Sunday, October 31, 2010

With a grateful heart

The birds are back. Our tiny avian friends who throughout our two week stay have fluttered in and out and around the house were not visible yesterday. They too had hunkered down. Found safe retreats to weather out the storm.

This morning, they're back. The mongoose too. They weren't frolicking on the grass or trying to use the house as a freeway from one side of the compound to the next. Today they're back.

And I am happy.

Sometime early this morning, the rain stopped. The sea has found its rhythm again. Its ceased gyrating like a fairground ride and stopped throwing massive waves against the shore chomping away at the coral that holds this island together.

But there is devastation all around. All over the island and right here on the property. Branches on the ground. Debris litters the patios and decks and lawns. There's a giant sink hole at the edge of the seawall at the base of the giant tree that stands guard at the edge of the property. The hole appeared sometime yesterday afternoon. It wasn't big. But it kept growing. Pounded at by the inexorable force of the sea battering it into submission.

This morning, the sink hole is big enough to put a dining room table into it. The cement that was poured so hopefully years ago in an attempt to keep erosion at bay is exposed. Water flows freely beneath it undermining the integrity of the wall upon which tourists and Bajans stroll in a constant ebb and flow, from one end of the beach to the other.

And the storm has passed and life flows on.

I checked our flights this morning. The airport is open. We can fly home.

I will miss this island paradise. Miss the gentleness and warmth of its native sons and daughters. Miss hearing the swell of the ocean, the birds twittering all around.

It has been a time of wonder. A time to rest. To play and laugh and share in good friendship, food and wine. It has been a time to sink back into that place within where I am at one with the world around me, flowing in and out on the ebb and flow of the tide.

I go home to my orderly life, my life of work and friends and my daughters and walks with Ellie and laughter and most importantly love.

I carry it with me. It is here on this tiny island in the Caribbean sea. It is where ever I am.

Love.

Its force is greater than the winds that blow in on a hurricane's roar, greater than the sea's angry toss.

For in love, I am my greatest, sharing the best of me with the world around me, reflecting the greatness all around me in everything I do and say and am.

In love I leave this tiny island. I leave behind the devastation of a storm that those who call this place home must now clean up afterwards. It may have wreaked havoc with the lands, but it has not defeated their amazing spirits. They will repair the broken walls and downed powerlines and roofs blown away. They will repair the sinkholes and sweep away the debris and through it all they will continue to flow in the beauty of their gentle nature, the graciousness of their island ways. They will continue to be the amazing people I met where ever I went who wanted nothing but to ensure our experience here in their homeland reflected the beauty of this place they call home.

It was a magical time. I shall carry the magic with me as I fly away, back to the land of my birth. With grateful heart and spirits lifted for having spent two weeks exploring the wonders of this tiny island in the Caribbean, I return home richer for having met the people of this island paradise called Barbados.

Nameste.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Forces of nature

Nature’s fury began to rise mid-afternoon on Friday. As Tammy and I walked back from downtown Holetown, we saw people placing bags of sand against doorways and low window sills. Stores were closing up shop early, the Spa, which had been our destination, cancelled afternoon appointments. As we couldn’t get a massage, we decided to stop at the surfside bar at the SandPiper Resort. On the beach, staff busily folded up umbrellas and pulled watercraft onto shore, rigging them up to weather the storm meteorologists had promised would be coming ashore sometime within the next forty-eight hours.

“Should we be worried?” we asked a staff member.

“Oh no ma’am,” he replied. “We’re just taking precautions.


We decided not to worry but to instead, sit outside and enjoy the sunshine that kept peaking through the grey clouds above.

Harold, the bartender, encouraged me to try the special MaiTai he had created a couple of weeks ago in honour of Patrick, the resort’s tennis pro. He rhymed off all its ingredients and I decided what the heck! I already tried Sex on the Beach, why not go for a Smiling Patrick Mai Tai? It was delicious.

Tammy and I sat and watched staff prepare for the storm, and chatted about life and love and living free. Tammy is one of my painting partners from the retreat I went to a few weeks ago. We share a love of many things, in particular, animals and art and going on adventures. We laughed and joked with staff. Tammy created a stupendous pick-up trick of flicking peanuts off the table. She meant to shoot it onto the ground to dissuade a little bird who kept landing on our table, hopping over to the bowl of peanuts and picking one up in his mouth. Instead, it flew straight at a man sitting at the next table. Fortunately, it hit the metal rim of his chair. We laughed and giggled and decided this is the life.

We also figured we’d best be getting home. It was four 4:30pm and a light rain had started to fall.

When we arrived home the house was a-buzz with news of the incoming storm. We laughed and joked, maybe we wouldn’t be able to fly home tomorrow? Haha. Another day in paradise. But still we believed, it was just a storm and would pass by as storms inevitably do.

Angela and Anne, the two house staff weren’t too worried. It might reach tropical storm force they said but it shouldn’t be too bad. Though they did ensure every room had lanterns and flashlights with fresh batteries and that jugs and bottles of fresh water were on hand.

We were expecting guests for dinner and had to get ready. Penny, the woman who visited on our first day here, and her partner Clarence, the bass player with Ebbie Gilkes were coming for grilled leg of lamb and we were all looking forward to an evening of deepening friendship and sharing in good food, laughter and wine.

And we did. Have a great time. Even though the rain kept falling heavier and heavier throughout the evening. When our guests left shortly after ten, we still had power. But, within a couple of hours, the power was out and the wind was up as nature let loose her power.

There is something humbling and terrifying about the ferocity of the wind and the power of the ocean in a hurricane. And, there is something daunting about being a foreigner in a strange land, isolated in a house on the beach where the surf is pounding and the wind is howling and the rain is pouring down.

All night long, above our heads we could hear branches and coconuts and other debris hitting the metal roof with resounding thuds. I arose several times during the night to look outside and each time was less reassuring than the last. When I finally got out of bed at 6 the balcony outside our bedroom was covered with fallen branches that I had to move out of the way to open the door to go downstairs. I moved tables and chairs inside, and battened down what I could as the wind was pushing chairs over and throwing cushions about as if they were made of feathers. There was no electricity -- but I was grateful for the gas stove because at least I could boil water for coffee.

It was a long night and a long day but, thankfully, we are all safe and while the world outside is a mess of downed trees and branches, inside all is well.

In the end, we couldn't leave Barbados today as planned as all flights were cancelled. We're booked to go out tomorrow and, as long as the airport is open, we shall be winging our way home, away from this island paradise back to the word-a-day world.

While our last couple of days have been rather dramatic to say the least, the fear and trauma of living through the storm pales in comparison to the wonder and joy we all experienced over these two weeks together. Outside, the wind still blows, the surf still pounds and the rain is still falling but inside my heart, I am full with gratitude and joy and love and pure delight in this holiday in the sun.

And, to make it better, we got electricity back this evening, the police came by to check on us and Tammy and I had a delightful time walking in the rain under the protection of giant palm leaves.

At one point, a vehicle with several Bajan's drove up, stopped and asked if they could take a picture of us with our palm leaf umbrellas. Tammy and I laughed and said, "Of course."

Funny, for two weeks we were taking photos of the natives. Now, they're taking photos of us!

What a topsy turvy world we live in. Inside and out.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Conquering Fear

I have always loved the water. I love the sense of freedom of movement when surrounded by its buoyant support. The ability to effortlessly float and drift and move with ease and grace through its embrace. How, when I swim beneath the surface I glide like a bird, water moving through my hair, moisture caressing my skin like a silk negligee of creamy perfection carrying me into the land of dreaming.

I am at home in the water. At ease. Which is why when I almost drowned scuba diving years ago in Hawaii, I was really upset. Not because of the almost drowning part, though that was distressing, but rather because of the consciousness rising part, the realization that I had lost my ‘at home place’ of being at one with the universe, of being a sum of the part of the whole of world I inhabited, like an infant in the womb, breathing under water.

When the accident scuba diving happened, I thought I could breathe under water, that if I just kept gulping in water, it would be transformed like water into wine of Biblical lore. Being that far under water for so long, there was no sense of being wet. No sense of being separate from the air above. And so, when my regulator ran out and the dive master motioned for me to take his extra regulator, I didn’t think twice. I took it and breathed in.

I didn’t know I should purge first. I was a novice diver and this was my first deep sea dive. The instruction on deck had been brief and perfunctory and I wasn’t really paying attention. I was too excited. And so, when that first gulp of air turned out to be water, I panicked. As the water kept flowing, I pushed against the dive master’s arm holding the regulator against my mouth.

I wanted to breathe. Air. I lifted my head as if it would magically appear. But it couldn’t. We were 45 feet under, I thought if I just keep breathing I would become like the fish. Extracting vital elements from water that would feed my body life-giving oxygen. I kept breathing and struggling to find air. Many tense minutes later, I was losing consciousness. The dive master dropped my diving belt and raced me to the surface. When I came to, I was coughing up blood and we were racing for shore.

I remember when they let me out of hospital the next day, I knew I had to dive into the deep end again if I was to reclaim some of what was lost. I dove into the pool at the resort where we were staying and my friend, the water, supported me.

But I never donned a regulator or a mask again. Somethings are best left for the never again I told myself.

Until yesterday when I finally decided I’d go snorkeling with C.C. and Tammy out to the Coral Reef just beyond the point from the house where we are staying. Precious and teeming with aquatic life, it’s a Park Reserve. They’d swum out to it our first day here, and lauded us with tales of colourful parrot fish and graceful angel fish and all sorts of underwater beauty. I had not yet ventured out, and though the seas were rolling, I decided it was now or never.

We hiked down the seawall to a strip of beach that gave the easiest access point beyond the breakers. The lifeguard directed us to the best route out to the reef. We donned our flippers entered the water.

I could feel it. Fear edging at the corners of my peace of mind. An inky dark substance wafting in and out like octopus tentacles in the sea. I took a breath, pulled my mask over my eyes and nose, slid the regulator into my mouth, began to swim and put my face into the water.

And fear rode in on a wave of panic as water clogged my mouthpiece.

I spluttered and splurted. Choked and coughed. I lifted my head and pulled the mask off my face. The waves rocked me, back and forth, back and forth, lulling me with their mysterious pull. I was having none of it.

C.C., who had not yet put his mask on, turned towards me, not quite sure what I was doing.

“What’s up?” he asked.

“I can’t do it,” I cried. “I can’t do it.” I knew it was irrational. I knew it was just fear, but sometimes, fear overcomes reason. I could taste the saltiness of the water I’d gulped in my frenzy to get the mouthpiece out and my head above water.
Not quite understanding what was going on, he swam towards me. “Do you need help with the mouthpiece?” he asked.

“No. I just can’t do it,” I cried again. I could feel the fear. It was a visceral chord of terror linking me unexpectedly to that time years ago when I fought to find my breath under water. I didn’t want to feel it again. I didn’t want to be reminded of the fragility of my place in the sea.

C.C. watched me. Confusion in his eyes. Tammy had swum out already, unaware of my angst. He glanced from me to where she swam, head down, snorkel bobbing above the surface. I followed his gaze.

The water was choppy. Behind us, a steady stream of breakers pushed up against the shoreline. Out beyond the breakers, a couple of surfers bobbed on the surface waiting for the next big one.

The reef was calling. Waiting to unveil its treasures to peering eyes.

I don’t like fear. Don’t like when it controls me and keeps me from doing the things I want to do in my life.

Fear is the opportunity to be courageous.

I took a breath. It’s okay, I told myself. That was then. This is now. Breathe and centre yourself in the now.

I breathed. Deeply.

I pulled the mask back down. I glanced at C.C. “Okay. Let’s go,” I said. Biting down on the mouthpiece, lowering my head into the water, I began to swim.

It wasn’t a great day for snorkeling over the reef. Too much sand churned up by the waves crashing into shore.

It was a great day for feeling the fear and doing it anyway. For slipping out of the moorings of the past to bring myself into the present.

In the end, I didn’t enjoy my swim. My mask kept filling with water. I kept choking on its salty taste. I kept having to remind myself to breathe deeply. Not panic. To relax and stay present.

But I never found that place of comfort. That place where I was at one with the sea. I did see some cute little fishies. A round puffy guy who approached me, eyes peering inquisitively into my mask.

Perhaps that is what I missed the most. Before the unfortunate events of that long ago dive, I had laughed and giggled, been enchanted by the life swimming beneath the sea. This time, even with my body floating on the surface, air just a breath away, I felt tethered to the undefinable fear of knowing, the ocean is not my element, I am just a visitor in its embrace.

We swam for awhile but the murkiness of the water foiled our attempts to see all there was to see upon the coral reef.

And through it all, I didn’t feel comfortable in the water. I yearned to be free of the plastic mouthpiece, the mask against my face. I wanted to be unencumbered.

Weightlessly floating on the surface in angel pose, arms drifting gracefully by my side, ears submerged, face pressed up to the sun, listening to my breath go in and out.

Andy came down the shore to greet us and we swam in. I didn’t use the snorkel swimming to shore. I used my breath, swimming on the surface free to breathe the air above me.

It was a great swim yesterday even if I wasn’t comfortable in the water. I know my fear. I’ve met it. Head on. Many times. Sometimes, it’s turned me upside down. Inside out. Outside in. Sometimes, I hold onto it and sometimes, it holds onto me. And sometimes, I’ve pushed through it, into it, over it and above it. Sometimes, I’ve pummelled it into submission, biting down on my willingness to fearlessly move into that place where fear no longer grips me. And sometimes, fearful of losing its grip, fear has pushed back, pushed into my peace of mind, pounding me with its belief there is no restful place for me to be other than in its embrace.

Yesterday, fear held on and so did I. I snorkeled into the sea and came out knowing, I don’t have to overcome or even get over fear, I simply need to embrace it and acknowledge its presence. I don’t have to ‘do the hard’, I just have to be okay with doing whatever I’m doing. And if in my doing fear arises, the best place for me to be is exactly where I am, breathing freely of the air, breathing deeply of life’s beauty teeming all around me as I live this one wild and precious life fearlessly in the rapture of now floating effortlessly in the waters of life flowing all around me.

And today is our last full day on the island. I've had a swim and am off inland to visit a pottery place and other wonders of this magical place.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Oh yes. This is paradise.


I don't know if it was the "Sex on the Beach" I drank (a gin based concoction that I had to try if only because its name was so funny! and I wanted to be able say, 'I had sex on the beach'.) or just the fact we're nearing the end of our sojourn here in paradise, but when Tammy, Jack, C.C. and I returned from town last night from a drink at the Surfside Bar, I suggested we go for a late night swim, 'au naturel'. The other three quickly jumped at the suggestion and there we were in the dark, inky waters of the Caribbean laughing and splashing and enjoying the feeling of the water flowing along bare skin.

Above us, the moon lay on its back, its body curved like a bowl open to receiving the universe's bounty pouring out of the sky. The dark blanket of the night was pierced by twinkling stars intent on their purpose to lead sailors and wayfarers home. When my daughters were little I used to tell them the stars were little holes made by the dream fairies as they fluttered down to earth to cast magic over sleeping children. I searched for familiar constellations. The Big Dipper. Little Dipper. Cassiopeia but could only find one familiar friend, Orion's Belt. Bobbing up and down in the waves, feeling the silky smooth texture of the water against my skin, I was lost amongst the stars in the Tropic of Cancer.

It was a perfect nightcap to a perfect day in paradise.

Tammy and I had walked into town earlier that morning to pick up bread and croissants at a little French bistro. As we passed The Sandpiper resort on our way back, we decided to go in and inquire if we could rent a Moke for the day. To our delight, the woman at the desk arranged it easily and shortly after 10 the four of us set out on an island adventure of the Moke kind.

The Moke (rhymes with 'pope') is a real hybrid. A cross between a Morris Mini, a go-cart and a Jeep, it has no doors, no windows and no solid roof, just a piece of canvas that can be pulled back and stuffed in its miniature trunk. The little cherry red Moke we had did have a cassette player -- I don't think CDs were around when it was built.

The art of the Moke is finding a way to get in and out gracefully. There is none. One let in. Tuck your head. Angle your bum in. Pull the other leg in. Whew. You're in. Which is easier said than done when the Moke has been sitting out in the sun. It's all metal. And metal can get really hot in paradise. Towels are an essential part of the equipment.

But we didn't care. We set off inland, intent on getting lost in the wonder and beauty of this island in the sun.

And we did. Get lost. Several times. Though its hard to get really lost on a 21 x 14 mile wide island. If you get lost, the car rental man told us, just follow the bus signs. Every road leads to the sea and eventually, every bus leads back to 'The City'.

Now, C.C., who was driving, may disagree, but I decided there are two facts about Bajan drivers that are vital to understand. 1. Everyone thinks they own the road. and 2. They all like to play chicken.

Oh, and you also have to be prepared for blind turns on narrow twisting roads where to let oncoming traffic know you're coming is to beep your horn, slow down and hope for the best.

The roads are not wide in Barbados. Nor are they particularly smooth. Few roads have centre lines and shoulders are just not part of the picture.

And it didn't matter. It was fun to climb up into the 'highlands'. To tool around corners and bump and grind over pot holes and swerve to miss foliage that brushed out against the car. Though I'm not sure C.C. was too intent on missing the sweeping branches and other foliage that kept grazing Jack and me where we sat on the passenger side of the Moke!

We didn't have a really clear agenda planned. We just wanted to explore though eventually we knew we wanted to end up at Bathsheba, a surf tossed beach on the Atlantic side of the island. Enroute, we stopped at an 'adventure spot' where tourists can rent mountain bikes and hike in the lush, tropical forests of the hills. We weren't dressed for outdoor adventure of the rugged nature so after snapping a few photos of the incredible view afforded from the terrace of the bar, we climbed (not so gracefully) back into the Moke to continue on our journey. One somewhat disconcerting incident was the arrival of two khaki clad, MK4 toting army recruits who climbed out of a police vehicle, MK4s at their sides and proceeded to walk along the ridge, peering into the dense foliage below. Even though they reassured us, 'everything's ok', the contrast of being surrounded by beauty and the might of the military was jarring.

I wondered if they were on the prowl for drug dealers hiding out in the coconut grove below us or perhaps just reconnoitering advantage points to set up security posts for the upcoming state funeral of Prime Minster David Thompson who passed away last Saturday. Dignitaries and politicians from around the world are expected to descend upon this little island in the sun as she mourns the loss of one of her sons and security promises to be tight.

Funny, I didn't feel more secure with these armed soldiers in our midst. I felt more exposed.

Just like in the Moke as we continued to wend our way along winding roads and narrow trails leading, we weren't sure where. We drove past pastoral scenes of cows grazing, accompanied by the prerequisite Cattle Egret, the white heron that roosts at night in the bushes that line water ways and who, during the day, gather in fields to peck at the flies and bugs that congregate where ever the cattle graze. We drove through coconut groves and banana orchards and C.C. was positive that just beyond one ferny hedge, Mary Jane's finest was growing.

They're not big on road signage on the island so we often left the next decision of which way to turn up to the loudest voices in the car. "Go left." "No, right." "No straight." "Stop! Go back. Turn left instead of going straight."

Poor C.C. He deserves a medal for his patience and ability to ignore our exhortations to take the road less travelled. In the end, he picked the direction of his discretion and all was well.

We ended up at Bathsheba, a stunning beach where gigantic outcroppings of coral rock litter the shore. Perhaps eons ago they rained down from the heavens, meteorites left to guard the eastern shores of paradise, ensuring no evil spirits can enter from the sea. The surf roared. We sat along its edges and let the waves pound us, pushing us here and there. It was exhilarating.

We found a roadside vendor selling jewellery and cotton caftans. He had a tiny six week old monkey tied to the leg of his table. The monkey chattered and turned its tiny paws over and over. He was sweet but somehow it felt wrong to tether the monkey -- or, as I'd like to believe, he was rescued and this was his only chance at survival.

We drove along the shore, turning on a whim, following no map except the coastline's serendipitous route. We were hungry, and thirsty, and to our delight, by turning left instead of going straight, we found the perfect restaurant/bar on a beach. The surf pounded as we ate fried snapper and turkey leg and salad. The air and sun and sand and the sounds and sites of the water pushing in and out and fishing boats bobbing in the tiny harbour and palm trees swaying in the breeze was intoxicating.

And so the day continued. Perfectly in tune with our holiday spirits let loose, we travelled past churches and school children in pink and tangerine and pale blue uniforms, waiting for buses or walking along roadways as they journeyed home. We past roosters and cows rutting and sheep grazing. We stopped at The Cranes and climbed down to a beach of pink sand that felt like butter under our feet. We pulled into the fish market at Oistens and watched a game of 'road tennis' and I danced with one of the vendors and we ate 'Macaroni Pie' and took pictures of a cattle egret standing on the fishmongers counter pecking away at the entrails of deboned fish. We chatted with a man, a Bajan who now lives with his wife and two absolutely beautiful children in Switzerland. A musician, he talked about his music and its roots in the Caribbean sun and discrimination and his white/black heritage. "How can I discriminate when I am half and half?" he asked.

And then, we had to head home. Along the coast. The sun setting in the west. We got lost, ended up in 'shantytown', the fumes of vehicles choking us. It wasn't the perfect ending to our day, but it was real. And humbling. And disturbing.

Tar paper shacks and corrugated metal roofs. No grass. No trees. Nothing but house on house in tumble down disarray. and heat and smells and people walking home and people sitting on porches watching the world go by.

Eventually, as night wrapped us in its enveloping embrace, we made it home, tired and happy to have spent a day of wonder lost in paradise. Andy and Lia listened avidly to our tales and over a candle lit table and a delicious meal, we shared the stories of our adventures.

Oh yes. This is paradise.

Thank you TZ for the use of your photos!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fish tales and other bounty


The sun rises hot. A giant golden ball sprung full force from the horizon. it consumes air. Scorches water and burns every surface it touches.

I say a prayer of thanks for the early morning breeze drifting in from the water, for the fan turning above me.

We are ready when the taxi driver arrives to carry us to the dock where our fishing adventure is set to begin. We are excited. And I am somewhat leery. I don't really want to catch a fish. I just want to spend a day on the ocean.

I get my wish. Five fisherman went out to sea. One came back empty handed. Me.

And it didn't matter.

While the others sat on the boat deck waiting in anticipation for the first pull, I sat up top in the wind and salt air watching for flying fish and chatting with our blue-eyed captain, Peter.

Seventy years old, Peter was born and raised on the island. He's proud of his five generations of Bajan roots, "My family was from Ireland," he tells us. "They came as white slaves. Don't know if that really makes me Bajan but I guess it does."

He watches the sonar, steers with one hand, his long tanned sinewy body comfortable and relaxed. "I'm skirting the edges of the reef," he tells me, after the others have gone down to the deck in anticipation of catching 'a big one'. He shows me on the screen above his head the reddened areas that show the treacherous reef below. "You must pay attention to the sea," he says.

Danny, his deckhand, put the lines into the water as soon as we left harbour. We're not expecting anything right away but, as Andy finishes off the last page of The Globe and Mail a line suddenly goes taut and the excitement begins.

We can't see the fish but Peter and Danny right away know, 'it's a big one'.

Almost forty pounds when the Kingfisher is finally reeled in. He didn't want to come in easy. Put up quite a fight. Andy is exhausted and happy. He's caught a fish.

The energy on the boat grows. Peter sees it as a good omen that within our first forty-five minutes at sea we've brought a big one in.

Me, I don't care. I know the minute I see the Kingfisher brought on board I don't want to catch one of my own. If I did, I might cause a mutiny by insisting on throwing it back to the sea.

We keep motoring further out, further south along the coast. We pass Oistins, the area everyone has told us we must go for 'real Bajan' nightlife. Further along, past The Cranes, a luxury resort for the stars. Peter points out Long Beach and I tell him about our Long Beach, 21 miles of undisturbed, deserted beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It is as long as this island in the sun. A startling thought.

He tells me about his daughters. Two of them. One still on the island, the other living in Florida.

"We had planned on going for Christmas this year. All of us. My wife. Daughter. Grandson. Me." He pauses and glances at the sonar. Searches the ocean beyond. I see him swallow. His blue eyes squint against the light of the sun sparkling on the water. "But my grandson died six months ago," he tells me quietly. "He would have been twelve in August."

I'm not sure I understand. Above the sound of the motor, the wind whipping through my hair, the waves slapping at the hull of the boat. I'm not sure I understand, but I do.

"I'm so sorry," I tell him. "That must really hurt."

He nods his head. "It was so senseless. So..." he pauses and then continues on a rush of breath. "Criminal. It was his father. He's a gun dealer and my grandson had gone to spend time with him. He loved the guns. Loved to help his dad clean them. And nobody knows for sure how it happened but one of the guns had a bullet in it. It hit him in the chest. Anywhere else and he might have had a chance."

He looks out to sea again. I look at his face. Deeply tanned. Bright blue eyes barely visible beneath the brim of his baseball cap.

"He loved to fish. Like me," he said.

I asked him how his wife is. His daughter. The ex-son-inlaw.

"Nobody's doing too well," he says.

I have moved closer to the wheelhouse to hear him without straining. He continues on telling me of their struggle. Of the gift of the sea in helping him deal with such loss. Of his wife's struggle to come to grips with losing her only grandson. "She doesn't work," he says. "She has too much time to contemplate what has happened."

He tells me of taking her whenever she asks to sit at their grandson's gravesite. Of doing the best he can to help her and his daughter cope with their loss and sorrow and anger.

"I am 69 years old," he said, "and never have I experienced anything so painful in my life."

And then, a line sharply dips, spooling out in a hissing volley of sound that wakes the entire boat into action.

Jack is at the ready. Reel in hand, dipping and pulling back, he cautiously pulls another Kingfisher in.

I stay up top. Watch from above the action. The excited calls of my boatmates carry up on a gush of wind as the fish gets closer and closer to the boat.

"A twenty-five pounder," Peter states. "The younger the fish the sweeter the meat. Like veal or lamb. Younger is better."

He too has caught the excitement. Another boat radios in to ask how the fishing is where we are. "They're biting good over here," he says in his sing-song lilting island voice over which I still detect a hint of 'the old country'.

He puts down the radio and tells me he likes to share his good fortune with other captains. "It's good when we share the bounty of the sea," he says.

And bountiful it is. Tammy catches a barracuda. Jaws snapping. Razor sharp teeth gnawing at the air, he squirms and jackknifes his body as he is pulled onboard and into the fish locker.

Tammy and I say a prayer of gratitude to the wind and the sea and the universe and the fish for giving his life to us.

C.C. the largest Kingfisher of them all. Over forty pounds, he is iridescent blue and green and beautiful.

And then it's my turn. I move down from above onto the deck and take 'the hotseat'. I don't want to catch a fish. I don't want to reel anything in. I watch the wake. Listen to the chatter of my friends and think about loss and love and pain and sorrow and the sea and its powerful force to give and take life.

We motored onward, turned back towards the pier. The lines stayed empty. I gave a silent prayer of thanks to the sea and the fish for staying safe, for keeping away from the lures trailing behind.

We pulled into harbour, took the prerequisite photos of man and catch and unloaded our bounty. We left behind the 'big one' for Peter and Danny to divvy up and carried on home.

C.C. spent the next hour gutting and slicing with the help of Ann and Angela. Fish was parcelled up and shared with staff and neighbouring staff and the gardener and put in the freezer for future meals.

And I am grateful. Grateful for the Barracuda, stuffed with rice and garlic, perfectly grilled upon the barbecued, a day of sun on the water, laughing and sharing not just stories of the sea, but stories of life. For our dinner table, candelit, beneath a twirling fan, the sky strewn with stars, the night air filled with fire-flies dancing all around.

A world of stories being spun upon gossamer threads of love and joy and hope and sorrow and laughter that bind us all together. one human race. One earth. One planet spinning through space.

We all have a story and, as I told Peter, sometimes, in the telling we find healing. Sometimes, all we can do is talk it out until there is no more pain to let go of, only the memories of love that support us and uphold us and surround us as we move on, move through time flowing all around us.

I received a gift yesterday. A gift from the sea. I didn't need to catch a fish, I only needed to stay silent and listen to the voices around me to know, we are all connected. In our pain and our joy. In the promise of knowing when we swim in the waters of life together, we share more than just a tall tale of the sea. We share our stories of life. Giving and receiving, the bounty of the universe flowing all around us.

Nameste.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Gone Fishing

No. I mean really. I've gone finishing. Out on a power boat into the ocean to see what we can catch. with Godfrey as our captain. The Challenger II as our craft, we're heading out to see what we can catch on the wild blue sea beyond.

dinner tonight depends on our catch.

Regardless of what we bring home, I'm sure it will be an exciting day! Especially because as we're out on the high seas, sweltering under a tropical sun, it's snowing in Calgary.

Seriously. How cool is that!?

Not that I'm smug or anything. Not that we won't be home early Sunday morning to the chilly northern climes of Alberta.

But, for the moment, I'm reveling in the wonder and the joy of the Caribbean sun and living it up in the rapture of now.

Nameste.

Monday, October 25, 2010

An island of wonder

It wasn't long after I'd posted to my blog yesterday that the power went off. We weren't too surprised. It had been happening on and off for the past few days for short periods of time, intermittently through the day. But this outage lasted longer.

Tammy waited, hoping to get the TV to work so we could do our yoga work-out. C.C. held off on cooking breakfast, hoping the power could come back. Jack sat at the laptop, fingers poised mid-sentence of an email, wondering how long he should wait. I stood by the coffee maker, finger poised to press, Brew.

The bells had called worshippers to the 9am service. The organ pounded and then halted. No more bells. No more music, just wisps of voices singing.

We waited for the power to come back.

And nothing happened.

It was the house staff's day off, we didn't know who to ask about the outage. The watchman walked through the yard, we asked him.

"It's the whole area," he informed us. "I saw workmen pulling wires. I'm sure it will be back soon."

And still it didn't come back.

We went for a swim. C.C. cooked his 'world famous' Finish pancakes' on the gas stove. Boiled water on the stove-top for tea and we ate a delightful breakfast on the deck. The only thing missing was the fan spinning over-head creating a much welcome breeze.

We decided to go for another swim.

"Let's do something adventuresome," Jack suggested.

We checked out the map. Decided on The Caves. Lia and Andy wanted to spend a day reading and relaxing. We four got dressed and headed into town to find a cab. We couldn't very well call one as the phones were out too.

Church service was over but C.C. hadn't yet seen the inside of the church so we decided to take a look. We followed an Asian couple into the quiet, shadowy interior. The fans were still. A young girl laughed and sang as her parents wandered through the pews. At the centre of the church, where the two arms of the building meet in a cruciform, a man stood over-seeing what was going on in Barbados' oldest church.

We stopped to chat and asked him if he knew anything about the power outage.

"It's off from 9am to 4pm throughout the town," he told us. They're connecting Limegrove, a multi-million dollar mall that's being built at the edge of downtown, to the electrical grid.

Mystery solved. No power today. We walked towards city centre.

At the corner of the bridge over the lagoon where the white birds rest at night, there was a hum of activity. Across the street the new mall sits in massive pastel hues of pale lemony yellow, soft dusky pink and creamy tan. Workers in hard-hats and steel-toed boots, bare chests and cut-off shorts, pulled wires and climbed poles. As we crossed the bridge, a man carrying a STOP sign wandered into the middle of the street, held up his sign and ordered traffic to stop. Horns honked, drivers-waved at passersby and the workmen.

There was a sense of festivity to it all. Several workers ripped a long black wire from the electrical poles that lined the street. It fell to earth, no sparks flew. They dragged it across the street towards where we walked, it's long sinuous line a black snake writhing in the sun. We stepped aside. They kept pulling. They smiled at us as we stepped over the wire and kept walking to the taxi-stand in city centre.

The day was hot and bright. Stumbling in the dark of a cave didn't feel as appealing as it had earlier when a grey cloud had blocked the sun. We decided to take a trip up to St. Nicolas Abbey, a working sugar cane plantation that was established in 1658 in the hills of St. Peter's Parish. Never an 'abbey' or connected to any religious order, the Jacobean Mansion was originally built to house the family of real-estate speculator and British aristocrat, Benjamin Berringer.

The plantation and its graceful home is steeped in island lore and intrique. It's rumoured Berringer's business partner, John Yeamans, yearned after his land and his wife and had Berringer poisoned so he could marry the lovely Margaret. Which he did, ten weeks after Berringer's death. Yeamans was eventually knighted by King Charles II and appointed Governor of Carolina, which was a single colony at the time. From there, the Yeamans travelled to America, bringing what is thought to be the first slaves to their newly adopted lands. As Yeamans health failed and his reputation plummeted in Carolina, the couple returned to their island paradise to live out their days.

For the next three centuries, the plantation, which was renamed to Nicholas Plantation to rid it of its connection to the tarnished pedigree of the Yeamans name, with the St. and the Abbey portion added later as a 'commemoration of their love', or as some suggest, a stab at pretentiousness', would pass hands, moving from family to family either through marriage, or, as eventually happened, bankruptcy sale. For 200 years the home and lands would be held in the Cave family who acted primarily as absentee landlords until the 1960s when Lt. Colonel Stephen Cave inherited the lands to become the first owner to live full-time on the plantation since the 1800s. Col Cave died in 2003, and in 2006 local architect Larry Warren and his wife, Anna, purchased the Abbey to become the first native born Barbadians to own the land.

Under the Warren's tender care, St. Nicolas Abbey is being meticulously restored to its original splendour as an operating sugar plantation. And along the way, they're intent on making first class Rum and turning the plantation mansion and grounds into a cultural centre for all to enjoy.

And enjoy it we did. From the spectacular road lined with mahogany trees that leads up to the triple arcaded portico of the mansion standing amidst a garden of flowering local plants to the huge slab of mahogany that forms the tasting table placed beneath the well worn timbers of the former stables, visiting St. Nicholas Abbey was a delightful journey into the past of this storied island.

At one point, I wandered alone in the hill behind the home where the sugar cane press sits in a massive stone building. Beside it, the enormous base of the former windmill that used to power the plantation for centuries, stands in majestic silence, green foliage streaming from its crown where once the massive canvas covered sails of the windmill's arms turned.

The air was stirred by an offshore breeze, the massive palms and fern trees of the lush forest swayed in dreamy unison. I sat on a stone wall where, judging by its state of decomposition, someone had carelessly left a bright blue sweater sometime ago. The lands whispered all around me. Bare feet rustled amidst the cane. Bodies moved in wraithlike form slipping in and out of the buildings and equipment and the rusting implements lying on the ground. Their voices whispering, whispering. Of lives born under the yoke of slavery passing into the hands of freed man. Of lives indentured to a culture where they were the working class, artisans, craftsmen, carpenters and hoers who toiled beneath the tropical sun for the white masters who came from far away.

These dark and lyrical voices whispered of times past, times moving on, moving through the centuries, moving through the land. And in the breeze, voices singing. Calling out. Bodies dripping in sweat, toiling under the hot tropical sun to produce the rum that would be pulled by oxen hauling heavily burdened carts loaded with barrels destined for the docks. There was the sound of horses whinnying and donkey's braying as they pulled sugar cane laden carts to the mill for crushing. Roosters crowing and young children scurrying to and fro helping where ever they could to bring in the harvest.

I sat in the hot tropical sun, the breeze stirring the air around me and felt myself moved by this stories place.

I took a breath, felt the past subside and walked back to join the group in the gardens where bees buzzed and toads hunkered down in a lily laden pond.

All was well. Beauty all around in an island of wonder.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Perfectly human imperfections


Early morning. My favourite time of the day. Alone. The house quiet around me. Coffee in hand. Classical music quietly playing in the background. I find myself at my core and settle naturally into the rhythm of my soul's call for attention, meeting its need for tender loving sustenance. It seems no matter where I am, early morning solitude is vital to my well-being.

This morning the sun shines, birds twitter in the trees, flitting in and out of the open doorways of the house. A dove pecks on the red clay tiles of the floor beside the table where I sit. A mongoose ambles across the lawn. Amidst the lush green vegetation, purple and red and orange flowers peek out seeking the sun's welcoming light. In the distance, far beyond the expanse of sweeping lawn that leads to the shore, ocean blue and cerulean sky meet sealing the world in an unending line of wonder.

I am tired this morning. A restless night. An uneasy mind. My blog friend Diane over at Contemplative Photography wrote yesterday about "When Things Get Sticky." She started with a photo of a wall in Seattle where people have applied gobs and gobs of chewed up bubble gum to create an interesting but not that palatable a mural of colour and texture. Rather odd, but interesting.

And then Diane writes, "Things have been sticky here for about a week now: nothing serious, nothing like the kinds of challenges so many of my friends are experiencing, just... sticky. I'm being irritable, and judgmental, discouraged... and finding it hard to like myself."

Ah, that place of inner dislike. The discord of being internally discouraged.

The church bells rang at seven this morning. Calling the faithful to worship. I was already awake. Lying in bed watching the ceiling fan spin. I counted the bells. One. Two. Three. I thought they'd end at seven but they kept going. 60. 70. 100. 141. 178. 204. 297. 300. 317.

The bells kept ringing and I kept counting. I thought I should stop but curiosity got the better of me, and my innate stubbornness. How can I give up when I don't know when they'll stop? And if I don't know how many rings, how will I know the answer to the question if someone should ask when they awaken -- how many times did those bells ring this morning?

They stopped at 390. Imagine. 390 rings of the bells at 7 in the morning.

I thought of getting up and going to the church, but the quiet of the house was calling. And ever faithful to my need for morning ritual, I heeded its call.

Like my friend Diane, I wonder from where this inner discord arises. Partly I'm sure because of the constant rolling within my body. My equilibrium is sea sick. My world is constantly rocking. It's been going on for a few days now. My entire body feels like I am part of the ocean. Rolling back and forth. Weightless. Formless. A jelly-fish on the sea of life.

Tammy too is suffering from this same sense of being constantly rocked by the ocean. We think it could be caused by the fact both of us like to lie on our back in angel pose with our ears submerged beneath the ocean's surface.

And it disquiets me.

And reminds me, even in paradise, it's up to me to find my equilibrium, no matter what is happening around me or within me.

I breathe and surrender and fall effortlessly in love. In love, I am safe within. In love, I am grounded in the wonder of being who I am, in this moment, alive and free, a woman of worth, a woman of value just because I am, here, right now, just the way I am. I can do no less nor more than be accepting of my being perfectly human in all my perfect imperfection. And as I surrender I accept the world around me in all its human imperfections and embrace the wonder of falling in love.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

And then the rain stopped.

In the storm
I awoke to the sound of rain. I lay and listened to its insistent drumming drowning out the sound of the crickets who chirp and chatter all night long. I got up out of bed, pulled apart the drapes and watched sheets of water pouring down. It pummeled the ground and deck and patio furniture soaking everything it touched.

I slid open the sliding door and felt the moist dampness of early morning caress my face. I stepped outside and watched the downpour from beneath the safety of the overhang of the roof above. The air was thick with moisture. The world beyond the safety of the balcony a wet and dripping cacophony of water pouring down, grey skies pressing to earth and a gunmetal sea flowing endlessly into the grey and soggy horizon.

It was beautiful to watch and just as lovely to return to the cool white sheets of bed and listen to the noise outside. I lay awake and listened while C.C. slept oblivious to nature's fury pouring down.

And then the rain stopped. The crickets let out one last volley of sound before fading into morning light and I lay quietly listening. Waiting.

It was morning and the day had begun. I came downstairs, turned on the coffee, opened the doors and let the morning in.

Bassifus, the compound guard greeted me as I opened and latched one of the door panels to the wall.

"Good-morning, ma'am," he said in the lilting sing-song voice of the island, his face wreathed in a toothy smile. "I hope you sleep well. I keep house safe."

"Good-morning," I replied. "Did you get wet?"

"No, ma'am. I seek refuge in the storm. But I always watching." And he smiled again, lifting a short baseball shaped club that he held in his right hand. "No one come when I'm on duty."

I thanked him for keeping us safe, he bid me good-day and continued his rounds.

There are four houses in this complex. Four graceful abodes whose lawns sweep down to the edge of the sea. There is little beach where land meets ocean. There used to be several feet of beach, Lia tells me. But time and global warming and other unknown causes have brought the water closer to the land, wiping out the strip of beach that once connected this end of Holetown to the other.

Yesterday, Tammy and I swam to Holetown, stepped out of the water and walked along the beach wishing we'd brought some cash to stop for an 'Island punch' at one of the classy restaurants we passed. Welcoming beacons of sustenance to hot and sunburnt tourists, they line the beach, their umbrellas unfurled, white clad waiters slipping amidst tables draped in white, their dark skin merging into the shadows, they look like ghosts serving drinks and food to the guests whose presence make their island life possible.

We passed upscale hotels where bodies lay upon blue and green cushioned chairs, their white flesh turning every colour under the sun. A brown-skinned man lay apart from the crowd, reading a paper. Unlike the other sun worshippers we'd passed, he didn't smile, just briefly glanced up to watch us walk past and then quickly lowered his eyes back to his book. I wondered if he kept himself apart because he was neither black nor white. If, by some unwritten code of beach ethics, he knew the structure of the community and did not want to tempt the ire of the masses of white-skinned tourists frolicking in the sun and the dark-skinned locals who hawked boat rides and water-skiing excitement to passers-by.

Life is visible everywhere we greet it, in all its complexities and inexplicable forms. Perhaps, rather than being conscious of his East Indian birth, he was simply desiring time apart, alone, far from the maddening crowd.

We passed by and kept on walking, the sun hot against our quickly drying skin.

We passed an upscale boutique hotel, its beach littered with sun-bathers and children playing in the surf. Beside it, a pockmarked lime green house of dubious strength, sagged on its foundation, tilting precariously towards the sand. Its grilled windows were opened. Signs of habitation littered its porch. Towels. Beach wear. A bucket. I wondered who lives there. Their every step slanted downwards in gravity's inevitable drag pulling them off-center, closer and closer to the shifting sands beneath the home's tired, wornout facade. What tales could that house tell of life at the edge of the sea?

Another hotel. More sun-worshipping tourists. English voices, rounded vowels, flattened vowels, vowels of every rural distinction cluttered the air. And with each word, the universal sound of joy. Laughter.

There is no definition, no discernible cultural pedigree to laughter. It exists in standalone and continuous volleys of joy that lift the spirits and the hearts of those who share in its enjoyment. Loud laughs. Soft laughs. Belly laughs. Horsey laughs. Giggles and more.

All around us on the beach laughter drifted in and out like the surf ebbing and flowing on a continuous wave of motion as Tammy and I kept walking.

The sand hot beneath our feet, we passed the canal where at night white cranes perch in the hundreds upon dense green foliage that lines the water in a riot of texture and tone on tone infused shrubbery. From surfside looking in, it is a bucolic scene. Still, silent water. Deep, dark greenery drooping towards its surface. A bridge further up carrying cars back and forth, horns honking in the cacophony of sound that is part of island life.

I have seen this scene from the other side, looking down. Walking across the bridge towards town. The water reddish brown and brackish. Littered with refuse and wrought iron piping left over from some other time. It is not pretty from the bridge. Not a sight to please the eyes. And still the birds come. Still they arrive every evening to perch upon the green leaves of the trees that will be their resting place for the night, their white bodies hanging like tiny white baby blankets strung haphazardly on a clothesline, here and there a bride's veil tossed aside in the throes of wedded passion.

Like being a tourist on an island. We fly in. Soak up the sun and sand and island rum and rest for a week or two, before flying off again to lands far away. We step onto the tarmac from the silver bullet that carried us in anticipation to this island haven, toss off our city clothes and don the finery of island life. We shed our cares and worries to claim a little piece of paradise as our own, carving out memories of a special respite from the harried schedules and 'must do' lists of our daily existence.

Like the crane's resting-place seen from the ocean's shore, the world appears beautiful and bucolic. We soak up the sheer wonder of this place from the idyllic perspective of our sun-starved eyes, reveling in the soothing blanket of ease and comfort that envelopes us as we play and laugh along the ocean floor, catered to and cared for by the people who call this island home.

And all around us, their lives are at work. Serving. Washing. Cleaning. Caring for. Guarding over. Taking care of.

We smile and greet them. Sometimes learn their names. The children they've born. The lives they've left behind on other islands when they came to this island to find refuge from some other stormy place far away.

We learn a little of their lives sharing little bits of ours. And then we leave to be replaced by other faces, mostly white, who come to soak up a little island fun and sun and even rum.

It is the cycle of life on an island where the currency of tourists fuels employment and trade. Our dollars become the inexorable pull of a tantalizing dream of freedom from servitude. And yet, where slavery once shackled these soft and gentle people to a master not of their choosing, there is little choice on this island paradise but to serve the tourists who flock like cranes to rest upon the soils of their home and native land.

What price freedom?

Heavy thoughts on a not so blue sky day. Clouds have rolled in once again. A stiff breeze blows through the ferns and trees lining the yard. The air is warm, mystery is afoot.

I'm on island time awash in the wonder and the magic and the dichotomy of a tropical paradise where my life touches those who serve me and their lives enrich mine with the warmth of their greeting and the grace of their care.

Nameste. I'm off for a swim.

Friday, October 22, 2010

It is good


I am the early riser of our group. First up -- but never first to bed -- I come downstairs, open the doors wide so that inside greets outside and outside enters in.

After five days, it has become part of the flow of my morning rituals. Awaken. Turn on coffee. Open doors. Sit outside. Meditate. Pour myself a coffee. Log-on. Read. Write. Sit back in wonder at the beauty of the day.

At some point, Andy arises.

"Good morning," he calls out from the far side of the living area.

"Coffee's on!" I reply with a smile.

"Ah good. The necessities in order," he replies before walking into the kitchen to pour himself a cup.

I keep writing as he walks to the front porch to grab the Globe and Mail. He carries it to the sitting area at thefront of the patio where I sit at the table writing, ensconces himself on a settee under the porch and begins to read.

I hear him murmuring to himself, commenting upon headlines and copy. Sometimes, he'll share a tidbit he's garnered from today's news -- like the fact, Bob Guccione, the founder of Penthouse magazine has died. "He started 'the pubic wars'," he laughingly tells me before going back to reading about the man who took on the Playboy empire.

And I go back to writing. And when I'm done and Andy is not yet finished his reading, before the others arise and the day begins in earnest, I go for a solitary swim in the ocean. Immersed in the tug and pull of its ebb and flow, I suspend my body upon its surface and let myself drift -- not too far -- there are buoys that mark the distance we should go out. Beyond their yellow bobbing spheres, jet skis and sail-boats scoot across the water. Safety is here, close to shore.

It is all part of my morning rhythm.

Soon, the gardener appears, sweeping fallen leaves and grasses from the patio, trimming hedges, perfecting perfection. His eighteen daughter has just finished her training to become a lab-technician. She takes blood, he says and understands its workings. He's proud of her. It is obvious in every word he speaks. He glances at my laptop. I'm going to buy her one of those, he says, so she can work anywhere. And he smiles and nods, humming to himself, he continues to sweep.

And then, the 'ladies' appear. The full-time staff who keep the house running even when the owner isn't here. With their lilting voices and gentle ways these two lovely ladies pander to our needs, doing laundry, cooking meals, cleaning spaces not really in need of cleaning but doing it anyway so that everything is always perfectly in order.

It is the rhythm of their day.

And through it all, they hum. Like so many people I've encountered on this island. Humming and singing to themselves as they go about their work. Like the woman walking in front of me yesterday when Tammy and Lia and I went shopping. A large woman, hips squared on a squat body, she walked purposefully towards the shopping centre. I wondered how hot it must be to wear support hose in this climate. But she didn't break a sweat. Short cropped hair like a bathing cap against her skull. Blue flowered shirt she walked a hummed and sang to herself. I wondered if she was happy or if the singing was simply a habit.

This is an island founded on slavery. On lives being captured and ripped from their roots across the seas, dragged her in the holds of sailing craft where concern for the 'niceties' was non-existent. Sometimes, a craft would dock and 95% of the human cargo would be dead or close to dying. But those who survived, they were the strong ones. "Owners' fattened them up auction in the hopes that those few remaining souls would save their wallets and guarantee their futures.

Sad thing is, it isn't all that long ago that slaving was acceptable. If you look back at the history of humankind, slavery existed much longer than this period of its abolishment.

Just as they were the pillars upon which so much of our democracies were built, the Greeks were one of the first nations to abolish slavery in 1823. In historical terms that's not so long ago. Less than 200 years.

Here on Barbados, where British rule was in place until 1966, slavery was abolished in 1833 when Britain declared it unjust and unlawful. I asked a man the other day if he had always lived on Barbados and he replied yes. He couldn't remember a time, or place, where his family was not of this island. His roots run deep and strong, no longer shackled to the white slave traders who once brought his forbears here.

In Wikipedia's, The History of Slavery, it says, "slavery can be traced back to the earliest records, such as the Code of Hammurabi (ca. 1760 BC), which refers to it as an established institution." It is good the institution has been abolished.

It is good that our thinking has evolved to recognize the inhumanity of one human owning another.

And it is good that this morning the sun shines on paradise. Somewhere in the distance a lawn mower whines, pushed no doubt by a man humming to himself a tune with roots buried deep in the soils built upon the labours of his ancestors. A man whose forbears came to this island in shackles, unwilling victims of another man's greed. A man who has won the right to be free.

It is good.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

This magic moment

There is a cadence to island life, a rhythm that seduces and beguiles.

I've been resisting it. I had a proposal to finish that had to be submitted by yesterday noon.

I opened the email this morning that confirmed its submission and now... watch out rest and relaxation. I'm on my way!

There have been some indications I'm falling under the lull of Caribbean time. My arise time each morning has progressively slipped its moorings from work-a-day to holiday. From six to seven to today's unheard of awakening at 7:45 I am slowly letting go of 'duty calls' to fall under the spell of life at ease.

And I'm happy to do so.

Yesterday was a day of indulgence. Swimming. Sunning. Reading. When we got to hot we slipped into the ocean and let the swell rise and fall around us. It was a choppier sea than before. Breakers rolled in. Surfers bobbed and then rose and sailed across their crests, darting in and out of the waves, maintaining a constant rhythm just out beyond the reef until exhausted, they let the next wave carry them ashore. It was poetry in motion.

Everyone relaxed while I finished off the little bit of work I had left and Andy prepared for a board meeting he has to attend via conference call on Friday morning. By afternoon I was ready for a nap and I succumbed.

Oh glorious sleep in the middle of the afternoon!

We went into Bridgetown last night. A friend we've made here was going to listen to her partner's band, The Ebe Gilkes Jazz Trio, perform at the Waterfront Cafe and Bistro.

We left the house early, thinking we'd wander the shops of Bridgetown for an hour or so before joining up with our new friend at the Cafe. We forgot, Bridgetown shops close up at 5 sharp. And in downtown Bridgetown there's not much enterprise other than taxi drivers after dark. On every corner, every by-road, they stood beside their vehicles hailing us with arms waving and strident voices calling us to take a ride in their cab.

"You need cab? You need cab?" they called out. "I got your ride. Right here." And they'd motion to the white vehicle that promised to deliver us where ever we wanted to go.

"No thank you!" we'd call back, I'm sure marking us as Canadians, greenhorns on the island.

We wandered past the parliament buildings, down Trafalgar Street into a back lane where OTBs and Juke joints crowded up against the sidewalk, their neon lights and harsh interior lighting fighting for supremacy in the indigo night.

Dark descends quickly in the Tropic of Cancer. The sun counts itself down with the inevitability of the New Year's ball dropping in Times Square. Golden hues tinged with burnt umber and crimson streak across the sky then quickly vanish into the horizon, slipping into the envelope of tomorrow's promise of a brand new day of sun-kissed sands and rolling surf.

By the time we got to the Waterfront Cafe, night had embraced the island and the hawkers and vendors had disappeared leaving behind deserted streets and dark alleys.

We didn't get in any shopping but we did find our boat Captain for adventures in the days to come. He was playing dominoes beneath the canopy of a little cupola that stood at the edge of the wharf, at the corner where our cab-driver had let us off.

"You wanna fish?" he called out as we walked by.

Jack, whose wish it has been to find the perfect craft to take us deep sea fishing responded quickly. "We might be."

The man dropped his dominoes without hesitation, stood up, smiled at his friends and walked over to us. "Can't pass up the opportunity to tell you about my boats, even if I am winning at Dominoes," he laughingly told us as he approached. "My name's Godfrey. Where you folks from?"

He was a big man. Not tall, but solid. Ebony skin wreathed in a smile of pearly whites, white linen shirt, open neck. He carried a sheath of brochures in one hand.

Jack, eager to organize the adventure and worried none of us would acquiesce without his finesse, asked, "Can you show us your boat?"

"Sure man," Godfrey replied. "I've got one parked right here and one at the end of the dock." And he began to lead us towards a line of sea crafts bobbing and tugging against their ropes that held them captive to the wooden slats of the pier.

The boat looked sea-worthy, outfitted with all the gear and essentials for a day on the high seas. As we walked towards where the second craft he wanted to show us was berthed, two men unloaded their catch, flinging them none-too-gently from their boat onto the wooden dock. We had to step over the three foot long bodies of the kingfishers that only hours before had been swimming in the oceans deep. They were gutted and ready for market. No one seemed too concerned about the cleanliness of their resting place on the side of the dock, no one rushed over to ensure they met sanitary and health regulations. The hackles of my western infused health and safety standards hackled and then quickly relaxed.

I'm on the island man. No worry. The fish, he don't know the difference.

We sauntered along the dock, spied a catamaran and Tammy asked me, "What do you think Louise? Wouldn't that be fun."

Godfrey, entrepreneur par excellence, overheard us and quickly interjected. "You want a day of sailing? I can get you on this craft. $160 a person. Lunch included and all your booze. Everything. Fun day. Yes? When you want to go?"

We laughed. We want to go. We just don't know what day.

Turns out, Godfrey lived in Ottawa for 13 years. His wife, a woman of Canadian birth, passed away recently. "I was lucky," he told me. "I had thirty years of perfection." He paused. "I miss her." And then he continued on to tell us the virtues of a day out on the seas.

We left Godfrey with promises of calling to book our high seas adventures and entered the Waterfront Cafe which is on the dock right across from the boat we might go fishing on.

The restaurant was quiet, one couple eating, three staff standing behind the bar. A woman with a warm smile slipped out from behind the bar's wooden enclosure to greet us.

"You're here for dinner?" she asked. "Would you like to sit outside on the patio?"

No, we replied. We'd prefer to sit inside. We're hear to listen to the band.

She quickly created a large seating area for us at the side of the raised dais where the band would play and we proceeded to indulge in Bank's beer and mouth-watering bistro style food. Giant prawns. Samosa. Chicken jerky. Grilled salmon and a shrimp and pasta dish that was to die for.

Making the evening even more memorable was the warm and delightful nature of our waitress, Chantal. Her smile wide, her manner comfortable and caring, she laughed and giggled as she served us, all the while ensuring we never wanted for water or beer or anything else. When C.C. and Jack asked if they could take their beers outside to drink while they smoked, she laughed and responded, "I don't plan on drinking them so you'd better take them with you."

And then, our new friend arrived and the band and the music started and we slipped under the spell of Ebe Gilkes' nimble fingers stroking the ivories accompanied by the sultry tones of Dr. Clarence Green on the double bass and Vere Gibson's soft beat on the drums.

It was pure magic.

Sultry heat. Calypso jazz. Wine. Beer. Boats bobbing on the water outside the door. The night sky awash in the glow of an almost full moon. Lilting voices. Soft lights. And laughter all around. We met the folks sitting at the table beside us. Chatted. Laughed. Danced. Tammy had brought neon glow in the dark wrist bracelets and suddenly all the women were adorned with a plastic ring glowing in the night.

We danced and danced some more. And then, just before ten, we left the magic of the room and went outside to find Malcolm, our erstwhile taxi driver waiting to whisk us home.

It was another perfect moment imbued in the wonder of a Caribbean night. Another memory to treasure on the coral reef of time under the sun.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Building memory


It rained yesterday. Soft gentle drops that wafted in and out like a breeze through an open window for a brief and refreshing moment and then it was gone.

I was in the water.

Lying on my back, my face turned up to the sky, my ears submerged beneath the surface.

I call it the 'angel pose.' I lie on my back, ears submerged and draw my arms up and down, up and down along my torso, like angel's wings floating gracefully in the air. Weightless, I listen to my breathing. Inhalation. Exhalation. In. Out. My breath echoes in my head. Other-worldly. Sonorous. All other sound recedes to a distant murmur of memory as I focus on this moment, right now, in which I exist in perfect harmony with my environment. Silky water streams across my skin. My body rises and falls to the swell of the ocean. That rich and deep atmosphere that carries me effortlessly in its arms.

And then, yesterday it rained as I floated, angel pose extended upon the water. Tiny pinpricks of water falling from the sky, they peppered the water's surface with a beautiful tympani of sound resonating throughout my mind and body.

Pure delicious sound! Utterly delightful.

We are building memories to last a lifetime here. Like a coral reef forming around one solitary polyp upon the bed of the ocean, my memory reef began with one single moment, our arrival on this island paradise. Like the reef, nourishing itself, replenishing itself, building itself up, each element essential and vital to the structure of the reef, each segment alive and beautiful in its formation, my reef grows more rich and vibrant with each passing moment. New moments attach themselves and memory deepens. Flowers emerge. Colours vibrate and memory comes alive. You can't change a memory, only enrich it, enliven it and develop it with every passing moment spent reveling in the wonder and joy of being alive in this moment in paradise.

Last night at dinner, I told my companions, "This is one of those moments where you just want to stop time, to stop its constant passing-by, to have more time to soak up the essence of the moment, to immerse yourself in the wonder of this place where we are, at one, with the world around us."

We were at dinner at The Cliff. A beautiful, seaside restaurant that sits on a slight promontory of rock overlooking the waves that rolled into shore in a constant swirl of sand-tossed breakers and frothy foam tipped surf.

Torch lights shone in the dark-night. Candles glowed in wrought iron wall-sconces that lined the open-aired walls of the restaurant. The staff floated throughout the room, anticipating diners wants, tending to their needs.

We sat on the deck, the beach beneath us, the surf pouring relentlessly against the sand. We laughed and chatted and teased and shared our meals and gratitude for being together for this special time.

We had dressed up especially for the occasion. Sleek expanses of silk and glitter-strewn chiffon, white diaphanous organza, the men in linen and cotton.

Andy wanted to treat us all to a special night out, and it was. Very, very special.

There is something about eating outside on a warm sultry west Indies night. Sounds are richer. Touch more sensitive. Tastes more round and sensuous and succulent and full.

I had a Tuna Tartare that truly, if I never taste tuna again, I would have no regrets. Along with the prerequisite wasabi this tartare was enlivened with watercress and arugula and cilantro and tiny bubbles of red caviar that burst in your mouth releasing primarodial memories of a time when we were part of the ocean of life teeming all around us. And of course, it was perfectly balanced with that ubiquitous island spice that graces every island dish -- that rich and zesty seasoning that I have grown to crave.

For my main course, I had snapper perfectly cooked in a white wine sauce that effortlessly slid across my tongue, caressing every taste bud as it passed over. The snapper rested on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes and spinach and it truly was, 'to die for'.

It was a night of pure, perfect, delight.

And I was not alone in the sensual enjoyment of the meal. Each of us were convinced that what we had chosen was the best, the most perfect item on the menu.

Perhaps it was not the food but the atmosphere, the glowing skin, the laughter of friends, the sharing of forkfuls of spice laden meals and the absolute joy of sharing the night immersed in a friendship that is deep and lasting, founded like coral upon the white skeleton of a founding principle of life -- it is always best shared with those you love.

It was a lovely night. A night to remember. A night to caress and explore and wander through for time to come.

Nameste.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Unshakable Faith

Scepticism is the beginning of Faith. Oscar Wilde

It rained last night. A tropical downpour that pounded the metal roof, soaking the vegetation and the swimsuit and towel I forgot to take down from the drying rack.

This morning, the grass is steeped in moisture, raindrops drip from fern fronds bent over towards the ground. The sun glistens on the water and above my head a fan softly stirs the air. All is well with my world.

We went grocery shopping yesterday. Tammy, her mother Lia, and myself. (I am not using the real names of my friends.)

We walked into town, had lunch at a bar on the beach. Chatted with the vendors and a man from Michigan. He approached our table, sat down on a small retaining wall beside it and said, "Hi. You all enjoying yourselves?"

"How could we not be?" one of us replied. "We're in paradise."

The man smiled and laughed. He reminded me of Van Gogh's self portrait. Hair rimming the edges of his head, the top shiny and tanned. Tall. Skinny. Gaunt. His skin a deep mahogany colour. He's here house-sitting for six weeks. "Actually," he laughs. "I'm cat-sitting. Pretty easy job. I get a place to live for free."

Mostly he's house sat for people and their pets in Michigan. "I've taken care of dogs, cats, pigs, horses, trees gardens, houseplants. You name it, I've pretty well sat for it."

This is the first time he's tried some place exotic. "This one wasn't even supposed to be me," he says. "When I contacted the owner she said she already had a couple scheduled to come in for the full time she's away. But then, after three weeks, they simply packed up and left so she called me and here I am."

"Where you all from?" he asked in his flat middle plains accent.

"I almost flew through Toronto to get here," he said when he found out our nationality. "I was bringing all my scuba gear and there were a lot of places I didn't want to go through to get here." He laughs again. His broad comfortable laugh. "Air tanks have an uncanny way of disappearing in certain airports. Miami being the capital of misplaced scuba gear gone missing."

We chatted some more and the three of us bid our farewells. We had shopping to do. Groceries to buy. Things to see.

We're on the west coast of the Island at the edge of the gentle Caribbean sea, on the outskirts of the first settlement by whites in 1627. Holetown. A name that has survived the centuries when slaving ships would dock and disgorge their human cargo, much of it sick and weakened, dead and smelling. It wasn't a pretty sight and definitely not a pretty smell. And so, locals would say, "I'm going to the Hole" and the name stuck.

In Holetown you can buy pretty well anything. A song of childhood flits through my mind, "Acri, rice, salt fish, are nice and the rum is fine any time of the day."

This is a storied place. Beside us, the oldest church on the island stands in stately grace, her white walls pocked with age. The headstones in her cemetery covered in moss. She has stood in that place since 1629. Unusual for the island, she was never consumed by fire though she was rebuilt in 1788 after being destroyed by a hurricane. Stately and white, she presides over a large grassy area, her grace evident in the sweeping curve of her walls and the stunning glass window at the far end of the sacristry.

In the evenings, we can hear the organ playing, its deep sonorous notes filling the air with heavenly-inspired splendour.

On Sunday, the bells rang and Lia and I heeded their call. We sat amidst a predominately black congregation and soaked up the essence of the Island. Faith is deep here. Christianity deeply embedded into every aspect of Island culture.

The foreign settlers brought it. Anglican. Baptist. Methodist. Quaker. Roman Catholic.

With their God, they also brought the need to worship. And so, before anything else was built, a church was erected in each new settlement, calling the settlers' spirits home to the familiar in a world of change.

I wonder about that place where faith is never questioned, never doubted. I wonder about what it would be like to know, without a doubt that God is the Father and we are His children, our duty to obey, our life His to direct.

I don't have that unquestioning faith, that unshakable belief in God's Divine presence directing my life. Raised Roman Catholic I wander through religions, visiting churches and synagogues, mosques and temples, like a tourist at a buffet, sampling exotic fare with the unshakable belief that trying new and foreign foods is part of the journey. And when I get home, comfort foods of my culture will once again form the unshakable foundation of my diet each bite yearning for the exotic spices of my travels.

I don't practice any one religion these days and yet, sitting in that church on Sunday, the sultry heat hot against my skin, a soft breeze stirred by the swirling fans above and the open doorways on three sides of the chapel whispering against my skin, light filtering in through the wooden slatted windows opened wide, the air filled with the soft sweet cadence of Island voices singing in harmony, the glow of candles and the comfort of rituals steeped in tradition, I felt the presence of the One, the being who would be, if I believed without question in the "Holy Catholic and apostolic church", my Creator.

Sitting on that hard wooden pew, my linen dress sticking to my skin, my body sluggish in the sultry heat, memory stirred and prayers long forgotten from childhood surfaced. Sitting amidst the congregation I celebrated that which connected us all -- a faith that despite hardship and hurricanes, fire and death -- carried on through the ages. A rock of ages sustaining those who were lost, gone, far from home or simply seeking a place to come home to.

While I may not share their same deep unshakable belief in God, the Father, or follow their particular religion, I share an unshakable belief in our Divine creation. We are Divine expressions of amazing grace, human beings of magnificent wonder on the journey of our lifetime.

May we all journey in peace and love and harmony.

Nameste.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Beneath the Caribbean sky

On this settee where I sit, red clay tiles beneath my feet, mahogany overhang above, the rich and lush green of the garden rolls gracefully out to a sweeping view of the ocean beyond. Birds twitter all around, a mongoose rustles through the hedge and in the ficus tree, a green monkey chatters.

He was on the lawn yesterday. This green faced cheeky devil who, if given a chance, will steal your sunglasses, or anything shiny off your chaise. He loped easily across the lawn. Leaped up onto the fence and stared towards us where we sat chatting and laughing in this space where I am sitting now. We watched him. He watched us. Bored, he shook a tiny paw at us before leaping up to grab a long spindly root hanging down from the ficus tree. He disappeared into the leaves above, the only evidence of his departure, the chatter of his scolding voice as he climbed up, out of sight of our inquisitive eyes.

Just like the man who climbed over the wall, up to the second deck where the sleeping quarters are yesterday afternoon.

It was before the storm that blew in on a breath of ferocious wind and blew itself out just as speedily. Before the rain that sheeted down, emptying the sky of moisture, drenching the foliage and the outdoor furniture with water and before the bottle of wine fell out of the fridge inviting the mongoose to wander into the living area to check out what was so enticing to its olfactory nerves.

The man was dark-skinned. Skinny Tammy said. Wearing a cotton shirt. She is the 40 something daughter of our hosts from Calgary. She was upstairs taking a nap in the heat of the afternoon.

I had just left with C.C. for a walk along the beachfront. I too had been upstairs -- working -- in our bedroom. After three hours of finishing off the funding proposal I must submit before noon on Wednesday, a break sounded delightful. C.C. wanted to walk. I wanted to go with him.

It was hot.

Really hot.

So, when the door to her bedroom slid open, Tammy thought it was her bedroom partner, Jack coming in from the heat. The bedrooms are air-conditioned, offering a nice respite from the constant heat.

Tammy and Jack are not a couple. Just good friends. Originally a friend of her parents, the couple who invited us all here to spend this two weeks in paradise, like us, they've formed a friendship through time. This house belongs to friends of her parents. Andy used to be President of one their companies. A big one. This house was made available to them for years to entertain their largest clients. Now, they are occasionally afforded its use, just for fun.

And it is fun.

Except for the man who snuck in while Tammy was sleeping.

The sliding open of the door had awoken her. Groggy. Her mind still seeped in slumber, her body facing away from the door, she debated letting him know she was awake. She didn't want him to think he'd disturbed her. She was facing away from the door, lying beneath the covers of the twin bed on the far side of the room.

When she heard the man rustling about in the room, she sleepily rolled over and asked, "Jack?"

There was a momentary stillness and then the man spoke. She doesn't remember what he said. She thinks he was trying to lull her back to sleep. To get her to relax her guard.

She knew something was wrong. Her intuition prompted her and she listened.

She rolled over, saw the shadowy figure of a man and knew immediately it wasn't Jack anyone else she knew. Startled, not yet feeling the fear, she called out, "What are you doing?

He was standing by the bedside table closest to the door. The table on which sat Jack's wallet, sunglasses, camera case, IPOD and clutter of small items that had nowhere in particular to be but where he left them within easy reach.

The man stood in the dark, the sun slipping through a crack he'd made in the white drapes as he entered the room.

She wasn't sure who was more startled, him or her. But, upon seeing her start to quickly get up out of bed, he darted back through the still open door, bolted over the balcony onto the retaining wall, leaped onto the roof of the front porch, down to the ground and quickly vanished into the shrubbery beyond.

Just like the monkey.

And like the cheeky monkey earlier that afternoon, he didn't get anything of value. Didn't even have time to pick up Jack's wallet before bolting.

Tammy raced through the open door, watched him disappear, ran down the stairs into the house, screaming out for help.

It was too late. The man was gone stealing nothing but what was most valuable to her -- her peace of mind.

A woman who used to be a professional in Edmonton but now resides here in Barbados, a friend of a friend of Jack's, arrived later to take those who wanted to go to play tennis.

She's lived her fourteen years. She knows the island and its peoples and its ways. "They're always watching you," she said. "Always on the lookout for an opportunity. Their intent is not to harm. Just to grab what they can and run. They're opportunists and tourists give them lost of opportunity."

It is the way of an island where tourists arrive in bleary eyed wonder, lulled into complacency by the heat and the rhythm of the waves lapping at the shore. The 'guests' are not consciously watching, thinking about danger. They're mostly thinking about fun.

It is the watchers, those unseen eyes all around, who are constantly watching, waiting, hoping.

And sometimes, they take a chance and discover an open door waiting to be explored.

It was a good wake-up call for all of us. To be safe, lock all doors. And while it is horrendous that Tammy had to experience it, we are all grateful nothing untoward happened. It's a reminder that while we are in paradise, we are prey for those who would use paradise indiscriminately.

We're grateful it happened at the beginning of our stay. We had already lulled ourselves into feeling complacent about leaving cameras and laptops and ipods lying around.

Ann, one of the staff, had told us not to worry about locking the bedroom doors while we're in the house. There's a security guard walking the property at night, she said. During the day, there's enough activity to deter someone from entering. except on Sunday's when there is no activity in the neighbourhood, no gardener or pool man or traffic -- and yesterday was Sunday.

Now everyone is aware. The upstairs doors will always be locked and we won't leave valuables lying around the sitting areas. Even in a gated community like this one, there are ways to enter unseen and leave just as surreptiously.

The police came but no one heard the ringing of the bell at the gate. They called later and we asked them to come back today. There's not much they can do, but it is reassuring to know that they do want to get the particulars and are eager to follow up.

As for Tammy, she's shaken but not stirred. She's strong and amidst people who love her and will protect her. And, as she said, she's so glad she's got a sleeping partner whose bed is closest to the door!

Lessons from paradise -- It's not always sunny and sometimes, the surface calm can be disrupted by those who have nothing to lose and everything to gain through our complacency.

And beneath the angst of 'what happened' is the truth of what is happening. We are six friends enjoying ourselves in the heat and mystery of a tropical island. Spending time with people we love, laughing, sharing, teasing and having fun!

Life is good. Life is grand. Life is paradise sitting on a patio, hearing the waves lapping at the shoreline, the whisper of the fronts stirring in the gentle morning breeze, watching a mama mongoose and her two little babies wander in and out of the lawn furniture just a few feet away.

Life is sweet.