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.

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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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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.