Monday, March 30, 2009

Great Sand Cay

A couple weeks ago someone told me a story about a day trip to one of the outer cays. This is an activity that many people do here. But it is usually a special occasion.

You get a boat. You fill it with alcohol. Then you put as many people as possible into it and sail out to an uninhabited island for lunch, fishing, and goofing around.

Anyway, on this particular trip, a young lady, someones wife, fell from a cliff and drowned. The people on the trip were not...well lets just say they are displaced...and they did not report the death. This is how I understood the story anyway. A little hard to imagine isn't it. The people on the trip were people I know. I have thought about it a lot.

On Saturday I went over to Great Sand Cay on a boat trip with DECR employees and others. Great Sand Cay is an uninhabited island about 20 miles south of Grand Turk. It has one of the best beaches in the world. I snorkeled around a small bay; saw six turtles and four very large barracuda. I am very jaded now and this was not even exciting and actually rather disapointing. Spent the rest of the day playing around on the beach. There is nothing here but sand and sun. I had too much of both. The boat ride back was in six to seven foot swells. The weather was not as bad as it has been, but my back hurts so bad lately that boat trips like this are almost unbearable. For me the trip was uneventful. It was a good trip. That's my story.

When we got off the boat, in order to get to the beach, we had to jump from the back into the waves as they crashed on the beach. But remember, this was in six foot swells. The waves were moving the boat up and down four to six feet. When the back of the boat came out of the water just before the wave crashed it was maybe 10 or 12 feet in the air. You had to time your jump so that you moved off the boat just as it bottomed out near the beach.

One of the first people off the boat was the girlfriend of the one of the Oasis employees. As the wave crashed, her feet got swept out and she nearly got sucked under the boat as it crashed down. Her boyfriend was able to grab her and pull her up onto the beach. She was literally seconds from drowning. I was one of the last off and did not really see this happen, but I saw how distressed she was on the beach. Except for that, everyone was laughing about the situation.

On the way back this same young lady got sea sick and threw up. What a trip this must have been for her. Probably a very different story than mine. I was thinking about this today. Many of us share the same experiences but our stories can be dramatically different.

I have found that in these situations I become very protective. Last off. Last on. Assess. Assist.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I Saved a Puppy Today

No, don't be ridiculous.

That is not the house I rented. This is where I stayed after I test drove and bought a car yesterday.

While getting a latte twenty minutes after landing in Provo I saw an add for a Jeep Wrangler. “Call Gary,” said the note.

“I bet you anything that is Gary and Margo,” said I as I reached for the phone.

Sure enough. I met Gary and Margo when they lived on Grand Turk. Gary is a construction supervisor and he built the Flowrider. With the downturn here he has been laid off and they are moving back to Canada. After negotiating the jeep, I casually let Gary know that I could not get a hotel room. Of course it would have been rude not to invite me over. But it worked out great because for their last two months here they have been house sitting an amazingly cool house overlooking the Caicos Bank. I should have been staying with them every time I have been here the last four weeks.

You would think this was all good news. Anyway, I won't bother with the details. But I am amazed at how some people are so focused on the details.

My day ended poorly with stress, tension, and negative feelings toward being here. I went to the airport to try and catch an earlier flight, but as I was checking in they were boarding the plane and I had not returned my rental car yet.

I left and went back into town to visit a piece of property we are looking at. I walked around. did some step measurements. Dreamed a little. The entire time I could here this yapping sound. I kept thinking that someone should go take care of their dog. After forty minutes I started looking around for the sound.

I eventually came across a tiny and very skinny black puppy who had fallen in an electrical conduit pit; about six feet deep. Great, so much for self pity and loathing. I jumped into the pit. I took my dress shirt off and covered the puppy so it would not bite me (if you remember I had this happen before). I lifted to puppy out of the pit and put it back up on the road. By the time I climbed out of the pit the puppy was running down the road with its tail between its legs.

I am reminded of something my father use to say to me often, and I often repeat to others: Don't let your emotions be controlled by your circumstances. I am working on another as well: Strive to have a positive effect on those who come across your path.

I drove back to the airport, got on a plane, and flew home.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Coral Reclamation Comes to an End

Life takes turns that are often unexpected. Before a year ago I never really considered becoming a certified scuba diver. On Saturday I completed my 46th dive. This has been since June 22, when I completed my dive cert.

Saturday was the final dive on the Grand Turk BioRock. Lucy, the marine biologist, has been working with the DECR for more than a year leading the coral reclamation work. When I came to Grand Turk, the museum provided volunteers for the BioRock work. Under my dictum of developing sustainable partnerships, the museum tries to provide a volunteer anytime the DECR needs bodies in the water. I have assisted with 22 DECR dives doing coral reclamation.

I don't think Dinah really ever considered becoming a certified scuba diver either. She completed her cert in December, I believe. During the last three coral moves, Dinah and I have worked as one of the teams moving coral from the Cruise Center site. These corals were then attached to one of the two BioRock sites, which are artificial reefs.

I like working under water. The focus is very different than typical recreational diving. Coral collection is completed typically in 30 minutes. As people have left Grand Turk, I have become a senior volunteer (this has nothing to do with age by the way). We collect coral from the area south of the Cruise Center. When ships come in their props stir up sand that settles on and kills the coral over a large area. We dive in an area about 30 feet under water working in teams of two. One diver looks for at risk corals that are on the floor. These corals are removed with a hammer and chisel. The second diver puts these corals into a laundry basket and swims them back to a very large basket that is then attached to a boat and moved to the BioRock site. On my best day, I collected 40 corals with Lucas. Dinah and I collected 18, then 25, and then 20. But on our last two dives we brought back the largest corals. So that is a plus.

Attaching the coral to the BioRock often entails a 70 to 90 minute dive. This getsw long and sometimes it gets very cold as your core body temperature drops. This month the water has been very cold. I have gone from always wearing a short suit to double suiting. I wear both my short suit and my long suit. Oh, do you remember when I was debating if I should buy a new long suit when I was in Columbus in November? Well I did - and I should have. It is 78 degrees on land and 74 degrees in the water here right now and it is freezing!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Leah is Leaving Today

Well, sort of.

We finished the mural project this week. Leah Samuelson has been here for eight weeks as a representative of Artist on Call, an organization that provides artists to work with children in areas that are in distress, are at risk, or have suffered catastrophe. The museum received a post hurricane grant to do several art related initiatives that Leah has been leading.
We have completed three murals, held three water color painting workshops, a portfolio review, and gave presentations to both the West Indies Collegiate and the Meridian Club on Pine Cay. Today an article came out in the newspaper about the mural we painted on Provo.

On Wednesday Dr. Nathan Corbit, the founder of Build a Bridge and Artists on Call, flew in to the TCI to see the work that Leah Samuelson has been doing with the museum. This is the longest that Artist on Call has ever had an artist in one location, and this is the most murals they have ever completed in one location. Dr. Corbit and his wife were here for the dedication of the Ona Glinton Mural on Thursday with the Permanent Secretary of Education, Dr. Fulford. They flew out today.

We neglected to get Leah a ticket to fly out until this morning. She has just missed the first two standby flights, and now is going to miss her US Airways flight out of Provo. This may be an unexpected mini vacation for her as we were still working on the large blue mural until yesterday, and today the weather is great.

But, maybe just an overnight in Charlotte.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Measuring Anchors

I have been in Provo and Pine Cay this week. A year ago these trips were sooooo cool. Now it is a lot like work. Well, its a lot like really easy work with great food, boating, swimming and midnight walks along the beach. But as life is viewed through the filter of your past experience, to me this feels a lot like work.

Leah, Don, and I gave a presentation on Tuesday night about what the museum has accomplished in the last year. This was for the Pine Cay Project, an educational foundation that has granted the funding for our mural projects, as well as five other small projects the museum is currently doing. The foundation is made up of Pine Cay homeowners, so many of the contributers as well as the treasure were able to attend.

On Wednesday we went to Ft. George to assess erosion caused by the September hurricanes. We were going to return to Provo but stayed in Pine Cay for a lengthy lunch to discuss international educational foundations and their possible role in funding the national museum.

We got back to Provo just in time for Leah to catch her flight back to Grand Turk. Leah and Dinah will be working on completing the mural on Grand Turk this weekend. I have stayed in Provo where I have had to go to a really important dinner, a breakthrough breakfast meeting, a lunch board meeting, and dinner at Rotary. In between I have been measuring anchors.

International Sunday

This Sunday was International Sunday at Salem Baptist Church in Grand Turk. Guess who was the guest speaker? No really guess?

Yes, that is correct.

The week before, I attended a meeting after church for all foreign nationals who attend Salem. As they started talking about what was going to happen next Sunday I started looking around. I used my quick observation skills and deductive logic to postulate, "This stinks, I am going to have to preach."

I try very hard here to separate who I was in the states with who I am here. Because the islands are so small you become what you do. I am Museum Neal. 100% of who I am is the museum.

When it came to deciding a theme, I suggested the theme of captivity and exodus. I spoke on Daniel. If you know me well you have heard this sermon more than once. But the story of Daniel is a story of someone removed from their home, their church, their community, and their family and forced to live in another cultural environment. It is a story of how to be true to who your are while assimilating into a new surrounding.

I also talked about our story. I spoke of how we got here, how it was Deneen's desire to look for a "beach and an adventure," how great the first year on Grand Turk turned out to be. I also spoke of our individual hardship and loss after the hurricanes. I talked about how I realize that the best parts of me have left the island and that makes it a real struggle.

I started by stating that I could never preach in my home church because they limit you to 20 minutes. But because Salem has an hour sermon ever week I would do fine. I am geared to talk the length of a history class after all. Introduction, body, conclusion: 55 minutes.

When I finished, the moderator, who I do not know very well, stood up to close and said "This is not just Neal's story. This is my story. This is how I have felt since sending my son back home to go to school after the hurricanes."

I have been getting comments like this all week.

On International Sunday I shared a story that I thought was my story.

But on International Sunday I found that is was all of our story.