Thursday, February 28, 2008

Spotted Eagle Ray

Lucas and I saw a Spotted Eagle Ray about three hours ago snorkeling off our beach. Not that the Ray was snorkeling, that would be funny. But Lucas and I were. No one else would come out with us. Lucas said he wanted to see something really cool because no one would go with us. We did.

The ray was probably 5 or 6 feet across. It looked like a space ship. It came gliding in from our left just a few feet from where we were swimming. Then it was gone. Crazy, crazy, crazy cool.

Report from the Director

I am including here a portion of the annual report so that you can get an idea of what we have been doing:

The National Museum of the Turks and Caicos Islands is at a crossroads. Though as an institution the museum is only eighteen years old, the museum has reached a point where the museum must move forward to match the needs of the new dynamics of tourism and development that have come to define the Turks and Caicos Islands in the last decade.

On Grand Turk, the location of the current museum building, the cruise ship industry has become the primary driver of visitation. In 2006, the Grand Turk Cruise Port reported 136 ship calls and 295,000 passengers. The museum does not have a presence at the cruise port, nor any real advertising. Yet, we are receiving visitation of approximately 1% to 2% of cruise ship passengers.

Both visitation numbers and museum income have significantly increased. There has been an idea that more visitors will equal more shop income. This is not necessarily the case. In the second half of this year, the museum has tried to develop visitor statistics. On cruise ship days, average shop sales are between $1.50 and $3 per person. On non-cruise ship days, visitation is much smaller, but shop sales average between $20 and $40 per person. On cruise ship days, therefore, the museum makes the majority of revenue from entry fees and not shop sales.

Since September, strides have been made to increase the museum's involvement with the cruise ship industry. One of our approaches is to attract less visitors at a higher entry fee, rather than more visitors at a discounted fee. Beginning in December, the museum began a guided behind the scenes tour of the museum as part of the Taste of the Island excursion. This excursion is being offered exclusively to the Holland America and Regency cruise lines through a local tour operator. The per person charge for this tour is $12.

The museum has applied for three grants since June of 2007 and has been involved with grants for the continued search for the Trouvadore. The success of these grants will determine, to some extent, projects that will be completed by the museum during 2008. One of these grants, the “Be Your Own Curator” program was funded through the Pine Cay Project. This program is one which I had tried to develop in Ohio. I am thrilled that is was funded here in the Turks and Caicos. Over the coming year, the museum will work with specific teachers and classrooms to develop temporary exhibits based on work students complete in the classroom themselves using images from the museum collections.

In June and July, before coming to Grand Turk, I helped facilitate the application for a $75,000 matching grant from the American Association of Museums to provide training and equipment for an oral history initiative throughout the TCI. In October, we were notified that we had been chosen as an alternate but not directly funded. This should be seen as an indication, at least, that the museum can produce strong grant proposals that are highly competitive.

In November, a project to improve the indigenous arboretum established at the museum in the late 1990s was submitted to the UK Overseas Territory Environmental Protection grant.

Planning has continued on the development of the museum on Providenciales. Careful decisions have to be made concerning this development. Both the concept of the building, the concept of the exhibits, and the new museum’s placement within a wider visitor strategy on Provo must be definitely determined.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Quick Update of a Really Long Two Weeks

Monday evening Deneen and I attended a formal dinner at the Governor's residence. This was the culmination of our week of raising awareness and funds for the Trouvadore project. The dinner was a small event with several government officials and a couple guys from Carnival. Dr. Donald Keith presented the history of the museum and projects that we have done, leading up to the current project. I provided the closer, batted cleanup, and hit them with the slam dunk, in sports metaphors anyway.

The closer is that this small museum seemingly in the middle of nowhere, 30 years ago found and documented the oldest ship ever found in the America's. After 30 years, this is still the oldest ship ever found and fully documented. For the last four years we have been working on a project searching for the slave ship Trouvadore, which wrecked off of the Caicos islands in 1841. If the ship we have found is in fact the Trouvadore, this will be the first slave ship ever found and fully documented that was sunk while carrying a human cargo.

These are two internationally significant discoveries that are right here around the small islands of the TCI. I continually point out that locally, the museum is often taken for granted. But internationally, we have been able to complete unbelievable underwater archaeological projects. This is same for almost all museums, except for the underwater archaeologically.

All week last week I was in Pine Cay and Provo attending meeting after meeting after meeting. I am spending so much time with Deneen and the boys here. When I was in England for four weeks in 2006, I did not miss my family at all. Here, I am gone for four days and miss them terribly.

Fund raising has not gone as well as expected. Many people on Provo are nervous about the economy and were less than committal about how much support they could lend this summer.

On Tuesday, I presided over my second trustee meeting. Here, I presented our annual report, my first, and submitted our budget for 2008. I have been working on these for most of February. The museum is not in a great position. Serious fund raising and development issues will need to be decided in the very near future. In the end, I will spend the next six weeks working on development scenarios, capital improvement estimates, and architecture programs for new museum buildings to present at another trustee meeting in April.

Not too much pressure, this work will only decide the success or failure of the national museum of a small country.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Trip to Pine Cay

This week I am traveling to Pine Cay and Provo fund raising for the museum with one of our trustees. This morning we were notified that we have received our NOAA grant of $100,000 to continue the Trouvadore project. We are beginning to raise the matching funds for this grant.

Yesterday, we arrived in Pine Cay as a guest of Dr. Tom and Jean Wiese, from Lima, Ohio. Pine Cay is a private island with a small resort hotel of 12 rooms and just over 30 private residences. The Island was one of the first private developments in the TCI. The project began in 1971 as an environmental communal development. The idea was that most of the island would be placed into a nature preserve, with a few understated residences. There are some owners that have been on Pine Cay for 20 to 30 years. New owners, however, are from very wealthy families and new houses are far from the understated environmentally friendly places of the 70s. The island is still very, very nice though.

The highlight of the trip was a trip tp Fort St. George. This was an English fort established to protect the fresh water ponds located on Pine Cay and Water Cay during the French take over of Haiti from 1798 to 1806.

The stone foundations of the fort are still visable, as well as cultural material still on top of the ground. Some of the owners on Pine Cay have been going to the fort for years mapping and surveying and locating cannons. They have also been doing their own research, one guy even going to London to work in archives there. They would be very interested in the museum doing something with the fort or incorporating the story and artifacts into the new museum on Provo. This is great, but where do we get the time or money.

Today we arrived back on Provo where we will be for the rest of the week. We met with the National Trust. During this meeting we were told that about a year ago the cay, known as Fort George Cay, was to be given to the Trust to monitor and manage. Now, it has been give to a private developer who is going to build a "tropical fish museum." Is it me, or is that crazy?

Whale Watching

Monday was Davis' birthday. He turned 11. I tried to make Saturday's trip to Salt Cay his birthday present. But this did not work.

So on Monday, Deneen and Davis went whale watching. Our friends went on Saturday. They saw tons of whales, literally. People on their boat got in the water and snorkeled with the whales. Also a film crew from Oasis Divers evidently got great footage.

On Monday, Deneen and Davis went on a very small boat and went back past Salt Cay into open water looking for whales for three hours. I had hoped that the trip would be one of the coolest things Deneen has ever done in her life. Something happens to me almost every third or fourth day that is the coolest thing I have ever seen. I don't think Deneen has said that for years.

Well, they did not see a single whale. And Deneen got really sick. Martin and I met them at the boat when they came back to land. Both Deneen and Davis looked like they had been dumped in the water. Evidently, the boat had been over bog waves and water came across the boat every time the front hit down onto the water.

They did see Dolphins. Davis thought this was great. I will put his video on here in a couple of days.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Just Like Home

There are a few comforts here that remind us of Ohio. Here is one. We found frozen White Castle hamburgers at Cee's. Now, before you get too excited, the expiration date was March 22, 2007. But as far as White Castles go, I am pretty sure they are like wine and get better with age.

We will probably buy the other two boxes tomorrow.

Bloggin too much? Tomorrow Deneen and Davis are going whale watching for Davis' birthday.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Salt Cay Boat Trip

Today we took a boat trip to Salt Cay, the second largest island in the Turks island group. From 1673 to 1964 Salt Cay produced sea salt. In the middle of the island there is a huge Salina. Along the edges of this there are houses of the salt rakers and salt merchants. In the heyday of the salt industry there were 600 people living on Salt Cay. Today there are 60.

The Rotary Club of Grand Turk sponsored this trip. The cost was $15 per ticket. Normally the cost of getting to Salt Cay is $60 per person. So this was a bargain. We had a fun day. There is not a whole lot to do but walk around. But everyone I have talked to says this is enough.

We toured the White House, 1830, the best preserved salt merchant house in the TCI. Members of the original family to build the house are in from the states to do some work. Last week they stopped in at the museum to see me. We will go back in April to spend a weekend at the house to document it.

I also stopped and toured a wonderful small house under restoration by a Canadian craftsman. He was doing the best restoration work I have seen here so far.

We went snorkeling off an area called the cliffs. Getting in was tough because it was over very sharp rocks. No one made it in and out without scratches and punctures on our hands or feet. The snorkeling was worth it though. In a small alcove within the cliff we saw many fish and wonderfully large coral.

Coming home, the boat ran out of fuel. I could make this a very engaging story, but will suffice to say that the engines, sputtering for a few miles, died as we drifted into the shore in front of the Sand Bar. All 60 of us made a beach landing and walked the two miles or so back to our cars at the downtown dock.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Bad Days and Horrible Days

Not such a good week.

Over the weekend I wrote a small piece on the importance of preserving buildings that create a sense of place. The alley behind the museum is a perfect example of this. The structures appear intact from the mid nineteenth century. The alley housing sits behind what were larger grand houses. These houses are important to the history of the island, but also would make a great walking tour. There was one in particular small timber framed building, a chattel house, that I think was probably one of the oldest buildings on Grand Turk. I wrote about this building in the article. On Monday I went to take a picture of the building. It was being bulldozed.

When I came back from this heartbreak, Martin was at the museum. He was thrown out of school because of his hair.

How I wish this would have been discussed when we first met with the principal of the local school here. Martin letting his hair dread was one of the conditions that I agreed to when we began even thinking about moving to the Caribbean. It was one of the few decisions that was his and not something forced upon him. A way of feeling that he might fit in somewhere different. Or maybe that he would be different as the rest of his life was turned upside down.

This was my word. But I also really loved his hair. He has been out of school the rest of the week as we discussed our options. There are no good options; one, cut his hair, two, withdraw him from school, three, let him go home. I am sure this seems crazy from anyone else's point of view. But I really thought withdrawing from school was a better option than making him cut his hair. I can't believe there is another family who would even consider this.

What a crappy couple of days. Today, Martin got his hair cut. Seems really uncool and unCaribbean to have to get your hair cut to go to school. It is upsetting that you can force someone to conform to some antiquated idea of social behavior modeling but at the same time anyone is free to tear down a house that has withstood the social upheavals of 200 years of colonial rule.

Sometimes life sucks.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Swimming with the Big Fish

Well, we did not lose our electricity today. It seams that the power company truck broke down and they have had to reschedule.

Davis and I did go snorkeling. Three times we have been snorkeling and have seen very large Barracuda. This occurred on three different sites. Today, a very, very large Barracuda met Davis and I on the reef off of our beach. This time, the fish came up very close. Within reach close. I swear as I am writing, the fish was as big as Davis, between four and five feet long.

According to the Humann, Deloach, Reef Fish Identification book, barracuda "have the unnerving habit of approaching divers and following them about. This appears to be nothing more than curiosity, as there are no reports of unprovoked attacks." This is true, it also states, except for cases where people are hand feeding fish.

There is a story going around the island of a local diver being bitten as she was feeding stingrays at Gibbs Cay, The Barracuda bit her across the hand. She required several stitches. I have not seen the bite, but people say it looks very nice. Just like a bite through the hand.

It is unnerving seeing fish as big as you. The Barracuda swam up as if to keep us from going any farther forward. We turned and went to the side, but a few seconds later it appeared in front of us again. Davis signaled he wanted to go back. We turned and started swimming to the beach. The Barracuda came along beside of us and swam all the way into the beach watching us. It was very unnerving.

Davis thought it was the coolest thing ever. But, we decided it would be better to be bitten by a dog.

Chinese New Year

Last Wednesday was Chinese New Year. This is the year of the Mouse. I did not blog about it because it did not turn out so great. On reflection of the week, however, it makes a good story.

There was a big party at Chinese Joans. The party was potluck, with everyone bringing their favorite Chinese dish. Or actually, everyone bringing the Chinese dish that they thought they could make the best. As it turns out, the party is a contest to see who can make the BEST Chinese dish.

We made Mu Shu Pork. I pulled a recipe from the internet. Then we went to the store to see what we could buy that would be close. We could not get rice wine, or sesame oil, or bamboo shoots, or Hoisin sauce. I could not get pork shoulder either last week, so I bought pork ribs and cut the meat into strips. I did get Bok Choy, mushrooms, fresh ginger, fresh garlic, and Apricot Duck Sauce.

Mu Shu Pork is like a Chinese burrito. The recipe called for a marinade of garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and rice wine. You can not get Soy Sauce here, but we had someone bring us some from Provo a few weeks ago, so we have that. For the rice wine, I substituted Port and some other sweet liquor that was in the house from the last occupant. The marinade sat overnight.

On Wednesday evening I made the Mu Shu. Martin, Lucas, and I spent about two hours making pancakes. I made dough from pancake mix. Rolled out, this was cut into small circles, rolled very thin, and then Martin pan fried them. I used all of the pancake batter and had no flour to roll the dough out. Just like the 1950s, I had to go to our neighbors and borrow flour from one neighbor, and a rolling pin from another neighbor. After each pancake was done, Lucas wiped it with the Duck Sauce, filled it, and rolled it. They turned out great.

The party was fun. There were probably 60 expats there; 20 or 25 dishes. A very nice candied walnut and shrimp over crispy noodles tied for third, a soup I did not even know was there came in second, and the spring rolls came in fourth. On the way home Martin said, "not even in the top four. Dad you are letting me down." Well I was disappointed too. I thought we should have won.

During the party, Davis tried to pet a dog who was running around the house. The dog growled and snapped at him. Later, as Davis was just walking past, the dog jumped and bit him on the leg. He had one very deep penetration just below his knee. This kind of ruined the party for him. He was ready to go at that point, but leaving became awkward. We waited until the results of the food contest were read and then left at about 10:00.

There are no rabies on the island, but we were concerned that Davis had his tetanus shot updated. On Thursday we spent the morning waiting on my mom to get a hold of Dr. Horn's office to get the dates of Davis' immunizations. The wound was still bleeding as well, and I thought Davis would need a couple stitches. At 10:00am we went to the clinic to sign up for a visit. We were number 23, they were on patient 8. Deneen spent most of her day waiting. As it turned out, everything was fine. No stitches, no shots, no problems. The bite is scabbed over and not even an issue anymore.

When we got home from the party on Wednesday night, we also had to deal with an unbelievable mess in the kitchen. We had gotten flour everywhere. The flour on all of the pans and tools had hardened. We tried to clean everything up.

Friday and Saturday of this week we have been dealing with an ant problem. There are thousands of tiny ants in the kitchen, on all of the counters, coming out of the stove, on the appliances. Everywhere we open, and under everything we move, is a thin film of flour dust. Ant food.

This is Sunday. The power on our side of the island is going to be cut for 8 hours today for work at the airport. We are going to go down to the south side of the island and see how far we can snorkel north.

So this is the end of what has been a kind of busy, stressful week. Also, we lost our internet connection for two days while some changes were made at Cable and Wireless. Now, every program we try and download and watch from the internet says "This program is only available in the United States." We are very glad we got the satellite installed last weekend.

Happy New Rear

Monday, February 4, 2008

A Poem by Davis

Just sharing this poem that Davis wrote today as part of his home schooling.

Sea Glass
Many Colors
Blue, White, Green
Shining in the Water
Crashing on Sand
Smoothing Edges
Sea Glass

Davis Hitch

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Superbowl superparty

The Superbowl party tonight was at Big Daddy's at White Sand Beach near the cruise center. They are normally closed on Sundays, but they had a special party tonight with the game projected from an LCD on the wall.

We went down at 3:00 and went snorkeling around the cruise ship dock. We also searched the beach for sea glass. At 5:00 the buffet opened. The buffet cost $30 a person. Seems harsh, but the boys and I probably ate 75 wings.

Sea glass is made from pieces of broken beer bottles that have been smoothed and frosted by being in the ocean for years. Here, they are small frosted green glass fragments that look like gems. are neighbor and two other acquaintances make jewelry out of them. We looked at some yesterday at the cruise center. It is pretty cool.

This has been a pretty good weekend.

This past week I have been to Provo for two days at the national science fair. Six high schools were represented. The museum had a display talking about the upcoming Trouvadore project in July. The high school on Grand Turk won with their project evaluating the condition of the Salinas here. It was an exceptional project.

On Saturday we had the kick off of our children's program. We had 32 sign up. This was very good. The kids went to a beach on the north end of the island to collect shells. Then they identified the shells and decorated a box to keep the shells in. The best part of the day for the kids was riding to the beach in the back of pick up trucks. Something I don't think you would see very often in the states. The best thing I saw was a glued down snail trying to desperately crawl off some kids box. Nice.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Best Day or Worst Day?

Today, we finally got our satellite dish hooked up. We already had a 6' dish in our yard. You get converters from a guy who has been on island since 1999 doing telecommunications work. He used to have his own business in Florida. Our connection runs through New Jersey so our network channels are all New York based.

Late this afternoon we ran the cables between the AV closet and the TV. Like most days in the States, Martin and I watched nothing for about two hours while Lucas was at karate for the first time. But I did get the TV up in time for the Superbowl, which is a real plus.

Because we got the TV hooked up one day too late, tonight we are trying to watch Lost on the computer. We planned a Mexican food party, with tortilla shells that we found this week. But just our luck, in the middle of the first few minutes of Lost the power has gone off. The power will be on in a few minutes and we will finish. In the mean time, you cant believe how many stars you can see from here.