Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry Christmas

It has not felt much like Christmas this year. We arrived the week after Thanksgiving and with getting use to the new home and island we have not planned or celebrated the Holidays. Plus it has been in the upper 80s and we go swimming a lot.

In lieu of sending Christmas cards this year I am posting this picture. It is our Christmas card. This is us on our beach on Christmas day at a shipwreck area we call the fence. Merry Christmas.

On Sunday we went to an open house, or an appreciation party, at the cruise center. Goodmark Jewelers opened all of its stores and was holding sales for the local population to buy presents. They were offering free food, so we thought we would go quickly and just eat.

For the last several years I have wanted to get Deneen a black pearl necklace but never have. Indigo Pearls was having a 50% off sale. I found a set that I really liked. Deneen found a set she really liked. There is some benefit, I guess, to living on an island with duty free shopping. We bought both.

After this we went over to the Dufry shop and bought Deneen a pair of sunglasses and a Nike sport watch.

It was about 7:30, so we went over to the Goodmark store to see if the 5:30 raffle was over, or to see if it was running on Grand Turk time. In fact, the guy was yelling that you had two minutes left to get your raffle ticket in the box. We all put our names in the box. They were raffling 10 items, all from various stores. Martin won the second to last gift, a diamond watch. It was a women's watch, so Martin gave it to Deneen for Christmas.

Christmas day. Deneen had a good Christmas.

Martin and I opened and worked at the museum from 8:30 until 3:00 on Christmas day. We had two cruise ships in, and Christmas day was inagural behind-the-scenes excursion the museum is doing for Holland America in partnership with a local excursion operation. This past weekend we had installed flat screen video monitors, a small temporary exhibit, cleaned all of the exhibits, and tried to revamp the shop. In two days, Melanie Clifton-Harvey, the visiting curator, and Martin were able to accomplish more than I have managed to get done inside the museum in three months. Christmas was the first day that the museum has met revenue goals. We were 400% above our average.

In the afternoon we went to the beach. Way down the beach I saw a couple catching conch and breaking the shells right on the beach. I walked down to ask them to teach me how to clean conch. Teh guy took a conch out of the shell, cleaned a lot of gooey crap off of it and said, "have you ever eaten fresh conch." He then washed the flesh off in the ocean and offered a bite of the freshest conch I think you can eat. I offered some to Deneen, Lucas, and Martin but had no takers. I took two live conch back to the house and made a fresh conch, tomato and cucumber salad for Christmas. You can't have a more island Christmas than that.

Christmas evening we made dinner consisting of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and conch salad. When Melanie came in from New York last week she brought a bag of fresh cranberries and two boxes of cherry jello. So we even had Deneen's favorite cranberry jello salad. We shared our dinner with Mel and two other young men who are working on island and have no family here. Then, on the museum's LCD player out on the screen porch, we watched Pirates of the Caribbean 3, which Martin had downloaded on Itunes.

We are far from home and family, but this is one of the best Christmas days that I have had.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Puppies

There are only a few indigenous wild animals in the Turks and Caicos Islands and most now are endangered or extinct. The Rock Iguana used to inhabit 90% of the islands, now its range of habitat is 5%. The Red Footed Bo0bie was eaten to extinction hundreds of years ago. In the 16th century, the Spanish introduced cattle to the islands as a food source for ship wreck survivors. In the 17th century the Bermudians left horses and donkeys to reproduce for draft animals. Because the original genetic pool was so small, today there is actually a separate breed of donkey known as the Turks Island Donkey.

These are now the wild animals that roam freely throughout the island. There is also just one breed of dog on the island of Grand Turk, the potcake. These dogs live wild throughout the island. Most are very ugly. Some are cute. They are like squirrels. They just run around and no one really notices. I notice tourists having compassion over them. But after about two weeks you just see them as squirrels. If you put a collar on one you can claim it, and then feed it. Animal control traps them and removes animals without collars from the population.

In November, before we came, a dog had seven puppies in the bush (the overgrown undeveloped part of the island) behind our house. These puppies have been running around our compound looking for food and sleeping under cars. We have two trucks parked in our yard (remember, this is a separate blog) so we have had the puppies sleeping at our house for the last two weeks.

There are five left. One has a hurt leg, one is a runt, one is black, and one is creamy. The fifth must be the alpha. It is mean and never comes up to the house.

I have been trying to keep the boys from messing with them. Our neighbors have called animal control several times. The one with the hurt leg is not fending for itself and has gotten very skinny. I told the boys not to become attached because the puppies are not going to last long. Last week Davis gave the one with the hurt leg some leftover pancakes. So we named it Pancake. Then we named the others Cupcake, Poundcake, and Patty. Well, that got the better of us.

We have started operation head-of-the-pack. Every night for the last three nights we have fed the puppies and tried to get them to come up on the porch. Three of them, Pancake, Poundcake, and Patty, are very receptive. Two nights ago they ate food from our hands. Last night only Patty and Cupcake showed up, but Patty ate from Deneen's hand and let Davis touch her.

We have decided that if we can get the three cute ones to cooperate, we will collar them and keep them. I went to get dogfood, but it was $40 a bag. Deneen said we should get the dog food and give it to Davis for Christmas. But last night when Pancake did not show up, we thought that we should wait to see if the puppies will be around long enough to domesticate.

Davis called work today to say that Pancake had returned. I think I am going to go get dogfood and give Davis dog collars for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Governor's Christmas party on this Lonely Planet

On Saturday we were invited to the Governor's Christmas party at Waterloo, the Governor's residence. Saturday was a big day. It was the last day that the Dr. Ostapkowicz, the visiting scholar, was at the museum. I had to give a VIP behind the scenes tour of the new Pirate cannon collection, a whole separate blog, to Holland America. Also, Melonie Clifton-Harvey, the visiting curator, came in on Spirit Airlines. We received an invitation to come to the party weeks ago, but I also needed to make arrangements for the museums guests to attend.

In the midst of this busy day, I ran into a travel writer from the Lonely Planet who had come to the museum. Lonely Planet began as a guide for backpackers looking for affordable travel with great experiences. In the mid 1990s, it was also a show on the Travel Channel. The host, Ian Wright, used to travel to extreme locations and have extreme experiences. I used to watch this show and dream of the day I could travel to such exotic places. My desire for more adventurous travel was in part influenced by the Lonely Planet television show.

What I remember about the Lonely Planet series was that Ian would just always show up somewhere and really cool things would happen. The lesson? It takes great effort to learn how to travel, but once you do you can make your own journey.

I had made tentative arrangements to have a guy who has been on island for just a few weeks join us as a guest of the museum. But I began to think that the party would mean more to the Lonely Planet guy. I thought, of all the people to spontaneously invite to the Governor's Christmas party, the Lonely Planet guy should be the first. This would have made great TV.

Out of curiosity, I had asked where he was staying when we had met, so I was able to quickly track down his room. I was going to leave a note, but I actually found him. I invited him, which at the time seemed perfectly normal to me since for weeks people have been talking about the Governor's party. But it probably was a little strange to have some guy you just met show up at your hotel room to invite you to a party - didn't really think of this until after I left. We did wind up picking him up a taking him.

The Governor's party was almost exactly opposite from the Premier's party, except that the drinks and food were free. This party started at 7:30. The Governor is British, and therefore punctual. We arrived at 7:40. Everyone was there. We could barely find a place to park.

The Governor has three children, age 9, 13, and 16. The Governor's wife introduced them to our boys. That was the last we saw of them. I should mention that the Governor's oldest child is also his daughter.

I knew many of the people at the party. Most of the expats on the island were in attendance, plus many prominent locals. I tried to introduce our guests to people they would be comfortable talking with. Then I tried to introduce Deneen to people I had met before. A lot of chit chat later, the Governor invited everyone onto the terrace where we sang Christmas carols accompanied by Yellowman, a local island band. This was truly choral singing with a Caribbean twist. Later, the Governor asked us if we had recognized the songs. The first verses were generally familiar, but then the second, third, fourth, and sometimes fifth verses were some totally new bizarre English version of our perfectly fine carols. The night ended with people dancing to the band. Deneen would not dance with me, but she did say she enjoyed this party much more that the night before.

I tracked down the boys who were inside the house messing around. We arrived home about 11:30. Our guests chose to stay and each found their own way home. I guess they enjoyed the party as well.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Party, Party, Party

So much has gone on here lately that I will try and write a few short topical blogs instead of a long narrative. This weekend and week we have attended or will attend a party on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Wednesday.

On Friday night, Deneen and I went to the Premiere's Christmas party at Margaritaville in the cruise center. All drinks and food were free. The party was to start at 7:00 so we arrived at 8:00. Turks Islanders are notoriously late for things. There is a saying which goes something like, "Will dinner be at 7:00 Turks Island time?" Which translates, "Will dinner be at 7:00, or sometime between 8:00 and 8:30."

Anyway, a cruise ship had been re routed to Grand Turk because of weather on Friday. This ship did not leave port until 7:00, so the Premiere's party was postponed until 8:00. We were like the second people there. It was pathetic. By 9:00 the bars had opened. I introduced Deneen to several expats who were beginning to show up to the party. The crowd was still small. We would have left, but it is hard to turn down free food here. One of our new friends jumped in quick to say hello to people who were there. He said food probably would not be served until 10:00 or 10:30. He was right. Local people started showing up around 10:00. The buffets opened at 10:30. We ate and then left at around 11:00. People were steaming in for the free drinks. My staff said the party did not start until about 12:00. At 2:00 they closed the bar. At 2:30 people started demanding more alcohol. A fight broke out. A few people were arrested. I guess we left too soon.

Strength for Today, Hope for Tomorrow

This has been an up and down week in many ways. I have said this before, but there is always something going on, some kind of adventure. I have not had a day here on Grand Turk where something either awful or amazing has happened.

Last weekend we needed strength and hope for tomorrow. I told you that the main breaker in the house melted. We were able to get this replaced on a Sunday. This week we got the bill, $309.oo.

This weekend we lost all the water pressure in the house. Also, the muffler fell off the loaner van we are driving (more on this whole adventure maybe later). Well, after paying for the electrical problem, the last thing I wanted to do was take these other two small but critical issues to a repairman. After two days too busy, I was able to trace the water problem to a clogged filter. Problem solved. After spending three days looking for muffler adapters of the right size, I was able to cut a small muffler pipe into sections and pound them into the muffler in order to reattached it to the tailpipe. More than one person told me that car repair here is: find something close and make fit. Saturday both issues were resolved.

My prayer here has been that we would not attend a church until we were invited. Deneen has been very interested in finding a church so that we, and especially the boys, can begin to meet people in the community. Last Sunday was the second Sunday we have been on island as a family.

The boys have met one friend. Denzel lives in our complex, right across the street. His mother passed away suddenly last January, and he is now living with his aunt. He is 15, and the only other young person of a similar age to Martin and Lucas. The schools are on break now, and every day I have come home from work he has been in the house playing video games.

Last Sunday Denzel invited Martin and Lucas to come to his church, Salem Baptist. Does this count as a family invitation? I was not sure. But when I got to work on Monday, I found that I had received an email on Sunday from a friend of the museum regretting that he had not yet invited us to church. He invited us to Salem Baptist.

I have been unsure if attending a church would be comfortable. The local people here, for the most part, are very religious. They are also friendly. But the community has not seemed open in some ways. And, we are different just by the nature of where we have come from.

On Sunday we attended Salem Baptist church. The service was very traditional, with many hymns. We arrived after the service had started. Before the congregational reading of scripture, someone stepped out of their pew and handed us their bible. Before the first hymn, two others stepped out and gave us hymnals. The hymnal was the very familiar Baptist Hymnal. As most of you will know, my father was a Baptist minister. The first hymn was Great is Thy Faithfulness.

Culturally, the people here are very musical. During the service, several people stood up to give testimony. Three of them ended by starting a spontaneous hymn. The congregation started singing. Then the organist would start to play right on key. I could not tell who had perfect pitch, the congregation or the organist. I could not see the organist and he left before the service ended. But after church, Denzel told us that it was his uncle, our neighbor Rupert.

During the service the pastor took time to have visitors introduce themselves. Now, if you know this age old trick - we were the only visitors. I don't want to spell this out, but it was very obvious that we were visitors. I introduced the family. The pastor welcomed us and told the congregation briefly who we were and where we had come from. Last week one of the national newspapers ran a front page story about our arrival with a picture and our background. Many people have stopped to mention something about it. I could not figure it out how people knew us for the longest time. I have not seen the paper.

We went to Mitch night at the Osprey House for the BBQ on Sunday evening. One of the locals running the restaurant mentioned that she had sat behind us in church that morning. So let me ask you, is the faithfulness great? In many, many respects we are not that different from the people here. ...Blessings all mine and ten thousand besides.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dinner with Olga

Remember that is has been windy here. I just looked at Well as it turns out, tropical storm Olga has been slowly passing to the south of us. For the last three days we have had the top of this storm come across the island.

Last night the museum had a dinner party for the visiting scholar who is here this week, Dr. Joanna Ostapkowicz, from the World Museum in Liverpool. She is the leading scholar of Taino wooden art in the world. We have been doing materials testing on the duho for the last two days.

We had dinner for a party of nine at Chinese Joan's. Dr. Ostapkowicz, her boyfriend an archaeologist who came to dive, Don, from Ship's of Discovery, Dominic, from the Waitt Institute, our Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and Thomas and Deborah. We had barely started to order when it began to storm. For most restaurants here, dinner is al fresco, you eat outside. At Chinese Joan's, there are tables under a series of four tents. The rain blew in sideways, the wind was strong. We decided to tough it out. It was a warm rain.

Just as the appetizers arrived, the electricity went out over the whole island. We sat under the tents in the driving rain lit by Coleman lamps. We went ahead and ordered, one of everything on the menu. Within thirty minutes or so the lights came on. At Chinese Joan's, everything is made to order. She made each dish and brought them out one at a time (wearing a plastic poncho, remember it is pouring rain). Spicy Chili Chicken, Mushroom Pork, Stir Fry Shrimp, Celery Beef, Peking Duck, and several others I can't remember.

Thomas was on the end getting the worst of the rain. I found out today that he did not get to eat because his plate kept filling up with water. He and Deborah stopped and got chicken at the Poop Deck on the way home.

We were relatively fine until the top of the tent saturated and water began to drip through. We ate until sometime around 10:00 when the watch changed and Don and Dominic had to leave for the Plan B. Deneen and I had gone to the dinner, leaving the boys at home. It was one of the funnest nights I have had on the island.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Plan B

The last two days have been very windy. Friday night the Plan B crew came ashore and we went to meet them at the SandBar. The Plan B is a research vessel from the Waitt Institute. It is in the TCI doing an underwater magnetic survey of the Endymion site, an English warship that sank in the early 19th century. This is the maiden voyage of the ship and the they are using this as a shake down, or trial, survey. The museum was very lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to make arrangements to work this out. There is no alcohol allowed on board, so the crew came in for some R and R. At 5:30 when I went down, everyone was having a good time. By the time I had come home to get the family and we all went down to the SandBar for dinner, everyone had had a lot more R.

We have been on island for ten days. December is an incredibly busy month for the museum. Next week a visiting scholar is coming to look at the duho in our collection. The day after she leaves, a curatorial intern is coming to evaluate our conservation and storage program. She will be here for three weeks. We have had a lot to prepare for. On Friday I had to record a radio program. The three minute spot took two and a half hours. In the end, I did not get it in on time for the Saturday program.

On Saturday, we removed the duho from its protective case at the museum and cleaned the lab. I also opened one of our display cases where we had on object fall during Museum Day. The cases in the museum have not been cleaned in at least seven years. So I took the opportunity to remove each object, dusted, and vacuumed the case out.

I could work all the time and not do everything I need to at the museum. I am trying very carefully to balance work and not work, which is partly why we came to a dessert island. In the afternoon we went to White Sands Beach to snorkel with Deborah and Thomas. Supposedly, this is one of the best spots on the island. In this location there is a large coral head. Swimming around it, you can see all manner of sea creatures and sea life. You name it, you can see it. Remember its been very windy.

I began to think that I would blog about what it must be like to swim in an aquarium. It was unbelievably beautiful. I was swimming with Davis. About half way around the coral head the currents swept Davis and I onto and over the coral. It was very disorienting and we quickly went from swimming in 10 feet of water to a few inches of water. There were large fan coral and fire coral everywhere. I started thinking that I would blog about how Davis and I were hospitalized after being drug over the coral. We managed to get across in the waves. However, I did strike my arm on a piece of fire coral. When you begin to snorkel, you are taught not to touch anything, especially the coral. The oils in your skin can kill a hundred years of coral growth in a few hours. On the other hand. People say the fire coral will burn like a sting from a two pound bee. The oils from the coral leave large welts and burn marks. And you know what. They were right.

Once we got across the coral, I sent Davis to shore. Deneen had come out of the water almost as soon as we had gotten in. The waves were so big that I could not see where Lucas was. I swam back out and found Lucas swimming around the back side of the coral.

A note about snorkeling. When I am in the water with my head down I have never had a concern about anything. The bottom of the ocean is a very peaceful place. Floating in the waves is very relaxing. Occasionally when I stick my head above water, I get very freaked out about how far away from shore I am, how big the waves are, or especially that I have lost track of someone swimming with me.

Deneen was really freaked out about the conditions and still today is trying to get me to agree that it was dangerous and a bad decision to go snorkeling yesterday. We were just having this discussion. Lucas on the other hand, said that this was the best day of his life. He saw a lobster, two trumpet fish, what may have been a small sand shark, a blue fish about three feet long, then ten more huge fish three feet long. He keeps talking on and on about how cool it was. Deneen keeps talking on and on about how dangerous it was. Maybe it was somewhere in between. But not very dangerous, just freaky to us novices.

In the evening, after snorkeling, Martin and I went to the first practice of our new band. Our first date is New Years Eve. This went well. Martin said that it was cooler than he thought it would be. Today he started to work on learning Jamie's bass parts.

At the end of this wonderful day, we invited Deborah and Thomas over for dinner and video games. In the middle of an intense Xbox football game on the LCD projector, half of the electricity in our house went out. Our use of electricity - three TVs, three video games, three air conditioners - has evidently taxed our service and we melted one of the legs of our main breaker.

Today is Sunday. We got up and could not cook, and it was very hot. This was a little hard to deal with so we went to the cruise center to swim and eat at Margaritaville. On the way there, Martin said, “This is the first day that it has felt like we really live here.” A breakthrough.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Cool Beans

We went to get Ice cream last night at Cool Beans. Deneen was bored and wanted to get out of the house. She thinks that I made it sound worse than it is here. Its not that things are not available. Its that I am not willing to pay for them. Cool Beans is a cool little place that sells six kinds of ice cream. The flavors change each day. When a flavor is gone, its gone. It is very good. Probably even better in that it is a special treat. Not something that is readily available. It has only been open since late September.

On the cruise ship all of the food was free. We started eating at 7:30. I would get a plate full of fruit. You could also get a plate full of bacon. Lunch was served buffet style, or you could order Chinese food, or get a hamburger from the grill, or get a sandwich from the deli, or all of the above. We ate hamburgers from the grill a lot, they were very good. We ate dinner at the early seating, 5:45. You needed to dress nicely at dinner and they were long. We went to our assigned table three nights. It was crazy. Lobster and steak for everybody. One of each desert. Davis tried many different foods. When he did not like the seafood medley we ordered another steak. He did eat mussels and lots of shrimp. Our waiter brought him two and three shrimp cocktails every night. The pizza shop was open twenty four hours a day. We would get pizza in the evening. At 11:15 we all met at a specific table on the aft deck and ate French fries from the grill, pizza, and ice cream. The average cruise passenger gains seven pounds. I only gained six. So it was good that we got off early.

In our house on Grand Turk the cupboards are pretty bare. There is a lot of tea in the house from the last occupant, though. We drank a lot of tea before. But we really drink a lot of tea here. Tea is the new snack food.

I am sitting in the living room. I will ask the family what they think about the food in the house. Lucas says "Its gooood." Deneen says, "you get what you pay for," but I have no idea what that even means. Martin says, "I love my family." Davis says, "I love chics that are hot." This is what I live with. Ridiculousness.

Every day a cruise ship docks in Grand Turk. I am sure that the 3000 passengers throw away as much food as the population of Grand Turks eats in a day. We ate so much ice cream that it didn't even taste good. The ice cream at Cool Beans was a small portion, but it honestly was some of the best ice cream that I have ever eaten. We decided we would get ice cream once a week.It was 85 degrees today. We went snorkeling this evening and ate on the screen porch. It is 9:30 and we are getting ready for bed. Deneen says that I have spent more time with the family this week than I have in the last three years.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Feels A Lot Like Vacation

We have just made it through our first weekend. To be honest, it has felt a lot like a really great vacation. We have unpacked, been snorkeling, spent a lot of money on dinner, stayed up really late playing video games, and have watched movies every night. Water condenses all over the refrigerator, the tub leaks into the kitchen, and there are house geckos in every room, but that's alright because we are just here enjoying the break for a while.

Yesterday was museum day at the museum. I did not know what to expect. Throughout the day we had events such as face painting, friendship pins, snakes from the National Trust, dancing and stories from the Department of Cultural, two pinatas, and Mitch wrote a song for the museum that everyone sang. Probably 50-60 local children attended at different times. Several volunteers came to run programs. The day was from 10:00-4:00 with no breaks for lunch.

Jump in with both feet we did. Deneen ran the friendship pin table helping kids place beads onto pins, something no one had seen before. Martin did face painting. Though, he mostly painted dragon tattoos and kids names that he could not spell. It was a long, fun day that was very similar to a Hillcrest parking lot party, in all its facets. We went to a small get together afterward. People asked if the day was uncomfortable at all. But in fact, we have been perfectly prepared for life here.

Today, we spent the day cleaning, doing laundry, and getting the new screen porch furniture put together. This area will be a nice cool area to eat and relax. I had been using it for storage. We bought outdoor furniture on clearance at Target before we left and this turned out to be a great decision because it is very functional on the screen porch. We worked most of the afternoon so that we could eat dinner on the new table, but then realized that there are no lights on the porch.

We drink almost five times as much water as I did when I lived here by myself. We have gone through five gallons in the last two days. This probably is not unusual, but I only have noted it because we go buy our water by the gallon, and have to wait in line to fill up the container. I think I will have to fill our five gallon container every other day.

Tomorrow I start back to work and we begin to check out the school situation for Martin and Lucas. Another adventure begins.