May 16, 2009
Nevisian Paradise
Garricks Pasture
Nevis, West Indies

Greetings from Paradise
"An Amazing-Yet Bittersweet-Season"

Dear Friends and Family,

Hello. Hope you all are doing well and able to feel your blessings daily. There are lots of changes in the world and in our lives, even down here in Nevis. As I wrote in my last email, Happy Early Spring, due to Hurricane Omar, the Four Seasons Resort is closed for a while with no firm date set for reopening. That means that approximately one-fourth of the work force is unemployed. These are challenging times for many down here and yet spirits remain high. The people come together as a community, especially the elders who grew up in hard times. I recently spoke with the Principal of our local primary school who shared that she was surprised how resilient the children and local people are; I have felt that myself. When you consider the history of most of our friends, you gain an understanding that you can’t read about but only experience by living among the strength and belief of the people. They always find something to be grateful for “Good enough,” “ make do” and simply stated as “Thank God for life itself.” You may remember that Blind Eileen has been my guru for years with her unquestionable faith in God and Jesus and her gratitude for everything. She is 91 and continues to be blessed with the brightest, clearest mind of any senior that I know. My friend Veronica went out with me to visit her earlier in the year and shared upon leaving, “She is something else.” Now mind you, Veronica is no slouch. In 2008 she was chosen “Person of the Year” in Nevis for singlehandedly leading the effort to build both a community center and lit tennis and basketball courts down the road where the high school boys can congregate, play sports and socialize.

On the economic downturn, people who formerly held high level professional positions are just as proud performing more menial tasks, do their best and are grateful that they are not idle. They do not have ego issues in these areas nor are “ Why me?” “What if?” or “Poor me” part of their mind set. There is no excuse or guilt when they can’t give their children the same toys or treats as before; that’s just the way it is! I recently saw a television program on the local TV station of the student’s performances at St. Thomas Primary school, our local village school and the lyrics went something like, “No matter what life brings, I know I can handle it”and other songs that strongly proclaim “With God’s help, I can do anything” and believe that God will not abandon them. The Nevisian people are religious, but do not wear their religion on their sleeve They have also been extremely respectful of Lee’s and my Judaism and my morning yoga, tai chi, stretch and my twice daily meditation. (When Tari, our now 16 year old island grand, was7, I was meditating on the front verandah and somebody walked up to our gate. Tari warned her, “She isn’t dead, she is “medicating.” Tari wasn’t far off, was she?)

Nevis is a province of the St-Kitts-Nevis Federation, but unlike St. Kitts who is governed by the Federal Government, Nevis has its own government, the Nevis Island Administration, NIA, which runs its own affairs with the premier at the helm. Nevis is wealthy by Caribbean and third world standards and enjoys a literacy rate of 98%, one of the highest in the Caribbean. As I have often said, the Nevisians are a wise, proud people with a long history and culture. When slavery ended, many of the former slaves in the Caribbean continued to work at the plantations, but the forefathers of the Nevisian people were given their own piece of land and so they raised crops and sold what they didn’t need. In many ways, they became entrepreneurs 150 years ago. I think this adds to their accomplishments, pride and carriage. St. Kitts-Nevis is the smallest and youngest country in the Western Hemisphere but have accomplished volumes in the 26 years of independence since 1983. In 1999 when we moved in, almost all of our friends in addition to their homes had another piece of land which they will pass to their children. Yet, they didn’t own a car but walked and depended on vans to drive them to work, shopping or wherever they needed to go. Veronica told me when you buy land, it appreciates; when you buy a car it depreciates as soon as you drive it off the lot.

Nevis will hopefully become the first “green island” in the Caribbean with completion of the initial discovery phase of geothermal energy. It will be awhile yet until the steam-powered energy comes online and we see the reduction in our bill. There won’t be a need to be improvement air quality as there is no air pollution around here. We also celebrated the first Nevis International Film Festival with entries from 12 countries. Lee and I attended the opening night ceremonies and Lee viewed several of the films; he thought the entries from Africa were the best.

This has been a very special year for us on many levels. First the family is well. Tamar and family were here during winter break and we all had a great time, especially swimming with Liam, holding Lucy’s hand on the way to the orchard or just hanging with them having fun. Gayle came down with Willa in March and we loved Willa’s running hugs every morning into our bedroom from the other side of the house, pausing for the last leap up on the bed and into our arms for her morning hug. We are looking forward to visiting Greg’s family in SC and join in Rebecca’s confirmation and seeing Hannah portray Andy Warhol in a school play before we head back to LA in early June. Our daughter Gayle’s book, If I Stay, recently was honored on the New York Times Best Seller list for young adults a month after it came out. And just today we received an email from Gayle in Europe on her book-tour that the long-awaited adoption of Denbele an eighteen month darling little bright-eyed girl from Ethiopia is finalized and Gayle and Nick are the legal parents. We are THRILLED as Lee and I are now blessed with six grandchildren, 5 girls and one boy from our children and just about as many local grands whom we also love and see often.

We have been more involved in local life than ever before and it is extremely rewarding. Whatever we give to the community, we are rewarded a thousand-fold with the love, trust, laughter and friendship. We attended the Mini Olympics, the intramural primary school track meet and the most popular sporting event on Nevis. We were very proud that St Thomas Primary placed second as we also had attended their sports day to see who their finalists would be for the Mini Olympics. We have known many of these young runners since their infancy. The students are stars in their dedication and determination. They are beautiful to behold with their slender silhouette and their magnificent graceful form outlined in the twilight sky. It was fun to see the older children from our village or those who had moved to other villages or those whom we haven’t seen for some years. They saw Lee and me and said, “Hi, don’t you remember me?” Once they told us their names, of course we knew, but as I told them, when we haven’t seen you for years and we now see a teen or young man, your face, voice, carriage and build have changed a lot, but we grow older and become more wrinkled and gray. They laughed.

Runners at St. Thomas Primary School. Winners then complete at the annual
Mini Olympics with the other winners of the other primary schools' Sports Day.

Nevis Peak as backdrop for the Mini Olympics.
Half of the count country turns out for this event.

Sunset at Thomas Primary school Sports Day.

On Tuesday, the day that Lee and I plan activities just for ourselves, weather permitting (but not so much this season!) we mostly go to the beach for a swim, walk or to read. Awhile ago, while we were walking on the beach, we met two women our age from Maine who were on a cruise. They commented on the numerous conch shells spread on the sand and asked each other, “Do you remember as young children, the shells were all over the beach. Now you never see them anymore.” Shortly before we met them, Lee and I saw a man picking up by the bag-full many spectacular corals and shells. He pretended he didn’t understand me when I told and showed him non-verbally not to take our ocean treasures. A few days later, Lee and I came upon a very unusual and large brain coral resembling a woman’s purse with a handle. We threw it back into the sea and later noticed that it had washed back up on shore, so we took it with the intention of giving to the appropriate person in government for local appreciation. To make a long story short, I called a friend in government who directed me to the appropriate department. After we shared it with the students at our local school, we gave the coral to the department of fisheries as the person in charge keeps a collections of these beautiful specimens and visits the schools to share them with the children or displays them at local fairs.

Now this gets real serendipity Greg knows that for more than 30 years whenever I travel, I use the small liquor bottle (that used to be free) and put sand or dirt in it as a souvenir of the event or the trip. In January, Greg had emailed me an article from the New York Times about an organization in Connecticut that collects sand from around the world. I printed the article and after it sat on my desk for a few months, I tossed it out. A few days later, while Lee was in LA, I went to the local Annual Agriculture Fair and lo-and-behold, there was a man from the Department of Fisheries who had samples of beautiful conch shells and other exotic shells and exhibits of sand from 14 of the beaches or bays around the island. It was the same person I had talked to about donating the brain coral. I asked him if he would also be interested in submitting samples of sand and join the International Sand Collectors Association. He said he would and so I gave him the info and prepared the bags for samples. To make a long story short, Nevis will now participate in the international collection of sand. Before Lee and I donated the brain coral, we went to St. Thomas Primary to show the fourth, fifth and sixth graders and also inform them that Nevis Peak was in the process of becoming a National Park. Lee was so impressed by the young student’s questions, “How do they get babies?” “Do they fight”? “How big do they get?” that he arranged to take the fourth grade class to our premier Under the Sea--Sealife Educational Centre owned and operated led by marine biologist Barbara Whitman. Under the Sea offers a hands-on program with aquatic creatures and touch-n-go snorkeling trips.

Brain coral that we found, shared with students
then gave to Department of Fisheries.

The students enjoying the presentation.

Barb sharing the turtle and its habits.

Lee observing the students' interest in aquatic life.

Because of a trend in rapidly rising crime in the Federation, mostly on St. Kitts, related to youth and gang members, the leaders have made reducing violence and crime a top priority, sending appropriate professionals to programs off-island to learn to combat this trend, offers numerous new youth programs and builds more sports centres for the youth in local villages. A gangster-turned performer-evangelist, Gerry Thompson from Jamaica is extremely cool yet inspirational. Webbo, the general manager of VON radio, introduced his music in the Caribbean and plays it often on his morning Inspirational Hour which I try and catch when I am up at 6:00am. The last time I was on VON radio with hostess Juliet Walters, she played a track from Gerry’s CD. The song touched me in the way Elvis Presley’s love songs had touched me 50 years ago, a soft, warm feeling in the gut. The CD track was Gerry Thompson, singing Sonny and Cher’s old song I Got You Babes, but substituted Lord for Babes. Juliet asked me how I liked the music. There we were, three women with differing background, ages, religious beliefs and nationalities yet bonded together with the music--the universal language. A few days later, while I talked to Blind Eileen she asked me if the host on the radio show was “the coordinator of the Gerry Thompson event.” And if so, could she please talk to Webbo at VON radio and ask them to carry the show live so the elderly, infirmed and disabled could enjoy the concerts as well. Bottom line, the concert was carried live. The fact that it was broadcast on VON radio, reminded me of one of Webbo’s past quotes from Benjamin Franklin in response to one of his experiments. Franklin had said, “Many people thought of it, but I acted upon it.” I thought of Blind Eileen and perhaps because at 91 years of age, she had acted upon her thoughts, the concert was broadcast throughout the Eastern Caribbean. Lee didn’t want to go and so Vannessa joined me at the concert where I felt totally at home among the Nevisian people enjoying a moving anti-crime concert in a down-to-earth spiritual connection under the Nevisian evening sky.

On our 47th wedding anniversary, Lee and I hosted a small, intimate and lively Passover Sedar at our home with the most meaningful dialogue that continued till almost midnight. All the guests knew that Passover was also Christ’s Last Supper, but none had before attended a Passover. The bond, love, honesty and comfort that we each felt with our Nevisian friends most whom we have known for over a decade is one of true comradrie. Because of our involvement with President Obama’s campaign, I was again called upon to be on radio commenting on his first 100 days and Lee and I had our first joint radio interview again on Barack Obama. I have also been on radio and television discussing the concepts of my twenty-five year long works, from my book, Communication Is Connection, that combines communication, spirituality and diversity. Yet with all this, one of the most memorable days was a simple day here was a week ago on our local Labor Day when school was closed. On Monday, I didn’t really do anything but take a quick shower and brush my teeth and neither did our island grand and neighbor, Tari. Neither of us were dressed to go anywhere except each other’s home! She asked me if she could type a report for her and her cousin’s history class (9thgrade) on our computer as their printer was out of ink and the stores were closed. She spent about three hours on my computer sitting three feet from Lee who was working at his computer. Vannessa was here and we were taking inventory of what we still need here and what we need to bring next year–always a huge undertaking. Her son Vaughn, our island grandson, was over doing some odd jobs to make some extra money. He is now employed by TDC, one of the most respected companies on the island and on track for career advancement. He found some nonni in our orchard and needed a jar to put them in. I was busy with his Mom and told him to take a jar from under the small bar refrigerator in the kitchen. What hit home was how very blessed we are to be living among such wonderful people and for all of us to be so comfortable and bonded with one another.

More frequent moments are the sounds of our immediate surroundings in the village. The approaching gentle rain as it moves down the mountain toward the sea, fiercely pummeling rain pounds our roof in a lulling beat, gentle breezes as they sway our trees or fierce gales that send our patio furniture screeching across the concrete floor. These sounds along with hammers pounding, lawn mowers and weed whackers rumbling and on a more pleasant note birds chirping and crickets, cicadas, geckos and frogs in nocturnal symphonic harmony. Add to this the lovely sound of local dialect in their lyrical cadence and melodic voices which is spoken at home and with fellow locals. We hear these sounds from Kenneth and Veronica a house below and over one lot and Brian, Dede and Tari across our narrow road. Six mornings a week at the crack of dawn in an immaculate kitchen amidst banter and laughter, Brian and Neetu, his assistant from Guyana, prepare from scratch macaroni pie, salad, steamed vegetables, steamed fish and what our daughter Gayle calls the best BBQ chicken on the island. Our son Greg calls Brian’s scalloped potatoes the best ever. On Saturdays, Lucy our 4 ½ year old grand and I think Brian’s fish chowder is superb. Brian owns and operates, Schat’s Corner, a popular snackette on the main road in the middle of Charlestown, our capital. At noon, the snackette is packed with locals who are willing to wait twenty-minutes in line until its their turn to order. When Tamar’s family was here at Christmas, Lucy loved to visit Brian and Neetu in the mornings to hand-deliver golden apples that we had just picked from the orchard and to get some delicious, healthy requisitions for the day.

So with these very special blessings and memories of the season, I leave you with some of my favorite of the sunrise, sunset and rain. The beauty of these are in the morning, easterly view from our back verandah of Nevis Peak, the backdrop for our sunrise, moon rise or rain coming down the mountain. The sunsets were taken from Sunshine’s Beach Bar and Grill. Lee and I pause each day to reflect and look at the sunset and give thanks for the day and its beauty. All these are day-to-day treasures and gifts that one can experience on a small, peaceful island with no social strata. I hope the stories and pictures that I share will somehow inspire you to live life as fully as you can each day because in reality that is all we ever have is the present moment. These memories, our children and grands and friends like you are blessings for which we are eternally grateful.

When I woke up and opened the shutters, this is the gift that greeted me,
a glorious good morning and much needed rain.

A new moon among the rays and Saturn hidden behind one of them.

One of my all time favorites. The colors were magnificent and the day among friends.
Taken from Sunshine's Bar and Grill.

The sun is setting as we view from our verandah.
It is a HALLELUJAH moment as we again thank God.

As you can see, this season has been remarkable for us. If it were not for the myriad of global and domestic here and in the US, wars, profound struggles and sacrifice facing much of humanity, this place and year would be Camelot. But a thread of daily occurrences on the world front weave in and out of my psyche each day and there is a sadness and concern that also sits in my heart and soul. And so I count my blessings and at the same time ask God and the universe to help those who are in need to get though this challenging time so the world and our planet will be a better place for our children and grandchildren. In my heart, I believe it will happen.

Love and later,