Cook’s Best of 2017

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Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash

Happy New Year everyone! How’d you bring it in? I went to Junkanoo with a cousin (I never ended up going on Boxing Day, like I mentioned last week), and today my family had a house party.

I really enjoyed writing in this space over the last year. Somewhere around the end of January I decided I’d try to write once a week, and I succeeded! There were times I didn’t know what to say, or felt I didn’t have enough time in the day, but I stuck with it and now I have 49 posts to look back on. Although I only shared a few of them on fb, I was still surprised at how widely everything was read! Thanks to all of you for sticking around to see what I came up with. 🙂 These are the 5 most popular:

1. I Met My Grandmother at the Art Gallery
2. The Woman Who’s Mad I Went to College
3. The Name My Mama Gave Me
4. UB Lessons: Taking Hard Things a Day at a Time
5. Fighting Fear, Being Generous

City Soundscape didn’t make the top 5, but it’s my personal favourite.

I wish you peace and joy in 2018, and steady progression toward your goals. I haven’t made any resolutions but there are things I want to continue to improve, like my photography, and doing more to share my creative work. I’m off to think some more about that stuff, with a view to hitting the ground running. I’m one of those love-to-make-lists people – how about you? Cheers!

 

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Don’t Tell Me How to Deal with My Harassment, Especially If You’re Only Here to Judge

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Photo by Olesya Grichina on Unsplash

Yesterday I was reprimanded for confronting a man who sexually harassed me.

You read that right. During the reprimand I was thoughtful, and listened. I knew that the person – my friend’s husband – was speaking from a sincere place. Furthermore, I was too shocked to firmly agree or disagree with what he was saying. When I got home and thought more about it though, I felt like he was completely wrong.

Here’s a summary of what happened: My friend, her husband and I were volunteering at a children’s Christmas party. Before the organisers decided what they needed us to do, we were standing outside, waiting. A man was sitting on a bench underneath a tree next to where we were standing, staring at me. His gaze was relentless.

I turned my body away. I walked a few steps closer to my friend’s husband, so he could partially shield me. I sat on the opposite side of the tree, behind the man’s back. Always, his eyes followed me. He shifted his whole body to turn and look at me. It was disgusting. Even in this short retelling I feel disgusted.

Finally, I walked over to him. I asked him why he was looking at me and told him he was making me uncomfortable. He mumbled some nonsense about me looking nice and him wanting to tell me – telepathically?? – and I asked him to stop. Then I moved away and again tried to stand in a place where he couldn’t see me.

A few seconds later my friend and I had to cross the lawn in front of the man to get to the room where we would be working. I didn’t want to move. Though it had only been a few minutes, I was psychologically affected by his gaze. I felt exposed, and violated.

Later, inside the room while we were working, my friend’s husband told me that I shouldn’t have confronted the man. He said I didn’t know how the man might have reacted, that things could have gone poorly. I was surprised, since although he was standing near me I didn’t know he saw what had happened. In any event, I told him that he was right, but since we were in a public space I didn’t think the risk was that high. Then he went on to tell me that I could have used that moment for evangelism. I could have chosen different words in order to ask the man if he knew about Jesus, or invite him to church with me.

Are you kidding me?

I was floored. This man saw me literally hiding from the harasser, and said I should be asking the harasser to spend more time with me? Our conversation continued with some back and forth. My friend’s husband compared my situation to a time when he was catcalled by a woman, and he did what he suggested to me – invited her to church. He also compared my response to a time about an hour earlier, when we were driving to the party site. He was aggravated with the slow driver in front of him, but in our conversation acknowledged that he didn’t need to respond as aggressively as he did.

These examples only showed me that he had no real understanding for what I felt under the tree. I tried to explain the powerlessness, the fact that I was on the defensive, that I felt alone, but the disconnect remained. He acknowledged that I was in a difficult position, but said although it wouldn’t be easy, evangelising in these moments was still something I should be aiming for.

I don’t remember how the conversation ended, but it did, and only left me feeling more upset. In fact, I probably would have forgotten about the creep under the tree if I hadn’t had this discussion afterward. Unfortunately, it would just be added to the pile of similar incidents.

I believe my friend’s husband said what he did out of concern for me and zeal for our faith, but all it did was rub salt in my wound. It was not his place to criticise my actions; all that did was make me wonder why he didn’t come to my defence on his own, or say something to the creep after I did. Moreover, I didn’t do anything wrong in choosing to stand up for myself. In a situation where no one else was going to do it for me, I took control of things in a way that made me feel less helpless. The contradictory statements – not to confront a harasser, to evangelise in confrontation – both encourage harmful behaviour that minimize the action of the harasser.

We are in a time now when many women are stepping forward and speaking about their experiences of abuse, assault and harassment at the hands of powerful male public figures. We are applauding their bravery and doing our best to honour their courage; we want to bring their perpetrators to justice. In telling me to be quiet, my friend’s husband only contributes to the culture that allows sexual misconduct to continue. Telling me to evangelise – to stay in harms way – contributes to people thinking of Christianity, and Christian men, as backward and oppressive.

I share this story to reject both those things. I share this story so that you, especially if you’re a man, will reconsider any situation where you think you ought to correct a woman for choosing to speak up. I share this story to call for more empathy from men, for the awful experience of any kind of sexual harassment or assault. We have a long way to go before we have totally shifted our attitudes and strategies dealing with sexual misconduct, and the vulnerable populations cannot be fighting on our own.

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! 🙂

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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.

On Hurricanes

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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.

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?

Flexin While His Hands Up

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My youngest brother was in a bodybuilding competition last night, his first ever. Well, technically he was in the physique category, which is for less muscled people, but you get the idea. He signed up months ago, then yesterday morning my mum sent pictures to me and my siblings of him on stage for the pre-judging. None of us knew it was happening so we responded with surprise, but we were all excited for him.

I went to the main show with my mum that evening. The place was “cram jam”, as we say here, with cars spilling out of two parking lots onto the grassy strips beside the main road. We had no idea the event was so popular. Unfortunately we missed seeing Jeremy on stage, but we did get to see his friend who signed up with him. Today I got to hear about the behind-the-scenes, and he demonstrated some of the poses he had to hold for the judges. My littlest brother! Flexing his back and spreading out his chest to show his lats!

Bodybuilding has never been something he’s talked about doing; some guys at the gym that he frequents encouraged him and his friend to enter the competition. He is buff though – took home 3rd place! – and open to trying new things. I’ve been thinking about that – picking up new things – a bit lately, because of learning photography. I’ve always been kind of interested, but it’s never been too high on my To Do list. This foray is a by-product of a new project I’m taking on (that I’ll talk about soon!), a thing I need to learn and want to be good at in order to complement the venture.

I feel a little like those people who pick up a hobby later in life, except it’s not “later in life”. When I first started thinking about it, it felt a little weird, like I was jumping the gun on things, but now I realise, there is no gun! Just like my still-in-his-teens brother who is exploring the world of bodybuilding and physique competitions. I doubt it’s going to become a major part of his life, but it’s a very-new thing he put effort into all the same. Before photography, when was the last time I picked up something new to try and keep my mind sharp? I collect skills based on work that I want to do, and now I see that I can – ought to – open the net wider than that and be ready to jump into more of the things I’m curious about. I don’t need to wait until I’m retired or an empty-nester – life’s too uncertain – or have more time – I won’t. Of course there’s the responsibilities that crowd out every day, but a little intentionality goes a long way.

So thanks to my brother! For showing me what this kind of thing can look like, and generally being a wonderful human. If you met him I know you’d love him (basically because everyone does).

Have you picked up any new hobbies lately? Do they say “cram jam” where you’re from?