Swimming Through a Sea of Roses

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I’m back from NYC now, and one of the highlights of my trip was a visit to the New York Botanical Garden. I’d been wanting to go for a while, but it’s all the way in the Bronx and travel time has always been a deterrent. When I found out that there was a Chihuly exhibit up I decided I finally would make the trip, and though I only ended up seeing a few of his pieces the visit overall was well worth it.

After walking past the closed-early conservatory (boo!) and wandering a little aimlessly across the grounds, I was happy to find myself at Thain Family Forest, full of centuries old trees and pieces of rock reminding us of the age when this part of New York was covered in glaciers. When I came out the other side I was at the Cherry Grove, and although the time for cherries has passed it was still a very pleasant experience, with the cute little trees lining the walkway and dotting the grassy slopes. It made me wish I could go climbing into their branches, and afterward enjoy a picnic with a blanket and a basket; picturesque, like the storybook picnics described in books from my childhood.

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Then the grove ended and I came to the lilac collection, which was also unfortunately not in bloom. I did read a little about how supposedly easy they are to grow and make into hybrids. Apparently they’re one of the most popular flowers in the US, which was news to me, but I don’t know much about plants or gardening really so no surprise there.

Finally, I came to the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, which was in bloom with thousands of stunning roses. Oh my goodness. The whole effect was exquisite, and there were so many different varieties, it was astounding. I took a few pictures and just kind of stood in awe of creation and the amazing God responsible for everything I was seeing. Then I made my way slowly back to the entrance of the Garden, past more beautiful flowers and greenery. Despite the disappointments about my visit, it was still wonderful and restorative, and I’m glad I made the effort to go.

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How Many Women Does it Take to Read a Wedding Invitation?

Wedding Setup

My childhood best friend got married yesterday; her wedding was a sweet celebration and high energy dance party. I’m so glad I got to be part of it, though there was a bit of a comedy of errors for my mum, sister and I to get there in the beginning.

We started off on the wrong foot because of a combination of: dressing in two different places but riding together – my sister went to a friend’s house to get her makeup done – the current going off in the middle of us dressing, and having to make an unexpected stop on the way to help out my uncle.

After the hustling, hurrying and slightly exasperated sighs we were finally on our way to the church. My sister asked: Where is it, why is it there? My mum and I answered: Kemp Road, friend’s Grammy and mother worship there. We pull up to the entrance, ready to turn in, and my sister says: The parking lot is empty I don’t think it’s here. We all agree. So where could it be?! Thankfully Mummy had us bring the invitation with us, super cute in the style of a passport because half the new family is American, and we look at it closely. We’re very much in the wrong place.

My sister whips out her phone to create a snap video of our mistake, and proclaims that she knew it was in the other place – Atlantis – all along. My mum and I agree that we too knew it was at Atlantis. So how we all managed to drive in the completely opposite direction – south – when we needed to be going north, is a mystery.

We laugh and pray that my friend’s is a typical Bahamian style wedding – starting at least 30 minutes late – and turn quickly towards Atlantis. It’s a resort on an island almost all to itself, so where exactly the ballroom is that we need to be going to is a bit of a mystery. We decide to confirm with the person at the tollbooth which building we need to go to… and she sends us to the wrong one! We pull up, I hop out of the car and run over to the valet parking desks, shouting at Mummy and my sister to follow, asking why they’re taking so long. I never found out what the hold up was, but luckily it enabled another staff person near them to let them know we were at the wrong tower.

My sister frantically waves me over, I hop back into the car and we speed off – this time with her behind the wheel – to the other side of the island. How could the person at the toll not know that there are absolutely zero ballrooms in the place she sent us? We all wonder, but our spirits are still up. My sister quips that she’s actually right on time, since she’s habitually 30 minutes late to everything. We laugh, repeat prayers for a late start, and keep it moving. Once at the right tower, parking is a problem. No garage. No valet. Do we all hunt together? Mummy tells us to go inside. She takes the last hit for the team and drives off to find a spot and meet us later.

My sister and I slip quietly into the ceremony room and watch my friend’s mum and grandmother give her away, listen to the heartfelt vows she and her husband wrote for one another, and chuckle at the pastor’s advice tucked into jokes. Mummy doesn’t get to sit with us, but we reunite after the ceremony and enjoy punch together before splitting up to talk with other friends. It was a wonderful day all around, despite the hiccups in the morning, and though I initially thought Mummy’s instruction to bring the invitation with us was overkill – we’d all read it! we had the details in our calendars and mental notes! – it’s a habit I just may adopt from now on.

When Your Vote Precipitates a Near-Quarter Life Crisis

Path of Life

My right thumbnail is stained a reddish brown. The colour is in patchy striations, in harmony with the grain of my nail,  darker in some areas than others. It reminds me of modern art, and if I could somehow lift the pattern onto a canvas it would be interesting, if not beautiful, and belong in one of those hard-to-understand museums.

There is colour underneath my nail too, like a line of dirt. It’s stubborn; it bothers me. I rake my left thumbnail over this line time and again in an attempt to get it off, but it doesn’t lift. It will stay there until it is good and ready to leave.

The entire stain will be there until it is good and ready to leave. Or rather, until my nail grows out and away. On the top I can see the line where it used to meet my skin, a neat, faint U, and beyond that the ordinary purple-pink of my nail bed. The rebirth has already started.

How did I get this stain in the first place? I voted. In The Bahamas we dip our right thumbs into bottles of deep purple ink to indicate that we have cast our ballot. A purple thumb is a mark of pride and participation. People take pictures of them at all angles; they flood our social media feeds after elections. And this purple is tenacious. Some take to bleach to remove it. I am one of the ones who is waiting for it to fade away, though I didn’t think it would take this long. It’s been 11 days since the election.

As long as this colour is on my nail I can’t easily forget that day. This makes me think of the way other things in our lives remain long after we have encountered them. Exchanges and conflicts in relationships, and the sometimes-big sometimes-small choices we make throughout our days, have effects lasting as long and far longer than this ink on my nail, though many times they are much easier to forget. When I think about how each decision I make dominoes into others, how many relationships leave deep, lasting grooves in my life, I get a little overwhelmed.

I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s good to be shaken from sleepwalking through the everyday, or from having my nose so deep in the task in front of me that I forget to look up for perspective. This life matters, and so do each of the blocks I use to put it together. I pray that I will make the most of my days, with wise choices leading to positive stains.

On a Nature High

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I’m writing from my backyard, enjoying the warmth of the afternoon. I so love the sun. It feels like every day since I’ve been home I find myself exulting in the weather. It is so beautiful! How can the sky be so blue? How can the flowers be so richly colourful and the greens of trees, grass and plants so vibrant?  Then there is the persistent kiss of sun on skin. How glorious! Simply being outside I feel it embrace me, like a lover who missed me dearly  and is bursting with exuberance to see me again. I take great pleasure in being able to walk outside in shorts and a tank top, to leave the house in a sundress and sandals. What luxury, to sit on my grandmother’s porch, run on the beach, drive with the windows down. I love being warm. I love being warm.

I surprise myself a little with the depth of my enthusiasm for the climate and the flora, though I remember even as a girl I marvelled at the environment and took advantage of opportunities to be outside. Perhaps now that I’ve lived away for extended periods, and in much colder parts of the world, I have a better sense for how much I appreciate the easy pleasures of these islands. What bliss, to wander the yard barefoot! To look up and see a vast expanse of crisp, clear sky! It is a tonic for my of-late weary soul, a shot of energy and thankfulness more swift and sure than any caffeinated drink or online article. I look outside my window, I step out the front door, and I feel reborn.

Thankful for Community, in Sickness and in Health

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I was out and about this weekend, all over Nassau. Saturday was spent with my uncle, and we got an early start. First in the west, then central, then the downtown area in the east. There was equipment to move, a building to inspect, and a couple of fairs to go to. The first was organised by his church, a steak-out to raise funds for… I don’t know what. The endowment? The second was the Tru Tru Bahamian Festival held at the grounds of John Watlings Distillery.

There wasn’t much to the steak-out, we arrived at the very beginning of the event so there weren’t many people there. The music was incredibly loud for the small courtyard where it was held; definitely loud enough to attract passersby but far too loud to make staying there for a long time at all comfortable. I can’t imagine how the people who worked the grill, the dessert tent and other jobs must have felt at the end of the day.

The Tru Tru Bahamian Festival, pictured above, was bright and colorful, bustling with people; since I’ve been away there were many to catch up with! I know I’m not alone in loving celebrations of local businesses and artisans like this. The day was beautiful and the sun wasn’t hot. There was enough going on for it to be lively but not so much that it was overwhelming.

Lunch at the church fair kept me from being very hungry, but I got a green smoothie and my mum and I shared a cajun lobster snack (what Bahamians call any protein paired with fries). Neither of us enjoyed it. The lobster tail was smothered in who knows what combination of spices and tasted like too much and nothing all at the same time. “I didn’t know it was possible to ruin lobster,” Mummy commented later. I’ve never cooked lobster and don’t eat it very often, but I was surprised by how badly the dish failed all the same. Seems like it failed me a second way too, since Monday morning I woke with stomach pains and had to go to the bathroom, there to remain for the next seven hours.

Seven! I’m not sure I’m really sorry to have shared that detail, since I don’t know if anything else truly conveys the magnitude of my illness. The first few hours were spent in ways you can easily imagine. The last few I lay on the floor, in and out of sleep, too weak to move anywhere else. When I found the strength to leave the bathroom I moved to the couch, and there I remained for the rest of the day, into the night. Paradoxically, I was almost immobile from nausea. I didn’t even know that was possible.

Oh it was terrible! I vowed never to eat again, and decided this was the kind of punishment people should wish on their worst enemy. Today, three days later, my neck and stomach muscles are still sore from the violent retching. I’m feeling heaps better though, and am so thankful for everyone who helped care for me and checked on me.

That was one thing I was genuinely happy about in the midst of the misery. Last year when I was sick because of my students I was all alone. It sucks being sick when there’s no one to make you tea or bring you water or medicine. I wonder if it doesn’t actually prolong illness, since you have to drag your weakened body to care for yourself, or forego treatment entirely because you’re unable to administer it on your own. I’m thankful for my community! Whether mingling under palm trees or measuring tablespoonfuls of medicine, they make all the difference.

On Feeling Sorry

Remember the piece I wrote about having eczema? How sometimes it’s debilitating? The very next day my sister sent me an article about a woman who is allergic to water. Even her own tears. As you might imagine, the condition dictates every aspect of her life, from once a week showers to being stuck inside when it rains or snows.  I asked my sister whether she’d read my post, because this woman’s illness is certainly far worse than mine (she hadn’t). Then, a few days later, I read a piece in the New Yorker about a woman who is allergic to light. There’s some controversy around her condition because dermatologists are sceptical of her claims and think that her disease is psychosomatic. Regardless of its root cause, the effects kept this woman in shadows for decades, sometimes unable to leave a homemade darkroom in her house, because of the searing pain that light would bring to her skin.

Learning of these women’s suffering underscored how mild my issues are in comparison. I could stop there and use that thought as a salve when I’m experiencing difficulty, but just because their skin isn’t as healthy as mine doesn’t mean that they’d want to trade their life for my own. I’ve been thinking about how easy it is to imagine someone whose circumstance is worse than yours in order to make yourself feel better, about our tendency to do this either as a coping mechanism or to offer others a form of sympathy. It’s a slippery slope from those thoughts to reinforcing harmful stereotypes and belief systems. I mean sure they can give some small comfort, but what about the larger societal ramifications?

Both these women are citizens of a powerful, respected country; I’m not. The interplay of expectation and reality is upended in our case – me, the black woman from a recently decolonised nation, feeling sorry for white women from the nation that caused my own country grief and social problems that we still don’t understand or know how to deal with. As far as our health is concerned, the picture of wealth is reversed; if you were to sketch our desires, the arrows of longing would go in the unexpected direction. And so, the same must be true in countless other scenarios between the ostensibly powerful and weak, rich and poor, secure and insecure. How many times do we hear that well-worn trope in the media, that we should think of the starving children in Africa before throwing away our food? I’m sure you know this, but they’re not all starving. And there are plenty starving in the US and other developed nations too. Yet it’s so easy to jump to images of people in developing or war-torn nations, whose poverty, disease and disenfranchisement are paraded on our television sets for our pity and entertainment. Propping ourselves up with their misery dehumanizes them and assumes that there’s nothing good or redeemable about their existence.

So what there are no paved roads in their town, or their food supply is dwindling or they’ve been displaced from their homes? Maybe they have an incredible relationship with their parents, or they’ve found meaningful work or there is joy in their every day. Their lives are not defined by the hardships or limitations they contain. Everything in this world is relative; money can’t buy you happiness and all that jazz. I’m not saying that we should ignore the problems caused by corruption, greed and imperialism, or abandon the research that seeks to improve public health, social programmes and our stewardship of the environment. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be grateful for the wonderful things in our lives, and reflect on those whenever we’re tempted to self pity. I am however saying that we – I – need to be careful to keep the nuances of humanity in view when we use the readymade images we see and hear in the news to bolster our mood. No-one  wants to be pitied, and we owe it to each other to treat everyone’s life, as troubling and unappealing as it may seem, with the respect and dignity we’d want for our own.