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.

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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. ūüôā

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

christopher-campbell-33411Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

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?

The Time I Wanted to Be a Fisherman

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I told you all about my trip to Abaco last month, to visit my friend Kelly. Part of my stay included a tour of Cherokee Sound, a tiny settlement established in 1783. It’s home to only a couple hundred people, and the ‘streets’ are more like sidewalks – cement pathways running beside the homes and around the circumference of the settlement. Cherokee is one of Kelly’s favourite places, so of course she had to show it to me.

The day was crazy hot, and we didn’t do ourselves any favours by starting out at 1 o’clock. We parked on the beach and walked down to the Long Dock – the only way people and supplies could move to and from Cherokee until the late 1990s – and hailed the people floating in the very shallow water.

Then we headed back, in the direction of the settlement, and met two boys fishing for bait in the creek.

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They told us their names were Walker and Sebastian, and they didn’t talk much, not to us or to each other. They concentrated on finding fish in the clear water, using their net and rods to catch them. I was mesmerised by their easy, expert movements.

I didn’t do any fishing as a girl. Not much anyway. There were a couple times I went out with different uncles on their boats, but I get seasick easily and the whole sitting, rocking and waiting thing is not for my stomach. I don’t remember doing any dock fishing either. If I did, it wouldn’t have been for long enough to catch anything – I don’t have the patience.

But these boys made me want to be a fisherman, even for a day. Part of it was from admiration – I wish I could throw a net like that! – and part of it was the charm in the moment. The boys on the bridge, the blue blue sky and sun so bright your eyes almost hurt, the rods whipping through the air – it was like a scene from a painting, the kind of feeling directors try to capture in movies. Even the boys’ names, Walker and Sebastian, were just right.

They were friendly enough – answering my questions, bringing up a puffer fish for us to see – but focused. Kelly and I hung around for a little, I took pictures (with their permission) and then we left. I think fondly on that snippet from our day: how cool it was to watch those boys and how they were at once the picture of island life and more than that same picture.

Isn’t it strange how that happens? All of the media we consume set up these expectations based on ideals and stereotypes, but also truths; then those seemingly-perfect, but entirely ordinary, moments come and we experience them both in their reality and measuring them against all the pictures of reality we’ve seen and read.

Anyway, I doubt I’ll ever see Walker and Sebastian again, but I’m glad that I met them, that I got to learn a little about them, and that they let Kelly and me share a part of their Saturday.

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Leaving Home to Find It: Bahamian Anthems

I was browsing the shelves in my undergrad institution’s music library when I came across two volumes of Bahamian music. I couldn’t understand how they could be titled the “Real Bahamas” and I’d never heard of any of the singers or songs listed on the back. Of course I checked them out, eager to hear their contents.

Well. My first listen-through was challenging. I didn’t like what I heard, which was disappointing, because I really wanted to! This was the “real” Bahamas after all. Most of the songs were a cappella, and the ones that weren’t had only guitar accompaniment. The music was folksy and the singers were old. Even their voices sounded wrinkled. They growled, mumbled, shouted and dropped in and out of the songs seemingly at will, with the end result being far from the polished albums I’m used to. But there was something about the songs, the stories they told and the dialogue between the singers that encouraged me to replay the albums. That and the fact that I wanted to at least be able to appreciate the content.

Slowly, through this deliberate process, I came to love the music and the people behind it. The “wrinkled” voices sound honest and passionate, moving in their own right, no matter they aren’t intense or smooth like Aguilera, Houston, McKnight or Sinatra. I learned that the guitarist was Joseph Spence, considered a genius in musician circles for his rhythmic innovations and playing that sounded as though there were two guitarists instead of one. I learned too that one of the strange qualities of the music, likely one of the things that made it difficult for me to enjoy it in the beginning, was that the lead person sings the melody inside of the song, with the others harmonising above and below him/her. It can be a little disorienting, although now that I’m used to it all my discomfort in the beginning is just a memory.

“I Bid You Goodnight” was one of two anthems (the name for this genre) I could find on YouTube. There’s a fair amount of Spence’s music on there, and though he’s amazing, it’s not quite the same. Definitely give “Goodnight” a listen, as well as “Don’t Take Everybody to Be Your Friend”, which is one of my favourite songs from these volumes. You can hear snippets of the rest on¬†iTunes. Check out “Sailboat Malarkey” – bizarre but I love it – “Up in the Heaven Shouting” – punchy! – and “Won’t That Be a Happy Time” – which my library tells me is just ahead of “Don’t Take” for the most plays. Let me know what you think, and whether you have any experience with this genre. ūüôā

 

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.

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.