Fighting Fear, Being Generous

IMG_8142_t670.JPG
Roseau, Dominica – AP Photo/Carlisle Jno Baptiste

Just after Hurricane Irma bullied its way through, Hurricane Maria ravaged Dominica, our neighbour to the south. The death toll is 27, with many more missing. Most of the buildings are destroyed, and the natural landscape is brown and broken, nothing like the lush green paradise that inspired the nickname Nature Isle. At the beginning of the summer I made a friend from Dominica who lives in Jamaica. He took an arduous 3 day journey to get back to his island – the last leg by boat from St. Lucia – and told me about the “total devastation” he found there. Busy with affairs on the ground, and working around spotty communication services, I didn’t get much more than that and an “it’s terrible”. I can hardly imagine how he must feel.

Dominica is very much in the thoughts and prayers of many Bahamians, not least because when we were struggling after Hurricane Matthew they gave us US$100,000. We have offered assistance from our Defence Force, and our Prime Minister has also pledged that we will accommodate Dominican students in our public and private schools.

On this point, too many Bahamians are struggling. They are crying poor mouth and criticising the government for wanting to assist foreigners when we don’t have our own house in order. They ask: What about our students, in overcrowded, under-resourced classrooms? What about our Family Island residents who need jobs and whose islands are recovering from Hurricanes Irma, Matthew and Joaquin? What about ‘choose another problem’?

On the surface, these are valid concerns, and I understand the practicality behind them. People would like to know the details of how we will accommodate the students and possibly their parents. At their root though, these questions are based in fear. Fear that we don’t have enough for ourselves to commit to sharing, fear of being uncomfortable as we extend our hands to others. We want to be certain the timing is right, but if we waited for timing before we helped anybody we would be sitting on our hands for eternity.

The Bahamas is more than four times the size of Dominica, population-wise. Economists use GDP to discuss the financial health of different nations, and if you compare our two, The Bahamas’ USD9 billion is 18 times Dominica’s USD500 million. Scaling figures to the per capita level paints a more helpful picture, and here we see our per capita GDP is $23,124 vs Dominica’s $7,144. Yet Dominicans managed to reach into their pockets and give us $100,000 – that I’m sure wasn’t just lying around on the table – and at the same time donate the same amount to Haiti. If we were to give them the same percentage of our GDP we would be sending them a cheque for $180 million.

So what happen to my people? I’m not saying anything that hasn’t already been said, but we love to talk about being a Christian nation and this response is anything but. Who hasn’t heard some message about how God spared us from this or blessed us with that? That same good God commands us to give, expects us to give and blesses us when we give. The Macedonians famously gave out of their poverty (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). But you don’t need to be a Christian to see generosity as a virtue, or to believe in reaping rewards for loving behaviour. What kind of reputation do we want to have, regionally and beyond? Do we want to earn another mark in the column labelled stuck-up and unCaribbean?

These are the moments that allow us to determine the kind of nation we want to be, where we can do more than make pretty speeches and have earnest conversations. The choices we make set precedents, will be recorded in history books for our great-grandchildren to study. I am thankful for the compassion of our Prime Minister, and support the decision that he made on my behalf. I want our Bahamas to be known for kindness, helpfulness and openhandedness, and this is a step in the right direction.

Advertisements

Rushin’ to Bacchanal – My Podcast Episode!

Glinton_Genesis27.jpg
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!

SaveSave

At the Beach

OFB colour

I went swimming yesterday for the first time since early July. It’s amazing, I live in The Bahamas, it’s summer time – surely I’d be at the beach every weekend! But no. You know how life is, it gets in the way.

There were a couple of weekends of bad weather too, like the one where my mum and I planned a beach date but it rained all day, and last weekend, when Hurricane Irma was moving through. The ocean is still churning after her visit. I was surprised when I got to the water at how high the tide was, how fierce the waves. More than that, I was disappointed: this meant I wouldn’t be able to do much swimming.

OFB 16 Sep 2

I did have my camera with me though, so I walked up the shore taking pictures of the waves, trying to capture their aggression. There’s so much for me to learn about photography, I’m still getting a handle on the basics. ISO, aperture and shutter speed work in tandem, and as one shifts so do the others. Balancing the three is one skill, mastering it for different scenarios is another. Then there’s the matter of the shifting light, and manually focusing – so much to think about! I lost track of time as I practiced and the next thing I knew it was 40 minutes later. Time to meet the waves head on, without the buffer of a camera lens, so I finally went into the water.

The ocean was rough. It felt almost like I was getting beat up: as soon as one wave crashed over my head, another was building right behind it. I tried floating on my back but the waves crashed over my face, pushing water into my mouth and nose, causing me to sputter. The delightful bobbing and underwater somersaults I’ve written about before weren’t possible. The most comfortable position was floating on my stomach. But the water was warm, and I was in it, and I was still happy.

Maybe 10 minutes later I couldn’t take the beatings anymore. I was beginning to have a headache and was afraid I’d soon become nauseous – seasick without being in a boat! It’s happened before, swimming in rough water.

OFB 16 Sep

I packed up my things and slowly made my way back home, grateful for the reprieve. Hopefully it won’t be so long before my next beach visit.

 

SaveSaveSaveSave

On Hurricanes

timothy-meinberg-105726.jpgPhoto by Timothy Meinberg on Unsplash

Bahamians spent most of the last week talking about and preparing for Hurricane Irma. We were getting ready for an apocalyptic-level storm, and (most) everyone was taking it very seriously. Our government evacuated people in the southern islands, who were forecast to be the worst hit. Schools and businesses on New Providence, in the northwest and home to the capital, closed as early as Wednesday evening, though they weren’t meant to start feeling the hurricane until Friday. Hurricane prep takes time, and no one had an excuse not to be ready.

Thankfully, the events over the weekend have felt more like a hiccup, and we were spared the devastation experienced by islands like St. Martin and Barbuda. This was the first time I was home for a hurricane in a few years, and it got me thinking about my more dramatic storm experiences.

Floyd
My earliest (storm) memory is of Hurricane Floyd. I was 9, and my family still lived in a condo complex, next door to my best friend. My youngest brother wasn’t born yet. I remember our condo was very dark because of all the shutters up, and that for hours all we could do was imagine what was going on outside, with the wind whistling, rain falling and mysterious things crashing. After the storm passed, my siblings and I walked through our complex with our dad, in awe of the flooding, the sand, the downed trees. I can still see my sister (or brother)’s red rain boots, splashing through the dirty water.

Michelle
Michelle came not too long after Floyd, and she was a doozy as well. By this time though we lived in a house and had much more space to play during the hurricane. Again, most of our house was in darkness because of shutters, but upstairs our two bedrooms were a little brighter since their windows, at the front of the house, were uncovered. My siblings and I ran back and forth between our bedrooms, watching the wind batter the trees from the second-storey windows. The family before us left behind a yellow box in the front yard, covering some small machine or appliance. The wind picked it up and tossed it all across the lawn; it ended up in pieces. Some trees blew over too, and there was generally debris everywhere, much like Floyd. I remember being thankful that we had a generator because of how long the power was off, and playing plenty of board games.

Frances and Jeanne
I don’t remember going through these storms, but I do know they were bad for The Bahamas. I think they both pummeled Grand Bahama, an island in the north, and possibly did major damage elsewhere too. They must have been kinder, if you can say that, to my island though, which is why I don’t remember them.

On top of these four, there was a hurricane somewhere around the end of high school, or in college, where all my cousins and siblings spent the weekend together at one of our homes (or maybe it was Frances or Jeanne?). We kept one another entertained, and afterward my uncle put us all to work cleaning up the many downed trees, tons of leaves and other debris from the yard. We filled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow, dove to retrieve foreign objects from the bottom of the pool, swept water and wiped windows. It was a lot of work, even though there were at least 10 of us.

After this was what I believe was Hurricane Sandy, since I spent this one almost alone at my parents’ house, and am assuming my cousins and siblings were back at school. I whiled away much of the time on the phone with the guy I was dating. I stayed in my darkened room, reading and texting him, reading and calling him. Every now and again I’d head down to the kitchen for a snack. The storm itself wasn’t very exciting, but I did enjoy having that guy to talk to and to keep me company.

This weekend, for Irma, I spent the time marking essays, getting ahead with other work and tidying my room. Yesterday my family and I watched the US Open women’s final. The weather was windy and grey, but Irma ended up passing us by and we were spared her terrible force. To every reader in a hurricane zone, I pray that we can all get through the rest of this season in an equally quiet fashion. I pray too that everyone whose lives have been dramatically altered by Harvey and Irma can return to a semblance of normalcy soon.

A Little Dance Music Before Bed

patrick-hendry-181408.jpg
Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

The best kind of bedtime is the one I’m able to ease into. I’m not a fan of those frantic days when I work right up until the nth hour, then force myself to stop and get to sleep as quickly as possible. Neither do I like those nights when I get home late and only have time to brush my teeth, wash my feet, face and hands, and schlafen – the way my dad used to instruct me and my siblings when we’d get into similar situations as children. I don’t even really like watching a tv show or movie as the last thing before bed. No, the best bedtimes are the ones where I get an early start: shower, listen to my ‘sleep’ playlist as I put on pj’s, read, and maybe listen to one more song before I really close down.

I developed my sleep playlist in college, when I started having trouble falling asleep and someone suggested to my mum that I create a wind-down routine. The top two songs on there are ‘Solitude’ by Billie Holiday, and Chopin’s Mazurka Op. 17 no. 4. I love them both, but I’d like to wax a little poetic about the perfection that is Chopin’s mazurka.

Mazurkas are Polish dances, though this piece doesn’t exactly conjure visions of people partying in my mind. In fact, I don’t really think of anything while it’s playing; it’s the kind of music that clears my head. I am captivated by its lilting melody, its almost saccharine sweetness. Arthur Rubinstein’s interpretation is perfection: most of the time gentle and light, but with enough vigour and passion to keep the experience interesting. I’ve listened to it hundreds of times, and still marvel at the way he makes the piano sing. I grew up playing the instrument, and even at my most coaxing, delicate moments I felt like the sounds I produced were plonking and clumsy.

As Rubinstein performs it, the mazurka is 4.5 minutes long. It starts with a basic, four bar, four note melody, a little melancholy. There’s a brief pause and then we get into the body of the piece, which takes that same melody and uses it as the basis for a number of rhythmic and melodic variations. It lifts and twirls, with trills, grace notes and little runs, always with steady chords underneath the movements, grounding them. There’s a portion kind of like a bridge in the middle that introduces new material, and then we return to the familiar melody and some more variations. The music ends at the beginning, tidily, with the same first four bars, but with so much more emotion; it’s like we’ve become intimate partners because of the way we’ve seen the melody move.

When the mazurka comes to rest, I feel completely at peace. Rarely am I able to play it just once – maybe I never have? And I am always overcome with gratitude for such incredible gifts in this world – composing and performing – and with amazement at the skill of Chopin and  Rubinstein. The mazurka makes bedtime magical, and reminds me too of the awesome God who made it, and all music, possible.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

James 1:17

 

 

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

The Name My Mama Gave Me

linh-pham-221033Photo by Linh Pham on Unsplash

I was getting ready to write about how people love to shorten my name, and how I actually prefer my whole name and don’t like when they do that…. when I realised that I’ve never introduced myself here. So hi! I’m Gabrielle. 🙂

I didn’t like my name when I was a girl, and used to pester my mum about the other names she planned to give me – Stephanie or Joy (Matthew for a boy) – and why she hadn’t used one of those. Apparently when I was born she was supernaturally inspired to name me Gabrielle instead. I thought it would have been great to be a Joy. I still really like that name.

My family and people who have known me longest call me Gabrielle or Gigi (which I love). In kindergarten and primary school everyone called me Gabrielle. For whatever reason that shifted when I got to high school, and people started calling me Gabby. There are, of course, a few exceptions to this timeline – some of my oldest, dearest friends call me Gabby – but for the most part that was a name that became more common in high school.

Even then, most of my primary school classmates – my school was k-12 – moved on with me, influencing new students to call me by my full name as they did. ‘Gabrielle’ was still in the majority. That changed when I went to college.

Though I always introduced myself using my full name, everyone called me Gabby. I didn’t mind, until my senior year, when I realised that most of the people I interacted with called me Gabby, and now Gabrielle was in the minority. What if for the rest of my life most people called me Gabby? And I died and that’s what everyone but family and old friends knew me as? By then I loved my name and wanted everyone to use it, but people were calling me Gabby left right and centre! I remember one moment in particular when someone told me they didn’t realise my full name wasn’t Gabby, which no doubt affected my name-for-life crisis.

Now I’m asserting myself as Gabrielle. Gone are the days when I didn’t have a name preference. When I meet new people, if they try and call me ‘Gabby’, I correct them. So many automatically shorten my name without my permission, which is especially irritating when I hardly know them. If we’ve just met, or have a more professional relationship, how are you already comfortable enough to use a nickname?

So yes, I’m Gabrielle, not Gabby.

Can you relate? Do you find people often shorten your name?

Blender Banana Pancakes

herson-rodriguez-96103
Photo by Herson Rodriguez on Unsplash

Today is a busy day! My first semester of teaching at the University of The Bahamas begins tomorrow, and there are a few things I’d like to take a look at and/or wrap up before the morning. I also want to work on my new project, and my mum has asked me for some help with a paper she’s writing. I’m going to go to church, and because my aunt’s birthday was on Friday I definitely don’t want to miss our Sunday family lunch. How will I fit it all in? (Not to mention this post.)

In spite of all that, my day always starts with breakfast. It’s Sunday, so I didn’t want to have a typical weekday meal. There were two overripe bananas chilling in our fruit basket and I thought hey, pancakes! This recipe is very quick, and delicious, and happens to be gluten-free in case you have an intolerance. It’s become my new go-to!

Ingredients
– 1/2 cup rolled oats
– 1/2 tsp baking powder
– 1/2 tsp cinnamon
– pinch of salt
– 2 overripe bananas, peeled and broken into halves or quarters
– 2 eggs
– 1 tsp vanilla extract

Method
1. Pulse oats in the blender until they form a powder.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients to the blender and mix until smooth.
3. Let the mixture rest for 10 – 20 minutes until it thickens. (I almost skipped this step this morning because the batter seemed thick enough, but I decided to use the time to check my email and plan my day.)
4. Use a 1/4 cup measure to scoop the batter onto a hot pan. Once you see a few bubbles forming on the surface, flip and cook the second side for 2-3 minutes, until brown.
5. Enjoy!

This recipe makes between 7 and 8 pancakes, which is 2 servings for me. I ended up having to make a small batch of regular pancakes for my uncle, and for those I used 1/2 an egg. I scrambled the other half (the white) to eat with my pancakes. They taste really scrumptious, and now I don’t have to worry about breakfast in the morning! I’m grateful to Alida from Simply Delicious for the original recipe, which I adapted slightly. I hope you give them a try. 🙂