Monday, August 27, 2007

Back to basics

I am having what could be construed as a minor crisis. But I am not letting it become one. It is only a computer after all, stacked full of photos and the writing I have been doing since I moved out to the Caribbean. It has died, kaput, just when I had found a wireless connection from my house.

Technically speaking it is not actually dead. A light flickers when I turn it on, it even makes that celebratory de dah! niose of welcome as the hard drive starts whirring and I wait for the apple to appear on the screen. But it doesn't. Nothing does, the screen remains blank. Until yesterday when there was a moment of hope, the screen glowed, an apple appeared but was sliced from all sides by horizontal bands of colours and greys shooting across the screen, building up on top of each other until they swallowed the apple and just left a screen of flickering pixels which hurt my eyes so I turned it off.

So now I am back in the internet place. My lovely office with a harbour view lies abandoned. I have no tv at home, so internet and laptopless I am really back to basics. I have books, but they are running low. Having read every book with a gold embossed cover on the island, I was overjoyed to discover that Amazon deliver here. I have a consignment of literature to last me a year arriving ( I hope) in a couple of weeks.

It is a basic existance on this island of ours. I have bought nothing but food (and mostly local food at that) since I arrived 6 months ago. This is a girl who shopped for England. Nothing to do on a Saturday, well let's go shopping! I have a wardrobe large enough to clothe a (tall female) army back home. Yet in 6 months here I have bought nothing. And do you know what? I like it. Unecessary shopping is an unimaginable extravegance out here. But what you do have becomes emminantly valuable. You lose or break a watch, or a laptop, or a bikini at home; someone will fix it or you treat yourself to a new one. 'I was fed up of that old thing anyway' you convince yourself and lo and behold another days shopping is legitimately on the cards! If it breaks or disappears on an island like this, that is it, no more and no replacement either until you can get yourself on a plane and back to the world where retail rules.

My laptop will have to lay dormant, until I go to Florida next month to deliver a boat. It is good timing in that respect. I am planning to be doing a fair amount of travelling over these next few months. The Caribbean is hot in the summer, and although I love the heat even I feel disabled sometimes when I emerge from under the shade of a tree and feel my scalded skin sapping the energy from my legs. Yesterday was spent in the sea and the sea alone. The sand on the beach was too hot to walk on so I had to wait until sunset until the soles of my feet could bear to bring my body out of the water. Everything is hot and everyone is hot too. The place is emptying out like an upturned skip, fewer and fewer people grace the streets and the bars. People are leaving, to escape the heat and the poverty of summer. No tourists equals no money for most people here. So they follow the crowds and make money elsewhere until the trickle of sparkling skinned whities begins again in November.

For those that do remain times are tough and tempers run high. Everyone is living off each other. Deals are struck from person to person as there is no one else left to do business with. I swear the same money is just passing around the island, each person taking his cut as it goes. I just hope that it lasts until the season, lasts until the trade winds and the tourists come back to freshen the air and the wallets.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Calm after the storm

It is one of those evenings of summer tranquility in the tropics tonight. A pinkish haze is spreading across the watery sky; the intensity of its daytime colour fading away with the hours. The air is motionless and the valley is alive with early evening sounds. These are the precious hours, the cool hours. The disabling heat has dissipated with the falling sun yet there is still lingering light to work by. There is the steady chipping sound of hoes in the ground and music wafting from homes all around. The children are shrieking as they play football in the playing field which sits at the base of the valley, a rare patch of horizontal ground on this island of crumpled hills. The birds are singing their twilight melodies, the dogs are barking warnings to each other across the town and harmonious, heartfelt voices are gliding from the many churches. Two local speed boats are cutting a streak across the harbour, on their way back to St Vincent, no doubt. The seas must be calm enough for them to make their Sunday trip, to come and join the gathering that is Lower Bay on a Sunday. The day when locals and expats go to the beach to eat, drink and play.

There is still debris around the harbour’s edge thrown by the waves which pounded the shore when hurricane Dean passed 100 miles to the north of us. The roads and footpaths are hidden under a film of grimey brown mud; residue from the torrents of rain which produced rivers along every gulley. The, usually dry, storm drains are trickling with water still, 3 days after the storm hit its peak. The harbour is glassy flat and back to its natural blue. For several hours on Friday there was a sharp line across the bay, the boundary between brown and blue. The run off from the hills poured into the harbour, filling it with deposits from all over the island. The storm drains are often used as garbage disposal ditches, people chuck everything in them. Then when it rains the waste ends up in the harbour.

Everything, it seems, has gone back to normal here. It is hard to believe that the southern coast of Jamaica is being pounded by 140mph winds as I type, by the very same hurricane which has since grown into a monster. The Prime Minister has asked people to evacuate their houses to one of the many hurricane shelters set up around the island in schools, churches and hospitals. They have instead stayed at home. Fearful of crime and looting they prefer to put their lives at risk than abandon their properties. I hope for them all that the gamble pays off.

The gunshot murder, the first, remains unsolved but someone has been charged with the drunken brawl one. So tomorrow is Monday, another day in paradise as we like to remind ourselves here. Perhaps this week will be quieter, without killing or storm, but doubtless something will come up to write back home about!

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Here he is......

Hurricane Dean. Looking likely to hit Dominica and/or Guadeloupe or Martinique...tomorrow. Still sunny in Bequia but the wind is freshening and there is a sinister haze in the air.

7pm Thursday: UPDATE

A dark black cloud crept over the hills, the wind picked up from the deadly tense stillness and the rain began; the thunder and the lightening.

Dean has been upgraded to a Cat 2 hurricane. Only tropical storm conditions are expected here. He is expected to hit Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe or St Lucia. Still, the prime minister has addressed the nation, said the conditions could be life threatening; winds, rain, flooding, landslides, sea surges, suddenly it seems a bit scary. The excitement has turned to nervousness. The neighbours have hammered corrugated iron sheets over their windows. The dogs have been fighting and the roosters squealing and the cat has just dashed in, soaked.

Midday Friday

Well we got off pretty lightly. That initial storm last night was almost the worst. After that it was calm again and remained so until I went to bed at 2am. I heard pounding rain through the night, but not for long, an hour or so.

I awoke this morning to an overcast, pleasantly fresh Bequia. The wind is streaming in from the SW, the opposite direction to the prevailing Trade Winds. The boats in the harbour are facing the wrong way and waves are breaking on the usually calm shore. The bay is full of ferries from Martinique and St Lucia taking cover. Several have tried to leave this morning but beat a hasty retreat once they left the protection of the harbour and quickly came back.

The eye of the storm grazed the southern tip of Martinique. So luckily no-one was directly hit. However wind and rain has been raging in Martinique, Dominica and St Lucia. Buildings have lost roofs and landslides are expected.

Dean is set to intensify, however, and become a very dangerous hurricane. The heat of the Caribbean waters will fuel it up and it may reach category 4 or even 5. We have got off lightly but it is looking bad for others out there.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tropical storm Dean is on his way

Forecast to be Hurricane Dean by Friday....and damn near us!


Currently most models show him passing about 100 miles north of us (St Vincent)and making landfall in Martinique, Guadeloupe and/or Dominica...keep watching.

eek...I am becoming a weather my dad!

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

My new office

complete with wireless!....

Monday, August 13, 2007

Somebody else dead

Sunday night again, but this one was earlier. No gunshot, as far as I know. The man was taken away in an ambulance and, apparently, died in hospital. He had been found lying in the street by the power station.

Last Sunday’s murder is still unsolved. I do not know, yet, whether this one is being treated as murder, but the police are apparently all over the streets tonight and names are already being bandied about. Is this death related to the murder or is it entirely coincidental? Perhaps it was illness or a fight gone wrong. I can’t believe there is a serial killer on the loose. Perhaps the dead man was about to squeal on the culprit of the last one. These theories are all in my head, God knows what talk will be flying round the streets tomorrow. I am staying safe at home tonight with kitten.

My friend, Wilf, has now been questioned four times by the police about last Sunday’s murder. They ask him the same questions each time, he is getting scared. He went to see a lawyer who told him that the police couldn’t be stopped from questioning him,
‘They are just doing their job’ he said.
He told Wilf that plenty of others had been to see him complaining of the same thing. This calmed him down a bit, knowing that he wasn’t the only one. Every time they come they tell him that they’ll be back.
‘Why would they warn you that they are coming back?’ said the lawyer ‘it is just a tactic, they won’t be back, they are just trying to see if you will run’
‘Where would I run?’ exclaimed Wilf, sitting on this island of 7 square miles.
‘They think you might run like OJ’ said the lawyer. They both laughed at this, it lightened the atmosphere, and Wilf’s mind.
‘They need evidence, and you can’t do anything unless they charge you’
‘But I didn’t do it!’ cried Wilf.
‘Well I’m very pleased to hear that’ retorted this serene man ‘in that case you will be fine’.

This latest news has sent a chill up my spine. I hope it is a coincidence, this death, and not another murder. I saw the murdered man’s father in the street yesterday. He was dressed smartly in his Captain’s clothes, still working, still keeping on. I touched his shoulder and offered my condolences. He shook my hand and quietly said ‘I hope they catch someone soon’.


It was murder. A fight, extra strong rum was involved. Someone has been picked up for it. It is seemingly unrelated to the one last week.

The first ever murder in Bequia was 7 years ago. Since then there has been 1 every year. Now there have been 2, unrelated, in 1 week.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Murder she wrote

The peace in paradise was shattered at 2am on Monday morning by the sound of a gunshot which woke me from my sleep. I was snoozing on the ‘bed’ on my porch and was confused about what had woken me. I stumbled inside in the darkness and climbed into my real bed, enclosed and protected by a mosquito net. I didn’t remember the sound of the gunshot until I heard the stories the following morning.

The previous night I had been walking home in the twilight when I came across a huge gathering of people outside Julie’s guest house (Julie is a man!). People were spilling out into the road dressed in more than just their Sunday best. They were sporting suits and shiny silk dresses, rubber slippers had been replaced by sparkling stilettos and the women had plaited and straightened and woven their hair. It was a spectacular sight. We are usually a shabby bunch us residents of Bequia, so I changed my route so that I could wander through this gleaming crowd and take the spectacle in. A wedding party and most of the island seemed to be there.

As I walked into town in the morning a small boy playing with his sister in the dry storm drain by the road shouted something to me, or at me I wasn’t sure. I didn’t catch what he said so smiled at him and continued to walk. As I rounded the corner I was confronted by a yellow police tape stretching across the road. Suddenly the penny dropped ‘you can’t go down there!’ is what the boy had yelled. I turned and climbed back up the hill telling him ‘I should have listened to you’ as I passed. ‘What happened?’ I asked him, ‘Somebody dead’ he solemnly replied.

I wandered down into the harbour through the back streets. For anyone unfamiliar with the place the town would have looked a picture of tranquillity. But I could sense a change in atmosphere. The gaggles of people sitting on steps in the shade and under the leafy protection of the almond trees was normal, it was the looks on their faces that were different. Dark and serious, something had happened.

An old lady standing by the police barrier told me someone had died, but she was still unsure of the cause. The area that was cordoned off was yards from where the wedding party had been held, there had to be some connection, I thought. Sitting outside the, ironically named, Rush Hour eating my chicken and rice I listened as facts were passed back and forth.

‘It was a gun’ someone declared as they walked in ‘shot in the head’. Everyone knew the boy. His father is the captain of the local schooner which I have been working on. It was his sister’s wedding which I had walked through. But the boy had been in trouble; ‘a vagrant’ and ‘a crack head’ he was variously described as. He had been “troublin’” everyone for months.

“But still he doesn’t deserve to be dead!” someone cried
“Not with a gun”
“If you’re vexed with he, just let he know, even attack he with a knife would be better, at least he has a chance”
‘Nobody has a chance against a gun”

Someone else bounced in for his lunch “what’s happenin’ man?” he asked as a casual greeting
“You not heard about the murder?”
“Wha’ murder?”
“Last night”
They filled him in on what they knew and he hung his head in his hands ”I’m going home, not hungry any more, I feel different” and he left.

This murder has hit the place hard, not because of the death so much but because he was killed with a gun. The neighbouring island of St Vincent is gun city. A pointless killing every week and few of them are solved. But Bequia is different and proud of it, a quality which people seem to respect. Even the Vincy boyz leave their arms at home when they visit.

So now that everyone knows the facts, the next task at hand is to decide who was to blame. 30 officers have come over by boat from St Vincent. An island of 7 square miles and 3000 people all of whom know each other. A wedding party of hundreds and a night watchman on duty in the school yard where the body was found. Sounds like a straightforward nut to crack. But things in the West Indies have a habit of complicating themselves. There are stories and gossip and bribes and corruption. The watchman is still being held which has compounded the talk.

The dead man was gay, or so they say and the watchman was a ‘batty boy’ too. This is where the theories start to spiral.

“If they were having sex and the watchman was afraid he would talk, maybe he kill he”

The poor watchman is a marked man now, guilty or not. There were jokes flying too amongst the serious talk. My friend Wilf had knocked the dead boy out in a fight 2 nights before. “It’s you, it’s you!” “Murderer!” they laughed. The gossip and the jokes became less funny when Wilf was questioned by the police the following night. They made him take them around the town and meet all his alibis, the people he had been with when he heard the shot. But still they joke and taunt him. They know it wasn’t him so they think it is still funny. He, not surprisingly, does not. But that is the humour here, it is harsh and direct. There is no room for a sensitive soul in this Caribbean world.

There is a unanimous feeling that it is “someone not from here”. No-one from Bequia would do a thing like that, they say. I would tend to agree, but then what do I know.

There is a white man in the picture too. He is the one the locals are pinning it on. A German who lives alone on his boat. He is based here but frequently sails off on trips between the islands; ‘running drugs’ is the word on the street. He reappeared last week. Arrived agitated and aggressive at Penthouse (the local rum shack, another ironically named establishment!) an hour after the bullet was fired. And, it is said, he had blood on his shirt. Well the blood could have been paint, or any such thing, we are a scruffy lot here, as I said.

So, Wilf has hit the bottle again with the stress of the accusations, the German has moved his boat but has not left the island and the watchman is still banged up. I will keep you posted but the plot is thickening and these are tense times in paradise.

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