On a Nature High

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I’m writing from my backyard, enjoying the warmth of the afternoon. I so love the sun. It feels like every day since I’ve been home I find myself exulting in the weather. It is so beautiful! How can the sky be so blue? How can the flowers be so richly colourful and the greens of trees, grass and plants so vibrant?  Then there is the persistent kiss of sun on skin. How glorious! Simply being outside I feel it embrace me, like a lover who missed me dearly  and is bursting with exuberance to see me again. I take great pleasure in being able to walk outside in shorts and a tank top, to leave the house in a sundress and sandals. What luxury, to sit on my grandmother’s porch, run on the beach, drive with the windows down. I love being warm. I love being warm.

I surprise myself a little with the depth of my enthusiasm for the climate and the flora, though I remember even as a girl I marvelled at the environment and took advantage of opportunities to be outside. Perhaps now that I’ve lived away for extended periods, and in much colder parts of the world, I have a better sense for how much I appreciate the easy pleasures of these islands. What bliss, to wander the yard barefoot! To look up and see a vast expanse of crisp, clear sky! It is a tonic for my of-late weary soul, a shot of energy and thankfulness more swift and sure than any caffeinated drink or online article. I look outside my window, I step out the front door, and I feel reborn.

The Prime Minister’s Middle Finger

Our Prime Minister flipped off a critic at a party event on Monday night. The person wasn’t actually there, but the PM wanted everyone present to know what he thought of their thievery allegations.

When I heard this news, I was disgusted. It’s ridiculous for our 73 year old PM to be behaving that way, and this is the kind of incident that sets the tone for rudeness, aggression and violence in our community. When our own Prime Minister can’t conduct himself properly in front of a crowd of sycophants, how can we expect better of people who see him and the rest of our politicians – consciously or not – as models for how to live and relate to one another? I want to be able to look up to our leaders and be inspired by them, not shake my head in disbelief and wish for them to demit office.

Recently, PM Christie described our society as the Wild West because of the increasing number of murders. His finger gesture makes him look like a hypocrite, since it displays the same disrespect, callousness and lack of self-control necessary to take another human life. If he – a career politician and our chief public official – doesn’t have the discipline to manage conflict in a dignified manner, how can he criticise young, disenfranchised men for not doing the same? He certainly isn’t setting an example for them to follow.

Christie isn’t the only disappointing politician in the news. So many of our leaders are nasty, corrupt, greedy and rude. I long for a change in our government, when there are more people to admire than to be frustrated with and to disdain. I don’t have to support their positions, but I would like to be encouraged by their work ethic and thankful for the way they esteem their office. Obama showed me that this is possible, and so I hope. God raises leaders up and makes others fall, and so I pray.

Thankful for Community, in Sickness and in Health

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I was out and about this weekend, all over Nassau. Saturday was spent with my uncle, and we got an early start. First in the west, then central, then the downtown area in the east. There was equipment to move, a building to inspect, and a couple of fairs to go to. The first was organised by his church, a steak-out to raise funds for… I don’t know what. The endowment? The second was the Tru Tru Bahamian Festival held at the grounds of John Watlings Distillery.

There wasn’t much to the steak-out, we arrived at the very beginning of the event so there weren’t many people there. The music was incredibly loud for the small courtyard where it was held; definitely loud enough to attract passersby but far too loud to make staying there for a long time at all comfortable. I can’t imagine how the people who worked the grill, the dessert tent and other jobs must have felt at the end of the day.

The Tru Tru Bahamian Festival, pictured above, was bright and colorful, bustling with people; since I’ve been away there were many to catch up with! I know I’m not alone in loving celebrations of local businesses and artisans like this. The day was beautiful and the sun wasn’t hot. There was enough going on for it to be lively but not so much that it was overwhelming.

Lunch at the church fair kept me from being very hungry, but I got a green smoothie and my mum and I shared a cajun lobster snack (what Bahamians call any protein paired with fries). Neither of us enjoyed it. The lobster tail was smothered in who knows what combination of spices and tasted like too much and nothing all at the same time. “I didn’t know it was possible to ruin lobster,” Mummy commented later. I’ve never cooked lobster and don’t eat it very often, but I was surprised by how badly the dish failed all the same. Seems like it failed me a second way too, since Monday morning I woke with stomach pains and had to go to the bathroom, there to remain for the next seven hours.

Seven! I’m not sure I’m really sorry to have shared that detail, since I don’t know if anything else truly conveys the magnitude of my illness. The first few hours were spent in ways you can easily imagine. The last few I lay on the floor, in and out of sleep, too weak to move anywhere else. When I found the strength to leave the bathroom I moved to the couch, and there I remained for the rest of the day, into the night. Paradoxically, I was almost immobile from nausea. I didn’t even know that was possible.

Oh it was terrible! I vowed never to eat again, and decided this was the kind of punishment people should wish on their worst enemy. Today, three days later, my neck and stomach muscles are still sore from the violent retching. I’m feeling heaps better though, and am so thankful for everyone who helped care for me and checked on me.

That was one thing I was genuinely happy about in the midst of the misery. Last year when I was sick because of my students I was all alone. It sucks being sick when there’s no one to make you tea or bring you water or medicine. I wonder if it doesn’t actually prolong illness, since you have to drag your weakened body to care for yourself, or forego treatment entirely because you’re unable to administer it on your own. I’m thankful for my community! Whether mingling under palm trees or measuring tablespoonfuls of medicine, they make all the difference.

Tuna and Grits

Tuna and grits is a classic Bahamian combination, appropriate for breakfast, lunch or dinner, but traditionally eaten for breakfast. When I’m away from home, it’s a comfort food and a way to fight homesickness; I know a lot of Bahamian students and expats feel the same. Then, when I get back, tuna and grits is one of the ways I feel welcomed and grounded. At some point not long into my return, someone somewhere has this combo on the table. There’s no need for a special request, it just is; as much a part of the landscape as palm trees and colourful cement buildings.

Last year I met and admired a wonderful woman. In hopes of starting a friendship with her  I invited her to breakfast one Saturday. I brainstormed a whole list of menu ideas before I decided to tell her more about myself through this simple classic. The morning came and I offered tea, orange juice and homemade muffins, then announced that the star of the meal would be tuna and grits. She was surprised at the combination and asked for only a little, but found she loved it and had seconds. I was so pleased to be able to share a bit of The Bahamas with her and that she enjoyed it as much as she did.

Is tuna and grits truly an odd pairing? I can’t judge since it’s as ordinary to me as peanut butter and jelly, and almost as plain. Grits: preferably yellow. Polenta works in a pinch but has a slightly different flavour probably owing to its completely different mouth feel. Boil them in salted water and be generous with butter when they’re done. Tuna: from the can, tossed with lime juice, mayonnaise and finely diced onion. That’s the salad at it’s most basic, but you can add celery, habanero or goat pepper, sweet pepper (why), apples (my family’s spin) and/or mustard (I love a little). Those are the most popular add-ins I’ve seen, but you can get creative. Don’t go crazy though, the tuna has to shine through. It doesn’t share the stage with any other ingredients (if you’re thinking tomatoes, walnuts or grapes, you’re heading in the wrong direction). The result should be smooth, a little crunchy from the onions (and celery), tangy from the lime, and possibly with a sweet and spicy kick if you’ve used apples and pepper. On a plate or in a bowl, two colours asking to be swirled together: yellow and grey, like you’ve seen on all the pinterest wedding boards.

The meal is simple enough to make, but takes more time and foresight than toast or cereal, so growing up it was more of a weekend affair. Tuna and grits means eating with family, a morning spent registering the blue sky, bougainvillea and birdsong.

How did Bahamians start making tuna and grits? I’m now wondering. There are other “and grits” combinations: sausage, egg, sardines, corned beef, so the question takes us back into food history and socioeconomics. All these pairings are cheap, filling and provide protein and carbs to hold you over for hours. It makes sense that they’d catch on and continue to be popular. Whatever the root, I’m home now, and thanks to my mum (for the idea and the grits) and brother (for the tuna), I enjoyed a bowl for breakfast – in case you couldn’t already tell.