It takes a village….

I got my rental car yesterday.  I hadn’t wanted one during the first week. I was happy here: once inside my little cottage I’m perfectly set for everything—Bert’s for the Best Grocery is a few steps in one direction, Barbie’s Restaurant a few steps in another, and the beautiful Caribbean a half block down the hill.  Not much need of a car, really.

But I thought maybe a road trip or two might be in order while I was here and so I texted George Major that I needed a rental, and he texted back that he was on his way. Now, I could probably holler “Bring me a car, George” out my front door and he’d be right on my doorstep, but hey! This is the twenty-first century, even on a remote Bahamian island. So text, already.

Don’t get the wrong impression: George’s rental cars are no prize, even on an island where an automobile is expected to take abuse from bad drivers, salt, unpaved roads, mangrove swamps, sand, and US tourists.  George never was much good with engines, and even worse at staying sober, but his mother likes me so I always get my cars from him no matter how questionable the quality.  The car he brought me this time was on the cusp of junker-dom: a cream-colored Honda with a menacing groan in the gearshift region  and throat-burning aroma of gasoline.

“Roll down the windows, Miss Judith,” George advised.  “She’s ok.  Just smells a little bit is all.”

What I had forgotten was how useful somebody with a car can be in this village, and within minutes of taking delivery of mine, my phone rang.  Brenda was in need of a shopping trip to Rock Sound, our nearest ‘metropolis’.  It seems that Shandera was in need of some school supplies—immediately, the next day, for a big exam, just a few things, please?

Of course.

Shandera’s in the ninth grade, and in the Bahamian education system, the ninth grade is the time students take the BJC exams.  Brenda wasn’t sure what BJC means, but she knew the exams were important, and Shandera was studying and studying, and her BJCs were going to be held all week. My friend Google told me that BJC stands for ‘Bahamas Junior Certificate’ examination, which consists of ten subject areas:  Art, Craft, General Science, Health Science, Home Economics, Language Arts, Math, Religious Studies, and Social Sciences.

(Before Bahamians graduate from high school they take the Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGSCE) usually written at the end of grade twelve.  This education system exam structure is British in origin).

Shandera’s exam was in Home Economics, apparently a skill-based demonstration and she needed to take materials to school, Brenda explained. Help, please.

“OK, Brenda.  You drive.”

“ME? It be your car, Miss Judith.”

“Yeah, but remember that I haven’t driven on this side of the road for a couple of years, and I really don’t want to hear you say “Thank you Jesus” every time we pass another car.”

“I says ‘Thank you Jesus’ when I’m driving too, Miss Judith.”

“I know, but for some reason when I’m driving I take it personally.”

Shandera’s test in Home Economics was to prepare a ‘party’.  Brenda explained that this project involved food, drink, and a decorative table setting.  This included a homemade Key Lime pie, a punch, some sparkling cider, fruit and chocolates, champagne glasses and a centerpiece table decoration—none of which were staples in Miss Brenda’s kitchen, I might add.

So off we went, Miss Brenda driving, (Thank you, Jesus.) Champagne glasses and tissue paper first: not an easy list for a remote Caribbean island.  After a couple of circles around one block (“I know’d there used to be some kinda party store here once, Miss Judith, but I sure don’t see it now.”) we end up at the Rock Sound Supermarket which had everything: plastic stemware, pie shells, condensed milk, lime juice, chocolates.   I bought a portion of the preparations (a girl only takes her JCEs once, doesn’t she?) and $46 dollars later, Brenda and I were prepared for Shandera’s Home Ec exam.

“I do say, Miss Judith, that I don’t know what these education people be thinking.  I could feed my fambly for a week on what we’ve spent on just tomorrow,” Brenda grumbled as we shoehorned ourselves into the tiny Honda.

Silently, I agreed.  How did the Bahamian Ministry of Education come up with such a wildly impractical idea for an exam question for a girl in a village where every resident barely squeezes out a subsistence living, and then only can do with the generosity of numerous friends and relatives?

Life (and a party) takes a village.

Thank you, Jesus.

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Back in Eleuthera, 2013

     “Don’t go to the grocery, Miss Judith,” Kervin warns me.  “It ain’t Tuesday yet.”

     While that warning may not mean much to anyone else, to the whole Bahamian island of Eleuthera it’s common sense, and if the truth be told it’s one of the things I did remember: it’s why a half-dozen protein bars and a package of Starbucks coffee singles are taking up precious room in my suitcase—so I can last until Grocery Day.

     You see, the boat–referred to as ‘The Boat’ by the people who live here (you can hear the capital letters in their voices)—arrives on Tuesday morning bringing supplies to the small mom-and-pop groceries scattered throughout the island.  What that means is that there’s one day a week islanders can be sure to have fresh bread and milk and eggs, assuming they’ve planned their shopping trips and limited finances accordingly.

     It also means that the tiny market next to my house will do a frantic amount of business for the next 6 hours.  And it means that Lord Street will be filled with rusty pickups and junker cars belonging to the patrons of “Bert’s for the Best”, who  use Tuesday afternoon not only for this important opportunity to stock up for the week, but also loiter on Bert’s concrete front stoop greeting friends and relatives.

     Relatives? On an island this word takes on a new dimension.  Kervin is a Culmer, and related to pretty much everybody, it seems.  My cottage was built by his great grandfather and is rumored to be the first concrete house in the village.  He was delighted when we bought it, roofless and with a large coconut palm growing up through the middle of the kitchen area, and then hired him to remodel it.  Since then he’s taken it upon himself to be our caretaker, guide, friend, news source, termite exterminator, and airport pickup taxi whenever we come to Tarpum Bay.

     Kervin is also married to Brenda, my closest island friend, and together they are a nucleus for a family unit consisting of Brenda’s grown children, Kervin’s grown children, various aunties, uncles, and cousins, and two grandchildren whom they are currently raising.  Like most of the families on this island, they subsist on pick-up work: building, cleaning, cooking, and fishing. And like most of the families on the island, money means very little to them, except as a means of filling immediate needs.

     In this world, nobody has any money and nobody ever expects to have any—it’s an almost meaningless commodity.  If you have a toothache, pull the tooth.  If you need food, go to a relative who has some to spare.  If you need company, go sit on a street corner—the weather is always nice.

     It’s a friendly world on this Eleuthera—not idyllic, certainly, but welcoming and comforting, a place where people are indeed family, literally and figuratively.  It’s a place to which I’m always happy to return, and for which I will gladly eat protein bars and drink instant coffee, waiting until The Boat arrives.