August 3, 2002
Nevis, West Indies
Greetings from Paradise
"What's a Typical Day, Aunt Ruthie?"
To answer my niece Debra, AThere is no such thing as a typical day; whatever you think is going to happen just isn't." We are ending our third season down here, living in our home, and our eleventh season coming to Nevis. Each day that I am blessed with here is punctuated with a multitude of pauses as I gaze somewhere God-created and say "thank you" from the deepest part of my heart and soul.
We begin each day opening the bedroom shutters, looking to the left to see the mountain and the right to see the sea. Most always, I say, "Thank God for the day that you have has given me, I will be glad and rejoice in it." My friend, Lee Bowrin, shared that with me our first season; it is Jewish thanks to God as well. During tourist season, Lee is on the veranda--binoculars in hand--scanning the horizon to see what is cruising our waters. After I am up, I do a morning combination of stretch and yoga on a mat on the front veranda overlooking the sea and the 350 year old Anglican church. The neighbors, children and I greet each other on their way to work and school and Lee takes off for his morning six mile run down to the beach and up the mountain--that is when he doesn't have a bum heel or nursing another sports injury.
Note: Captions for the pictures can be viewed by placing the mouse pointer over a picture.
Our daily routine is usually very busy except for Tuesdays and Saturdays which we try to keep for ourselves, play, relax, swim, read or snorkel. On the other days, Lee and I have NEVER worked so hard in our lives. We usually wake up between 4:00am and 7:30am, mostly around 6:00am. Fans must be turned on, gardens watered, lots of laundry as we often change three times a day, chores and shopping lists planned for the day. Vannessa, a bright, cheerful, capable woman comes to help two half days a week and so the house must be organized so she can begin. Plants must be watered in the early morning or late afternoon, trash taken down the mountain to the village pick-up either on our way out or walked down and a general follow-up on what wasn't completed the previous day. The phone system though very good for the Caribbean takes three times as long to get through as we are used to. The line is busy, the system is busy or the person at the other end is not there. At present there are few automated phone systems, so a pleasant voice greets you with "Good morning," "Good afternoon" or "Good evening." We are generally not put on hold--yet! Once a week, water, electricity, internet, TV cable service are disrupted but it is quite an improvement from when we moved here in 1999. The government has significantly improved the infrastructure including a new island road, our village road, airport terminal and hospital wing which I will get into later. People often do not show up when they are supposed to, having legitimate reasons: had to take a family member to the hospital, the part wasn't in, my brother needed me. These are not excuses but legitimate reasons; Nevis is a culture where family needs come first; inconvenient as it may be for us punctual Americans, I respect and admire that attitude. I have learned that when the service people arrive, they are honorable, respectful and extremely capable. If there is something that can't be done, they will tell you and try and find the answer. If a technical problem has not been fixed, we will not be charged for the services, for their time or travel; just the way on the island. We also have two gardeners, Ricky and Laurel who come one afternoon a week each; Ricky takes care of the property around the main house, trimming, weeding and sometimes mowing the grass when we are off-island or Lee is nursing a sport's injury. Lee prides himself on mowing the grass and edging on both properties, the house and orchard.
Laurel takes care of the orchard, trimming, weeding and mulching the fruit trees and maintaining my zinnia patch in the orchard and our tiny ghat--creekbed. Laurel is artistic having created a beautiful rock bank for the water flow at the far end of the orchard. I maintain the flowers, trimming, moving, nursing and run the >flower hospital= on the back verandah which can be as many as many as ten pots from cuttings. In the first two years, I started 40 bougainvillea to grow about 15 plants. This our third season, I used half the cuttings to fill in the few spots that were crying for flowers but was able to give the majority away to neighbors in the village. Along with boiling our cistern drinking water twice a day, WE DO LOTS AND LOTS OF COOKING!!!! As Lee and I are mostly vegetarian and there are no take-outs with the food that we eat, we constantly cook. This year, I learned to make ice-cream with silk soy milk, bread from a bread-maker with a wonderful basic recipe that can be converted to many different breads and numerous salads that are always in the fridge. There is always baked cake or goodies for guests available and as much of the local fruit, passion fruit, guava, soursop, mangoes and whatever delicacies which God has blessed this magical speck of land. Lee has mastered the barbecue and makes a delicious mock chopped liver with lentils, onions, hard boiled eggs and walnuts and I have learned to make a lipsmackin' cheesecake with tofu. And so we don't starve. Friends who fish bring us local wahoo, snapper or other delights from the sea and neighbors and friends teach us the secrets of johnny cakes, pumpkin soup and pancakes; YUM, YUM, YUM! We get our eggs, free-range chicken and turkeys delivered fresh or frozen from Oliver, the owner of the Nevis Egg Farm. With the opening of the first supermarket, we have more vegetarian items to choose from than in the United States--though food is 30-50% higher here than in California. It still takes visits to three stores to find the food for the week as none carry every item that we like. As containers come in weekly, Friday is the best time to shop, so icechest in tow, we begin our journey into town, stopping first at the central market and Amethyst for our weekly chat and purchase of the local and imported fruits vegetables. We stick with local produce except apples, lemons (sometimes hard to find) and pears as we have discovered that the 1500-to-3000 mile journey takes away from the flavor just as the reverse is true for pineapple, mangoes, papaya that one buys in the States. Often after the anticipated three stops, we can't complete our list. Lee has a rule of thumb, if you can't find what you are looking for, substitute or do without. When you find it, buy at least three and sometimes a case. An item may be there in December (light mayonnaise, caffeine free diet cola) and you won't see it again until July. Flavors of Gaterade, lemonade, bread are catch as one can, as you may not see your favorite for months to come. A woman from abroad responded when asked, "What do you miss?" She exclaimed, "VEGETABLES!, particularly jicima" (non-existent here, artichokes and asparagus are seasonal here and at best have "aged" in their journey from abroad).
As I mentioned, a week is not marked without either the electrical outages, internet or cable service interrupted or water lines breaking. It just wouldn't be Nevis without them, but all areas of the infrastructure show improvement every year. These events more than anything remind us that we are in a third world country as far as conveniences. Though as far as values of children and education, Nevis is on the top of the list for FIRST WORLD!! It is a TINY country, 36 square miles with a MIGHTY SPIRIT. The children feel equal to any in the world; Nevis boasts a low crime rate and 98% literacy rate, the highest in the western hemisphere. Most children with the sparkle still flashing in their eyes and the freedom to roam throughout the village and our new ball field have good self-esteem. Sayings posted everywhere encourage good feelings. Love and discipline are strong components in raising well-behaved, polite, tolerant, responsible and loving human beings.
I spend much of my sparse spare time enjoying weather, rain, clouds, sky, stars, birds, sounds, sunsets, moon and the children in our village. Our Sabbath, Friday night to Saturday night, is the most peaceful day and the only day not packed with chores. Lee and I try and commune with nature, mostly going to the beach, for a ride, sitting, reading, listening to music or occasionally watching TV. The children in our village know that it is not a day to come calling even though we always greet each other as they walk past our fence or down our mountain road. Once every other month, I get a massage and facial, both among the best that I have had anywhere in the world!! (For a tiny spot on the planet, Nevis has sooooo much to offer!!!!)
The first year in Nevis (1999-2000) following my by-pass surgery eight months earlier were hectic. A crew of six builders were here from 7:30 in the morning until 3:00 every afternoon day and a new crew came from 4:00 until 7:00 in the evening. Even though there was very little peace and quiet, we managed to watch sunsets and go swimming; and I thanked God for every second Lee and I were on this magical isle. I managed to begin an ecology program in our local village school and a few workshops and lectures toward the end of the year. There was rarely a day when somebody did not come to visit, either friends from other parts of the island or the children from our village. I discovered one of the boys, a fifth grader, who was rather testy, couldn't read so I taught him and he learned quickly. At the time, there were very few Hooked on Phonics Programs in the schools; there is one at the local school now. The young man learned quickly and within two weeks could identify which sound went with which letter, especially the consonants; vowels were more challenging. It amazed me how quickly he learned. By the end of the year, he was reading words and sentences. (He is now in junior high and doing much better in school.) Greg, Karen and Rebecca came at winter break and celebrated the millennium and Gayle and Nick came in March for their first visit to our Nevisian Paradise. Our granddaughter, Rebecca returned for a week in the summer, flying by herself from Atlanta to San Juan where Lee picked her up. She went to school with the local children and fit right in. Most of all, she loved the freedom that the children had, roaming quite a range within our village and not fearing a thing. Our hiking group also came to Nevis for a week and it was great fun.
The second year was less stressful and I became involved in the community, giving lectures and writing "Greetings from Paradise." The children from our village continued to come and play with the toys and games on the veranda (seven-year-olds play chess) or just hang around. We had less daily visitors and life began to settle down. We spent much time in our garden, spent a little more time enjoying Nevis, swimming, going to the gym twice weekly, Sunshine' Beach Bar and Grill on Sundays and occasionally dancing on the beach under the stars at Nisbetts' Plantation or the Four Seasons. There are now three bands, Satimbu, Caribbean Roots and All Stars Steel Band to which we rock or sway. The second year, I also celebrated my 60th birthday here with all of our family except Nick who came with Gayle again in the spring. Tamar and Robert also surprised us with the news that they were going to try and start a family and Greg and Karen learned that Rebecca would have a baby sister next July. Tamar--three months pregnant--visited us by herself and thoroughly enjoyed the local fruit.
After spending some time getting to know our two newest grandchildren, Hannah and Liam and visiting with Gayle before her departure on the around-the-world trip with her husband, Nick, we arrived for our third season later than usual. Now we are ending our third season which has been the best of all. Lee and I have adjusted to life down here, spending many hours under the same roof in rhythm that works most of the time. We have played more this season than ever, enjoying the swimming, dancing, stars and our local friends. This season was highlighted with my longest California friend of 33 years, Colleen, coming for a week which we mostly had to ourselves as Lee returned to California for one of his business trips. Our 40th anniversary was celebrated with Greg, Karen, Hannah and Rebecca's company and Lee's 65th birthday (he's now socially secure) just enjoying a beautiful day in Paradise with each other. We were fortunate to visit with all of our family in the States in May and attend a family get together with most of Lee's family. For Lee and I, it has been a year being connected to Gayle and Nick as they travel around the world. With that incredible phenomenon--the internet--learning patience while we are often disconnected, we have been able to keep in touch with each family member (especially Gayle and Nick or their world trip), talk on net2phone at significantly reduced prices and learn about places where Gayle and Nick are traveling. We love the photos we received of our grandchildren and emails from family and friends. Who knew when we bought the land here in 1995, that we would all be so accessible to each other.
After being in the hospital every season with debilitating dizzy spells, sometimes lasting three weeks, learning from a knighted alternative doctor, Prof. Dr. Sir Charles McWilliams, that the sixteen old mercury fillings in my mouth were the cause of my last ten years of dizzy spells and having half of them removed in the US for $200 a filling and the other half in St. Martin this spring FOR A TOTAL of $234.00, I have been blessed with much better health. My spirit has been free for the first time in my life and I have found the path that seems to keeps me well. I exercise at least five days a week. The gym has closed in the morning and a new yoga class has just begun three mornings a week overlooking St. Kitts-a breathtaking experience in more ways than one. This year, we gave our support to Barbara Whitman, a marine biologist from Connecticut, who came to Nevis with a shift of wind while leading a tour. She has opened an educational, snorkeling centre called "Under the Sea" (www.undertheseanevis.com) at Tamarind Bay which is site of the most pristine snorkeling that we have experienced and serves as a nursery for sealife. We swam among lobster, squid, octopus, a multitude of colorful fish and even saw our first damsel fish--a striking sea creature with bright yellow tail, black velvet body marked with purple and turquoise iridescent spots. Barbara offers lecture, interactive classes and snorkeling for the local children and tourist. Her winning, outgoing personality is helping some of the local children take a different look at the sea; their experiences haven't been pleasant. Most of the local children are afraid of the water and don't swim. The government is offering swimming classes and encouraging children to learn to swim. (Nevis suffered a terrible disaster in 1970 when an overloaded ferry, the Christina, capsized between the two islands--St. Kitts and Nevis--killing approximately 225 people. There is not a family that I know who didn't lose a relative during that tragedy. It was equal by comparison to the September 11 event in the United States in 2001. Even this last week (7/02) a fishing boat capsized in rough seas five miles out; one of the fishermen was reported missing. A weak swimmer, he told his brother and the two other fisherman to swim for help. During his long ordeal, he did not respond to fear, but kept God and the love for his children, girlfriend and Mother in his heart. Thank God, the current and God's saving grace carried him to safety on a beach in Nevis.
In February, after Colleen left and Lee was stateside, I felt lonely for about a second, when lo and behold, I heard little voices coming up our village road. The voices belonged to the two-year-old group at Naomi's Day Care, our local village nursery and day care center built by Pastor Douglas (He does wonders for the community!!) in honor of his wife Naomi. I said, "Good morning" and invited the group in the gate. They came up on the veranda and we chatted. I offered them some oranges and we put on some music. We would soon become friends and they would return to our front veranda for snacks, story time and dancing to lively songs that Tamar had given me that she plays with our grandson Liam. They love walk or run around the house and we stop and learn the color of flowers. The ten children are delightful, all sitting still while I took their picture which now hangs in their classroom. When I was in the orchard one morning, they were taking their morning stroll and walked over and each got a flower to take back to their class. They are all very polite and even at two years old use napkins, wastebaskets and "thank yous." They also now have children's music from our nephew's group, Parachute Express.
I have also gone back into the schools with the ecology program which now includes car safety as Nevis boasts a brand new non-bumpy, modern road, with many speeders on its path. So "buckle up" has become a new slogan and learning that going faster may be macho, but it may cost a life. Unfortunately, there have been fatalities and stiffer penalties and fines were quickly been invoked to enforce the speeding laws and save lives. The old road had almost 30 years of wear and tear carving deep pot holes which prevented one from speeding. We can now get to a destination in half the time-within the speed limit, so you can just imagine how unwieldy the old road was. We also have a new air-conditioned emergency room, laboratory and radiation department at the hospital along with a classy, new state-of-the-art airport terminal befitting a most upscale destination. When we started coming in 1991, the terminal was a covered one room building with no walls, a gravel entrance and parking lot. The new terminal and extended run ways are quite an improvement, lifting us out of the dark ages into 21st century world class travel with non-stop connections from San Juan, saving one leg of the long journey.
This season, we have not seen much of Kenneth and Veronica as they have been busy spearheading the construction of a shelter and stadium at our village ball field. A gentleman and fisherman, "Escape," had the vision, but Kenneth and Veronica are carrying the ball. I have nicknamed Veronica, "World class beggar for worthy causes." We have missed the gentle nights under the star-studded sky framed by Nevis Peak sitting on their Taj Mahal, a beautiful circular floral, garden raised slightly above their lawn. But when we see them, we always thoroughly enjoy their company and wisdom.
Thank goodness, they only live a house a two lots away and Veronica and I can get deeply engrossed in discussion over the fence or on the phone. We also have enjoyed the Bowrins and their three children. Lee stops by for surprise visits with her three lovely children and we are invited to most family and school affairs.
Lee and I have had lively discussions on numerous topics. And, of course, we still love the children in our village who come to play especially now that school is out ( mid-July till early September). Our neighbors and their cousins, Tari, Janella, Iziah, Quincy, Jermari, Felicia, Lee and I will have an impromptu silly walk down the mountain or a fun time playing ball, eating peanut butter and jelly, crackers with orange juice on the veranda listening to music. Jelani, our neighbor at the base of our village, has been a God-send helping us with the computer. At 17, he is a whiz, fixing a problem that neither Microsoft, Canon or our camera shop in California could resolve. He circumvented all their negatives and found the path so that my new Windows XP could communicate with my vintage digital camera.
About four or five times a season, we join the congregation at our local Pentecostal church lead by Pastor Douglas. The spirit is very humanistic and inclusive and Lee and I always feel extremely welcome. They are very respectful of our Jewish heritage and many of the sermons are from the Old Testament. Their music deeply touches and uplifts the spirit and reminds Lee and I very much of our B'nai Horin our spiritual community in Los Angeles. Our nine month granddaughter, Hannah, who was visiting with Greg, Karen and our granddaughter, Rebecca, was in awe of the music. For one hour, with the perspiration on her little cheeks, she sat enthralled by the people, music and the spirit as Lee and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary with this congregation and received blessings from Pastor Douglas.
This year, Lee and I again remained for Culturama, an annual ten-day celebration of emancipation from slavery. Entertainment including soca, calypso competitions, arts and crafts, drumming, dance, plays, comedy, satire, beauty pageants, food fairs, parades and street jammin' create the wonderful, jubilant mood that pervades Nevis. The atmosphere is spirited, yet peaceful with good fun keeping alive the ancient customs and dance of the Nevisian culture along with new local talent. The Mr. and Miss Talented Youth Pageant competition of two person teams from each of the six elementary schools presented some of the most fantastic talent we have seen--even BROADWAY, doesn't have better!!! The nuance and insights in the skits, dance and drumming were quite phenomenal for young children of elementary school age. Along with a heavily-laden class load of math, reading, writing, grammar, spelling, social studies, science, geography and history starting first grade (computer skills come later), preservation of the local culture includes dance drumming, art, music and values. We especially enjoy the concerts, satire, youth talent shows and the local bands, Wildfire, Kasanova and Ultra Sonics who lead the Emancipation Day J=Ouvert Jam beginning at 6:00am, (though scheduled for 4:00am). It is in amazing spirit to be jammin= with the local people as we slowly converge in the small capital, Charlestown, along with bands and people coming from the other side of the island. The bands are on flat bed trucks leading the way with the loud speakers keeping everyone lively and joyful. The day culminates in a 36 hour musical celebration with the local bands and other bands from throughout the Caribbean at Herbert's Beach and a parade with jammin= in Charlestown. Lee and I participate in awe at the joyous and peaceful atmosphere as we listen and move to the distinctive local beat of the music. It is wonderful to see many friends from all over the island and we are greeted with tremendous warmth and sharing. Participating in Heritage Day and Culturama, I sensed the joy and distraction the entertainment also played to uplift the spirit during the former unjust, inhumane, holocaustic days of slavery over three hundred years ago.
During this playful time, Lee and I also take advantage of the warm mornings and evenings for a nice long swims with the sunrise or sunset, each presented with soft hues of pink, peach, mauve, gray and white or whatever God decides to put on the pallette for the dawn or dusk of the day. The seas are unusually warm and calm and there appears to be an abundance of fish this time of year (maybe they are here for Culturama, too)! We swim among schools of silver, periwinkle blue with yellow tails, goldfish, black guppies, yellow and black striped angel fish at Paradise Beach, just seven-tenths of a mile below our house. We usually spot a fish that we are unfamiliar with and so make a new friend each time. Though the days are hot and most humid adding to my physical discomfort, the mornings and nights are wonderful, peaceful and, balmy.
As we pack-up (three week process of laundering, cleaning cupboards, emptying refrigerators and freezers, inventorying what needs to be brought back next season) paying utilities and leaving instructions, we realize that Nevis may not be for everyone. You have to like yourself and who you are with as there are limited variations of restaurants, no movie theatre, few live concerts or plays and videos which are often a few years old-and of course, no jicima or other yearned for vegetables. But for Lee and I, Nevis continues to be a paradise on earth, where we feel deeply blessed to enjoy and be allowed to contribute in some small way on a daily basis. Our greatest gift besides our health and love of family and friends is STILL the love, friendship and trust of the local people who continue to seek our friendship, company, comfort and love.