Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Showing our faces in the U.S.

Apparently, the information that we had about the length of time that we were allowed to stay in the Bahamas was incorrect. After a trip to immigration last Thursday, to extend our stay, we were told that we needed to leave the country by no later than Sunday, as we were already over our visa. In return, the immigration officer wouldn't do anything to jeopardize our future status. This was kind. Although you are allowed to stay up to 8 months at a time on a US Passport, you can only stay for the length of time that the man in customs writes on the visa stamp. 

There wasn't much time to get out of Dodge. Fortunately, like a Boy Scout, I'm always prepared...well, at least almost prepared. I've often scoped out Ft. Lauderdale, in case of sudden need to flee, and so I knew where to look. A few minutes later, I found two return tickets on Silver Airways leaving Saturday afternoon and returning Sunday midday that were $268 each. Next, we booked a car with Sunshine Car Rentals $28, and a room at the Sunrise Inn for $55. Our daughter would stay the night with a close friend of ours and we promised to take her to Sky Beach, to go swimming as soon as we got back. We took our largest suitcase and managed to pack another large suitcase plus a large duffle bag and a large carryon inside of it. My large carryon was loosely loaded with, a couple of toothbrushes, soap, toothpaste, swimsuits and a couple of boxes of Ziploc bags. When my bag was searched, the customs officer cocked his head and held his breath,  looking as if were going to ask a question, then thought better of it, shook his head and waved me onwards.

We had decided to cheerfully make this into our "mini-honeymoon", as we were staying in a real hotel and everything. In the three  years that we've been together, I don't think that I'd ever stayed in a hotel with my husband to be. 

Ft. Lauderdale

It turns out that the rental car agency was not located at the airport, nor indeed very close to the airport. In fact, to get a car at all, we had to find a bus to take us to the car rental terminal, then make a call for our car company to come and pick us up across the street and take us to their facility. All in all, it took about 1.5 hours to get a car and be on our way. 

"Turn right, then stay right." The journey to our storage facility seemed to have an odd number of right turns. More than once, after a few minutes of silence, our little Tom Tom would pipe up again with, "Stay right. Ahead, turn right." Jon would turn right at the next light, while I said, "No, no! I don't know why she said that. The next right turn is in five miles!" As soon as we were back on the road, she'd chime in, "Keep right." We drove all over Ft. Lauderdale, making only three left turns. This was made even more confusing because every strip mall there looks the same. It was like "driving" on a movie set where they didn't have the budget to have more than a few minutes of background shots before they began looping it. Walmart, Petsmart, Ross, Publix, little shops, strip club, gas station and loop!

A few hours in the storage facility and we'd packed our cases full. The Ziplocs were filled with staple goods and dried spices. We ditched our Bell Jars, in which food and such had been stored, having no desire to pay shipping on them later. Today is the day in which I'll test out my sewing machine, which I sincerely hope, survived the journey. When packing the sewing machine, I was inspired by memories of Charmin commercials. Nothing is softer and more shock absorbent, right?

We made it out by 8.30pm, and twenty Tom Tom prompted right turns later, arrived at our hotel to check in around 9pm. A quick shower and we were off to find sushi! Only...well, Tom Tom didn't understand the street I put in, so she sent us to another part of the street and swore that if we just turned right and kept right, our destination was right there!

It wasn't. 

We drove around for 15 minutes and then it was after 10pm, when they stop seating. The only option left to us was an Indian/Italian/bar food place with no alcohol. Jon gave up on his meal halfway through. I ate about half of my Jalfrezi and decided it would be best to stop. The people working there were lovely and kept asking, "How is it? How is it?" I wanted to smile and just respond, "You're very nice." I think I managed to say, "Mmm, yes, we're happy to have found food this late. It's fine, thank you." 

Next, we ran into a Walmart that was 30 minutes away from closing (we actually ran in through the exit door when someone left), to do our shopping for friends and a couple of things for us. We were half delirious from exhaustion. We managed about half of our shopping list, and stumbled to the car as they closed the doors behind us. 

I fantasized about a beer, but even in my fantasies, I would curl up to sleep around the bottle after a couple of sips. "Turn right, then stay right." Jon was feeling rebellious and got in the left hand lane. "Stay right! Stay right! Right turn ahead! Right turn ahead!" Tom Tom seemed to be getting more and more frantic. The next right turn was in 9 miles. 

The hotel was clean and friendly. I regret that the pool's opening hours did not coincide with the 7 hours that we were there before making a couple dozen more right turns to get back to the car rental agency. As we drove around in large, right turning circles, we were unable to find a single coffee shop. Tom Tom was sulking and her voice kept breaking as she choked, "Right, stay right!". In the end, we stopped at a Winn Dixie, where I had the worst sushi of my life for breakfast and was happy to have even that. We bought a few food treats that we can't get on island and made a few more right turns until we arrived at the rental car agency. 

The flight home was uneventful, and we had a lovely afternoon at Sky Beach, followed by the best food that we'd had all weekend. In retrospect, we've decided that that in no way resembled a mini-honeymoon. 

It's Wednesday, and I've nearly finished disassembling and reassembling our house in order to absorb all of the "new" things. This is what our kitchen looks like with 100 lbs of new spices, herbs, dried peppers, seaweed and organic staple goods. The shelving system on the left was made with two tables, some toy boxes and a newly built shelf, which we later plan to install on the wall. The play kitchen feels just a little more realistic, in there next to the microwave. 

Our visas are now set through February, and our quality of life and food has been raised significantly, with the addition of spices, loose leaf teas, a box fan, life jackets, a sewing machine and so much more. All's well that ends well. Now, if we can only get a bit closer to actually building our own place! 


Monday, 19 August 2013

Our Scraps Garden

We didn't bring any seeds with us, and given that we're in a temporary house, the amount of work it would take to start a proper garden just didn't seem to make sense. I've read a number of wonderful books and articles that are all about growing your own food from scraps, and so does our "garden" grow.

The first scraps were scallions. Scallions are brilliant and super easy to grow, just buy a bunch from your local grocery, cut off the bottoms, stick them in the ground (or pot of soil) in a location with partial to full sun, give them a bit of water and voila, you have onions for life! I planted ours in a pot just outside our porch the day after moving in. We cut off what we need and they grow back very quickly.

With most fresh herbs that I bring home, I just trim back the leaves from the bottom, as leaves in water are poisonous to the plant, cut about half an inch of stem off from the bottom, then put them in a glass of water on our table until they've grown sufficient roots to plant.

The next clipping that I got my hands on was a bit of chocolate mint, a long time favorite of mine. The Island Farm had some when I stopped in one day, and I put some in water, hoping to have it sprout roots. It did! It started off well, in a pot next to the pot of onions, but it just wasn't growing. Of course, it wasn't dying either, but I wanted bounty, not just one pretty little sprig.

I moved it into the ground on the other side of the house, where it was abused by children, land crabs and the occasional cat before finally being mowed down the one time we had our lawn cut since we've been here. Yes, I know that it's been quite awhile, but we just haven't got the equipment to do it ourselves, or the money to spare to have someone do it for us. We've asked around, and people here want $70+ just to mow our lawn! Admittedly, these days we sometimes expect to see a lion stalking us in the waving grass that is slowly threatening to swallow our palm trees. Since our goat ran off the first day we had her, we've decided to get an old fashioned grass whip. A grass whip can not only trim your grass, it improves your golf swing and gives you a good core work out!

Picture belongs to Golf With Me, please click and read their article!

The above, is how much our grass has grown since July. Conversely, below, is how much of a comeback my little chocolate mint has made. Jon came in this morning and pointed out that it's fighting to live. The fact that it's come up in several small places, makes me think that the roots have really worked hard in our red, dense soil.

There's a bit of extra room in with the onions, so I've tried to grow leeks and celery there with no luck in the past. Both times that I've planted the end of some celery, it started growing, got up to about 3 inches, then wilted and died. This week, I've given it another go, adding two types of basil. So far, so good. I also did a few basil sprigs in another pot, shaded beneath a palm and another plant and it was feeling strong this morning, so my fingers are crossed!

In the last picture, on the lower right, you can see the top of a carrot that has started to grow.

All in all, we're happy with our little scrap garden. I keep burying garlic cloves, ends of large onions, seeds from anything and everything in what little bits of shade that we have. If a tomato goes past its eating days, it gets buried along with everything else. Each time, I go for a slightly different location, but usually somewhat sheltered by a tree or bush. I'm curious to see what might start coming up next year, long after we've forgotten about our buried scraps of food treasure.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Fresh, Organic Herbs & Greens!

One of the tragedies of living in such a beautiful island, is the sad dearth of quality food. This is slowly but surely changing, as there are a few of us to whom not eating pesticides in every bite is important, and some of them have turned farmer.

Eleuthera Island Organics (EIO) has changed locations, and is on a much bigger farm these days. Edgar Seligman enthusiastically showed me around the new property, located just south of Eleuthera Island Shores (between two old silos, on the Atlantic side, by a row of palms). Using a combination of the shade from trees and shade cloths, EIO has managed to create an environment that will produce year round, despite the terrible strength of the sun in the summer months. EIO is busy planting and harvesting after a number of setbacks from munching caterpillars to watermelon thieving raccoons. They are preparing to launch as a C.S.A. (Community Supported Agriculture) in October. Currently, they are delivering a weekly order or fresh organic herbs to the Coral Sands hotel in North Eleuthera.

This year, for only $25 per week, we can expect to see a weekly box with a variety of delectables, such as swiss chard, a pound of lettuce, three kinds of fresh basil, orange mint, sage, dill, thyme, tomatoes, yams & sweet potatoes. If we're lucky, we'll get figs too! They also have plans to grow peanuts, which makes (my) Jon happy!

I saw three different varieties of avocado, a couple of peach trees, at least three different types of mango, there will be guavas, passionfruit, papaya, bananas and more! EIO has been using a combination of washed seaweed and ash as fertilizer around the trees and they are loving it. Edgar said that he was amazed at how quickly they had grown in the last few months and thinks that it's likely that they'll be producing next year.

Edgar and his crew at Eleuthera Island Organics have given us a reason to look forward to the fruits of each and every season.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Hatchet Bay Fest

Today is a holiday in the Bahamas. The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 ended slavery in the British Empire on August 1, 1834. These days, it's celebrated in many former British colonies during the first week of August. Our own Hatchet Bay has a week long celebration, which we stopped in to enjoy on Saturday. Storytelling was scheduled at noon. I'm a huge fan of stories, so aside from the crab races and crab catching contests, this was the most exciting event on offer in my humble opinion. Jon was very obliging.

We made our way up to Hatchet Bay at 11.30 on Saturday morning. It was hot and muggy, and most people don't much bother with the fest until evening, at which point they drink and party until 4am. We made our way up to the bar, and were happy to see a familiar face.

Shavone looked exhausted, but still had a smile for us. She told us that this year, she wasn't working as an employee, it was her bar. She'd won the bid for it (there is only one bar in the festival), and it was going really well, although she'd only had 7 hours of sleep since Monday. She opens at 7am, at which point she has a line of people who can't wait for a drink. "You get people who don't wanna go home! They jus' drink an' party and then sleep a little on the beach then come beggin' for me to serve 'em at 7 in the mornin'!" I grinned, "You sound very disapproving, but it seems to be good business for you." She giggled, "Yeah, you got dat right!" She then called Mario over to ask about the story telling and walkabout. He asked a local woman to walk us over, she looked at him like he was crazy and then up at the sky, with its hot sun blazing down and declared that she'd drive us over.

"Now, Ms Rona is old. She tells stories, but you've gots'ta ask her questions and she'll answer. She knows all about Hatchet Bay." I confess, I was looking forward to some good island stories with an animated older woman who'd put the fear of God into you, as soon as look at you. If like me, you've grown up with Bre'r Rabbit and Bre'r Fox stories, you'll understand my secret hopes. Bre'r Rabbit was another incarnation of the African spider, Anansi. The stories are identical and numerous, with the folk hero of the story always being a trickster and trying to outwit the others in the story. The Bahamas are a treasure trove for these stories. We pulled up to a green home that I had seen on previous trips to Hatchet Bay. Sitting on the porch were a couple of young women, and in the corner, an older woman with a slim build, in a brightly colored blouse and skirt with a sequined hat upon her head. "Meet, Ms. Rona."

Her "granddaughters" Monique and Marcita sat at either end of the porch and prompted her with questions, "Tell her about the house!" She'd laugh and look a bit embarrassed, "Oh, this house is old." Monique piped up, "It's over 150 years old! It's the oldest house in Hatchet Bay!"

As we spoke, people driving by would stop and wave and yell out greetings, anyone walking down the street would stop for a few minutes to chat with Ms. Rona, A couple of people happened by with a grocery bag of things for her. Ms. Rona, at nearly 90, has outlived most of her family. Her own child would have been 72, 20 of her 21 brothers and sisters have passed. She's had two husbands, and now she lives in her daddy's old home, where she was born and raised. She remembers the day that people on the island saw their first plane in the sky. It was exciting and strange. In those days, the mail boat came twice a month. She talked about walking all day to Harbour Island in the north, lighting a fire so that a boatman would come and take her across so that she could go to the doctor. That was the only way you could do it in those days. There wasn't a doctor on this island, though many years later, there was a white nurse who lived here.

I asked about what women did in childbirth, she said, "Oh, mostly, they died! I almost died when having mine."
"Were there midwives?" I queried with concern. She nodded her head slowly, so that her entire upper body moved with agreement, "Yes, but they didn't know much of anything." She couldn't remember how many different wives her father had had in order to make 22 babies.

We then talked about bush medicine and Marcita, who is a science teacher in Spanish Wells, enthusiastically gathered samples and identified nearby plants for us, including the Castor plant, from which we get castor oil. Everything has its uses, many "cool the blood" which is another way of saying that they lower blood pressure. Ms. Rona had a book that was only recently published, entitled, "Bush Medicine of the Bahamas". Jon and I plan to pick it up at the bookstore (read that as, "Office General") this week. It's an invaluable resource that will keep alive a tradition of natural remedies that is being dismissed as part of the "old ways" and therefore of little value by the young.

My favorite home tale, Ms. Rona refused to tell because she was embarrassed at having been such a bad girl. Marcita had no such compunctions. It was one of her favorites, and she told it well.

When Ms. Rona was 11, she and a friend decided to steal potatoes from her daddy's farm. They sneaked out into the field and dug up some potatoes. Being hungry, they decided to cook an' eat 'em on the spot. They built a fire, right there at the edge of the field to roast those potatoes. Now, makin' a fire is a whole lot easier if you use a lot of grass to get it going. They piled the grass high and, oh! They lost control! That fire went on burnin' and spreadin' and burnin! It burned her daddy's farm, an' kept a'spreadin' and burned down two more farms besides! Now, they were scared and tried to run an' hide, but some men from the next farm saw 'em and caught 'em. "We're gonna take you to your daddy and he's gonna beat you to within an inch o'your life!" She was so scared!

Ms. Rona interrupted, "Yeah, but my daddy never hit me. He stood up straight and he told those men that I was a child of eleven. I didn't know what I was doin' an' there ain't no point in beating a child for being ignorant. He'd take care of it. Oh, they was mad! Wanted to beat me themselves, but he wouldn't let 'em. Later, he took me out and said, 'If you get hungry and steal potatoes, you gotta make a fire in a clear space on rock. Take and put rocks all around in a circle like this, and then make the fire in the middle.'" Her eyes were far away as she spoke, I could almost see her as a little girl, shaking with fear, and her daddy sighing and teaching her how to do it better next time, even though all his crops had been burned down. A faint smile touched the lips of this beautiful woman who had seen so much in her lifetime.

Marcita laughed, "Ooohh, your daddy never beat you, but you were lucky that your momma wasn't there, she sure woulda!" Ms. Rona nodded, it was true, her mom would have given her a sound beating over that one.

Ms. Rona announced that she was tired, the day was hot. Monique declared that now we were family, so we were always welcome. We laughed and hugged and thanked Ms. Rona for her time and her stories.

Fishing Contest

Marcita walked us down to the dock on "the pond" where they were having an all day fishing contest. I was surprised to see that the only people fishing were women. They don't fish with poles here, just a line and hook. There were men supine in the shade of the shelter at the end of the dock, while others sat on the picnic benches in the middle and called out jokes like, "What you doin' layin' on the floor like that? At least we know what you'll look like in your coffin!" Small children ran around, fascinated by the fish and the hermit crabs. Why hermit crabs? Well, they use the intestines as bait. A woman brought a big bucket of hermit crabs. Then as they needed bait, they'd grab hold of the crabs and rip them out of their shells. Then they'd bang the shells to get the back side out, slip it on a hook and toss the rest of the crab into the water.

This woman had just caught a 3" fish. She held it up and everyone laughed and laughed, while yelling for her to throw it back.

Jon went off to explore the entrance to a cave off the pond while I laughed and chatted with the locals. Before long, he was back with new caving adventures planned for another day. Marcita drove us back to the festival, everyone on the street asking her what she was up to. When she replied that she was taking us on a walkabout, she was met with laughter and, "You doin' the walkin' for them?"

We rounded out our afternoon chatting at Shavone's bar, over drinks and barbecue before heading home. It was a lovely, if very hot and muggy day.

Monday, 29 July 2013

It's another very hot and sticky summer day on Eleuthera. Good news, though!
The Whistling Duck's new website has been launched!

We're getting ever so much closer now. Although, we haven't yet begun a fund raising campaign in earnest, we're gearing up for one, and donations are always welcome. We're going to have to put together another $25k for legal niceties: permits, licenses, fees, etc. It's quite funny, the differences in the way that we need to go about the legal system, vs the way many Bahamians might. While it's true that much of the legal red tape can be skipped without too much trouble (if you're Bahamian and keep it low key), if we attempted such tomfoolery, we could be thrown off the island.

We've learned to become incredibly patient...very, very, very patient, indeed. It took us a year to purchase our land, another four or five months to get a copy of our conveyance. We hope to be ready to open by late 2015.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Views from the in-town office

There is something very calming about these views, day in and day out. We work out of the library if our internet is down at home, which happens all too frequently, and unlike the power, which is likely to be out for about 2-4 hours at a time, when the internet goes down, it's a week or two before it comes back up. It's a bit noisier than home, but it's kind of like the town "water cooler". It's the place to meet up and socialize.