Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Old Man and the Sea

Today, I went deep sea fishing for the first time. I received the invite over the weekend and thought this a great opportunity to gain an experience that I have never had before.

But, just like Hemingway's novella, written not far from here, the experience was a little more than I was hoping for.

This weekend was the Grand Turk Fishing Tournament. On Thursday there was a boat auction, where people bid on the fishing boats that they thought would win either the most fish caught or the the most pounds caught. I bid on the Bohio boat thinking that I would be overbid, but I bought the boat for $150.00. Other boats went for two and three thousand dollars.

Yesterday, the Bohio boat was in second place. They had caught a 70 pound tuna the first day, and two other large tunas the next day. Though the largest fish brought in yesterday was a 257 pound Marlin.

Today, I joined the boat. But, boat is somewhat of a misnomer. They are fishing from a small flat bottom Carolina Skiff. These are generally used as a Dive Boats here.

So today, I spent 10 hours deep sea fishing on a small dive boat. We left the Bohio at around 5:00am. We were trolling for tuna on the north west side of the island in an area known as the "cut," a deep sea shelf to the north. I have never been out this far before, especially not on a small boat. The winds come from the east, so the west side of the island is generally fairly calm. But when you get into the open ocean, the swells become unfriendly.

I was hoping that I could hold it together and not get seasick. Now, before I get a head of myself, I did fine and held everything down. But it was only through continuous focus on something other than vomiting.

Fishing has got to be one of the most boring activities in the world. The best thing about fishing was laying down and trying to sleep while my body was being racked by the constant slamming of the boat against every wave. We sat in that boat, trolling up and down Grand Turk, for six hours. Then, wonders of wonders, we caught two small tunas in fairly quick succession, which the guys in the boat benevolently let me reel in.

At noon, the captain thought we needed to do something different. He decided that we should go around to the east side of the island and come around to the south end to change things up.

The east side of the island is windward. And today it was windy. I have never been there on a boat before. I hope this was a first and last. In a matter of a few minutes we went from boring to terrifying. The bank is very long on the east side. Longer than I realized. We had to take the boat over the bank and out into deep water. Do do this we had to climb 15 foot swells. The boat captain powered up the swell and cut the engine on the backside. The boat climbed up the wave, hung for seconds, and then slammed back down into the water. When we got out past the bank we turned and boated along the swells, up one side, down the other, with the side of the boat rolling and rolling. I would have been freaking out, except the other three guys were totally fine with this. The captain said we would be fine as long as a wave did not crash over the boat. I thought this was a pretty long "as long as."

I spent the next hour praying we could be done fishing. Finally, as we neared Gibbs Cay and still had not landed a fish big enough to way, the captain said, "enough is enough." Thank you Jesus, we turned into surf and made for shore.

The crew graciously gave me the two small tuna. Tonight, I cleaned fish for the first time. I know to some people this may seem strange. But they did not offer a fish cleaning class at The Ohio State University, where I have been spending all my fishing time for the last 16 years.

We had the best fresh tuna steaks tonight. I marinated the tuna in a lime, garlic, and Worcestershire sauce and quick grilled it. We had a house full for fish. Mel, our visiting curator, came over and ate with a table of teenage boys, Martin, Lucas, Denzel, and Luke (who is here for the fishing tournament).

The fish was excellent. My head is still spinning. I need to take some aspirin and go to sleep so I can dream about turtles.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Open Water Dives

Today is a holiday. The official bank holiday in celebration of the Queen's birthday.

Martin, Lucas, and I had our first two open water dives for our scuba certification. We went out on the boat at 9:00 this morning. The winds were coming from the south and the water was rough. I did fine until I got my tank and BC on, then I got sick. Getting into the water usually helps, so I fell backward and was underwater. We dove to about 30 feet, completed some coarse safety tests, and then continued out over the reef. We went down to about 50 feet.

I enjoyed the diving very much, but could not get over the previous tossing and stomach turning. At about 40 minutes into the dive, at 50 feet underwater, I got seasick and vomited several times underwater.

I am sorry I don't have pictures. It was quite something. If you want to imagine this, hold your breath while throwing food into your bathtub. Them swim around in it. I decided to complete my second dive later. I did receive praise for "remaining calm under a stressful underwater situation."

The boys continued on with their second dive. They are very comfortable in the water and have taken to diving naturally. It is amazing to see them. They are growing and changing and are different people than they were six months ago.

When we got home we received a call that they were training staff on the Flowrider at the Cruise Center again at 1:00. We went down and rode the Flowrider for a couple hours. We are home now, the sun is falling in the early evening. The boys need to study for their exams tomorrow, but they both fell asleep.

I wish I could be perfect and compete with them at the adventure sports that surround us here. But I am having to get my personal gratification at being able to expose them to activities that they would otherwise never do. I am frustrated that my body can not keep up with my mind. But I shall not complain too much. This has been a pretty arse kick'n week.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Queen's Birthday

This Saturday was the official celebration of the Queen's birthday. We received an invitation from the Governor to sit in the stands at the parade grounds during the governor's iinspection of Her Majesty's Police Force and Her Majesty's Prison Guards. The parade also included the Police Band, cadet corps, and a selection of elementary and secondary students.

Lucas was chosen to march in the parade. He had a three hour rehearsal on Friday. He was thrilled to get to march. Though the parade started at 5:00pm, it was still very hot.

The parade was one of the most impressive things I have seen since I have been here. It was quite unexpected. The pomp and ceremony was what you would expect from a colony. It is for sure a holdover from the nineteenth century empire, but the discipline and ceremony of the spectacle reminded me of the civility inherent in English culture. Though at the very end, the police band struck up an island sounding song and band leader danced. So even in the pomp, there was local flavor. This was the best part of the parade.

Saturday night we were invited to the reception at the Governor's residence. This also served as the goodbye party for H. E. Tauwhare and his wife Amanda, who are leaving the post at the end of July.

Deborah's Last Day

Friday was Deborah's last day. She has been on island for 28 months. Beginning last January she has served as the interim director of the museum. Our current staff were mostly hired during her tenure. With the exception of a couple who were hired by Nigel Sadler, the previous director.

Though I came on in September, It has been a hard transition for most of the staff, who still call back to talk to Deborah about all staff related issues.

On Friday night, the girls on our staff through a party for Deborah. They wanted this to be a surprise party and no one was to leak anything about it.

They have been planning the party all week. Raising money - though a considerable amount of this came from me - and buying and cooking party food.

Friday after work, and after Deborah left, we set up our tent, lights, and tables and chairs. Everyone showed up at 7:30 with food and decorations. At 8:00 we had and waited for Deborah. In our totally strategic plan at keeping this absolutely a one had made arrangements for Deborah to show up to her surprise party. SURPRISE. Everyone thought someone else had taken care of it.

Earlier in the week I had spoken to Thomas about planning the party, but with no follow up, he did not make arrangements either. At 8:50 I called Thomas' phone - no answer. At 9:00 I called Deborah's phone - no answer. At 9:15 I drove down to the SandBar on the outside chance they might be there. They were. The minute Thomas saw me he knew what was up. They had just finished eating dinner, but left immediately.

The party got started just after 9:00pm. I think our staff felt good about it. It was not necessarily a party for Deborah, but it was in fact a party for her staff, on her behalf. The party was planned for about 30. Most of them friends and family of our staff. Probably 10 more young men heard the party and came in from the alley to get food and drinks.

The dancing started at about 11:00 and continued until 12:00. I think the staff were hoping for a local type of party. This is what they got. This was not your parent's museum party. That is for sure.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Diving and Flowriding

Melonie Clifton-Harvey flew in on Tuesday. She was here as our visiting curator in December and has come back for three weeks to assist with additional curatorial issues that we have. Mel is a conservation specialist from England that I met on the Attingham program. I have been trying to keep her informed about how much work we have to accomplish while she is here. But it has been a hard sell since Tuesday.

On Wednesday we had a staff appreciation party. Deborah, thanking everyone for their hard work while she was interim director, took everyone to lunch and then we went kayaking. This was very cool, because most of our staff had never been in a kayak or canoe before. It was super cool for me, because I saw my first live shark here. They were in fact two baby sharks who circled within inches of our kayak.

Today, Martin, Lucas, and I had our first confined water dive for our scuba certification. This was a total combination of very cool and very weird. I could talk at length about this, and maybe I will later, but for now I will sufice to say: it was so loud...I just did not expect that.

Late this afternoon, we got a call from our friend at the cruise center to come down and assist with staff training on the new Flowrider that has just been installed. This is a giant wave pool that you can surf and bodyboard on. We went down and took turns riding so that they could work out kinks before they open tomorrow.

Davis and I actually did this the other day as well. But tonight we rode for about two hours for free. Tomorrow, I think the free rides are over. But Davis is very good at it, and I think he will probably wind up going a lot.

This is the only Flowrider operated in a Carnival cruise port. It is very cool. It will probably make Grand Turk one of the best cruise ports in the Caribbean.

Deneen and the boys are excited about coming home. We bought the tickets and they fly out July 4th. They have tickets to the new water park in Columbus and can't wait to go. That sounds great. I like to remind them that here they live in the theme park and are some of the few dozen people that ride for free. I dont think they appreciate this yet.

Saturday is the Queen's Birthday. Lucas has been chosen to march in the Queen's parade and Saturday night we have to go to another party at the Governor's residence.

Such a hard place to live.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

I'm Just Say'en

This is the new catch phrase around our house. I'm just say'en...followed by some ridiculous claim about how bad school is, or your brother is, or the fact that you have to clean something.

The last six months have been a fairly radical change for Martin, Lucas, and Davis. Right now they are in the final stages of their year in school. Under the British and Bahamian systems, this involves the end of year exams. They just finished their finals, which here are 70 percent of your grade.

These next exams are a series of tests in each class that covers everything you have learned in the year. The tests are above and beyond the normal final exam. They determine your placement for next year, and whether you can begin sitting for the CXC, which is Caribbean exam that completes your high school education. These are tough, because we came into the school half way through the year.

But I'm just say'en...when I look at these pictures it seems to me that life ain't so bad. If I stopped to take a look at my life and actually saw the backdrop in which I was standing, I think I would smile a little more.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

More Friends Gone

Yesterday, Gary and Sara came to see me at the museum. They have been here for five weeks. I really thought they were going to be good friends of ours. Gary came to work as a divemaster, but hurt his back. They lived in an older house next to museum.

But this is not an easy place to live. I forget that often. They left at 1:00 and flew home.

My first three weeks here were miserable. One of the best decisions we made was that I came down two months before Deneen. I have often thought that had I Deneen spent my first three weeks here she would have been on a plane home. It took a long time to learn how fight the roaches, the mosquitoes, and heat, and to live with the ants. Not to mention water and anything more than a lime.

By the time Deneen got here, I had worked many of the difficulties of life here out. Well, the reality is that Deborah and Thomas worked many of these out for me. Our life here would not have been possible without their help, support, and a lot of dinners my first week here. Deborah and Thomas leave the TCI at the end of this month.

I wish now that I would have put more of a hand out to Gary and Sara. I had thought I would give them their space. But I keep thinking that I should have done more to make their first few weeks more comfortable. This may not have made a difference whether they stayed or left. But I could have been a better host to their five week adventure.

I love it here. I like the challenge and the puzzle of figuring it out. But I also understand that this is not an easy place to live.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Hard Place to Live

Many tourists I meet are very interested in what it is like to live here. My standard line is that Grand Turk is a great place to visit but a hard place to live.

Today was stifling hot. There was no wind. It was dead calm. The sea was like glass. It was almost eerie. There were not many people outside. But it cooled off tonight, and there were people everywhere.

Today was Monday. Shopping day. The fresh produce boat comes on Monday. We have very few groceries in the house right now. We got through the weekend by eating out. We went to Mr. Cee's and bought groceries for the week, but no meat had come in. From Cee's we went to R&R to see if they had meat. We did manage to get two packages of hamburger. So tomorrow we will have hamburgers. Tonight we had waffles and eggs. One night this week we will have stir fry vegetables.

Debbie and David, who we had dinner with the other night, talked about how they bring a weeks worth of groceries with them when they come to their house on Salt Cay. They freeze everything and check two coolers on the direct flight from Charlotte. Then they charter a plane from Provo to Salt Cay.

Maya, a new employee who started working today at the museum, told an interesting story today as well. She is from here, but has been in New Jersey for many years. She moved back about a year ago. She has friends buy stuff for her in New Jersey. They pack this into a barrel, and ship it from tropical Shipping every few weeks. She ships in all her food and most everything she needs here. She tries not to buy anything locally, except meat.

Before you start packing barrels of meat. You should know that the meat situation today is unusual. Typically, we can buy most of what we want or need. And whenever I am in Provo, I stop at the IGA and bring back lots of meat. I was there at the end of April and we are just about out of what I brought back. But we do have two frozen chickens left.

Yesterday, neighbors who live quite aways away (in fact we dont even know where their house is), showed up at our house with our new puppy. Evidently, it wondered off during the night and showed up at their house, crying outside their window. This in fact is exactly how we came to have this puppy.

This puppy was from the second litter that the wild dog, called Floppy, had in our compound. The mother stopped feeding the pups at about two weeks. Davis found this little pup crying outside our window and has been feeding it milk since then. When animal control came to take the puppies away, the officer took this little puppy out of Davis' hands. This went about as well as you can imagine. We have since had to license this puppy as CeeCee.

Being a dog here is not easy. The puppy has to mix in the pack with the other puppies that are now nine months old. Tics are a constant problem. And they love puppies. Last night Deneen and I removed about 80 ticks from the ears and toes of the puppy.

We could not find the new puppy again this morning. Davis rode his bike down the roads and out into the bush to see if he could find him. Davis found him a little way into the bush past our compound. Dead calm. It looks like he was hit by a car last night. I came home tonight just about dark and buried him beside the road.

Its a hard place to live.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Dinner with Friends

One of the things we miss the most here are friends. Those people whom you have known for a long time and share life experience with. When Deneen returned from her trip back to Columbus, we talked about the things she missed. What she realised was the only thing she really missed was visiting with her girl friends (and her mother). The people she knows very well and the people who know her.

We have friends here, but many of these friendships are just developing. We all have something in common, so we have a bond. But it is not a strong bond. We are also finding that the population we fit into here is very transient. There was a fairly tight group of people within our social network here when we came. But many of them have now left.

The season ended the last week of April. Since then, many of the people we hung out with have left. Josh and Danny left and took the trapeze. The helicopter excursion flew the coup, along with the mechanic and pilots. Danny, the Canadian fudge maker, Jenn the masseuse, and JP the beach rental guy, all left. Andy fulfilled his one-year contract with Blue Water Divers and left. Louis, from the Dominican Republic, left yesterday. He had a going away party at the SandBar on Saturday. We did not even know he was leaving and missed the party.

However, there are new people and we have met interesting visitors. We have been eating out a lot the past couple of weeks. And this is always an experience. Dinners are long and very expensive. Time and money is evidently what everyone has. Dinner starts at about 7:30 and ends at 10:00 - every time we go out. Martin has been complaining that all we eat is chicken and rice, so going out breaks this up. But a couple nights ago, we went to eat at the Turks Head Inn, a really great restaurant in a historic home. The managers, Jorika and Darren, are becoming friends and treat us very well. Martin ordered Jerk chicken and rice, it was $25 plus 15% plus 10%. I figured his one meal cost around $32. And this for the meal he complains about eating at home.

Last week Pawan and Kim stopped by the museum to see me. They had read that we were from Columbus. So are they. They were here for the week diving. On Sunday we invited them over to the house for dinner. Finally, someone who knew about Walmart and Target and Tim Hortons. We had a great evening. On Sunday morning, they were diving near our beach at about 75 feet and had a nine-foot hammerhead shark pass four feet in front of them. What a great story.

On Friday, we had dinner with Debbie and Dave, and Dave's two boys, at the Turks Head Inn. They are from Charlotte, but have a house on Salt Cay. They were visiting Grand Turk for the day and came by the museum. Debbie has been reading my blogs, and though we had never met, she knew all my stories. So, it was like eating with old friends. We had a great evening.

Earlier in the week, I gave a private VIP tour of the island and museum to a Russian super model and her husband. They are looking at very high end property on another island and wanted to know the history of the islands. They were very cool. I took them to the Turks Head Inn. This is my new Grand Turk slam dunk. We ordered a sample of most of the menu and had such a good time that they almost missed the plane. The airport had to call me to say we had five minutes to get there or the chartered plane was leaving.

On Saturday, we went to get pizza at Big Daddy's at White Sands. Everyone was there. By this, I mean all the new people. The new divemaster and his significant other, Gary and Sara, who live next to the museum, were there. David and Katya, the banker who has come to replace Thomas and Deborah, were there. And we invited Ben and Caroline, who works for the Governor's office, and who happened to walk in while we were sitting down, to eat dinner with us. This turned out to be a great dinner as well.

It is wonderful to meet new people, tell old stories, and make friends. Maybe this turns out to be the coolest part of being here.