January to March 2009
Nevis, West Indies
Greetings from Paradise
"Happy Early Spring"
Dear Family and Friends,
This letter started out as a New Year's Greeting but the year has been so hectic that I decided today to clear my schedule and work on this email. I have thought of each of you during these months and wondered how you are enjoying our new president and also how you are coping with the economic downturn hanging over and the very cold winter weather--especially you in Ohio. Here in Nevis, Lee and I closely follow President Obama’s proposals and support most of his policies. We continue to receive emails from Organizing for America, the outgrowth ofwww.BarackObama.com, and respond to what is asked.
Life is different here now as it is everywhere. People here feel great hope and optimism. Yet even with the people’s great faith in God, profound hope, belief and optimism in Barack Obama’s upcoming presidency, they feel a change in the wind with the uncertainty of the times. Along with the global economic downturn, Nevis is especially hit hard with hurricane Omar’s pounding us in October, 2008, thus again closing indefinitely The Four Seasons Resort and the lay off of about 25% of the local work force. Tourism is the primary industry so almost everyone we know is somehow impacted. While there are limited funds provided by the Four Seasons and Nevis government, there are no unemployment checks nor food stamps. People become very creative, entrepreneurial and work together to help one another.
For the holidays, Tamar, Robert, Liam and Lucy came in from Seattle and we had a great time. Lucy had been to Nevis only once before in 2006 after I was medevaced to Puerto Rico. Lucy, then 2, was here with our oldest daughter Tamar and Lee to pack up the house. I had been here with Liam when he was just a toddler in 2003 and Robert hadn’t been here since my 60th in 2000, so their visit was a huge treat! After my parasite in 2006, when we had decided to sell the house my telescope along with our art was shipped back to LA. At that time, I promised Lee whatever was shipped back to LA wouldn’t return to Nevis; never the less, I missed my star and planet gazing. Last fall, Steve at a local camera shop and our friend Bob Burns told me a good pair of binoculars would be good enough to view the moon, planets and stars. So this year, Tamar brought down a pair of binoculars and tripod. Before we left LA, Steve came to our home one night and showed us where to look for star clusters. The first time I peered through my new toy and saw hundreds of new stars among old familiar constellations, I couldn’t believe my eyes! The awesome, sheer beauty of our universe in all its brilliance and order were magnificent beyond words! It paralleled the breathtaking surprise of the first time we drove through the Wawona Tunnel at Yosemite National Park decades ago and saw Yosemite Valley with Half Dome on our right and El Capitan on our left unfold in front of our eyes. That astonishing, breathtaking instant years ago replayed here as I peered though the binoculars to view the heavens above. When Robert, Tamar's husband, Liam our 7 year old grandson and then in February Gayle, Willa and our neighbor, Brian, saw the stars, they, too, were in mouth-dropping awe as we gazed at the night sky. It was a big WOW moment for each of us. The constellations are so easy to find this time of year and looking through those binoculars have been my entertainment for many nights. I sit on the front steps and gaze up to our spectacular universe in all its magnificent glory! We can even do this in Woodland Hills, though not surprisingly, the sky is by no means as clear, the panorama as broad nor the stars as abundant!
During Tamar’s visit, her and my favorite fruit, the golden apple bore over 2,000 of these delicious fruits and so we gave huge bags away. The children from our village enjoyed them as well as the hugs, sweeties and talks. The golden apple and the mangoes which bloom in the summer are always a juicy, dripping delicacy for everyone as they are so delicious and bear only once a year. Tamar and I enjoyed the golden apple with juice dripping down our face. We even cut and froze jars full for later in the spring.
Lucy and I would hold hands and walk down to the orchard and pick or shake off the limbs what we could reach before the monkeys or birds ate our treats and share them with neighbors. When Willa was here with Gayle in February, she and I walked down to the orchard to pick flowers for her Mommie. One day, Willa and I drove around looking for monkeys but couldn’t find any. On her last day, she excitedly came to Lee and me and said, "There is a big monkey outside. Come look, but he may be gone when we get there” I thought she was joking, but Lee guessed she really saw a monkey. Sure enough, there was huge monkey jumping the fence with a soursop in its mouth.
In among the family visits, Lee and I have been more involved in local life than ever before and spending time with the youth in our village as they come for a chat, a sweetie and a hug. Most of the young children--junior high school age--are very open and it is wonderful to have their trust, friendship and share their laughter. We continue to support local activities when we can, baking birthday cakes when no others will be forthcoming. Lee has started soaking his foot at The Baths, our local mineral baths enjoyed by Lord Nelson during the colonial period. Lee said it is a real social hour in the mornings mostly frequented by local people of all ages who gather to soak and chat. I was a reader at our village primary school celebrating Literacy Day last week. Gayle had just been here with Willa who left one of her books, When Sophie Gets Angry-Really, Really Angry... The story is about a girl who gets very angry while playing with her younger sister. As I read the story and showed the picture of Sophie, her face contorted in anger with fire spewing out of her mouth like a volcano (which hit home as our neighboring island, Montserrat has an active volcano) a few of the children shouted out, "SHE IS UGLY!" So we talked about feeling angry, sad and happy. The book teaches a positive response to anger by showing that when you are angry, if you go outside connect with nature, feel the breeze, look at the trees, see the sea, you feel better. The school sports's field is a natural to make those words come alive into a vivid reality for the children, so I asked the teacher if we could go out on the ball field and look at the clouds passing by, birds flying overhead, palm trees swaying in the distance, the wind blowing through the air or the beautiful colors of the sea. The book had almost parallel examples and the children loved mimicking the movement or sounds of the trees, clouds and wind. I told the children there are many children all over the world who don't have toys, clothes, treats or enough food but that the children here in Nevis are very blessed to have all this beauty right outside; fish in the sea, chickens, fruits and vegetables that grow right in their yards or gardens in our villages. I told them there are places where pollution is so bad that it stings your eyes, makes the air harder to breathe or feels dirty on your skin. Tall buildings are so big that children living there can only see a little bit of the sky and clouds. The children here already have an appreciation of our beauty as the entire school gathers on the school’s front patio for their daily assembly before school begins where they collectively pray and give thanks for each other, teachers, family, God and country and, share their thoughts and feelings. It is a wonderful way to begin the communal experience of school and feel a part of the greater community of our little island and home, Nevis. As we walked back to class, they each wanted to hold my hand and so I promised that I would give each a hug before I left the classroom. The freedom and opportunity to interact and have a positive impact here is so easy. There is neither red tape nor concerns about law suits. The young children are trusting as they have no reason not to; there is no fear of being kidnaped. In 1991 when Rebecca, then 7, came to Nevis flying alone from Atlanta where Greg had taken her to Puerto Rico where Lee met her, she said she loved the freedom to roam the village with her friends. Having said all that, with the Four Seasons Resort’s closure and the availability of movies, internet and their glamorization of violence and crime, robberies are on the rise.
One of our local grands, Jelani, a neighbor whom we have known and loved dearly for nine years surprised everyone and came back for a 3 week break from college in Taiwan. Gayle was in Nevis and she and Jelani each shared some of their experiences in China and Taiwan over breakfast on the verandah. We sent Jelani back to Taiwan with an authentic Barack tee shirt and pin. That will certainly go over big!
The picture of the rainbow below was taken while some of the teen-age boys in our village whom we have known for years stopped by our home. As always, I give the children I have known hugs when they come to our home and suggested that in these challenging financial times when we all are buying less, that they hug their parents and grandparent and special adults in their lives. I told them hugs are free, don't increase blood pressure or cholesterol and usually feel nice, comfy and warm. We even spent time appreciating the beauty of a gorgeous rainbow over the mountain as I did with the kindergarten class last week, I previously had emphasized the beauty that people here in Nevis have that many others in the world never experience because of war, pollution or drought. Below is a picture from our back verandah of the rainbow one of the boys from our village took.
Enjoy the double rainbow. .
Surprise, surprise, surprise, I also have a kitten called Happy. On January 2, Tamar and Robert's last day here, we were finishing breakfast on the front verandah when I heard this horrible sound and asked what that was as I knew an animal was in distress. A minute or two later, a tiny, adorable, beautiful kitten walked up our steps and my son-in-law Robert picked it up, cuddled and gave it some yogurt off his finger. I can still hear Tamar say, "Mom, look you have a kitten!" and my strong response, "NO WAY"! Liam and Lucy insisted we keep the kitten for a day and I figured, they were leaving the next morning, so I would deal with it then. We made a make-shift bed and fed it leftovers and Lucy named the kitten Happy. It was holiday week-end so the vet was closed. The next morning we fed the kitten and then the family left. I figured, I wouldn't feed the kitten that evening in hopes that it would return to its family. With mostly relief--and yet a twinge of sadness--Happy was gone the next morning. started gardening and talking with Lee when lo and behold, Happy crawls through the back fence from the weed covered field behind us. So the following Monday, I called the vet and explained that Happy would be an outside cat and that we were here till June and then people are here 5 days a week for one reason or another. The vet said that Happy would be fine by then and able to forage for herself (which she already does) and so I have a kitten. One night shortly after she arrived while going down the back steps, I tripped on her as she unexpectedly came from behind between my feet. For a few moments, she lay almost motionless and I thought that was it, but she survived--shocked but not hurt. Within a few minutes, she was walking around. When Lee was back in LA for 3 weeks in January, Happy would sit by me on the side steps leading down to the orchard as I gazed at Venus, the stars and moon. She loves to follow me when I go down to the orchard as she leaps ahead of me and then pounces as I approach her. When I garden, she slithers through my flower beds as if she were in the jungle.
Never thought I was a cat person, but you never know what’s in store. Tamar often reminds me, “Happy found you; you didn't look for her.” She really is sweet, loves to play and is fun to have around. One of my teen-age neighbors loves cats said he would feed Happy when Vannessa couldn’t come. Tamar assured me Happy would be waiting when we returned so I put out to the universe that Happy would be here on our return, which she was.
Below is Happy. Even if you aren’t an animal lover, you must admit, she is beautiful and sweet!
Happy's little face shortly
after she arrived.
Happy relaxing on my yoga strap.
Lee and I often stopped by the bogs one of the areas we like to explore and came across an egret’s nesting area which I later shared with Jovie, Orville and Ernestine’s daughter. We also had a hummingbird nest which I almost accidently ruined. While Lee was gone, Dwight, one of the electricians was here trying to fix the generator. I trimmed the vine from the door for better access when I noticed there was something on the ground. Not having my glasses on, I asked, "What is that strange looking stone?” Dwight said that it was a humming bird’s nest and there were two tiny black fuzzy balls in it. I asked him to please try and hang it on a lower, protected branch and so began my two week daily relationship with the hummingbirds. Below are some of my favorite photos shots of birds of the season.
Two baby hummingbirds shortly after Dwight placed
their nest back on a limb.
One hummingbird already left the nest. The second one was still here for
Willa, our granddaughter to see in February.
One day later, the bird flew the coop.
One of my favorites of the season taken on the steps
to our front verandah.
Egret, king or queen of the tree top. Isn't it beautiful?
As I mentioned earlier, the Four Seasons Resort has closed down which has significantly impacted on most of our friend’s lives. Along with working for us 3 half days a week, Vannessa, our housekeeper, worked part time at the Four Seasons and sold golf balls to their guests. Fortunately, her son Vaughn, whom Lee had mentored over the years, has a job at our equivalent to Home Depot and so he is able to help her. Lee and I help her as well with food and extras for the children. Also fortunately for all, our orchard has been plentiful in supplying bananas, bittersweet (a tart orange), limes, sugar apple, soursop, guava, pineapples, mangoes, golden apples and some fruit is always in abundance and so Vannessa always has fresh juice for her family. I once had asked her, "What did you do when you didn't have (as there is no government support), she replied, "We made do." If you ask a local person, "How are things going?” they will never complain, but respond "Good enough" They are very stoic and have unwavering faith that they will have enough. Until now, their prayers have always been met. Their daily example of how to live positively impacts me always. Their belief, journey and incredible wisdom has been and is a powerful source which has helped me so very much over the years when I had my own challenges and I share these with you so that hopefully they will brighten your day.
If you ever have the opportunity to listen to VON radio (www.vonradio.com) at 3:50 am PDT or 6:50 EDT do so. When I am up at 6:00, I listen for the Morning Inspiration Show with Webbo, the same man who hosted Let's Talk the night of the Inauguration. The Morning show is truly uplifting and shows a strong positive, uplifting component of the Nevisian culture that I love so much and touches me so deeply. He closes the last 10 minutes with a quotation of the day. Here are some of my favorites: "Death is more universal than life, everyone dies but not every lives.” “God Gives us a canvas of life, remember to throw all your paint on it.” “Just because you can't do something, don't let that prevent you from what you can do.” “There are two ways to meet your difficulties, either change the difficulties or change yourself to meet them.” “Everyone is a potential winner, some people are disguised as losers. Don't let their appearance fool you." He ends his broadcast with his beautiful Nevisian voice and accent saying, "When you journey is hard and your vision not so clear and life doesn't seem to go as it should, always remember that life isn't fair, but God is good." I send energy for the days ahead and a beautiful springtime.
Love and later from Nevis, Please let me hear from you as well.