Guest Post from Lynn

Bahamas Moving Company

 

 

 

Sittin’ at my desk by the Bay’”

 

Here I sit at my computer wondering exactly what, if anything, I’ve accomplished since setting foot on this island nearly a month ago. The answer is, not a heck of a lot.


Most of you know me as an over achieving sort who can’t sit still, However, it occurred to me that perhaps there is a cure for this trait, and it is called Eleuthera!


Today was just another day of body surfing, and playing on a lovely beach with Kervin’s grandson, Po. I finished reading my fifth book, and I am now waiting for the pot to boil so I can plop in today’s fresh crawfish. Near me is a cold Kalik! Not such a tough life, and ever so relaxing. I tell you this because I know many of you thought I would never find a cure for my hyperactivitism. There IS hope for all ye who enter Bahamian waters!


This is not to say we have been bereft of small adventures. Before Judith left me to this idle life last Thursday, she decided we needed a lounge chair for the porch. Seems simple enough. If one has money enough, that task ought to be fairly easy.

There are two “furniture” stores here: Tarpum Bay Shopping Centre, and Tarpum Bay Furniture. They are side by side and both run by Careys. This is true of almost every business in T. Bay. The Shopping Centre carries pillows and paint, nuts to screw on and nuts to eat, wire and wireless phones, and on the top, somewhat dusty floor, is furniture. This is where we got most of the stuff for our house. Their inventory is down of late, but I found a dandy mirror yesterday.


I must digress: I bought the mirror, a woven rattan thingum which allows a full body view…arrrgh. As I was unloading it, two men were walking by the car, and I asked if they could help carry it upstairs to my bedroom. Indeed they could. They asked if I would like them to also hang it. “That would be very nice,” I said. After much tapping and knocking, they allowed that they’d found a stud. Then came  measuring: how high? How low? Use the stud closer to the door, or the one towards the wall’s middle? We made all these hard decisions, and now we went in search of a nail. Kervin has odds and ends left from building, I brought down some supplies, but no nail we could find was right. Carlos, the younger, not to be defeated by the lack of a nail, went out to the road and found the perfect one! It was apparently left over from the Methodists’ roofing project. And so at last the mirror was hung and the day’s task ended.


Back to the lounge chair. We determined the Shopping Centre did not have a lounger, but we peeked into the windows of the almost always closed Furniture Store, and there, far back on the left, was a gleaming white stack of plastic loungers. “Perfect!” said Judith. “Now how do we get someone to sell one to us?”

There were two numbers posted on the door. We called both, neither worked. While getting supper at Miss Barbies, Judith mentioned our plight and was given the name and number of a person who might know how to get the owner. She called. The owner was at another number setting up for the annual Black and White Gala, a dress up event for locals.

She would come right down.


A dusty, hot, half hour later of sitting on the step awaiting her arrival, Miz Marie and a Hatian helper arrived. We made the transaction, the chair was the right kind, the price too high, but it is what it is here on Eleuthera.


The getting from there to here proved to be as difficult as locating the shop owner. The little Haitian man determined it would not fit into the trunk: good call. Next was the back seat. That worked only if both doors were left open: not good. The final solution was for Judith to drive. The lounger was placed at right angles to the car on the car’s roof. I sat in the back seat, the little Haitian in the front. The only car windows that work are passenger and behind the driver, so I opened mine, reached up and held on; the little guy did the same from the passenger seat, all the time nodding and bobbing and saying, “very good. Very very good.” with a big grin. At a snail’s pace we covered the two miles between store and house with no mishaps.


We then off loaded the lounger and attempted to get it thru the gate onto the front porch. This was only accomplished after I,the tallest of the group, put it on top of MY head and squeezed thru our narrow gate, the little man trying to help me balance. The lounger was at last in its final resting place. The helper was taken back to the store , and we returned to enjoy a cool drink and congratulate ourselves on the mission accomplished.


These are the exciting things that make up a “busy” day in Tarpum Bay. Small things are accomplished, but they take twice as long and cost twice as much as in Traverse City: with one exception. Tonight’s 1 ½ pound lobster cost me $9.00. Bon Appetite!

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Doing Business in Eleuthera

Lynn and I decided to go to the new French restaurant here in Eleuthera. We were intrigued: Eleuthera is not known for gourmet food preparation: most restaurants serve the regular staples of peas and rice, mac and cheese, and fried or barbequed meat or fish. It’s good home cooking, but not particularly innovative. A French restaurant? What a concept!

The food was superb, particularly the chocolate souffle—light and puffy, delicate, with a dish of deep, rich chocolate sauce on the side. You dig a little hole in the center of the souffle, watch it collapse in on itself, and then pour in the chocolate sauce. Magnificent!

But I digress. A meal at such a singular establishment does not come cheap, of course. So I asked the dread question: “Do you take credit cards?”

“Oui”, was the surprising reply.

What we’ve found here on the out-islands (“family islands” is tourist-speak for places like Eleuthera), is that modern banking methods leave much to be desired. Credit cards are virtually unheard of, utility bills are usually paid in person and in cash, checks (even on local banks) are not acceptable for most transactions, and the banks themselves do everything they can to prevent a successful transaction rather than accommodate it.

For instance, our bank – Scotia Bank of the Bahamas – is legendary for its unfriendliness, even among the native Bahamians. An hour wait in line is customary if you’re doing your banking, and you stand (no chairs or coffee or a writing desk), crumpled paperwork in hand, watching the clerks discuss lunch break, the curious actions of the copy machine, and their manicures. Either that or they stare fixedly into huge, clunky computer monitors, waiting for the secrets of creation to be revealed to them. (For Americans, this stare is analogous to that of the airline ticket agent re-booking your ticket after a weather delay).

Once you do reach the head of the line, the level of service at Scotia Bank in Rock Sound is nothing short of obstructionist, Lynn arrived in the Bahamas with a couple thousand dollars in cash to deposit in her account so she could pay bills, and was told that she could only deposit $400 cash per day. Scotia rejected my $100 Am Ex travelers check because my two signatures weren’t exactly the same. Lynn had corrected a date on a check, initialed the correction, and the bank refused it—even though she was standing in front of the clerk. And numerous times customers have been told that the automatic teller machine was out of cash, and would not be functional until a certain time one or two days hence when the cash supply would be replaced.

Last year I wrote to the Scotia Bank corporate headquarters in Canada. “Scotia Bank in Rock Sound, Eleuthera, is an embarrassment to your organization,” I told them – to no avail.

The moral of this story: bring plenty of cash to the Bahamas. Plastic, paper, and electronic funds transfer don’t work in the out-islands.

Last week I had to change my airplane ticket on Bahamas Air: I wanted to head home a week earlier than I had originally planned. Of course, an online ticket change is not possible in the Bahamas, so I headed for the Rock Sound Airport, planning to be there at a time when no planes were arriving.

From the parking lot I could hear the music from inside the terminal. It was loud, solemn, church-y, funereal. “This is not even a Sunday,” I thought. “What is going on?”

Inside, a group of about 15 Bahamians were watching the ancient television set mounted high on the wall. An Anglican bishop was being buried, and his funeral was broadcast live (and loudly). Everyone in the airport was transfixed, a room full of motionless statues.

The Bahamas Air ticket agent reluctantly invited me into her office, a tiny cubical with one desk, mounds of paper, and a single folding chair, currently occupied by a man in a wilted white shirt who was obviously the supervisor of the Rock Sound office of the airline. He was looking wan and pale under his dark skin.

“This has been a terrible day,” he mourned, accompanied by the solemn Anglican hymns from the next room. “It is the first day of our new Bahamas Air computerized ticketing program, and it’s been nothing but problems since 6 AM this morning.”

“Yes,” said the clerk. “We were trained on it last November, but now we’ve forgotten everything.”

The two of them huddled over the ancient computer, discussing the best strategy for changing my ticket. Should they cancel the old and write a new one? Just change the date and time on the existing data file? Should they enter the data in all capital letters, and put dashes in my telephone number?

It was at least a half hour while they worked through these problems.

“Ah, I think we got it,” said the clerk. “But now it wants more information. Do you have an e-mail address?”

I told her I did: judith at judith lindenau dot com. She asked me to spell everything, including the ‘at’. When I told her one used the ‘at’ sign in an email address, she looked confused until I showed her on her keyboard where the “@” was located. Then she got it.

For this she charged me a $30 change fee.

“Do you accept credit cards?” I asked.

She looked helplessly at her supervisor. “Of course,” he said, wearily. “I will have to go in out to the ticket counter and plug in the phone line extension to the machine.”

He opened the office door, and the dark chants of the funeral mass surrounded us.

Tomato Sauce, Eleuthera Style

Washing the Tomatos

Bahamian tomato sauce – it’s not what I often think of as tomato sauce, the rich Italian sauce that Mama Pignotti used to brew up, with lots of garlic, oregano, and red wine. No, Bahamian tomato sauce is thick and chunky, with peppers and onions. In Eleuthera, you see it in groceries, gift shops, and specialty stores. It’s recognizable by the fact that it’s produced in small cottage industries and bottled in used bottles. If you find it in one of the tourist shops, it’s usually in a Kalik bottle (Bahamas best beer) and has a cute little raffia bow or ribbon around the neck – and costs 3 times as much as as at at a roadside stand or neighborhood grocery.

But the Bahamian tomato sauce is used throughout the islands as a base for stew fish and soups, or a condiment for baked fish, chicken, or ribs.

There are, however, few commercial tomato processors in the Bahamas any more, and those that remain are Chinese. Eleuthera, the island where I live, was once known as “the breadbasket of the Bahamas”: the northern third of the 100-mile long island still is marked by huge crumbling stone silos populating the countryside. In the 19th and early 20th century there ws much agricultural activity on the island, due to the climate and the red lateritic soils. Eleuthera was a major supplier of US pineapple until 1900, when Hawaii became a US territory and the object of US economic support. Both politics and increasingly intensive modern farming practices contributed to the demise of large farms as a mainstay of the island. Currently agriculture here exists primarily as small-scale operations supporting local demands and subsistence living.

I mention that background because I’ve always been amazed at the lack of produce-growing that I see on the island. Most food is imported from the US and South America, and there appear to be few back yard or container gardens to supplement the food supplies of the residents. Bahamians don’t eat much in the way of fresh fruits or vegetables, much to my frustration when I try to find lettuce and other produce in the grocery stores.

So I was pleasantly surprised when my phone rang the other day and Miss Brenda announced, “Miss Judith, Barbie is putting up the tomato sauce. Come and see.”

Production Line

Sure enough, out behind Miss Barbie’s Take-Away I found Brenda, Barbie, and Barbie’s husband Peter—busily ‘putting up’ a huge quantity of beautiful, fresh tomatoes. They had a regular production line going: Barbie was washing the tomatoes, quartering them, and squeezing out the juice and excess water.

Barbie at Work

Peter was taking the tomatoes from Barbie, adding fresh tomatoes, and running the vegetables through a food processor. Barbie then added salt and spices, and Brenda filled sterilized beer bottles with the thick paste.

“You gotta know the secrets,” Peter told me. “First, we don’t add any coloring, like they used to use at the big tomato plant in Rock Sound. We are all organic! Second, you gotta get the extra water outta those tomatoes to make the sauce just right.”

I tasted it: delicious! Barbie knew just the right amount of seasoning to add. “Tip the salt box,” she instructed Peter. “I’ll tell you when to stop. There. That’s it.”

Brenda fills two kinds of bottles: the Kalik bottles which are clear glass, and dark green Heineken bottles “We puts the clear bottles in the shops for the tourists,” Peter says, “so they can see what they’s getting. We uses the green bottles for our own recipes.”

Brenda capping the bottles

Peter is most proud of his newest acquisition, a bottle capper. “Used to be real tough before this technology,” he says. “We used to grind up the tomatoes with one of them meat grinders. You know, the kind you had to crank by hand? Now that was a LONG day.”

Of course, even though there are several hundred bottles that have been ‘put up’ and capped, the day isn’t over. The capped bottles must still be placed in huge metal tubs and boiled over an open fire to complete the process.

Then the clear glass ones will be decorated, probably with raffia bows, and placed in shops and stores around the island. The green bottles will be stored in the restaurant pantry, waiting to be served up as a part of the delectable food offerings at Barbie’s Take-Away.

Fundraiser in Tarpum Bay

Painting by Bahamian Artist Jackson Burnside

Saturday the Methodists held their annual church fundraiser. The church itself is just across the alley from our Tarpum Bay house, so Lynn and I are accomplices in all the congregational activities – and there are many, including choir practice, two Sunday services, Friday night youth groups, and a whole host of mission outreach volunteers  from the US who stay in the church dormitory.

In our living room, we are surrounded by Brother Ian’s Sunday exhortations, the dirge-like hymns (complete with a snare drummer with a questionable rhythm sense), and Saturday afternoon-long funerals. And just to make sure that we don’t miss anything, Brother Ian loves his microphone and speakers at full volume, into which he shouts and sings enthusiastically (if not tunefully), at the least excuse.

Being neighbors and participants (however reluctant) in daily church life, Lynn and I couldn’t avoid the fundraiser, either. The accepted fund raising activity here in Eleuthera revolves around food, of course, and is almost formulaic in its design. A ‘fundraiser’ is synonymous with  a barbeque meal, take-away fashion, served in Styrofoam compartmentalized boxes filled with an over-indulgence of carbohydrates and grease. The Methodists, who know a good thing when they see one, are no different. Here’s the menu:

Meat (chicken or steak)

Slaw (creamy with a hint of hot pepper)

Macaroni and cheese, baked

Peas (pea beans) and rice

frozen corn on the cob

rolls

dessert (the Methodist offered either a fruit tart or a pineapple upside down cake)

sodas (no wimpy ‘diet’ drinks for the Bahamians)

And, of course, the ever present conch fritters were available, 6 for $1 extra, handed to you in little brown paper sacks, dripping with grease.

This menu is pretty much the same wherever you go on the island. The meat portion may be a little different: sometimes you’ll be offered barbecued ribs or fried fish, but choices are fairly limited. Never will you find hamburgers or hot dogs or shish kabobs.

The Methodist ladies began the preparation on Friday with an all-day cleaning of the church meeting room and kitchen. Then they began cooking, and we could smell the cake-baking aromas. The men, meanwhile, set up the wood burning barbeque cookers in the parking lot behind the house, and also a tent and picnic tables, should anyone wish to eat on the premises (no one did).

We did our laundry on Friday, knowing that if we waited until Saturday our sheets would smell like woodsmoke all week. We also parked our car in another lot to give our neighbors all the room they needed to conduct the activities of the day, which began early Saturday morning.

Women from all over town began arriving early bearing pots of food. Miss Barbie provided the rolls, Geoffrey’s wife Miz made the ‘cold’ slaw, and so on. By about 11AM the fires were lighted and the smoke began drifting up. Fortunately the prevailing winds pushed it away from our house and into town. By noon, Miz began announcing that “The food is ready, it’s time to eat, thank you Jesus.”

Brother Ian began his day’s activity of bringing the meat cooked in the parking lot into the church hall where the food line was set up, and the cash table ($10 for the food, plus $1 extra if you wanted the fritters) was firmly established at the front door.

Lynn and I were among the first customers, our appetites having been stimulated by 24 hours worth of aromas of baking and barbequing. We carefully selected what we wanted as we moved down the line, admiring the offerings and gossiping as we went. We were careful not to neglect the dessert table, and carefully paid our extra dollars for the fritters which were in themselves enough food for a meal.

The fundraiser lasted through the rest of the day, with cars stopping next to our house and people running inside the church to buy their meals. Those who didn’t drive wandered down Lord Street, wrinkled bills in hand, and left carrying an all-you-can eat meal that may well serve an entire family.

If the traffic in and out  of the social hall is any indication, the Methodists should be able to pay for the new church roof in cash!

It’s customary, at a Bahamian food event, to serve everything in Styrofoam accompanied by a non-recyclable can of soda, a napkin, and a totally inadequate plastic fork. If you order more than one meal, you’ll also get a plastic bag to make it easier to carry things. And all the food is usually cooked and served in disposable aluminum foil baking pans. I mention this only because I am constantly in awe of the amount of trash generated on these islands, and the lack of concern about waste disposal.

But that’s an American concern, certainly not a Bahamian one, and on Sunday morning litter and trash was blowing up and down the parking lot and street between our house and the church.

Not to worry. At 7 AM two of the church ladies appeared, brooms in hand, and the clean up began.