Here and There: Pictures from My Days

I carry my (uncle’s) camera everywhere with me now. It lives on the floor of the passenger seat of my car, on hand for whenever I see something picture-worthy. Here are some of the snaps I’ve taken lately:

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There are butterflies are everywhere these days – these orange ones in particular – way more than there used to be when I was younger. I asked friends about this and they confirmed – more butterflies! No one has any ideas why though. If you do let me know in the comments! In any event, it’s lovely seeing them flying around.  They’re not  skittish either, like other animals that run away when you get close. When I took this shot I might as well have been invisible for all the attention the butterflies paid me.

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I’m not sure what kind of flowers these are, but the butterflies were flying around them, so they ended up in my shoot too.

Grammy Photographer

This is my grandmother! I love her I love her. We went out for her birthday a few weeks ago, first to a studio to take pictures together, then for lunch. This is the back patio of the restaurant, where I wanted to take more pictures of her. She stood for only a few shots before insisting that she take pictures of me. She’d never used a DSLR before this moment, and what’s missing here is our conversation about the viewfinder and me reminding her where to find the shutter button. She posed me just how she liked, and I was surprised at how nicely the pictures came out. I probably shouldn’t have been though, when she was younger she used to model for a photographer so she’s had plenty of practice! I couldn’t resist taking a picture of her with my phone, which prompted her to ask, “Are you taking pictures or am I?” Haha.

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This is Collins Avenue, an historic street in one of the busier parts of the island. In the last century there was a 10 foot high wall on one side of the street, running for two miles around the boundary of millionaire Collins’ property. The wall physically divided wealthy white Bahamians from poor black ones, and it caused injuries when those poorer people climbed the wall to get to work rather than walking all the way round. The saddest and most famous of these stories is that of a pregnant woman who lost her baby in her climb.

Now as you see the wall is gone (for the most part) and this is simply a beautiful street lined with poinciana trees. At the height of summer, when the trees were all in flower, it was a gorgeous riot of red. I took pictures of it then, but now that summer has ended – though we don’t really have an autumn – I think it’s just as beautiful with the leafy green branches. I don’t know who planted these trees, but I’m thankful for their vision! Driving down this avenue is a real treat.

 

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Rushin’ to Bacchanal – My Podcast Episode!

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Photo by Torrell Glinton

I made a podcast! Well, I made an episode of a podcast. Last December I pitched three story ideas to the show Afropop Closeups. I don’t have a background in radio but I love podcasts and have long dreamed of making one, so when I learned they were accepting pitches I hopped to it! I was over the moon when they got in touch to say they wanted me to produce one of the ideas, and got straight to work in January.

The story is based on work I did for my master’s degree, but I still needed to do interviews, update my research, source music and write a script. Having the background knowledge was a helpful foundation, but there was still a ton of work to do. For six months I laboured, right up until a week before my studio date in the middle of June. Then I got together with the season’s executive producer and Afropop’s sound engineer to record the narration and mix all the audio together. After a marathon studio day, we were finished! Then I had to cool my heels till the season launched.

Developing the episode was a long, sometimes arduous process, particularly when it came to script writing. I had hours of great interview tape, but only 20 minutes of episode time to work with. Editing everything down into a comprehensive, enjoyable script was often overwhelming. By the last couple of weeks, when I had wrangled the content into a manageable document, I began to feel really proud. When it came time to go to New York, when I was actually in the studio with the executive and the engineer, I was thrilled!

We had a lot of fun working together, and it was amazing seeing and hearing the script being animated into one seamless experience. All the notes I’d written, all the sound cues I’d flagged, were surrounding me and coming together the way I heard it in my head! When we said goodbye that evening I wanted to run and play the episode for everyone. If I had my druthers, I would have broadcast it then and there, but I had to wait till the season was complete and the show was ready to release each episode on a schedule. I’ve been very patient all summer.

So what’s the story about? There’s this centuries old Bahamian parade called Junkanoo. We live and die for this event, and it’s been denigrated, celebrated, advertised and hidden at various times in its history. Bahamians love Junkanoo. Trinidadians have their own masquerade festival, Carnival. It is just as old and serves a similar purpose in Trinidad as Junkanoo does in The Bahamas.

A couple years ago the Bahamian government decided to introduce a new festival, a Bahamas Carnival, to attract tourists to our shores. As the name implies, they modelled this event on Trinidad’s Carnival, rather than our own Junkanoo. My episode explores the controversy that ensued. I hope you’ll give it a listen, and let me know what you think!

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When Fossils Lead to Deeper Friendship

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Pine Forest in South Abaco Blue Holes National Park

I’ve learned this year how cool it is to see my friends at work, to get a peek into the ways they spend their weekdays. It was a little strange recognising the thrill this gives me – like, is this weird? What is so exciting about this? But I realise now as I’m collecting my thoughts that these are new experiences for me. I’ve never been old enough before to see my friends do the work they talked about doing and spent years studying. Now I’ve crossed that threshold.

The first time I had this feeling was several months ago, in the dental hygienist’s chair. My friend Toni loves teeth and posts about them all the time on instagram, but this was my first chance to see her in action. She was wonderful! Told me all about my teeth and oral health in general. I left with a sparkly mouth, a heads up about what will likely need to happen with my teeth in the future and new information to incorporate into my cleaning routine.

The second admiration-inducing moment was a few weeks ago when I met up with Elora, a photographer. I’ve worked with her before on a few fun projects, and we talk often about the hours she spends editing pictures and developing her business, but this was the first time I was behind the camera with her. She explained the basics of exposure and helped me navigate the dials and menu options on the DSLR I’m borrowing from my uncle. I had an idea about the technicality involved in her craft, but having her as a teacher for a couple hours provided a deeper level of insight and, correspondingly, respect.

Then this week I’ve been in Abaco, an island in the northern Bahamas, visiting my friend Kelly. She’s an anthropologist for the Antiquities, Monuments & Museums Corporation of The Bahamas, and the office here focuses on natural history. She’s driven me around the island, telling me all about the environment, ecology and history; I alternate between awe at all that I’m learning about my country and Kelly’s fluency in this information.

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Dan’s Cave, South Abaco Blue Holes National Park

Today we went to her office and she showed me prehistoric fossils found in blue holes on the island, preserved almost perfectly because of the anaerobic environment at the bottom of the holes. We don’t have crocodiles or hutia in The Bahamas anymore, but Kelly has sifted their bones from sediment, cleaned and labelled them and taught schoolchildren about their historic presence here, along with other animals that are still around, like bats and wild boar.

Watching my friends at work, or listening to them talk in detail about their work, gives me a glimpse at another side of them. I learn more about the things they’re passionate about and the ways their minds differ from mine: Wow, this person must really enjoy biology/I don’t know if I could ever memorise all these things! I appreciate them in a whole new way for their contributions to our society, and the high standards they hold for their work. As life lasts, I look forward to seeing more friends in action, and the sweeter level of relationship this brings.

An Early Morning, A Gift of Rain

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I woke up too early this morning. I could tell because there wasn’t enough sunlight squeezing into my room. But I felt rested, so I didn’t try to go back to sleep, and I got up to open the blinds. The view was mesmerising.

The sky was blanketed in one big cloud, and reddish grey from the sun that was trying to make its way through. It was a quiet, resolute colour, as though the morning was holding back on itself. From the red sky came a gentle rain, which made a soft whooshing noise that I only noticed because I was looking out the window.

The greens of the three types of palms I could see were muted in the rainy, red-grey light, as were the hibiscus and varieties of crotons. Their leaves moved only slightly, swaying under the direction of the falling water. This was a gentle rain, which made a soft pitter patter on the plants and the ground, whispering its greeting.

After a few minutes, it stopped. I woke in time to see the very last of the morning stretching its way into the work of the day. Then the Saturday that I’m used to came through: the sky, gradually a more vibrant shade of blue; the sun, growing fiercer as it warmed the sky; birds singing to one another. I love the weekend for the way it allows me to savour the beauty of my island.

Yet, as well as I know what it feels like to drink in a weekend morning, I realised this week that there is still plenty about this island that can surprise me. I’ve been driving the same streets that I have for years, with the same trees and flowering plants lining their edges and populating the yards of homes and businesses, and feeling excited because I’m somehow seeing them in a new way. Maybe it’s because I’m older now, and have stood in awe of the greenery produced by other climates, that I can appreciate what gives mine its particular splendour. Everything seems more tropical, or very tropical, somehow. (How can it be more than, or very much so, what it simply is?)

I crested a hill the other morning, driving away from my friends’ house. Looking down at the tops of palms and dots of bright red poinciana flowers I wanted to get out of the car to stand and stare. It looked like the scene on a postcard, or a book cover,  the kind of landscape you read about. Yes, we have the ocean and it is incredibly, heart-stoppingly beautiful. But we also have woman’s tongue and silk cotton trees, poui, gumelemi and mangroves. I read about the oak, birch, redwood and spruce; my island has its majesties too, more than palms, more than exotic fruits. I am thankful for new eyes to see them, rainy mornings to study them, this space to tell you about them.

A Stranger Calls… 12 Times

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8.23: “Now’s probably a good time to call that number I saw on the sign. Not too late, but likely after dinner.”
8.24: ~mindless redial~
8.25: “Seriously? How have they not picked up. People are glued to their phones.”
8.26: “Ok, maybe you’re in the bathroom but I know you carried your phone in there.”
8.27: “Hello! Pants should be on now!”
8.32: “The noise from flushing lasts about 10 seconds. And who washes their hands if all they’ve done is pee?”
8.35: “All this waitin’s got me snackish. Am I feelin’ sweet or salty? – Wait why is this even a question. Ice cream.
8.39: “Ooh yea neapolitan. Let me just get this quick call in before I kick back.”
8.40: ~redial while grabbing spoon~
8.51: “Guess I’ll give it another shot. It’s been freaking long enough, what with that ice cream break.”
8.52: “Um hello? Does anyone live at this number?”
9.07: “Pick up the phooone dammit!”

***

Is it just me or is this unbelievable? Someone – a stranger – called me 11 times in 29 minutes. There’s no way I would ever have imagined anyone would call me this often. I’m trying to get an apartment building rented, so frequent phone calls are expected, but this person took the cake. And! They called in the middle of a dinner party I was hosting.

Thankfully my phone was on silent and I was busy frying potstickers, steaming rice and coordinating table set-up, so it wasn’t until my phone lit up from the last call that I knew someone was trying to reach me. When I realised they had in fact tried 10 times before, in such a short amount of time, I had absolutely no intention of answering if they called again. Clearly they were rude and inconsiderate, and who would want a tenant like that?

As it happened, when they did call the final time – a whole 15 minutes later – my friends and I were seated at the table and one of them said I should answer in case it was urgent. I was pretty sure it was not, and thought the number looked familiar, but since I had only glanced at my phone the time before I couldn’t be sure. My friend succeeded in convincing me, and to my dismay I found my instinct was right. The person on the other end was inquiring about an apartment, and after I hung up and reviewed my call log I confirmed that it was the same pest from before. I was disgusted.

Well, I’m over it now and thought it might be fun to imagine the caller’s inner dialogue. There had to have been one, right? Who can be that obnoxious without rationalising their actions? Thankfully I never had to deal with them again because, wouldn’t you know it, the apartments didn’t suit their needs.

The Woman Who’s Mad I Went to College

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Yesterday afternoon I went looking for people to talk to about the radio story I’m working on; one conversation in particular stuck with me. It started off ordinarily enough, with me asking a vendor about her work and her pleasantly sharing information about herself. It wasn’t long though before she got angry and railed against me.

The back and forth she said/I said don’t matter so much as the foundation for her antipathy. This woman, I’ll call her Elise, became aggressive and hostile because she believed the questions I was asking represented my own opinions, which she thought threatened her livelihood. She pegged me for an uppity, uncaring person, out to take all I could for myself and use people however I pleased on the way. She spoke vehemently against my education abroad – her one correct assumption – and exclaimed that I would make millions while she would receive nothing for our exchange. I tried to explain that I was playing devil’s advocate, that I was working basically for free, but she couldn’t hear me.

A wall of tension grew higher the longer we spoke, but still I tried to gently prod her and find out more about her position. I focused on not taking her barbs personally, and deflecting them back at the amorphous ‘them’ where they belonged. Thankfully by the end of our conversation I had eased her concerns and we parted on good terms.

I’ve interviewed all sorts of people, but never before sensed class as such a large obstacle to finding common ground. Our General Election is days away, so I couldn’t help but think about how a more politically based conversation between us might go – not well. I lamented the fact that Elise couldn’t relate to me because of the kind of life and prospects she thought I had. How do politicians do it? I’ve heard it said that appealing to the masses is a skill, but walking away from our conversation I wished I could have some of that magic. What could I have done differently? How could I have helped her feel at ease? I wanted to email my professors and ask them about difficult interviews they’ve done, and whether they had any advice.

Despite a hugely cosmopolitan history, including boatloads of political and religious refugees and 200 years of tourism, most Bahamians are black. There is a racial divide, acknowledged and frequently discussed; exploited, in fact, for political gain. Our class divisions, on the other hand, go by unremarked. Elise was angry at me because she believed my opportunities had twisted my mindset against her flourishing. It didn’t matter that we were both black.

Class seems like a far more ornery thing to fight than race. It emerges from the very systems that run our society. At least with race we can represent scientifically the fact that skin colour is among the shallowest biological signifiers. With class, either you have the money for particular schools or health care, or you don’t. Either you can afford to comfortably fit your family into a home, or you can’t.

The simplest take-away from our conversation is that you shouldn’t make assumptions about strangers and their intentions, but the result of that in this case points to a much larger issue. I don’t think there’s an easy answer; this is the subject many philosophers and economists devote their lives to after all. But I felt a poisonous negativity, a deep dislike and distrust of me based on nothing other than my background, and it was both hurtful and unproductive.

Living With Palms Open

I always had something I could give to somebody else. I’ve been so blessed.

Grammy,  February 2017

Grammy is the OG of generosity in my book. When I was a little girl I saw countless people’s faces light up with thankfulness for a kindness she had done for them, either in that moment or at some time previously. Everyone was always so glad to see her. I watched her buy food, clothes and shoes to give away, and she could never pass up a sale because though she rarely needed anything on offer, she was sure she’d find something useful that someone else would. Her car and her time were open to others as well – we regularly picked up strangers (mostly women) we passed on the road to give them a ride to where they were going.

Now that she’s older she’s less mobile, but she still finds ways to give to others. A few years ago, when I’d regularly take her and my Grandad out on errands and to church and doctor’s appointments, I’d watch her roll up bills and surreptitiously tuck them into clerks’, priests’ and nurses’ pockets.

Grammy isn’t only generous in these smaller everyday ways either. Even more extravagant items, like a computer, a car, or a house are in her giving history. And these are just kindnesses that I know about!

Grammy lives with palms open. Everything she owns flows like a river from her hands to another’s. She grew up poor, and never had a high paying job. She never went to high school and was a government auditor for her entire career. She had to have been thrifty, and prioritise giving to others over having a more comfortable lifestyle, in order to be as generous as she has been. But as she explained in her own words, it never felt like a sacrifice.

That’s the thing that I wonder at. This generosity in my grandmother is like a gift of the Spirit. There is no hemming and hawing, or reassuring herself with the knowledge that she’ll reap greater rewards. In the conversation that I quoted from, she was telling me about the little boy in the house next door when she was newly married and living in England. His family was poor, and he would regularly stretch is arm out over the wall, hoping for a token. Grammy would oblige him with something like biscuits or candy, because, as she said, she always had something to give away.

These sidebar statements are sprinkled through all of Grammy’s conversations – she loves to  exalt the Lord and his blessings on her life, and glorifies him with continual thanksgiving. He always took care of her, she knows she can count on him, which is why she doesn’t think twice about sharing with others. I want to be as generous as my Grammy is, but to be honest it feels like more of a difficulty for me than it is for her. Generosity seems as much a part of her personality as her impish wit and love of food. It’s one of my favourite things about her, and though I may be always striving to be as open-handed as she is, I’m glad to have her as an example of the everlasting contentment that comes from a life of regular giving.