A Word about Eleuthera Cooking

Wondering what he was going to do when he reached Boston’s 24 snowy degrees still wearing his shorts and sandals, Ken boarded the plane home on Sunday morning. I will miss him: visitors show me my world through new eyes. And besides that, he’s a great cook—to get a compliment from Miss Brenda on somebody else’s mac and cheese is indeed a badge of honor.

One of my frustrations with Eleuthera has always been the limited diet that seems to be available here: mostly carbohydrates, sugar, and fried meats, it seems to me. (With a little conch salad, of course.) But Ken showed me otherwise—he found vegetables, fruits, fresh tomatoes, and herbs and combined them with rice, lentils, and non-gluten pastas: we ate like kings!

However, I have to admit that today I just had to go to Miss Barbie’s for conch fingers and guava duff. That’s what Bahamas eating is all about—and I’m not a flour-avoiding vegetarian, though I must admit the last week of Ken’s cooking has made a partial convert of me.

Like all the other places on Eleuthera, the recent hurricane damaged Miss Barbie’s Take Away. It’s still spotless inside—even more so than before, I think. There’s fresh white paint and dark red trim that’s coordinated with the five booths, new tiles on the floor, and an added refrigerated display case filled with cakes, tarts, and guava duff. Miss Barbie’s daughter Beryl was wearing a chef’s hat and looked so professional I had to take her picture.

Miss Beryl

I was compelled to bring home a container of the Bahamian national dessert, Guava Duff. Guava Duff is a steamed pudding made with sieved guava fruit. It looks like a jelly roll, but is served warm with hard sauce (butter, confectioners sugar, vanilla and rum). It’s my absolute favorite dessert: one year I asked Miss Barbie to make some and freeze it so I could bring it back home and share it with the poor folks in Northern Michigan who have never had the joy of tasting this concoction….maybe I’ll do that again this February.

Generally speaking, Bahamian cuisine isn’t a primary incentive to visit these islands, but a good cook is really a special treat. The food heritage here is a mixture of Dutch, English, Asian, French, and native cooking. Curries are common, as are chowder and stews. Fish and chicken are staples, of course.

One of my favorite Eleuthera restaurants (beside Barbie’s Take Away) is the Northside, just a couple of miles outside of Rock Sound, and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. I took Ken there before he left, knowing that if anybody could meet his dietary restrictions, it would be Miss Rose.

Miss Rose is a lovely Bahamian woman. A widow, she manages Northside’s restaurant and charming resort cottages by herself. As we bounced down the partially paved two-track that leads to Northside, Ken remarked on the lack of signage and paving. “Well,” I said, “The important folks know where Miss Rose is. She caters for some very significant dignitaries on this island.”

It didn’t take him long to understand why everyone loves her.

“I can’t eat gluten,” he explained.

“Oh, don’t you worry at all! I’ve got peas (beans) and rice, vegs, plantains, and salad. We can make you a real good meal. I just finished cooking the peas and rice—that’s the hard part. Everything else can be prepared in no time at all.”

And our lunch was indeed splendid! Even better, Miss Rose came and sat with us as we finished our meal and explained how to cook plantains, what ‘brown sauce’ was, and when to use limes in chowder and stews. Rose also told us how difficult it was to repair her business after the hurricane: “The Prime Minister came to see the damage here,” she told us. “He gave me a certificate so I could get supplies and make repairs without paying taxes and import fees. I gotta get all that done before my grant time runs out.”

“It’s hard to believe you had any damage,” I said. “Everything looks perfect.”

“Oh, lordy, I had to get a whole new roof, and windows, and chairs. My children and grandkids came home from the US and from Nassau for Christmas, and I just had them to help me all they could.”

Miss Rose at Northside

As we bumped our way down the two miles of trail from Northside, Ken and I congratulated ourselves on our good fortune to have visited Miss Rose on a day when she could not only cook a delicious meal for us, but also provide a special insight into island life.

We had her all to ourselves. It’s a good thing Eleutherans don’t invest in paved roads, directional signs, and flashing neon lights.

(PS: as I write this, there’s a light tap at my front door. It’s Kervin’s grandson, Po, carrying fresh, hot conch fritters wrapped in foil. “Grampa made them for you,” he says.

Oh, heaven.)


The Adventure of The Glass Window Bridge

Glass Window Bridge

“Now you be careful,” Miss Brenda tells me. “That car don’t got windshield wipers. They be broke.”

“And,” offers Kervin, “Y’all check the oil and water each time you gets gas.”

“OK,” I promise, and Ken and I drive one block to the gas station, get gas, and the attendant fills up the car with a couple of jugs of water. (Gas station attendants do that here in the Bahamas. “That’s their JOB,” sniffs Miss Brenda. Of course, for $5.50 a gallon, they ought to do something….)

My visitor Ken and I are headed for the Glass Window Bridge, the one site in Eleuthera that Ken wants to see. On this two mile-wide island, ‘The Bridge’ is at the narrowest part: underneath its arch, the indigo Atlantic Ocean and the turquoise Caribbean meet. On calm days, it’s a beautiful and strange experience to see; on stormy days the bridge is closed because the waves will sweep away cars and pedestrians. The Bahamians call these ruthless waves “The Rage”–and while I’ve never seen the oceans like this, being on The Bridge even in the most calm times is a fearsome experience.

Now the sixty or so miles from Tarpum Bay to The Bridge ought not to be a major trip, were we on the mainland. In Eleuthera, however, a two lane road is often 1.5 lanes wide, and the word ‘shoulder’ is not in the roadbuilder’s vocabulary: there’s usually a sharp drop-off, sometimes into cypress swamp or rocky shoreline. There’s one road going north and south, and most of the locals have traveled it all their lives: they know every curve and pothole. Intersections are marked not by signs, but by crosses adorned by dusty garlands of plastic flowers. And the traffic often consists of large diesel trucks, a few tractors, and lots of old pickup trucks carrying several passengers in the back bed.

Ken asks, “Are there speed limits on this island?”

“Do you see any signs?” I answer. “Or any law enforcement?”

And so we’re ready: plenty of gas, oil, water, soft drinks, snacks, and money. We pass through Palmetto Point, Governors Harbour, and points north—one small, colorful town after another. We drive along the ocean’s rocky shore and smooth sand beaches, marveling at the lack of people and cars. Ken practices pot-cake spotting and rooster sighting opportunities: stray brown dogs and iridescent birds populate every village.

We don’t stop until we reach Gregory Town: there is a charming gift shop there, and then we have lunch at Monica’s Dis and Dat Carry Out and Grocery Store. Monica remembers me from last year and asks after Miss Lynn. Vegetarian Ken does a little hiking around the village while I eat a gloriously sloppy Bahamian hamburger and sip some Goombay Punch.

Then, on to The Bridge.

The Bridge is one narrow lane. It is in a constant state of repair, due to the endlessly beating waves—but today it is quiet. Ken hikes up to the top of the ridge and takes the awesome photo in this blog, and we head south again, thinking to find a tranquil sunbathing beach on our way home.

The car, however, has another notion: it seems to understand that its job was to get us to The Bridge, but not home again. Its red temperature warning light flashes on, and it gets to the gas station in Gregory Town and then abruptly stops—three feet short of the gas pump.

Fuel is not the problem. “Bad news,” says a local mechanic who appears from the house next door. “Engine’s blown. She ain’t gonna go further.”

He explains that he could fix it, but it will need an engine from Nassau. He estimates an astronomical price and a couple of weeks wait. When I call her, Brenda advises, “You all just come home. We worry about it later.”

The mechanic proposes a solution: he will find a wrecker who will take us (and the car) back to Rock Sound. “Wrecker?” I say. “In North Eleuthera?”

“Sure,” he says, wiping his oily hands in his tee shirt. “There be TWO wreckers on this island—one in the Nord and one in the Sout.” And an hour later, we meet Big Chuck.

Big Chuck, it turns out, is a Nassau native who has been to ‘Ford School’ in Detroit, and so he knows Michigan—and is a good mechanic as well. Big Chuck, Ken and I (who are, by contrast, little people) squeeze into the cab of the huge, spotlessly maintained wrecker, and head for Tarpum Bay at a speed which would put even Kervins driving to shame. We roar through villages and pass moving cars and trucks as if they were parked. Big Chuck waves at everyone, talks on his cell phone, and gives us his thoughts on Eleuthera business and banking, tourism, and the current government.

“We just gotta get WID it,” he says of Eleuthera businessmen. “We gotta get to the twenty foist century, make it com-for-table (four syllables) for the tourists.

In about half the time it took us to get to The Bridge, we arrive home. Big Chuck expertly backs the car into Kervin’s parking place.

“How much?” I ask.

“It’s a long way from Gregory Town,” he replies, gazing into the clear blue sky. “A real long way.”

Yep, it is that. About $7.00 a mile, it would seem. And a dead car. And a day’s adventure in the Bahamas.

Gertie Visits a Resort

An African resort, I mused. Wonder what THAT will be like?

So I looked it up on Travelocity. Not first class, the review said. Make sure you reserve your hot water shower time in the morning: water is heated only once a day. Don’t expect fast service, cautioned another reviewer: getting your meals will take some time. And, beware of the plentiful cats everywhere, said a third critic. They have fleas.

So I packed my overnight bag as well as I could, considering the circumstances–I didn’t have jeans or a t-shirt, and I wasn’t sure that the proper Ugandan business person would welcome such casual clothes, either.

Ready as I’ll ever be, I thought, as i hoisted my bag into Vincent’s car, along with my materials for leading the strategic planning retreat for the Ugandan real estate association. Little did I realize, but the only thing I forgot to bring was my flashlight….

The trip to the resort was an adventure in itself. Driving in Kampala traffic is a little like playing in those rubber-bumper dodge ’em cars at the county fair–only at much faster speeds and without the rubber bumpers. Best to keep the car windows rolled up, too: the slow-moving traffic encourages thieves to reach in your vehicle and grab your valuables–a lesson a cab driver gave me as I was trying to take photos on my way to the hotel from the airport. “Roll up your window, Mme,” he said. “Those guys walking by the cars, they is bad ones.”

Vincent, the CEO of the Uganda real estate association, has a very nice car–fortunately with air conditioning (a rarity, and not often used anyway due to the very high gas prices). That and his cautious driving meant that the 50 miles to the Kingfisher Resort was completed in two hours and in relative comfort. However, any vehicle transportation in this country is a hair-raising adventure–roads are poorly surfaced (if at all) and without such conveniences as signs, lines, and shoulders. Traffic is heavy, and usually consists of mini-buses, smoke-belching ancient trucks, oil tankers, motor bikes, bicycles with huge loads of green bananas tied to the back of the seat, and assorted livestock–goats, chickens, and cattle.

On our trip, the two-lane ‘highway’ was lined with one-room tiny shacks selling various goods: fruit, hardware, paint, electronics and so on. The little buildings were usually constructed of spindly poles and sheets of tin for a roof, and perhaps a curtain for the doorway to keep out the ever-present red road dust. It’s also quite common for commercial advertisers such as Coca-Cola to come through a community and paint the little buildings with the company color and logo: it’s less expensive than billboard advertising and it helps maintain the buildings, Vincent says.

He also explains how in Kampala, the city of Seven Hills, the slums are in the low lying areas of the city, the swamp land. “All the rich people build on top of the hills,” he says, “and the basins are filled with squatters’ shacks and tents. ” There’s no good drainage in the low areas, of course, and plenty of sewage ditches and standing water, breeding grounds for unimaginable health threats. Vincent thinks that the life expectancy of 51 years for Ugandan men might be a little high: the living conditions, malnourishment, and AIDS are the biggest threats, he says.

As we travel further from Kampala, the jungle encroaches, long stretches of very lush, green forest. The only signs of civilization I can see are the cows and goats tethered along the highway, keeping down the roadside growth, and the many people walking along the roadside, baskets of fruit or building materials on their heads. Every now and then there is a cluster of merchants dressed in bright blue merchant union uniforms, selling a variety of items–food, cigarettes, produce. When we come to one of these areas, cars and buses quickly pull off the road so drivers can grab something to eat or replenish water supplies or repair vehicles. Think of it as the Ugandan version of a gas station and speedy mart operation in the US….

The Kingfisher Resort is located on the Nile River, close to the place where the Nile begins as the water flows from Lake Victoria. It’s down an unpaved red dirt road, a two-track, really, that winds past farms and a couple of elaborate mansions. The Kingfisher is a collection of circular huts, each of which contains 4 pie-shaped guest rooms with bathroom. The roof is straw-thatching, and the construction is cement. In the center of the complex is a pool, an outdoor eating area, and a fairly large hut containing the conference room facility. It’s a beautifully landscaped arrangement, and quaint and charming.

An yes, there are cats everywhere: one snuck into the conference room and jumped up on the serving table to help herself to the tomato sandwiches left there for our tea break. There were also thousands of bats in the trees outside our meeting room area: their constant chirping and humming was sometimes louder than our voices inside as we worked through the strategic planning process for the Uganda Real Estate association. During our night session, though, the bats were quieter and it was the frogs which accompanied our deliberation–creatures with harsh deep voices that sounded like incessantly quacking ducks. Those were the sounds that lulled me to sleep that night as I lay on my board-and-thin-mattress bed, enjoying the cool night air which had come to Africa at last.

My room was spartan–a built-in board and mattress bed, an extra straw mat for sleeping on the concrete floor, a sink and toilet, a plastic chair and table, a single wall sconce for light (when the electricity worked), and a single screened window. It was simple, but clean and charming: people didn’t stay in their rooms except to sleep anyway. Some visitors, like us, were in meetings and the few other guests spent time sightseeing or hanging out by the bar and pool.

“Mostly the guests are people who live in Kampala and want to get away for a few days,” Vincent explained to me. And indeed, after the frantic hustle and frenzy of big city traffic and living, I could understand the attraction.

Uganda Justice and Fresh Pineapple

Got up this morning in my Kampali Sheraton Hotel in Uganda. I can look out my window and see three of the Seven Hills of Kampali, just beyond the red rooftops of the office complexes and shops below my 8th floor room. There are clouds there, too–gray rain leftovers from yesterday. Today is my day to write reports and catch up from my meetings in Kenya and Rwanda: I only have one short meeting this morning, and then I will do some report writing and a few scratchings from Gertie.

I haven’t mentioned breakfasts here in African hotels, but they are my favorite meals. Generally hotels here include a buffet breakfast in the price of your room–that’s true of hotels in Eastern Europe and Russia as well. But the African breakfasts are most delightful: they are filled with tables of fruit–kiwi, papaya, passion fruit, bananas, pineapple, poached apples, and some fruits I’ve never heard of. There are lots of juices, too, and yogurts and cheese and pastries. And of course, the more traditional eggs and sausages–but why waste digestion space on that stuff? It’s the fresh fruits I love here, the pineapple I saw the Ugandan women carrying on the heads yesterday, and the huge bunches of fresh bananas being hauled on the back of a motorbike.

To complement my breakfast this Sunday is a copy of Uganda’s “Sunday Vision” newspaper. It tells me that more members of parliament are rebelling against President Museveni. “Imagine,” the party president is quoted as saying, “what President Museveni will do if we are not in Parliament?” (Shades of Wisconsin!).

And the paper headlines that 70,000 Ugandans will not be able to get into Uganda’s Universities and colleges this year because they did not pass the qualifying tests–and even for those who did, there are 62,000 qualifying students for only 30,000 vacancies. ( The number of qualifying university students has grown, but Ugandan universities can accommodate just 20% of the number of applicants, and the education infrastructure is not growing to meet increasing demand. ) Not to mention the 38,000 who did not pass their exams and can never be admitted to a Ugandan
institute of higher education…

Well, these are heady topics for Uganda, and a little too thought-provoking for me this early in the morning. My secret is, first thing in the morning, go for the gossip. I turn to page 6. “Cow Kills Man”, I read. I decide some of these local articles will need to be shared: read on.

“Kamuli: A 70-year old man died after being knocked by a neighbour’s cow in Nawangaiza in Balawoli Sub-county. Isanga Kibulubutu was attacked by Ahmed Kaitaita’s cow as he tried to drag it away. Isanga had responded to an alarm from another neighbor who found the cow eating her crops. When Kaitaita came and admitted liability, Isanga insisted that he would have to pay sh5,000 as compensation. Kaitaita did not have the money, but promised to pay the next day. The doubtful Isanga decided to confiscate the animal and lead it to the local council leader to help settle the dispute. Unfortunately, he got the full vengeance of the beast.” (Note: sh5500 UGX is approximately $2.31 at today’s exchange rates).

Well, there’s more. (And please understand that I am quoting these directly from the “Sunday Vision”, page 6.

“Housemaid electrocuted. Kampala. The Police is (sic) investigating the cause of death of Jane Tusiime, 19, who was electrocuted while hanging laundry at her employer’s home…Neighbours believe Tusiime was deliberately targeted by another house help in the same home who felt threatened by the new girl. They say Solange Hakimaana had been told to stop doing the housework once Tusiime came and had been angry ever since. On the fateful day, Hakimaana locked herself up in the house until it was too late to save Tusiime…”

Or: “Villagers kill suspected rapist. Mpigi. A man accused of theft and rape in Ndoddo…died after villagers clobbered him mercilessley. Triggered by reports that he had stolen four sacks of charcoal, a crowd gathered and determined to teach him a lesson. Residents said they were fed up of seeing Sebandeke released from Police custody whenever he was arrested…” (Note: gory and descriptive details are included in this account. You don’t want to read them.)

So let’s try this for size: “Men teach dirty cobbler lesson. Masaka. Car washers in Lukaya decided to apply their skills on a dirty cobbler who worked nearby only identified as Kasirye. The car washers accused Kasirye of ignoring previous advice and objections regarding his hygiene. This time they decided the stench was too much and forcibly undressed and scrubbed Kasirye.” (Mob justice at its best.)

Well, there are other headlines, too: “Police saves two rape suspects” (town residents were attacking the police station to lynch the rapists); “Boy Loses Finger” (Police arrest a man and his wife accused of punishing a 14 year-old nephew accused of stealing $25 by cutting off his middle finger); and “1,000 Poachers Surrender” (as a result of a campaign by the Uganda Wildlife Authority the poachers turned in their spears, bows and arrows, and snares. They were given goats to rear as an alternative occupation and source of meat. All’s well that ends well.)

And that’s the news from Lake Victoria, as Garrison would say. Beats the heck out of reading the court reports in the Leelanau Enterprise. And of course, if the Traverse City Record Eagle management thinks the paper can stay afloat by charging for local news, they’ve got a lot to learn. The R-E can’t hold a candle to the drama of the Kampala newspaper’s local news reporting.

Nairobi Knights

Getting to Nairobi is not half the fun, as they say.

But here I am, back in Africa for my second trip. I didn’t think I’d be returning, but the project on which I am working — a regional real estate training center — is going very well, and the International Real Property Foundation suggested I return to continue the work we started in October.

I really do love Africa, and I left my Bahamas cottage early so that I could return to Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda — the three countries which are involved in this project. All three countries are building real estate trade associations in order to stabilize property business practies and better educate practitioners, and the IRPF suggested that all would be better served by a regional education project in which resources could be shared and synergy created. My job: to help set up the infrastructure which would facilitate the success of the project.

As you might imagine, it’s a long flight: eight hours from Detroit to Amsterdam, and another eight hours to Nairobi. And, of course, Schipohl Airport in between.

The plane was packed on both legs of the journey (and oversold, of course, on the flight out of Traverse City to Detroit–what else is new?) To upgrade to a business class ticket was about $2,000 more than the already exorbitant price of the airfare, so I requested an aisle seat in coach class and hoped that the screeching small child wouldn’t be directly behind me. He wasn’t: he was four rows back. Nothing wrong with his lungs, though, and they were well exercised by the time the night was over!

But I’m not complaining. My theory is that the farther away you get from the US the better the airline service becomes. The food’s not bad, the airline personnel have a much better understanding of the term ‘customer service’, and the airports are designed to accomodate real, living people–at least Schipohl is,, with its many restrooms, restaurants, free internet, lounges, shopping, and casinos.

Nairobi at night — and during the day, as well — is another matter. Originally a swamp (the word ‘nairobi’ means ‘cold water’), the city was the first railway camp for the Uganda railway in the late 1900’s. It later became the capital of Kenya, and many hotels sprung up as the hosts for big game-hunting tourists.

The city is one of the most diverse places I’ve ever visited. It exudes a frenetic energy, both day and night. Traffic is impossible, as most roads seem under construction and every intersection has huge pot holes and large sections of missing pavement. Massive yellow hunks of Chinese-made contruction equipment lurk everywhere, covered with red dust and ready to spring into action, clogging lanes of traffic.

Mass transit in Nairobi consists of swarms of motorbikes and an equal number of minibuses known as Matatus. The matatus seat 14 people, but nobody ever monitors the number, so there are usually more passengers than seat belts. Also, since they’re not licensed, the ability of the drivers varies widely and I’m told these vehicles are involved in a high number of traffic accidents each year. No wonder.

My second day in Nairobi I set out by taxi to visit the Kenya US AID headquarters, located at the US Embassy. The ride there was harrowing: construction, Monday morning traffic, live stock in the road, large trucks sharing the road with 2-wheeled pushcarts. Many pedestrians as well–and no sidewalks. No self-respecting pedestrian ever walked to a corner to cross a street, and no motorcyclist ever stayed in one lane of traffic, either.

The Embassy grounds, however, is the oasis in the middle of the storm. Once through the gate (“May we have your cell phone and your memory stick, Mma?), the lawns are clipped into submission, and a large tent roof shelters a part of the grounds from the hot sun. To reach the head of the US AID organization in Kenya I passed through three security gates (TSA look like kindergardeners in comparison), and my hip implant and the magnetic latches on my pocketbook attracted quite a bit of attention.

Once I reached Mr. Hope’s office (now THERE’S an appropriately named administrator!), I found an affable and welcoming man who seemed supportive of our project and very dedicated to the work being done in Kenya–particularly in the areas of agriculture and health care. (A few facts: life expectancy in Kenya is 51 years for women, and 50 years for men–and dropping!. The child mortality rate is 78 per 1,000 births. I could go on….)

“We’re anticipating a 30% drop in funding for our US AID programs,” Hope told me. “And we really don’t have much we can do except cut programs. We don’t get discretionary funding.” Of course he did mention that there is an earmarked fund of 4 million dollars a year for orangutang preservation. “Over 5 years at 4 million a year–that’s a lot of health issues we could be working on.”

Orangutangs, I muse on my way back to the hotel, get a lot more funding than Kenyan real estate professionals. Later in the afternoon I will spend time with Moses Kiambuthi, the newly hired CEO of the Kenyan ISK (the leading real estate association) and we will plan the agenda for the first meeting of the Real Estate Education Center for Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. We’ll gather together a small but determined group of volunteers who will begin their work together to build toward a common goal of a stable real estate business environment in a rapidly growing (and often chaotic) corner of the world.

Gertie in Kigali

If you ever have the opportunity to come to Africe, don’t miss Rwanda. Kampali is a picture-perfect city by any stretch of Western imagination: it’s green and clean, calm and beautiful.

“Oh,” said the Kenyan US AID director, “it’s what can come from a benevolent dictatorship.” Generally speaking, democracy is indeed contentious and chaotic–issues like growth and planning are often the result of hard fought battles among citizens and governments, and progress is often determined by economic feasibility rather than informed decisions.

Clearly, that’s not true of Kigali. A master hand laid out the city plans, and a controlled treasury implemented them. I notice this immediately upon arrival: processing through immigration is efficient, and the airport lobby is organized for travel comfort. Taxis are obtained quickly, and are spotlessly clean. I am driven to the hotel on newly paved roads which have no potholes, cracks, or bumps. Traffic moves smoothly along, and uniformed police men and women are stationed at every intersection of any consequence, making sure that there are no clogs and that fender-benders (if any) are quickly moved out of the traffic flow.

And clean? You haven’t seen ‘clean’ until you’ve visited Kigali: it’s almost unnatural in its pristine landscape. All along the way, there are women in blue coveralls sweeping the streets with brooms and dustpans. Because Kigali is hilly, many of the roads have been cut through the hills, and these sections are characterized by elaborate retaining walls, intricate patterns of brick and rock that are truly works of art. Parks are landscaped, as are divided roads and the center sections of the many center sections of traffic roundabouts.

Signage is clear and well maintained, and the frontage of businesses has no debris–no cans, loose papers, plastic bags–not even a cigarette butt. Everywhere, there are workers: at one stop, over 30 men were constructing an elaborate retaining wall; at another location, a dozen or so laborers were hand-digging a trench, pick axes flashing in the hot sun. There are sidewalks and motorcycle helmets, leafy trees over the roadways, and manicured yards behind beautiful fences.

As I drive around town, I think “This is too good to be true. There has got to be pain and poverty behind the latticework and brick. ” And there probably is–it’s just that the casual visitor doesn’t see it. Even brief glimpses of small earthen hut villages show an orderly system of smooth dirt roads and trenches, and of one-room businesses with neat facades and bright signs.

Well, I am here for a few days, and most of my meetings are held in the Serena Hotel–an aptly named facility, to be sure. The hotel staff understands the term ‘customer service’ like few other hotels I’ve ever visited, in the US or elsewhere. For instance, when I arrived in Kigali, I asked the cab driver if he took US dollars, since I had not had an opportunity to change dollars into Rwanda francs. “Of course,” he assured me.

However, upon arriving at the hotel, I discovered I had no bills smaller than a $100. “No problem,” he said, I will get change.

But it seemed that the hotel wouldn’t change the bill, and so off he went to the bank ‘just down the street.’ I went to my room, and the bellman promised to bring me the change when the cab driver returned.

Within fifteen minutes, the bellman knocked at my door. “Sorry,” he said. “The bank will not accept a bill printed earlier than 2003.” We discussed this, and it seemed the best course of action was to give him another bill. I found one from 2006, and off he went.

Twenty minutes later, he was back. “The bank,” he explained, “would not take this bill. It has a tear in it.” Sure enough, a small tear (not 1/8 of an inch long) was on the bill.

“The poor cab driver,” I said. “It’s taken him almost 2 hours, and he still hasn’t got his twenty dollars. Not a good return for his day. (Not to mention his gasoline cost!)” Together the bellman and I sorted through my cash, and agreed upon yet another candidate bill to submit to bank scrutiny.”‘

This one worked, and I resolved to stop at the foreign exchange office in the airport when I arrived in the next country I would visit.

But the point of my story is that throughout the ordeal, both the cab driver and the bellman were cheerful and willing to go to any lengths to resolve the problem–an attitude that was clear throughout the facility and — in fact — everywhere I went in this country.

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!