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“White wo-man!”

“White wo-man!”

I cringed. It could only be me the voice from behind was calling. The last time a man jogged to catch up with me on my walk from the white house to our dinghy in Clare Valley, not the presence of my toddler riding on my shoulders nor my declaration of love and commitment for my husband did anything to quell his lengthy proposition to please me like no other man could.

“White wo-man!”

The eyes of nearby villagers were on me and my two children, waiting to see what would unfold. The slap of feet pounding pavement grew louder. Goats bleated. Chickens pecked at bugs. I stopped walking and turned around.

The eyes of a dreadlocked man, barefoot and in a raggedy t-shirt and shorts, lit up when he saw my acknowledgment. 

He stopped inside my invisible comfort bubble, panting, and smiled. “Good morning,” he said.

I steeled myself. “Good morning.”

“You have solar panels. I need a solar panel. Can you get me one?”

“A solar panel?” The surprise in my face and voice must have been something to see.

“Yeah, I live on the mountain,” he gestured behind him. The villagers came closer. “We have no power. You have solar panels, yeah? I have money. I can pay for it.”

My shock turned to instant admiration. He wanted to talk business! My heart swelled. He would be my ally.

This post has been entered in the Grantourismo Home-Away Holiday Rentals travel blogging competition hosted by Grantourismo Travel and  Home-Away Holiday Rentals.

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We spotted the Ford Ranger from the ferry. 

Its turquoise color matched the sea.

The truck’s owner hurried toward us. “Good morning, you must be Brian and Nicole, and you are the children, and you, the brother!” Herb said. His wife, Ilene, hugged us. 

“Wow, the truck is outfitted just like ours,” Brian said. 

“Is that right?” asked Herb. “Shall we go back to our place to discuss the sale?”

“I’ve made some sandwiches and juice,” said Ilene. 

Shouldn’t we just discuss the purchase here? Take it for a test drive? I wondered. Brian shrugged.

We loaded into the back, riding on the bench seats under the canopy, just like we had done in our rusted out truck.

At their home, we snacked and admired photos of Herb and Ilene’s grandchildren. Two hours later I suggested we look at the truck. 

Brian inspected for rust and finally the modest price was revealed.  We accepted without negotiation.

Spirits were high. “Have you seen all of Bequia?” Herb asked.

Well, no we hadn’t.

The sun sank low before we were dropped back at the ferry dock. Herb would deliver the truck to Kingstown next week. They watched us board and searched us out on deck and waved as we sailed away.

The next day, there was a phone message. “Brian, I’ve been thinking. Considering the cracked windscreen, the price seems too high. I’m going to lower it by $300.”

I listened to the message three times to make sure I’d heard right.

This post has been entered in the Grantourismo HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition.

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Comic books and graphic novels are the favorite reading material of Remy and Simon these days so they circulate through our house by the armful. Our latest find is artist, Kazu Kibuishi, cartoonist extraordinaire. We can’t wait for the third book in his Amulet series to be published, but this Copper cartoon actually inspired me to create my own cartoon. 

But how in the world will I draw it? I wondered. I tried to convince Remy to help me out but she ditched me. So here it is. Try to look beyond the poor quality of the drawings. If nothing else, it was fun.

Here’s the real life photo that should be inserted between the seventh and eighth panels.

Life can be so complicated.

Last week I attended a screening of the documentary, Jamaica for Sale, presented by co-producer, Diana McCaulay.

The film investigates how the explosion of mega resorts gobbling up Jamaica’s coastline has affected the country. Here’s the low-down:  

  • Citizens are booted off land they’ve lived on for decades
  • They’re no longer allowed access to beaches they’ve swam at all their life
  • The coral reefs and fish are dying from the run-off of a bulldozed landscape
  • Resort sewage isn’t properly processed
  • Tourists consume ten times more water than locals and create more trash
  • Workers are often treated and compensated poorly by their employers
  • Tourists are dissauded from leaving the resorts, putting greater financial hardship on local businesses. 

St. Vincent has little in the way of big development except for one 350+ room resort reported to be opening this summer at Buccament Bay, just north of Petit Byahaut where our guests made their land/sea connection. 

This is what Buccament Bay looked like when we were there.

This is Buccament Bay now.

Many of the downsides of the development happening in Jamaica have happened in St. Vincent at this single resort that hasn’t even opened yet. Farmers were expelled, a locally-owned restaurant was bulldozed, construction was halted and workers were left without monies owed them, but the most unbelievable action of the developer? White sand was imported from Guyana to cover up the black volcanic sand. How many ways is this wrong and how will this non-native sand affect sea life when it’s washed back into the sea?

Will what’s happened to Jamaica happen to St. Vincent? Some Vincentians are for this, many are against it, but what is the cost? Will development really improve lives? The case study of Jamaica says no.   

What to do? Educate yourself and make conscious choices every single day in the way you live. See Jamaica for Sale. When you travel, choose smaller hotels and spend your dollars at locally owned businesses. And get to know the people of the country you’re visiting. It has always enriched my experience.

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Coconuts grow abundantly on St. Vincent and everywhere you turn, coconut products abound, from fresh coconuts to bottled coconut water, coconut oil to coconut treats.

You’ll find coconut sugar cakes, packaged in little plastic baggies like you’d find at a neighborhood bake sale, at every shop, from the roadside shack to the bigger supermarkets. I am certain this shop on the way to the Vermont Nature Trail sold coconut sugar cakes.

If they’re not pressed into a tablet, they’re dropped by the spoonful onto a pan in more of a cookie shape, but almost always, you’ll find both pink and white packaged together. But the best part? They are simple and quick to make, require only a few ingredients, and taste yummy! My kids wanted to eat the entire pan.

Coconut Sugar Cakes

1/2 c sugar

1/2 c water

2 c grated unsweetened coconut

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

tiny pinch of fresh grated nutmeg

tiny pinch of cinnamon

drop of  food coloring

Boil sugar and water until sugar has dissolved and a light syrup starts to form. Add coconut and cream of tartar and stir constantly over medium heat while the mixture thickens. When the mixture starts to pull away from the sides of the pot, remove from heat. Add nutmeg and cinnamon and mix well. Place half of mixture in a bowl and mix in a drop or two of red food coloring. Grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan and press white mixture evenly across bottom of pan. Then press pink mixture onto top of white layer. Allow to cool and harden. Cut into small squares. Makes 15 squares.

Interested in more recipes from abroad? Check out wanderfood wednesday!

After seeing my last post, Brian said matter-of-factly, “That’s not a great picture of you. You look kind of weird.” I took a second look and, yeah, I think I need to say something about it. 

That picture shows what happens when you go from living in a house in the city, your main job being taking care of kids and driving a car most places you go, to living in a house on a mountainside that you can’t drive to, hence your children and every single item you eat, use, or need (including propane tanks and gasoline for the generator) has to be carried up the mountainside, plus accomodating guests whose rooms are scattered throughout a 50 acre valley, and a dependence on boat transport (in which you, yourself, are often responsible for hauling said boat in and out of the water) as your means of access to the outside world.

Want to see the picture again?

Now I’m not saying taking care of kids in the city is a walk in the park. In fact, I considered myself to be in pretty good shape from chasing kids around all day. But compare the photo above to this one, of Brian and I six months previous, while we were vacationing at Petit Byahaut.

We’re not really looking our best, having just gotten out of the water from snorkeling in the rain, but there is a difference between the photos, no?  I know this would be more impressive if I had been more ample before starting our lives as resort operators, but I think I look, you know, reasonably healthy in the bikini photo. My collarbone isn’t bulging through my skin and my face is more oval than gaunt.

My mom took the picture of Remy and I in the dining room. We had been on the island for two and a half months and Mom and Dad had just arrived for the holidays. She had a look of concern on her face when she said, “You look really different. You’re so thin, but you’re muscular. You just look so different.”

All I had really noticed was that a) all my shorts were falling down, and b) I could now almost sprint up the mountainside to retrieve or deposit this, that, or the other from The Treehouse where we lived, if I didn’t have a kid on my shoulders.

So while my parents were visiting, my mom put darts into all my shorts, just like she had done when I was seven. And Brian started using a piece of nylon cord, left over from the installation of the incredibly appreciated and loved no-see-um net Mom had sewn for our bed, to hold up his shorts. So functional was that cord that Brian still uses it today to hold up his pants.

As the months passed, I’d like to think our bodies got used to our new lifestyle and eased into a more natural looking state. They were just in shock in the beginning.

So, anyone looking to drop pounds and build muscle for the upcoming bathing suit season?

The day we landed on St. Vincent happened to be Remy’s fifth birthday. I don’t remember my daughter having much interest in flowers before we moved to Petit Byahaut, but once there, she became obsessed with them.

   

 

I couldn’t blame her. We were surrounded by a myriad of amazing tropical flowers. She would watch with envy as Mary changed the floral displays on the restaurant tables with each meal setting. Remy often got her turn to do the flower arranging.   

Occasionally, Remy would get to choose and clip the bougainvillea branch we’d place on the bed of newly arriving guests.

 

When we walked thru the rainforest, she collected all the fallen fig flowers she could carry.

And the gorgeous peach-colored hibiscus growing next the bathtub was impossible to resist.

When we left St. Vincent, she didn’t leave her new love of flowers behind. It has remained firmly a part of who she is.

 

When she’s got a camera in hand, this is what she photographs:

   

     

So Remy is 11 now and her interests are in fact, broader than flowers. Do you want a peek into her room? I snapped this photo today (she said she didn’t mind if I shared it).

 

It pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? The spindly plant with the red petals in the back is the poinsettia she bought at Christmas and can’t bare to part with. 

I often wonder if Remy would love flowers as much as she does if we had never moved to the island. We’ll never know.

It’s International Women’s Day and I’ve spent the day thinking of these two women.

“Mary” cleaned rooms, served meals, cooked and washed dishes at Petit Byahaut. She was a single mother of four daughters: two teenagers and two young school girls and when she wasn’t sleeping at Petit Byahaut, she lived at her mother’s house with her daughters.

Mary made some of the best soups I’ve ever tasted out of ingredients that I had always thrown away. She was relieved when her mother bought a television so her daughters would go straight home from school and stay inside watching tv. She washed her clothes in a five gallon bucket while I washed mine in a washing machine. She scolded me when I tied the knot of the plastic sugar bag too tight to easily open it—even a loose knot kept out the insects. Sometimes she was resentful. Sometimes she was proud. Sometimes we laughed together.

Dona Corina Picado lives in the northern mountains of Nicaragua and, with the help of just a few assistants, operates her farm and rents out a few guest rooms. She has no plumbing, no vehicle, no refrigeration, no modern stove.

The first time we met, she was returning to the farm from a forest path with a farmhand. She told us she was tired and then went on to discuss what we’d like to have for dinner. After settling on a menu, she asked if she could make French fries for our children.

A faded t-shirt hung on the wall of the dining room with the word, Sandinista, screen printed on it. The bloody war that left land mines in the mountains she called home began in the prime of her life. I longed to know more from her and about her, but my Spanish wasn’t up to par for such an important conversation. 

She reminded me so much of my grandmother: independent, tough, capable, but soft on the inside. She couldn’t resist serving something special only for the children at each meal.

These two women who live so far away from me, with circumstances so different from me, really are me. Who are the women that have made an impact on your life?

Winding up, down and around the mountainous roads of St. Vincent in the local van-buses at breakneck speeds makes for a memorable experience. This delightful poem is by Erica Standen from I Shall Not Forget, a compilation of poems she wrote about St. Vincent while she lived with her husband (while he worked on an agricultural development project) on the island from 1987 to 1993.

Traveling in a Mini Van

“Villa?” shouted the young conductor

(Head far out the open window)

As the van screeched to a halt,

In busy Back Street, by ‘The Bounty’,

Traffic jamming at the rear,

Children jumping out the way,

Women tripping, others driving clear

(I shan’t repeat what I heard them say)!

.

“Yes, please!” was my loud reply,

To be heard above the din

Of reggae music from within,

And people shouting at each other,

As some climbed out,

While others noisily pushed in

All at the same time, in unison.

There was no orderly mini-van line!

.

I wriggled my way into the van,

Wondering how on earth I’d reach

The little space, right at the back…

(For the van inside was tightly packed)

Not an inch to spare.

Somehow I got there!

Phew! A seat at last, between

A Rasta and a girl in her teens.

.

The van moved on, the door banged tight!

Through the speakers, volume high,

Pappy sang: “Soca music sweet…

It be sweet, fo’ so’!”

All of us inside the ‘prison’,

To soca and rap bopped in rhythm,

Skipping a beat whenever we hit

Pot-holes, in the asphalt grit.

.

We stopped and started on and off;

All the way to Villa,

Squeezing in more…

Overloading for sure!

Natterers had to shout

Above the calypsonian’s score.

A laughing woman, very stout,

Leaned dangerously against the door.

.

Around the bends our tyres screeched;

Towards Sion Hill our engine strained;

Along the sides we often scraped.

For waving hands we always braked,

To let in more,

Through the sliding door!

Laughter and chatter

Added to inner confusion, and clatter.

.

“Stop at de Supermarket!” called the teen.

Out we all clambered,

To buy ice cream.

Amid much rushing,

Amid much fussing,

We were back again inside the van,

Keeping cool from the humid heat,

By licking ices to the soca beat.

.

I tapped the conductor on the head…

“My stop is Villa Lodge,” I said.

We rounded the bend,

And crossed the road,

Oncoming traffic we had to dodge,

Before halting at Villa Lodge…

I climbed over bodies, baskets and more,

And paid my dollar at the door.

.

While the ‘mobile jukebox’ drove on past,

Vibrating to the beat at full blast,

Outside the van I felt alone,

As I started the silent stroll home.

I used to pay little attention to the politics of Caribbean island nations. All that changed when the dream crashed. In the 6 years since we’ve left St. Vincent, I’ve followed with great interest reportings on the Prime Minister of St. Vincent, Dr. The Honourable Ralph Gonsalves.

The Prime Minister, also known as Comrade Ralph, is making headlines yet again after an undisclosed source deposited US$1 million into the bank account of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. When questioned on the source of the money, instead of offering an explanation, the Prime Minister lashed out with threats of a lawsuit for defamation.

This occurs the same week the government decided to take disciplinary action against their own Anesia Baptiste, Communications Manager for the Ministry of Tourism, by slapping her with a lawsuit with 16 charges for criticizing Gonsalves’ administration.

This is only the latest in a long list of controversial doings of the Prime Minister including:

  • Accusation of rape by a St. Vincent female police officer performing security duties at the home of the Prime Minister. Never was this case, or those of other victims who stepped forward, allowed its day in court.
  • Threatening lawsuits and demanding public apologies and retraction of statements in addition to imposing hefty fines upon media, the opposition party, and individuals that make statements or share news that show the Prime Minister in a negative light. Does Freedom of Speech really exist in St. Vincent?
  • An attempt to rewrite the constitution which would give more power to the leader and less to the people
  • Increasing ties with Iran, Libya, Cuba, and Venezuela
  • Appointment of the Prime Minister’s son as Ambassador of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to the United Nations

The Honourable Prime Minister does not stand alone in questionable conduct of the world’s ruling leaders.  What do you think? Does power breed greed and fear?

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