Sundays in Nassau

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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

This morning I drove to church with my windows down. The temperatures are cooler here now, and today is on the windy side, so it was altogether a lovely ride. Church is on one of my favourite roads – an avenue lined with poinciana trees. You can see it in this post actually. As I neared the end of my drive I passed through the archway of trees and came to a stop at a light. The breeze blew balmily through my car windows and pigeons cooed soothingly. Normally a busy street on a weekday, there were only a few other cars at the light with me. The air was so peaceful. All of the thoughts rushing around in my mind came to a pause as I sat and was quieted by the atmosphere. I wasn’t on a beach and didn’t have a drink anywhere near my side, but I imagine I had the kind of feeling people dream of having when they see those ads for island vacations.

I was thankful to be warm, thankful for the quiet. This might sound strange, but it felt a little like being in love. You know, those easy days when you’re not working too hard and you’re confident in and buoyed by the knowledge that you are loved. When you feel sweet, and relaxed, and maybe a little drowsy.

Life comes almost to a halt here on Sundays. With the exception of the food store, all shops are closed; the food stores close by mid-afternoon. Most everyone is taking it easy: at home, on the beach, out for a drive. It’s like the island is showing us it loves us by prompting us all to slow down and drink it in. At that light, the very best parts of a Sunday in Nassau were crystallised, there for me to bask in, to marvel at, to hold.

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Introducing the Tines that Bind

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Hello! How are you this fine Sunday? It’s fine in The Bahamas anyway. And I have a little extra pep in my step thanks to the time change. You too? This extra hour will soon be lost in the whole ‘shorter day’ thing, but right now it’s making a world of difference.

Remember those times when I mentioned having a new project, and telling you about it eventually? That time is now haha. I’ve started a food blog! It’s called the Tines that Bind, and it explores the way food shapes place and relationships. You can imagine that the first part of my inspiration came because I love food. The second part came from loving this (Bahamian) landscape, this community, and wanting to make it real to non-Bahamians.

The Bahamas isn’t just a tourist destination. People – I – live the mundane and the frustrating and the joyful here too. I hope that in sharing recipes and talking about the everyday things that becomes clearer to readers around the world. Moreover, I consume a lot of food media and have often wondered where ‘my’ voice was in the conversation, why people weren’t talking about the food that I see around me and grew up eating. Initially I figured someone more qualified would get to it at some point, but then I realised since I was the one wondering I could also be the one writing!

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I went to an exhibition opening at our national art gallery over the summer. During the artists’ talk one of them said that there’s something about our (Bahamian/Caribbean) landscape that erases us as people in the psyche of everyone else in the world. That’s the poetic version of what I’m talking about. I felt people around me nodding in agreement, and I know at least one other person wrote his statement down. We want to feel seen, and taken seriously, and not just because we have lovely places for you to stay or have your destination wedding.

As I travel I plan to include food stories from the places I visit as well. The word tines refers to the prongs on a fork (or animals’ antlers) and in the bigger picture I’m thinking about how food is one of the great equalisers. We all have to eat! Whether we live in a powerful city or dreamy paradise. We all have different customs around preparing and eating food. I’m excited to learn some of these traditions and then share them on my blog.

So there you have it! The project I’ve been working on for the last few months. I hope you’ll go and check it out, and maybe become a follower! I still plan to write here, although I’m not sure what that’s going to look like in the long term. I do know that I love how easy and relaxing it is. On an ideal day, I wake up on a Sunday morning excited to write something, and then after an hour or so I’m done. I look for a photo from my gallery or on the web and then come back a few hours later to reread and post. Voila! TiB (Tines that Bind) isn’t nearly as simple. In fact, for any professional and/or veteran bloggers who may be reading, I’d appreciate any tips you have!

Have a great Sunday and a wonderful week. I hope to see you on the TiB side of things! ūüôā

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UB Lessons: On Being Less Judgemental

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Photo by Redd Angelo on Unsplash

I have four more weeks of teaching left in this semester, and if you ask anyone who knows me they’ll tell you I can’t wait. This has been a challenging position in so many ways, and at the end of each week I breathe a sigh of relief and say a prayer of thanks that I made it.

Issues regularly crop up in every corner: administratively, technologically, logistically and interpersonally. I have a mixed bag of students: some older than me, though most of them are younger; first years and students ready to graduate; singles, married people, more parents than I expected; and they all have quite different levels of ability. On top of all that, although I’m teaching one course, one section meets in the morning and the other in the afternoon, and they have completely different vibes.

One thing that’s stood out to me in the last few weeks is how well some of my students are managing their private difficulties. You wouldn’t know it from their behaviour in class, but some of them are going through really trying times – those major life experiences that can derail you or cause long ‘delays’ as you work your way through them.

I get a glimpse into their personal struggles when they need to explain absences or ask for flexibility with assignments, but if it weren’t for that I’d be like any other student in the class – oblivious. I wonder about the students that don’t know, ¬†that are wrapped up in their own worlds. They have opinions about their classmates, I can guess at some of them from comments and body language, and they’re based on the somewhat shallow interactions they have with each other every week. Maybe they think that students who are regularly absent are lazy or disorganised; maybe they assume that students who don’t speak up in class don’t take the course seriously or aren’t prepared for the lesson. None of these assumptions would be correct.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. It’s a reminder for me to give more grace to the people that I meet. Not necessarily to give them a free pass to do poor work, or excuse them if they’re behaving badly, but just to be kinder in general and more forgiving when things go wrong. Even with people that I interact with on a semi-regular basis, I hope I can be more gentle and less judgmental – I don’t know everything about them, after all.

Despite being the kind of truth that we grasp on an intuitive level – we aren’t sharing everything that’s happening with each person we encounter – it is so easy to forget. I hope this post is a nudge for you to refresh your attempts at being broad-minded. I’d also love to hear if you’ve had any interactions lately that have brought this truth back to the front of your mind as well!

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Nearly Two Decades Later, Finally Finishing LOTR

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Photo by Andres Iga on Unsplash

The first time I tried to read the Lord of the Rings I was in 6th grade. I had an enormous copy that was a pain to lug around and just as cumbersome to page through – like my copy of War and Peace.¬†I never made it past the first volume. I don’t even think I made it halfway through the first volume. But I loved The Hobbit¬†and felt that I could love LOTR too, if I just gave it time.¬†Well, there’s been lots of time. I picked up the book again this summer, and I am thrilled with it.

LOTR has been sort of haunting me (and I’ve been running away from possible spoilers) all of my life. I know so many people who have read it and been left with a lasting, positive impression. The senior pastor of my church in NY made many a reference to the epic in his sermons. LOTR is also all over the place in pop culture; not in an overwhelming way, but enough to continue to taunt me with the mystery of the references.¬†Then of course there are the movies. People love the movies! But I have steadfastly refused to watch them, because I knew that I wanted to read the book first.

I couldn’t just read¬†any copy though. Whenever I went into a bookstore I’d go looking for the epic to see what the covers they sold looked like. Once the movies came out there were cinematic versions everywhere, which ruled all those out. Another quirk of mine is not liking to own books with the movie characters on their covers; you too? So I waited until new covers, or pretty used covers, made their way back onto shelves. Then I dithered over those, and the difference between some manageable one volume copies and other three volume series, and whether I was ready to commit.

Surely you’re tired of hearing of all this now. Suffice it to say I had an elaborate form of procrastination. Years and years went by, and still I wanted to read LOTR before I died. It was at the top of my two-item list, ahead of War and Peace,¬†which I trudged through last year.

Finally, this summer I bought ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’¬†and ‘The Return of the King’ from Strand in NY. Life is short! And it was past time, if I was serious about reading the book. They had used copies, with covers that I liked, in great condition. There wasn’t a matching one from the publisher for ‘The Two Towers’¬†(quirk alert!), but the kind salesperson helped me place an order for the next time that cover came in.

With that, I was ready.  It took a bit of coaxing to get me started Рwas there time enough left in the year to get through the whole thing? What if I wanted to take a break in between each volume and read something else? Ugh Gabrielle just.get.started! РI sighed at myself. And so, I did.

I heard from a couple of people that it was slow going in the beginning – maybe that’s why I couldn’t finish the first time – and I was prepared to push through until things got better. The heads up wasn’t necessary. I was hooked from the first chapter, and as I kept going became even more so. Now I’m frustrated with all the responsibilities that get in the way of my reading time!

I’m so happy I decided to get on with it. It’s hard to imagine how dull I found the book before, but I suppose being a child had plenty to do with it. (Although yes! I know people who read it when they weren’t much older than I was.)

I know this is hardly a review, but I’ll put this quick plug in now and say if you like epics, or fantasies, then LOTR is for you! I don’t even really read either genre, and I still think LOTR is amazing for Tolkien’s incredible vision and storytelling. Also, as a Harry Potter fan it’s very cool to see character and plot parallels between that series and LOTR.

If you’ve read the book leave me a (spoiler-less) comment! I’d love to nerd out with you about it. I finished reading ‘The Two Towers’¬†in the middle of the night two nights ago, and was squirming and freaking out over Shelob and that plot twist I was totally not ready for. Agghh!

Blessed Assurance, Because He Ascended

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I’m at the end of my day and am just setting aside a moment to blog. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to write about so I thought I’d take a look at the daily prompt and respond quickly to whatever it is. The word for today is ascend.

The first thing – or person – that comes to mind after reading that word is Jesus, who ascended into heaven (and is seated at the right hand of the Father… the rest of the Nicene creed has now jumped into my mind too). I am so thankful for my Saviour and king, who is the reason I live and move and have my being. Without him I would have nothing, and because I have him I lack nothing; in fact, I have every good thing.

I memorised Psalm 16 earlier this year because it’s become one of my favourites. The second verse says: ‘I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”‘ I am so often tempted to think that once better things come to me in the future my life will also become better; I am tempted to feel that I am waiting and working for those good things. Verse two reminds me that I have all the good I could ever need or want because I call Jesus Lord. No earthly wealth or relationships can compare to knowing God and finding my joy in him. As much as I might find happiness with my family and friends, and from the comfort that money can buy, as much as they might make me feel secure, they really just point to the ultimate satisfaction and security I have in God.

That is really an incredible concept, and one – as I said – I am still learning. But I do have so much joy and peace because of God. I see his creativity and brilliance in nature; his love in the countless ways he is gracious to me; his generosity in the humbling, inspiring things about humanity, like art and music; and I am thrilled whenever I learn something new about him and his attributes. He is awesome! A good, good father, and so much more. At the end of the day, I can rest knowing that my value comes from being loved by God. I have no reason to worry, or to fear, or to feel inadequate. I should think less about myself and more about others because my future is secure, and God’s goodness is overflowing in me. I am eternally, immeasurably loved.

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.

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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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Fighting Fear, Being Generous

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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.