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.

Busy Sundays Make for Hopeful Mondays

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It’s dinner time! And I’m just getting started on this post. Typically I like to write in the morning, before the day’s thoughts can crowd out the thinking space in my brain, before I am tired out from chores and To Do’s. Today, I had to work on an urgent editing project that came across my desk, and for which I am so thankful.

Now that it’s done and I have the evening to myself, I can pause and reflect on the hopefulness I feel about the task I have kind of unintentionally set for myself: self-employment. This project is a boon to my confidence, not only because I have spent so long trying to find work, but also because I live in a country where creative work is to varying degrees not considered ‘work’, thereby not worthy of payment.

I am not now assuming that henceforth everything will be peachy, but it felt so good to have a job doing something I enjoy and actually being paid for it. I can more easily envision a future where I am secure and independent, sustained by projects that are fulfilling and stimulating. One thing I’ve learned in the past two years is how much patience and perseverance I need to walk this road. I alternate between patronising smiles and head shakes at the memories of my younger, naïver, self. But hopefulness is important too! To fuel that patience and perseverance. So I am thankful for this peaceful, hopeful moment.

May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands.

~Psalm 90:17

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.

How Many Women Does it Take to Read a Wedding Invitation?

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My childhood best friend got married yesterday; her wedding was a sweet celebration and high energy dance party. I’m so glad I got to be part of it, though there was a bit of a comedy of errors for my mum, sister and I to get there in the beginning.

We started off on the wrong foot because of a combination of: dressing in two different places but riding together – my sister went to a friend’s house to get her makeup done – the current going off in the middle of us dressing, and having to make an unexpected stop on the way to help out my uncle.

After the hustling, hurrying and slightly exasperated sighs we were finally on our way to the church. My sister asked: Where is it, why is it there? My mum and I answered: Kemp Road, friend’s Grammy and mother worship there. We pull up to the entrance, ready to turn in, and my sister says: The parking lot is empty I don’t think it’s here. We all agree. So where could it be?! Thankfully Mummy had us bring the invitation with us, super cute in the style of a passport because half the new family is American, and we look at it closely. We’re very much in the wrong place.

My sister whips out her phone to create a snap video of our mistake, and proclaims that she knew it was in the other place – Atlantis – all along. My mum and I agree that we too knew it was at Atlantis. So how we all managed to drive in the completely opposite direction – south – when we needed to be going north, is a mystery.

We laugh and pray that my friend’s is a typical Bahamian style wedding – starting at least 30 minutes late – and turn quickly towards Atlantis. It’s a resort on an island almost all to itself, so where exactly the ballroom is that we need to be going to is a bit of a mystery. We decide to confirm with the person at the tollbooth which building we need to go to… and she sends us to the wrong one! We pull up, I hop out of the car and run over to the valet parking desks, shouting at Mummy and my sister to follow, asking why they’re taking so long. I never found out what the hold up was, but luckily it enabled another staff person near them to let them know we were at the wrong tower.

My sister frantically waves me over, I hop back into the car and we speed off – this time with her behind the wheel – to the other side of the island. How could the person at the toll not know that there are absolutely zero ballrooms in the place she sent us? We all wonder, but our spirits are still up. My sister quips that she’s actually right on time, since she’s habitually 30 minutes late to everything. We laugh, repeat prayers for a late start, and keep it moving. Once at the right tower, parking is a problem. No garage. No valet. Do we all hunt together? Mummy tells us to go inside. She takes the last hit for the team and drives off to find a spot and meet us later.

My sister and I slip quietly into the ceremony room and watch my friend’s mum and grandmother give her away, listen to the heartfelt vows she and her husband wrote for one another, and chuckle at the pastor’s advice tucked into jokes. Mummy doesn’t get to sit with us, but we reunite after the ceremony and enjoy punch together before splitting up to talk with other friends. It was a wonderful day all around, despite the hiccups in the morning, and though I initially thought Mummy’s instruction to bring the invitation with us was overkill – we’d all read it! we had the details in our calendars and mental notes! – it’s a habit I just may adopt from now on.

When Your Vote Slays the Prime Minister

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                          Terrel W. Carey/Tribune Staff, 12 May 2017

The Bahamas held its General Elections last Wednesday, and the incumbent party was slaughtered by its primary opponent. I mean, there were 39 seats available, and the incumbents, who previously held 30 (of the then 38), kept only 4 of them.

The Bahamas is a parliamentary democracy politically divided into constituencies, each with a representative who advocates on their behalf in Parliament. The dominant parties are the Progressive Liberal Party and the Free National Movement, though there are always others vying for prominence, as well as a handful of independent candidates. The party with the most seats in Parliament wins governance over the country, and its leader becomes our Prime Minister. A consequence of this system is that people tend to vote for a party or party leader over their constituency candidate.

In some constituencies this past election the challengers won by a large margin, and in others the race was a little closer. Nowhere was as dramatic as the former Prime Minister’s constituency, one he held for 40 years. Literally. He lost to his challenger by only four votes. The night of the count, there were a few numbers flying around – did he lose by seven? twenty-five? could it possibly be four? The challenger was declared the winner, and the PM asked for a recount. The next day we found out that indeed, he received 1,905 votes, while the victor won 1,909. You could even say he lost by three, since there was one protest ballot.

Whether you count it as three or four, seven or even twenty-five, that’s a stunning loss. And a humiliating blow for the former Prime Minister. There’s plenty to be said about this, and people are having a field day with it all. One lesson that sticks out to me is how important it is to vote, and how every single person who shows up to the polls matters. We hear this all the time, but it’s hard not to feel like being one in 300,000 or one in 300,000,000 makes your vote irrelevant. But think about the four people who didn’t show up on Wednesday. Were they inclined to vote for the then-Prime Minister, but figured they needn’t waste their time since he was pretty much guaranteed a win?

A friend of mine lives in his constituency and posted this on Facebook:

Five years ago, before the last general election, I was told by my MP that my vote didn’t matter because he was going to win either way. He won by a landslide, despite my vote. This past Wednesday, I cast my vote again, not thinking that it would really make a difference, but playing my part anyway. And he lost by FOUR votes! Never let anyone tell you your voice or vote doesn’t count!

What if she hadn’t gone out, because when she voted last time her MP was proven right? Our democracy has a ways to go, but in cases like this one I feel its strength and the power of my one voice. Of yours too. We can pull down giants and lift up the small man. We can say enough is enough and throw a government out on its hip, or demonstrate our willingness to give them a second – or forty-first – chance, with the mark of our pencilled X. If you live in The Bahamas – vote! If you live in any democratic country, vote.

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.