Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Learning to walk again

I started blogging in 2005 a few weeks after a suicide bomber changed my life for ever. Of course I didn't realize at the time the impact that day would have on my life, I didn't even realize it a year later but now when I look back I cannot help but wonder 'what if'?

What if Tony & George had never invaded Iraq?
What if those young boys had not been so angry?
What if they had changed their minds at the last minute?
What if I had never got on that tube?

These questions are not new and they spiraled through my head in a never ending circle of negativity at the time. But now, 5 years later, they take on a different significance, I wonder 'what if' in a positive way.

What if I was still working in an office in London, never seeing the ocean, rarely glimpsing the sky?
What if I wasn't living the life I am living now?

That bomb on the tube woke me up. It was a long, slow, painful process but 5 years on I can safely say I am happier than I have ever been. I love my life, and that is what life is for; for loving. Loving yourself, loving others and loving life itself.

Those boys did not love; themselves, others or even their own lives. Ironically, though, the direct result of their actions of hate has been love. It started the second those bombs went off, the love, companionship and camaraderie between strangers. Those of us involved in the events of that day have a bond that will hold us together for ever. We helped each other out of that tunnel and we have been helping each other ever since. Gradually though we drifted apart. The bond, the friendships, the love is still there, but we all realized that eventually we were going to have to learn to walk on our own again.

This blog was incredible therapy and it also introduced me to the joys of writing. I realized I wasn't bad at it. People were actually reading it and newpapers started asking me to write for them. Gradually my interest and motivation in my job declined and I started to question where I was going with my life. I had worked hard, trained hard and was a successful Architect who had worked all over the world, but suddenly I didn't really care any more and all I wanted to do was write.

I had grown up sailing as a child and my parents have a boat in the Carribean. Several months after the bombings I joined them for a couple of weeks. I was still depressed, suffering from PTSD, and I remember swimming in the ocean one day towards the horizon and thinking 'what if' I just keep on going? Well I did keep on going; not with the swimming but with life.  We cruised between the islands at the very south of the Caribbean chain. We spent a mere two days on one particular island which I will call Taino. Something on this remarkable little rock reached out to me and planted a seed, a seed which took a year to germinate and has now flowered into the life I live now. Taino is now the place I call home.

So I am still Holly Finch, I am still me. But I have a different life now, and hence a different blog. I hope you enjoy Blowing in the Wind

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Old Year’s Night in Bequia

Well the day of New Years Eve (or old year’s night) was spent pretty virtuously. I took my land lord and lady’s 7 year old son to the beach, shell collecting. He has always had his eye on my shell collection, which is scattered across my porch, he even told me that he comes to look at it sometimes when I am not here. So, after a bit of gentle encouragement from him, I promised to take him to gather his own,

A you can imagine, the sight of me wandering around Bequia with a 7 year old child (who is clearly not white at all) was enough to set the flexible tongues of Bequia wagging. I have only been away for 3 months and I come back with a, rather large, child. Everyone was intrigued; ‘who tha boy?’ they kept asking with surprise. Someone even said ‘it’s about time you adopted!’. You have to bear in mind that the girls start young here, 14 is a pretty standard age to start child bearing in the Caribbean. I don’t think they can quite get their head around these old childless white women who keep appearing on the island!

The shell collecting, however, was a great success. We lugged a heavy bag of clinking shells back up the hill at the end of the day. We took a water taxi to the beach which seemed to be quite a novelty for Shami. He was intrigued by my application of sunscreen and copied just about everything I did. We swam and dived and fought with sticks until the most almighty downpoor obscured the whole harbour and sent us shivering for shelter to the nearest beach bar. We ordered a bitter lemon each which came in a bottle, accompanied by a glass. I could sense Shami hesitating, waiting to see if I was going to drink from the bottle or poor it in a glass. When I emptied the bottle into the ice filed glass he quickly did the same. I felt quite the local as we both sat shuddering, wrapped in towels, and the tourists wandered around half naked, looking at us as if we were mad. Having lived through the summer months, winter really does feel like winter now. The air is cool and fresh, the water is freezing, and the evenings can hold a little nip in the twilight air.

My baby sitting duties complete I met a friend and we went and supped a sneaky sundowner on the beach, a quiet little moment before the festivities of the evening ahead. Then it was time to go home and get ready. We were going out for a ‘posh’ 5 course dinner at the fanciest restaurant in town and had decided to make a bit of an effort – well the girls had anyway. It felt peculiar putting on a dress and dusting off my hair dryer, dress standards in Bequia are pleasantly relaxed, but it was a treat to get a little glammed up for once. The only downfall was the shoe situation. I have hundreds at home, but opted to leave them behind when I left. My shoe collection now is an almost full colour palette of Havaiana flip flops. At least I had a coordinating black pair to go with my dress!

The much awaited dinner was a Caribbean travesty in itself – even though the restaurant is run by Swedes. If I had been back at home I would have kicked up a fuss but although we griped we had to laugh, there is no point getting stressed in a place like this. We had sat at our table for over half an hour before we were served. The menu was fixed so there were no choices to make. The hors d’oevres arrived, yet still no wine, and we hungrily munched our way through half of them. Before we could finish the tiny plates the heavens had opened and the little delicacies were quickly floating around in a slushy sort of soup. We ran for cover and loitered at the bar whilst polishing off the wine which appeared with the rain. The rain finally cleared as the stars started to reappear. We changed the sodden table cloth, emptied the glasses of water, wiped the seats down with napkins and started again. We ate our way through two exquisite courses before it was finally time for the main when suddenly the unfortunate result of the little interruption became clear. Our table was situated at the edge of the dance floor. we had planned to be finished before the band started up (a band we have listened to twice a week throughout the summer months) but our meal was interrupted by the squeal of feedback and Jackie addressing the crowd!. Our table was plunged into silence as we struggled to hear over the noise; and our sea view was quickly replaced by wiggling bums and bouncing bodies.

The meal finally finished and with midnight fast approaching we jumped into the moke and raced around the harbour to the Frangi where the throngs were gathered awaiting the New Years fireworks. We scrabbled to find ourselves a bottle of champagne in time, fought our way through the bodies to the beach and sat back and watched the show. We were sorry not to have a countdown or a clock but gradually cries of ‘Happy New Year!’ floated through the crowed and we guessed it must be the midnight hour. The fireworks were added to by some of the many yachts in the harbour letting off flares. We joked that New Year’s Eve was not a good night to be in trouble at sea. You would let off your flares to signal distress whilst anyone watching would remark at the pretty display (I shuddered to myself at the horror of the reality of this joke). The fireworks complete, the bar soon was filled by the arrival of the ‘bang gang’. The team who, so valiantly, had let off the display. They were dusty and shell shocked and some were even bleeding, but there was a buzz, a high, a rush of adrenalin as they all grabbed their first drinks.

The night lead on from there; a street party at Penthouse, then a beach party at De Reef. Everyone was out, everyone was dancing and everyone, of course, was drinking. But as far as I know the only trouble was a dinghy missing from the dock in the morning. The atmosphere was happy and calm and there was none of trouble-brewing-in-the-air feeling which can sometimes fill the harbour late on a Friday night. I staggered home by sunrise, legs weary from dancing and glad of my shortfall in the feet dressing up department as I climbed the hill in my Havaianas.

I awoke on New Yea’s Day feeling weary but surprisingly well. I caught a ride to the beach where we struggled to find food in either of the only 2 places open. Everyone, it seemed, had had the same idea. No-one wanted to cook on this day of recovery, we all just wanted to be served and fed. I managed to beg some fishcakes which filled a gap, but I could have eaten more. A swim and a nap on the beach and the previous night could never have happened. We sat and watched in awe as the Maltese Falcon, the largest, expensivest, fastest sailboat in the world, pulled into the harbour and narrowly missed a collision with a ferry. Then a call from a friend who was flying to England that day; I had left her in a bar as the sun was rising and I have no idea how she made that journey to Barbados a few hours later. She had arrived at Bequia’s little airport to find it closed. If it had been me I would, at that point, have turned around and gone back to bed. She, however, got in touch with a friend who has a water taxi, but then they needed fuel. The gas station was closed but she managed to find someone who had a tank. Enough to get them to Mustique, to where her plane had been diverted, but not enough to get her friend back. He had had to beg steal and borrow more gas once he got there to get himself home. She had arrived in Mustique drenched and battered (those boats throw you around some in the seas out there), it was not only her who was wet, her luggage was soaking too, but she had made the flight and was waiting in Barbados to catch a soggy red eye back to London.

So, as the sun was setting, it was back to the Frangi for evening New Year’s Day cocktails. We all sat at the bar and recounted tales from the night before. Some energetic souls showed up who had not yet been to bed. They were kind of wobbly but impressively still standing. Then Stan appeared out of the night astounded to find ‘Fix-man’ at the bar.

‘I been trying to call you all day’ he said ‘the fire truck’s broken at the airport, people have been having to get boats all day, they need you to come and fix it’

Fix-man looked at him in thoughtfully, stared deep into his rum, and said ‘Perhaps tomorrow’.

Happy New Year from this island in the sun!

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

'You put on some size man!'

I left this little Island some 3 months ago, in the height of the summer sun, the raging heat, the island fever and the empty streets. Now I am back and the season is here (although not as much as it should be by all accounts). The harbour is filling with boats, the streets are peppered with lost looking tourists. It feels strange to see so many foreign white faces after a summer of being one of the few pale skinned souls remaining.

But it is lovely to be back, after so much time on the road, on the water and living out of a bag. It is lovely to stop and take stock and be somewhere which feels like home again. I flew in last week, from Grenada, after leaving the boat, Osprey, which had carried me some 3000 miles across the Altantic Ocean. That became ‘home’ too for a while, but this ‘home’ doesn’t move, it doesn’t rock and it doesn’t throw me across the galley when I am trying to make a cup of tea. This home will do for now.

In the strange way that things go sometimes, the first person I met at the airport was Harvey. Last seen waving me off as we sailed out of Tenerife over a month ago. We sat together on the ferry, swopped crossing stories and photographs and watched excitedly as the Christmas lights of Bequia came into view through the gloomy wet night. It was a good way to come back, with someone who had just done the same journey as me, it brought me back slowly and made me feel as if I belonged.

I awoke the next day to the sounds of roosters and dogs. The strains of dancehall reggae Christmas Carols were blasting out of most of the speakers on the island or so it seemed. The day was spent ‘catching up’. There is much to catch up on after 3 months away from an island like this. The old summer crew were still here, their numbers swelled by the incoming winter faces, some old and some new. There was talk and chat and gossip and news; burglaries and stabbings, break ups and get togethers, paternity riddles solved but murders not (solved but ‘sensitive’ is the word on the street so nothing has been done) it was all too much to take in.

I had missed the slow Bequia build up to Christmas, but was here in time to catch the end. Each night of the preceding week there had been ‘light-up parties’ around the Island. It is an intensely fought competition between villages with months of planning and fund raising to get the lights in place. Then one by one they turn them on, with music and sound systems and chicken stalls and rum. These parties go on all night, until dawn, then the next night someone else does it all again.

So I have caught up with the chat and spent my first Christmas in the Caribbean sun and now it is time to make up for those weeks at sea where I sat, and read, and slept, and ate. There is a much vented theory that it is ‘good for you’ being at sea. You don’t drink, I suppose, so that is a bonus. But people say that your muscles are constantly compensating for the movement of the boat, even when you are asleep, it is like a 2 week pilates class, crossing the Atlantic, 24 hrs a day. ‘It’s good for you, you’ll lose weight’ or so they say. It is a theory I have never bought into, much as I would love to. It’s rubbish. You move very little. Sails are raised, reefs are put in, things are fixed, ropes are winched, there is activity, of sorts. But when you are not asleep, or winching, or cooking, you are eating; all the time. I don’t think I got hungry once on that crossing. We had always put something into our mouths before the hunger had found time to kick in. I ate, solidly, for 2 weeks. So maybe they are right about this pilates thing. It is a 24 hour pilates class, but one you eat your way through too!

Well if I thought I could slip back into Bequia with this little fact unnoticed I was sorely wrong. Apparently it’s a complement with these VIncy boys, it wasn’t the women but the men who commented, 3 or 4 times a day I was greeted by ‘well you put on some size man!’. A complement, they say, it means you’re looking well, happy, healthy, or something. It didn’t really work like that for me. I have dug out my old running shoes from beneath the bed, dusted them off, checked for scorpions nestled inside, and hit the early morning streets with a vengeance.

So I am back, in the sun, for the winter, and I am glad. Another season looms with countless adventures to unfold, I am sure.

A belated merry Christmas and a Happy New Year (or oldest night as they call it here) to you all!

Rumbled!

I have crossed an ocean in a 44ft sail boat since I last posted on here. In fact I have done an awful lot since I last posted on here. I have been slack and not blogged, I have even started to wonder what this blog is all about any more. It started off as a therapy of sorts, I suppose, looking back. Not only did it help me but it helped many others, they wrote and told me so, and that was really what kept me going; that and the joy of putting down words and creating a sentence which sounds sort of right. Eventually the bombs and the politics and the incessant study and analysis and the TRYING (and how could I ever have expected to succeed) to understand the minds of suicide bombers started to fade from this blog and it grew into a more inherent study of minds in general. I guess it became a kind of mental health blog for a while. I have seen enough of those close to me losing their minds and then for it to happen to me, well minds started to occupy my mind so I blogged about it, and that seemed to help people too so I blogged about it some more.

Now I have left a lot of that behind. I am living a sort of wandering, spontaneous, plan less life, a life free of bombs and politics, full of people and sunshine and oceans and rum so that is what I write about now. I suppose you could say that I am trying to show anyone who may pass by this blog that anything is possible. I suppose I am trying to say that sunshine after darkness can be found, no matter how black the darkness and how deep the tunnel, there is always a way out. A way which I have found, for now, but never a way which I will take for granted, I am done with taking things for granted any more.

So a natural progression has occurred in this little blog of mine, but now another, more confusing dimension has come along. I have always been anonymous in this blog, and with most of what I have written for anyone, even on TV and radio I never use my real name. I have people who know me who read this blog, but they are people who have known me since then, since the beginning and before. Now I am living on a little island in the Caribbean, starting afresh, I suppose. I have told very few people here why I came, why I left my job, my home, my friends and my commute to work. Any who have asked usually assume there was a man involved (if only that was all it had been!) but generally I have managed to live in the present out here.

The past is always there but it is fading back to where it should be, into that file named ‘past’ instead of the file it remained in for as long as it had to, named ‘current and not yet ready to go into ‘past’’. It is really not so important any more, it is not what defines me. I am not a ‘survivor’ or a ‘victim’ or any sort of label which the media so adore. I am just me, living a life which makes me happy. But now I have been rumbled on this island in the sun. People know who I am, they know I am ‘Holly’. I have only discovered that since I returned last week and I don’t know how it makes me feel. I don’t want this blog becoming another gossip column for Bequia. I don’t want to be talked about as a ‘victim’ any more, I didn’t really want anyone to know. But now they do, what do I do? I love this blog (slack as I have been lately) and I love to write. Not a day goes by when I don’t scribble or jot a thought or a passing little moment which I don’t want to forget to write about later. My mind is always full of ‘writing’ much of which never makes it onto here, but still, I don’t want to give up on Holly Finch yet. So I suppose I will go on, knowing that now I know my audience more intimately than I did before, and trying not to let the fact that I will be passing them in the street or drinking with them later inhibit what I write on here. It will be fine, I am sure, it always somehow is.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Sailing across the Atlantic...or not...yet?!

Well we are back where we started – in Tenerife; the land of bleak rugged volcanic landscape and tacky white Brits thumbing through copies of the Daily Mail which are printed on this very island.

It is Saturday and it is hard to believe I only arrived on this boat called Osprey a mere 5 days ago. We are docked in a floating marina of waiting boats. Hundreds of yachts of all shapes and sizes, with crews from around the world, inhabit this pool of protected water. There are French and Americans, Germans and Swedes, and even a friendly face from Bequia to make me feel at home in this transient world of strangers. I last saw Harvey 5 months ago in the Eastern Seaport of Manhattan and here we are now crossing paths again, if only to reinforce what a small familiar circle I am travelling around on this great adventure of mine.

We are all here waiting; for the day, the weather, the boat, the crew, for the moment to be right to leave and cross that great gulf of 3000 miles of Atlantic Ocean to the glistening isles of the Caribbean. We are all playing the same game, the difference being that we had found our day, we took the moment and we left, on Wednesday, but now we are back after 2 days and nights at sea and we are no further on from where we started.

A dripping salt water pump was the cause of this return. It was discovered on the first day at sea but for another 12 hours we carried on. The wind, which had been forecast as non-existent, was pushing us along gently from behind. With our foresail poled out we were surfing down the following seas at a happy 10 knots, a state of affairs which would have landed us in our first port of call in a mere 4 and a half days time. We didn’t want to stop, to turn back and fight our way into the wind and the swell, to bash our way through the night back to the place from where I had yelled at Harvey ‘See you in Bequia!’ as we quietly slipped out of our cramped little berth. So we spent the night gathering more information to enable us to decide if it was foolhardy to carry on. Calls to New Zealand on the satellite phone, part numbers and Volvo dealers located across the world. What if we just DHL it to the Cape Verdes? No turning back, it will be there by the time we get there, a plan to keep the crew happy and motivated, but on further examination not necessarily safe. What if the pump blew before we got there? No pump, no power, who aboard could navigate by the starts? What if that angry looking low we had seen lingering to the north west didn’t get swallowed up by the spiralling Azores high? What if, instead, it was pushed down to the south gaining momentum as it headed our way? What if we couldn’t fight into it, had to head further south and missed the Cape Verdes all together. ‘What if?’, What if ?’ rumbled through the night until at 4am it became to much. The pole was brought in, the main was gybed over and back to Tenerife we went. Back in a longer, bouncier more tortuous way; zig zagging towards our destination, jumping over waves. What had previously felt like a gentle rolling wind, by the change in angle to our little vessel, suddenly felt like a gale. Even my, usually hardy stomach, was beginning to feel green. I started to wonder if I had taken on more than I could swallow, if I wasn’t actually cut out for this crossing of oceans. 18 knots of wind, granted on the nose, but still it was only 18 knots and I was already feeling sick! But then Craig appeared, rapidly through the companionway; he knelt over the leeward rail and threw up whatever he had eaten last over the side. Instantly I relaxed. He had endured worse seas than this for 10 days on the trot when Osprey crossed the north Atlantic, beating their way into the lows, yet he was throwing up and I was (barely, but still I contained it) managing to keep it in. There was hope for me on this ocean crossing after all!

12 hours later, weary and hungry, we arrived back into the unfathomably peaceful Marina del Atlantico. A different berth gave us a different view, hey, we could almost be somewhere else. Thankfully my already rehearsed explanations went unused, a new boat was nestled against the concrete wall where Harvey had stood and waved us off. Sea Hawk had left, taken the same window as us, but they were still on their way, and we were not, we were back here searching for a part.

A stationary 4 hours sleep and we awoke to the day, hardly believing that the previous 2 days had occurred at all. Emails had been answered whilst we slept in our bunks and phone calls were made over cereal and tea. Parts were located in New Zealand and Belgium and eventually to our surprise in Tenerife itself. We hired a car and drove to the side of the island where package holidays are contained. We found our man on the first floor of a shopping centre inhabited by aimlessly wandering tourists who seemed unsure as to what they were supposed to be doing on this much anticipated break in the sun. Young and German and fluent in our lingo he produced our part like the trophy it was. He explained how to fit it, what had worn and how the leak had meant it had been sucking in air. We shuddered at the thought of our engine overheating and seizing itself up into a lump of motionless metal without the steady flow of sea water to cool it. Coming back had been the right thing to do after all.

He wished us luck and added as what seemed like an after thought ‘I’m going across the Atlantic too’. We nodded in acknowledgment; another person crossing from here was hardly an occurrence to stop us in our steps. We were nearly out through the door when he casually added ‘but I’m rowing across’. It took a few seconds to absorb what he had said, then we turned on our heels and stared at him in disbelief. He showed us a picture of a vulnerable looking little open boat with 2 people sitting and pulling on oars. Twenty five or so boats, it appears, do this race of madness every year. They row across the Atlantic. The record, held by Kiwis, is forty three days. Our friendly German was proud to explain that they were the first ever team from Tenerife and they were hoping to do it in fifty. Fifty days, rowing across the ocean?! We exchanged satellite phone numbers and promised to keep in touch whilst we were out there. We left that shop suddenly feeling the scale of our insanity for attempting to sail across one of the world’s great oceans diminishing rapidly beneath our feet. He was the nutter, not us!

Last night we celebrated our success with Spanish steak and beers and I survived my third cigarette-free night. (The boat is a smoke free zone so I stopped once we set sail. Now we are back it seems pointless to pick up the habit for a token few days, it will only make the proceeding days at sea harder to bear.) We may have not come far geographically over the last few days but now we are a team who have been coerced together by the shared goal of wanting to get the hell back out of this joint. Everyone, it seems is getting ready to go. The industrious sounds of tapping on metal fill the marina from every corner, last minute checks and double checks and repairs. We have found another hitch, but this newly formed team is unperturbed. The adjacent part to this one is worn as well. In hindsight we should have removed it before. But Peter, the German, is on the case, we will have to wait until Monday to find out whether one exists on the island, if not then the wait will be longer again. But eventually we will leave and perhaps the wind will come with us, perhaps our new window will have been worth waiting for in the end.

Sooty, for one, is happy that we returned. His owners are expected back any day now after a hurried return to France. When they left here, their cat with a strange French name was missing. They put a notice on their boat, the cat was found, renamed and Osprey became his home. Yesterday he was lounging on the deck of a mega-yacht looking down at us snootily pretending he had never known us. But today he is back, curled up happily in the cockpit, waiting with us for the part that, hopefully, will be our long awaited ticket out of here!

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Friday, September 14, 2007

We can't see the goal!

My house sits perched on the edge of a valley that is Port Elizabeth. From my porch I can see straight down this tranquil valley and out to the crescent shaped harbour of Admiralty Bay. The bottom of this valley is a flat, fertile flood plain, not peppered with patches of small domestic agriculture, as you would expect, but a patch of grass that is the hub of this town, a green rectangular playing field.

Throughout summer it was cricket which inhabited this space, with a tiered concrete stadium on the north side. Now autumn is upon us (although no leaves are turning here) and the football season has begun. Matches are played as the heat falls out of the sun. They finish just before the great glowing orange ball immerses itself in the harbour and extinguishes its heat for another 12 hours. At around 4.00 every Wednesday and Friday evening I can almost track the highlights of the match from my house through the jubilant and derogatory noises of the crowd.

Just below my house there is a wall which holds the road to the edge of the valley. People sit and linger here and watch the football as they pass. Tonight I joined them to watch the game. There was the white team and the fluorescent yellow team. Most of the white team had dreadlocks and any time one of them touched the ball the crowd would cry 'go rasta go!'. They even addressed each other as rasta, 'here rasta", 'pass rasta'. It struck me that this was a trifle confusing and may account for the team of flying dreads being 3-1 down to the belisha beacons.

The pitch is still raw from the season of cricket, with a gaping brown scar down the middle where the crease had been. It is tended to, it seems, by grazing goats in the day and in the season becomes a place for sound systems and dancing after dark.

Young boys, seemingly oblivious to the match, played their own game as they kicked a ball around behind the sidelines. The crowd exploded with cheers and taunts every time the ball approached a goal. From our elevated seats on the whitewashed wall we could only tell when the white team had scored by the reaction of the crowd. A beautiful young 'dread' with Egyptian cheekbones had greeted me when I perched myself onto this exclusive viewing spot. Not with a word or a sound, just a nod. As the game progressed he ventured a bit further down the conversational field, the talk was preceded by the customary offering of a half smoked joint which he pulled out of his back pack and lit as if he had been saving it for this precise moment. He asked me where I was from and if I was enjoying the game. 'It's a nice spot' he said 'only problem, you can't see the goal for the mango tree. It doesn't matter tho' he said 'we like it'.

I liked it too, high up above the pitch, looking out to sea as the sun was setting. Watching the vibrant colour washing itself out of the island as the evening haze marched in. Taking in the game which seemed to have drawn every inhabitant of the town to participate in the accompanying vocal chorus I emptied my mind, smiled again at the beautiful cheekbones and felt a deep seated sense of being part of this place. I didn't mind either that we couldn't see the goal.

UPDATE:
Last night I met Egyptian cheekbones man in the street. He hailed me from the darkness and greeted me with the handshake of a clenched fist; knuckles touching knuckles. He introduced himself as, wait for it, 'Specialist Ninja Man'. Not just any Ninja man then, a specialist one to boot!

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Local lingo

There is feeling, simplicity and clarity in the local lingo which is easy to be seduced by and eventually embrace. That is when you can understand it of course! The locals are fully aware that once they slip into their personal patwa they may as well be speaking another language as far as us whities are concerned. I would like to think that my ear is gradually tuning in and beginning to make sense of the hidden vowels and consonants but it may all just be an illusion. The only clue I can usually grasp which hints that I am being talked about is the proliferation of the word 'she' in every sentence.

When I first arrived I joked about the cat's mother but really I found the overuse of 'she' when referring to women as mildly offensive. On further examination though I have noticed that the men cop it too. 'He' and 'she' is used here in the traditional sense in which we use it at home. It is, however, also substituted for his and hers. So if someone is talking about 'her father' they will say 'she father' instead. This can lead to a lot of shes in one breath. For instance:

'She went to pick up she child from school and take he back to she house where she cooked he some dinner'

Once you have clicked it makes perfect sense and being referred to constantly as 'she' is no longer a problem.

They use the same words here but in different ways and sometimes to great affect. If you are thinking about a person or a situation too much, so much so that you become preoccupied or stressed, you are said to be 'studying' . If your girlfriend has run off with someone else and you hit the bottle to drown out the hurt and the pain then you are 'studying she too much'. I like that. For that is what you do. You are not just 'thinking' about her in a situation like that. You are going over and over the whys and wherefores. You are studying the situation and trying to work it out and usually it is best to stop. I have been told many a time not to study something or someone too much and usually it has been fine advice.

If you are going somewhere for lunch, let's say to Dawns, a lovely little Creole restaurant on the beach, you are not going to Dawns, you are going by Dawns. This has the added advantage of being slightly unspecific. I am forever calling people on their cell phones and asking them where they are; 'by Andy's' they will say. Which means, in all reality, that they can be anywhere in the near vicinity of Andy's, they do not actually have to be at Andy's. This can make tracking people down an exasperating experience. You usually find them in the end though. This, as I have said many a time, is a small small place. It is uncanny the amount of times you are talking about someone and lo and behold a few moments later they will show up, as if they knew.

You are always hailed and acknowledged by people who know you as you pass. They shout your name, a greeting or sometimes just a sound. Some will stop and chat and some will walk on by. The ones who acknowledge you but do not stop are known literally here as shouting friends. People you know, who also know you but with whom you do not have a personal relationship. Acquaintances, we would call them at home, but I much prefer shouting friends.

And what do these shouting friends of mine shout at me? A long time ago I wrote about the myriad of terms, mostly derogatory, that have been assigned to me over the years due to my elevated height. Lamppost, Giraffe, Lofty, Gangley, the list goes on. Here, I have found myself a new name and it is I want to hold on to. It is celebratory and positive, complementary in the way it is spoken. When I walk the streets of Bequia I am greeted from bars, from beneath the shade of trees, from the markets and from boats. 'Tallest!' echoes across the streets and the waves. Tallest by name and Tallest by nature, Tallest I will forever be.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

What do I do all day?

The sultry season is well and truly upon us. The harbour front is closing down and the staff of the little restaurants and bars are taking their much needed holiday. They work all year round until now, the summer, the quiet season, the hot season, when they close for a month and we all retreat to our homes waiting for life to return in November.

They say if you can survive a summer in Bequia you are 'hardcore'. We are getting there but are not yet through the worst. 'The worst' of course is all relative. What can be bad about living on a Caribbean Island? Nothing really, nothing is bad. But it is trying at times, a test of something. 'Silly season' they call it; the summer. There is little to do and even less people to do it with, but still we pass our time.

People at home ask me what I do all day. 'Nothing' I reply playfully. I try to convince them that it is a fine art this nothingness. You wrestle, at first, with guilt and restlessness. 'I should be doing something, I should be busy'. It takes not weeks but months to wind yourself down to a state where you can happily wake up each morning with no idea of what you are going to do. But still the day passes and happily, usually. I still fight the inbuilt urge of list writing. If I have more than a couple of things to be achieved in a day I feel I should write it down. But I don't, I stop myself, I just get on and do it. If I forget something there is always tomorrow.

I have moved house again this week and extended my visa; these have been stressful times. House hunting here, like everything, is done by word of mouth. There is no register or list of places to rent. You carry on with your daily life and ask everyone you know or pass whether they know of anywhere that's free. I was passed from person to person, driven from this place to that. I discovered secret gems and art studios high up on deeply vegetated hills and finally landed in the new place I call home.

Extending your visa is always a nerve wracking experience. There is no rhyme or reason to how the system works. When I first arrived I was given 3 months. I went away, sailed to North America and on my return was given only a month. The visa extending process usually involves going to immigration, filling in a form, showing them your flight ticket out of here and stripping yourself of all the freedom you have ever known by leaving your passport with them for 3 days. You return, anxiously to collect it, are met by an expressionless face which gives nothing away, and are eventually told to go to the next desk to buy your $25 stamp. This is the signal that you are in, you have made it, you can stay.

This time however it was different. For starters I was given a new form to fill in, a 'sponsorship form'. This worried me slightly, why was it different? The form involved me tracking down my landlord and asking him for various details. He had to make a trip back up the hill to find his passport number for me. The form explicitly stated that even if you had a sponsor you were 'prohibited to work'. The next section asked for details of your employer! A trick question perhaps? Who knows, I left it blank. When I finally arrived back at immigration with all my forms complete they were closed, for lunch. An hour of loitering and chatting to friends and I finally went back and submitted it, gritted my teeth and handed over my passport. Without looking up he told me to go and buy my stamp. I looked at him perplexed, this usually happens when you collect your visa. I bought my stamp, carried it back across the room, he stuck it on the form, stamped my passport, and handed it back to me. That was it, no stripping of one's identity, no nervous 3 day wait, my visa was granted right there on the spot. No-one I know has ever had this happen to them. I have no idea whether it is to do with me or the mood of the man on the desk, but I walked out quickly, without looking back, in case he changed his mind!

And so the days go by. The laundry gets washed, the floor is swept and meal after meal is made. The beach is walked to, the length of the bay swum, talk is talked and gossip is passed.

And sometimes I actually sit down and write my blog!