring of that moment and all that has gone before it or will come after.

After Miss Sheila, doyen of Tarpum Bay, finished her rich catalog of praise, Mr. Kinky (also a minister) added his words, and the entire group broke into a hymn which unfamiliar to Lynn and I but one which our guests knew well. After a series of ‘amens’ and applause, we were hugged and welcomed and in a little while our guests began to leave, off to late night prayer meetings and Planning Commission hearings. Left behind: Miss Sheila’s gift of homemade dinner rolls and guava jam, a plastic bag filled with crumpled paper plates, and Miss Brenda who was busily washing the dishes and wiping of the tile counter tops.

Kervin, Godfrey, Matt, and George
Kervin, Godfrey, Matt, and George

“How did you like the party, Miss Brenda?” I asked.

“Fine,” she said. “But you shoulda asked me about the peanuts. You shoulda sprinkled ’em with salt and toasted ’em in the oven. They much better that way.”

“And, I forgot the red ribbon. You needs a red ribbon to put over the doorway so Kervin can cut it with scissors and let you in the house. We forgets that part.”

“Well,” I said, “That calls for another party. You bring the ribbon, and I’ll toast the peanuts.”

To SEEP, perchance to dream….

Celebrating the Fire Truck

Celebrating The Fire Truck

“Wow!” my friend Sherry wrote on my Facebook page. “You can tell you are on an island. Now seriously, would you attend a fire engine dedication if you were in TC?”

Actually, no. You have to understand that Eleuthera is a sleepy island, but we did have some excitement this weekend: Lynn and I skipped the church cookout Saturday because we knew we were committed to the fire engine dedication on Sunday, and we can eat only so many conch fritters and peas and rice in one weekend.

So, today Lynn and I headed for the fire engine dedication in the heat of a sleepy Sunday afternoon. It’s an interesting thing, this acquisition of a firetruck for Tarpum Bay. The story begins in 2002, when an ambulance was donated to the community. By 2005, the vehicle was in total disrepair and a group of concerned citizens raised funds to repair and re-stock it. Riding on the back of that success, the group formed the “South Eleuthera Emergency Partners” (with the unfortunate acronym of ‘SEEP”). They were able to raise $25,000 in about 2 years, and acquired a 1975 MACK MD 400 named “Beauty”. They also raised additional funds and built a large shelter out on Queen’s Highway to house ‘Beauty’, and SEEP began a volunteer fire person training program, assisted by its US partner city of Gibsonville, North Carolina.

‘Beauty’ has been in Tarpum Bay for a few months now, but of course having the machinery is only a part of the program. Training the volunteers and purchasing the support equipment is quite another detail, and shortly after her arrival ‘Beauty’ was tested at the scene of a large grass fire in the neighboring town of Rock Sound. Again in early February, ‘Beauty’ attended another fire, this one with some serious consequences. Coincidentally, the fire was in a large seaside home owned by a friend of ours in our home town of Traverse City, Michigan. According to the newspaper, The Eleutheran, “the 750 gallon SEEP Fire Truck, filled to capacity, battled the blaze until the water supply was exhausted. As in many areas in the rural Bahamas, the Cotton Bay area has no fire hydrants, so the only option for the SEEP team was to draw water from the ocean. However, the team hit a snag when the suction for the draft pump malfunctioned and they were not able to draw in the ocean’s resource.”

Our friend’s house was a total loss.

calcutt31

After the Fire

However, the paper reports that the SEEP team now has additional training and equipment, and will be able to meet future challenges.

It’s an ambitious program: SEEP intends to extend its services to the most southern points of the island, and continue to train its citizens in emergency procedures as well. Today was the day that Beauty the Firetruck was turned over to the appropriate governmental units, with great pomp and circumstance.

Lynn and I arrived just as things were getting started: the police band was there, resplendent in white uniforms with red and gold braid, and the police and emergency services team were in full regalia. Women were dressed in high heels and hats, and many of the men were still in church suits and ties. It was cool inside the shelter, but several women carried large sun umbrellas and everyone seemed to be clutching bottles of water.

A Policewoman listens

A Policewoman listens

In the Bahamas, church and state are one—the national anthem is often accompanied by exclamations of “Praise Jesus!” and “Thank you, Lord!”. Similarly, fire trucks and ambulances are prayed over, as are the volunteers (“wolunteers” in Bahamian) who “leave their churches and their families to help the community.” Everyone receives a plaque or a framed certificate, and fire persons were paraded in front of the entire community to a standing ovation.

Admiring the Drummer

Admiring the Drummer

The band played again, much to the delight of the little boys gaping in awe at the snare drummer. We left as the SEEP president, also a minister, wound up for a prolonged and thankful benediction and the ladies auxiliary began to uncover the potato salad and peas and rice.

Some are more appreciative than others....

Some are more appreciative than others....