For the past two days my body's been warning me: a cold is on its way. By last night it had ripened and turned into a stuffy, streaming mess, complete with long queues of sneezes and the inability to breathe. Philip kindly bought me some over-the-counter cold medicine, the kind that works wonders but that is inscribed with the direst warnings about what it will do to my liver if overused. It helped me eat dinner last night (between sneezes) and to sleep (no sneezing) but when it wore off sometime in the wee hours I lay in bed contemplating when I could take the next dose and doing math in my head. No more than ten pills a day, two pills every four hours ... it didn't add up. All my hours were not covered. So I thought, forget the cold relief, time for the cure.So when I got up, having made myself lie in bed longer than I was inclined to on the theory that bed rest is as good for a cold as medicine (I don't teach classes today, conveniently), I decided to go out into the neighbourhood in search of cerasee. We happen to live through a series of corners replete with old hedges and fences, the kind of environment that cerasee loves. The back wall of the house next to ours is topped with a fence that is green and orange with it. At least it is when I'm not sick. So I gathered up some kleenex, a plastic bag, a handkerchief (for when the tissue ran out), the dog leash and our old, arthritic dog, and off we set.Well, it seems that some kind of gardening had taken place next door; all the cerasee on the fence was dead. So while Anna the dog was sniffing the grass on the other side of the road (it's a LONG leash and a small road) I was peering around at the base of the wall to see if any cerasee had survived. The first batch I found was guarded by a large black and white spider, so I left it alone, but I found and harvested enough for the morning not far away. Then we walked to the end of the road, where I found another fence with a more abundant cerasee crop, made a note for tomorrow, and walked back. I have boiled it now with salt and lime, and am sitting, feeling my head clear. Anna the dog is sleeping. The walk was longer than was comfortable for her, so I gave her a painkiller pushed into a handful of cheddar cheese and she's looking less uncomfortable. The painkillers, which she's been taking since Saturday, have made her far more sprightly than she has been and she and I are inclined to do more exercise than is fully comfortable for her fourteen-year-old hip-dysplasic back legs. But the pills seem to do the trick.The people I live with, the people I am closest to, scoff at bush medicine. My mother never took it that I ever saw, and neither does my husband. Too bad for them. I have a cousin who theorizes that cold and cerasee can't share the same body. When the cerasee goes in, he says, you shudder from the bitterness. And when you shudder, the cold goes out.We'll see.
If someone were to ask me what was the highlight of my year, my answer would be simple:[easy-media med="3108" mark="gallery-a7fH54"]Photos courtesy of Dominic Duncombe, StopMo Pictures.
It's long past time for me to write about Brazil. I spent almost 3 weeks there in May and it changed my life. I'm not certain where or how to start, but the time that I spent there with Marta and her family has taken root inside me and has changed me somehow. It's made me more silent, it would seem, but also made me more contemplative. As I slide into my fifties, it helps to bring the ends of my life together, knitting the past with the present in ways I had no idea would ever be possible when I stood weeping in the parking lot of Pearson College nearly thirty-three years ago. But let me begin at the beginning.My journey to Brazil began on the day I took my Music GCE O-level, though I didn't know it then. It's a day I can remember almost from beginning to end. It started with me sitting at the front room window looking out at the rain pouring over the two huge sisal plants in our front yard, waiting for my mother, or for someone anyway, to take me to my exam. I don't remember anything about the exam myself. All I remember is that everyone else I was close to had finished their exams, had finished their high school life, had got past studying and were thinking about the prom and what came after, and I had a morning exam. The morning was dark, almost wintery, and the rain was hard and real, and the air outside was green with it.I remember nothing about the exam--not where we sat it, though I want to imagine it was the QC music room and not Epworth Hall, where all the other exams had been taken in rows of desks laid out precisely by a math teacher with a yardstick--nor what was on it, but I do remember that when I was collected from the exam it was by my mother who was bursting with excitement. I'd got the scholarship. The scholarship, the one to the United World Colleges. Not to the one I was dreaming about; not the castle in Wales, but another scholarship. This one would take me to Canada, to Vancouver Island, a place I'd never really been aware of. One didn't look west from the Bahamas in 1979. One looked east, across the Atlantic. One looked to England, or maybe, occasionally, north. To the east coast of the USA or the centre of Canada. If one had to. I had to consult a map to find it. Not Vancouver, a city I had heard about; Vancouver Island. I had never know there was an island there. And when I looked at it on a map, I didn't think it was much of an island. More like a small continent, it seemed.So anyway, I went to the United World College on Vancouver Island. Named, fittingly enough then, after Lester B. Pearson, before his name was on Toronto International Airport, it was the first United World College to be purpose built, and the Canadians who built it had thought of everything. Like how many students from different countries to put in a single room. Like how the campus was laid out. Like what we were and were not allowed to do. A grand experiment in the middle of the temperate rain forest of British Columbia.My trip to Brazil began on Vancouver Island at the United World College of the Pacific, where I met Marta. We were friends in our first year, and roommates in our second year, and she introduced me to Brazil, another place I was vaguely aware of but hadn't really imagined into reality. When we left Pearson together, heading back to our respective countries, we promised to visit one another.She made good on her promise in 2001, back when she was pregnant and newly remarried to a man who is a doctor and an inventor. They were in the USA working on selling the computer mouse he had developed, something which, unlike every other mouse (or trackpad) on the market then and now, was designed to fit and support the human hand, and to get to where they were going (California?) they were passing through Miami. Only a hop and a skip to Nassau, and they came to visit, Marta and Julio and Julio's daughter Barbara and, in Marta, their not-yet-born son David.Last year Marta made me make good on my promise, and so this year I spent two and a half weeks in Brazil.My time there left me with questions and inspirations. Questions such as what, fundamentally, was different between Brazil and The Bahamas that left me feeling hopeful while I was in the first country, but close to despair when at home? It cannot be ideas of corruption, or poverty, or political equality; on paper at least, The Bahamas has Brazil beat in all of those areas. Questions like how did a country that was founded, as ours was, on the institution of slavery, raise up citizens who had the audacity to imagine the unimaginable--like a gigantic statue of Jesus Christ erected on top of an already-spectacular mountain, or a cable car linking two equally spectacular peaks when ours has trouble imagining that it needs even one national university? The answer, perhaps, lies in the recognition in Brazil that at least some of its citizens are humans and are worth all the amenities and wonders that are afforded to humans everywhere (I don't think we have quite come to the same conclusion here in the Caribbean). And inspirations like the fact that out of a country that was ruled by right-wing dictatorships for much of the twentieth century could come the kind of democratic upwelling that marked the end of that century and the beginning of a next—a sign that regeneration is possible when all hope is lost.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PBkyf2OsLf4&w=480&h=270]Novie, Fred & strings
... and more to the point still standing, and still able to lift my arms (albeit with some effort).
Sperrit rushed this new year in, with gold paint, newspaper fringe, carnival masks and hats. We were: 3 drums, 2 bells, a conch shell, a scraper, and a bicycle horn. We had one lead dancer and two free dancers. One person had never rushed before. I think she had a good time. I had not rushed on Bay Street in 25 years, and hadn't rushed at all since 1994. I did not die.
I'm waiting for photographs of which I approve to post them.
I apologize to all those who tried, I'm told, to catch my eye on Bay Street and in Rawson Square. I was (1) in the zone; and (2) concentrating on making it to Elizabeth without falling out and embarrassing myself. If I rush next year (which depends on whether Sperrit goes out on Boxing Day (NOT rushing) or New Year's (will be rushing) I may be far more sociable.
But hear this: I had me a good ol' time.
I'm sitting here waiting for video to import/be recognized from the iPad to the iMac. It's taking a little time. Not sure why, but I'm assuming that it's because it's video, and I ought to be patient. This is not something at which I'm awfully good, being patient. Never have been, and once upon a silly time, when I was young and idealistic and not a little stupid, I prayed for patience. I thought the quality would be conferred like a gift, that I'd wake up one bright morning, suddenly and miraculously patient. Not a thing like it. My patience has been tried ever since. If I'm any less impatient than I was thirty years ago, it's because experience has brought the understanding that not everything is as important as it thinks it is.I'm writing this because Christmas Day is drawing to a close and it's one of the oddest that I've spent in my life. It's not the oddest—that distinction would go to Christmas 1992, which I spent with one cousin and one aunt in England, and which had its high points but which also was quite special enough for me to decide never to do it again. I say it's odd because Christmas—this would be my fiftieth, now I come to think of it, now I look at photos taken of my first Christmas—has always been a time for our family to get together and just to hang out, just to be together. For the past 12 years, too, it's been a double family experience; Philip and I have had two Christmas dinners to attend every year (except for that Christmas in 1992 when I was in Cambridge, marooned with my aunt and cousin). This Christmas, we're down to one.But it hasn't been a bad one. It's been quiet, and less active than normal, but the last two days have been oddly peaceful. I visited the graves and took plants—not flowers, but plants—to them. On my mother's the poinsettia planted last year is still growing east of the bougainvillea we planted for my father and south of the rice fern we also planted for him. Those we planted as a family—Mummy, Eddie and me. The poinsettia was planted last Christmas, and on Mummy's birthday this year we planted a flowering aloe plant, which is flourishing and will take over the eastern end of the grave. My mother shares the plot with my father and his family: with him, his sisters Ruth and Eunice, his brother Irvin, his mother, her mother, and presumably her father or grandfather too. It's two graves side by side, one double, the other single, and there's a clan of people within. This Christmas we planted a flowering croton and I have a jasmine plant for the new year. On my grandmother's grave, which is far less populated, holding only my grandmother and grandfather and my uncle the bishop, we placed a palm. The lilies that were planted last year are still thriving, along with one of the crowns of thorns we placed there for their birthdays (the other died). That grave is concreted over, so we place plants in pots on it. The palm can cast a little shade, assuming the owners don't come and collect it. We've got another for the eastern end of the grave for the new year.In the garden, two of the orchids are putting out shoots, and one of them didn't bloom last year. My vegetables are coming back well from the hurricane and the aftermath. The basil is thriving, in bushes easily four feet tall, the onions I put down a fortnight ago are happy, the new pepper plants are competing with one another, and one of the new cucumber plants has flowers on it already. The tomato plant is giving us cherry tomatoes, and the aloe plants are fattening up. The bromeliads and orchids I harvested from my parents' garden are also growing, and I'm looking for flowers from them soon, and the roses we planted in honour of our mothers are budding again.I love the quiet of this time, and I love the light, and I love the movement of the air. And so it's been a quiet Christmas, and a different, new sort of Christmas, but I'm not complaining one bit.
It's almost the end of July, and August is around the corner.August has become a strange month for me. When I was a child, all the people I knew and loved were born in August, so it was a month of birthdays, sunshine, poinciana and sultry smothery heat. Well. Perhaps not all the people, but all the people older and closer to me. These were the birthdays that fell in August: my grandmother's first, then my uncle's, then three cousins one after another, and finally my mother's. The August birthdays. The Leos. Ice cream and cake and sitting around in living rooms just talking until the sun went down and the mosquitoes had to be quelled with Baygon. August was a big deal in my mother's family. In my mother's family, we understood that they were the pre-electricity babies; the pre-electricity, pre-fan, pre-a/c babies. They'd all been conceived nine months before, which was in November. They'd been made during the first really cool weather of the year.Now, though, they are dead. All the relatives who surround me now are the top-of-the-year babies: that rush of birthdays that begin in January (now, with our spouses, in December) and continue until July. August grows quiet now, which is strange.But there's another thing about August. It's the month my father died. He stuck it out till after my mother's birthday, and waited for almost a full week after, so that his death wouldn't mar her birthday too much. On August 24th, my father died. He was 49. This year, I am 49, and when August 24th comes around my father will have been dead 25 years.So this month is a month when my mother will be very close to me, having been born in August: my mother, and my uncle, and their mother, and the days throughout the year will be long and quiet and maybe melancholy. There won't be ice cream and cake, unless we decide to celebrate in their honour. And then it'll be the 24th, I'm 49, and I'll be thinking about my father and death.Time to end on a little Hippolyte, I think:
No distance as long as a dim hospital corridor when,coming to the end of it, before turning left, you do not knowif the door you walk to will be openif the bed within will now be empty, strippedif the quick, clipped phone call, "Come now", an hour agowas an hour, half an hour, half of that, a minute, half a minutelate.
For the past month now, I've been engaged in an exercise in marking scripts as an external examiner. I can't say more than that as I am contractually obliged to observe strict confidentiality, but I wanted to share some of the experience. The first is that the marking happens remotely, using a remarkable piece of software that has eliminated the paper from the equation. This has many advantages, especially for me; I've been doing work in cyberspace for the past 12 years or so and am a real fan of computerized, internet everything (even though I still love physical books). As a teacher and former bureaucrat I have seen enough paper to last me forever, and anything that helps me move away from my memories of government offices which are no more than caves made of buff-coloured files stacked above any normal person's head makes me happy. There are disadvantages, such as when everybody's marking at the same time and connectivity slows to a crawl; there was one day I gave up in disgust. But on the whole, the experience has made the experience more flexible and efficient, at least from my perspective. I type faster than I write longhand, which is a help.But for the past month, too, I've been off the grid because of this obligation. I've fluffed deadlines and ducked meetings (I'm normally not too AWFUL about either, though I'm sure Nicholas Laughlin would fundamentally disagree) and have only just been able to save the journal tongues of the ocean from disappearing into oblivion by working over-overtime. Shakespeare in Paradise is coming up and that has its own set of obligations. My life is full and it will only work if I get super-organized. I'm working on that; I've got a home office from which I work now and that helps a little.If anybody wants to know where else my brain has been going besides marking exams, they can follow my twitter feed (@nicobet). I find the 140 characters liberating when I'm snowed under with too much stuff and I also find that some of my best cyberdiscussions are taking place in twitterspace, so if you're interested, go check them out.And for now, ciao.
Some time ago now, the announcement went out that I had published another book. When people began to congratulate me on this, I wasn't sure what they were talking about. Then I realized they were referring to the chapbook Lent / Elegies, a collection of poems that I wrote after the death of my mother. A chapbook is a little different from a book book in that it is smaller, generally comprised of poetry, and it's often done by very small presses, or by the poet herself. My book was a bit of both.Nic Sebastian, an online fellow-poet, created the idea of what she calls the nanopress as a way of publishing collections of poetry. This idea grew out of a number of meditations on the state of publishing, the purpose of poetry, the role of the internet, and the liberation of the word from the page. Here is her description of the nanopress:
The nanopress is a single-publication, purpose-formed poetry press that brings together, on a one-time basis, an independent editor’s judgment and gravitas and a poet’s manuscript. The combination effectively by-passes both the poetry-contest gamble and the dwindling opportunities offered by existing poetry presses, while still applying credible ‘quality control’ measures to the published work.
And here's what she says about the genesis of it:
my personal perspective is that there is no money in poetry and that poetry sits very uneasily in the traditional commercial publishing paradigm. I envision the nanopress as a completely no-profit, non-financial undertaking, with the editor providing editing services on a volunteer basis, the published book sold at cost-price only, and the poetry also delivered free via the web. In the case of Lordly Dish Nanopress, we published book, CD, e-reader and website versions of Nic’s collection. The book and CD are available at no-profit cost-price from the print-on-demand publisher, the e-book is a free download, and the poems (both text and audio) are available free on the website.Be clear why you are doing this: are you trying to make money by selling your poems, or are you trying to get your poems read as widely as possible?
Almost a year ago, Nic put out an invitation for people to submit concepts for nanopress publications to her. She would oversee their production, and she would help get them into print. I spoke to Sonia Farmer, my editor from Poinciana Paper Press, and she came on board, and we submitted the project to Nic. I wrote the poems and sent them to Sonia. She arranged them, discussed titles with me, sourced the cover image (Stan Burnside's fabulous "Age Ain Nuttin But a Number"), corresponded with Nic, looked over proofs, did everything an editor is supposed to do. Lent / Elegies is the result.Nic did all the formatting for us, and even began to work on the audio for me. She has published two of her own chapbooks by nanopress, Forever Will End On Thursday, collection edited by Jill Alexander Essbaum, published by Lordly Dish Nanopress, and Dark And Like A Web, chapbook edited by Beth Adams, published by Broiled Fish & Honeycomb Nanopress. The audio didn't make it yet; Nic had to abandon a lot of her poetry work owing to the interference of what other people might call real life, and I had real problems finding a space quiet enough for me to make recordings that passed Nic's high standards. I'm still working on recording all the poems so that eventually they will all have audio recordings attached and be downloadable as an MP3 file and burnable on a Lulu.com CD. But that will come in time.So here's the thing. Yes, I've published another book. It's called Lent / Elegies and it's a nanopress chapbook. That means you can read the poems for free online, here, or you can download the collection free in ebook form from Smashwords here, or you can order a hard copy from Lulu.com, ($7 + shipping, stamp tax, and 10% duty) here, or buy it from me, which will cost you a flat $3 more per book, as I have to cover the cost of shipping, landing, duty, and delivery, and because I don't like dealing with dollar bills for change.I just love the concept. The book's apparently not too awful either.
Got the following response to my Voter's Manifesto. It was sent privately, for reasons the writer makes clear, but as that individual has encouraged me to post the response and to respond in my turn, I'm honouring the request.
Happy New YearI wish to challenge your Voter’s Manifesto as ill-conceived, emotive and racist. You will notice that I am doing this in a private message rather than a post.I would rather post and challenge publicly, however, unfortunately, foreigners do not have freedom of speech in the Bahamas without fear of consequences, and so I am forced to challenge you in private.I request that you honour my request for anonymity, but I encourage you to post (anonymously) and respond to my challenges in public.I have no argument with your ‘I believe’ section.I suggest that you are being intentionally emotive and encouraging misunderstanding in your ‘I do not believe’ section.‘I do not believe that Bahamians need help, time, or training to deepen and strengthen the democratic project’ I am not sure what you mean by ‘project’ but the Bahamas already has a fully democratic process for electing its leadership so this statement seems gratuitous and a little divisive to me.‘I do not believe that Bahamians need help, time or training to address those problems that our country is struggling with now’ Wow this is an arrogant statement, to suggest that a population of under 400, 000 people has every single skill, knowledge and experience to address the issues faced by the country. In this context I am reading ‘help’ as ‘help from non-Bahamians’ as I don’t see what else it can mean.Let me take an example that is close to your heart ……. COBCOB has been struggling for over 10 years now to transition from a community college to university status.• I question what percentage of Bahamian lecturers at COB became qualified for their job in the Bahamas? I believe over 98% of Bahamian COB lecturers gained their education abroad.• There are a number of foreign lecturers at COB. According to work permit requirements, COB was unable to fill those posts with Bahamians or work permits would not have been granted.Did you mean that you want to get rid of all the foreigners from COB and stop Bahamians going abroad for their education?Let me take another example………. The economy.The two largest industries in the Bahamas are tourism and off-shore banking. Both of these industries rely on foreign investment and international interactions.You might not like Sol Kerzner building Disney Land on Hogg Island, but it is one of the largest employers in the Bahamas, and there were no Bahamians in a position to build at the same level, as proven by Baha Mar, which tried for a number of years to elicit Bahamian investment and failed, and also could not generate the skill set required for high rise construction within the Bahamas.The off-shore banking industry functions through cooperation between the government of the Bahamas and international banks, who generate significant income for the Bahamas.These two industries between them generate the majority of the wealth of the Bahamas and the majority of opportunities for Bahamians. Take away the foreigners and the money of the foreigners and both will collapse, along with the economy of the Bahamas.You may not like the Bahamas’ dependence on foreign industry, but the Bahamas cannot do without it until it generates a broader economic base.Your statements seem designed to elicit anti-foreigner responses.What does it say about a country who shows such little respect for the foreigners legitimately living there?“If you want my vote don’t come waving flags or t-shirts or offering promises of more jobs laying cement, gathering laundry or taking orders for rich white people from abroad.”Are you saying it would be ok if they were rich black people from abroad?I do not think you intended to be so disrespectful to those white foreigners living in the Bahamas, but it is significant that, whilst addressing your agenda of quality of jobs provided by the government, you are comfortable using derogative phrases like this.This document does not match your usual quality of work in my opinion. I think it is significant that you published it on MLK day in the USA and its style is derivative of the ‘I have a dream’ speech.I invite you to defend your words and demonstrate the error of my interpretation.I moved to the Bahamas because it is a country that still values family, community and humanity. As you correctly state, it is a country full of people with talent and creativity. I love the Bahamas and the people of the Bahamas and I believe I make a positive contribution to this country, so I find it hurtful to hear ‘getting rid of the foreigners’ as an election platform.
With elections around the corner and three political parties, none of which appear to have formulated, much less articulated, any new or credible plan for Bahamian development or growth in twenty-first century (and no, planning to beg more rich people for more money to buy up more of our precious archipelago does not count), I think it's time for the average Bahamian, the voter, to exercise her democratic right and put down in pixels what will or will not get her vote.I am a Bahamian who has never been represented by any party that has held power in The Bahamas to date. I am a woman, middle class, neither black nor white, a cultural worker and intellectual, a citizen and a voter, an ordinary Bahamian who does not campaign, carry a voters' card, attend rallies, or otherwise show her face during the silly season that surrounds politics.I pay my taxes in every way they are presented to me. I have never sat in a politician's office to beg for anything when doing so was not part of my job as a civil servant. I have been eligible to vote in the past 6 general elections but in that time I have only once been visited by a prospective MP, who believed that he was making a social call on old friends, my parents. I have never, in my civilian position, called any sitting politician for a job, for a handout, for a favour, for any sort of help. I do not work in the tourism industry, real estate, the construction industry, or any other other area that figures in political discussions of "jobs" and "economics" or anything else.I am one of thousands of productive, independent, patriotic Bahamians who make this country run on a daily basis. I took the opportunities offered to my by the first independent government of The Bahamas and went off and earned a college degree. I came home because I wanted to serve and build my country. To date, my country has not put in place anything to serve and build me; to every politician who has served in parliament in the time I have been voting, people like me have been invisible. In our democracy, we do not count.And so: a voter's manifesto.
- that Bahamians are as intelligent, as resourceful, as industrious, as talented and as deserving as any other group of people on the planet;
- that Bahamian innovation, creativity and adaptability carved this nation out of these scattered rocks in the sea, and that that innovation, creativity and adaptability will make flourish in the twenty-first century;
- that Bahamians are full human beings, with needs that go beyond the merely material;
- that The Bahamas is as important as any other nation in the world, and should be treated as such;
- that our human capital -- the ingenuity, intelligence, talent and independent spirit of the Bahamian people -- is the most important resource that our nation has.
- that Bahamians need help, time, or training to deepen and strengthen the democratic project;
- that Bahamians need help, time, or training to address those problems that our country is struggling with now;
- that Bahamians need help, time, or training to make our country better.
- I, the voter, do not care what colour T-shirt you offer me or what three letters you cast before my face.
- I believe in democracy.
- I do not care nearly as much about the history of your particular party (or of your opponents) as you think I do.
- I do not care about how good (or bad) you look in a suit, how well you speak off the cuff, or whether your leader is God incarnate or the Devil himself.
- I care about this country we all share.
- I care what you and your party are planning The Bahamas will look like tomorrow.
- I want to know the details.
- I believe that it is the right of a people to elect a government who will represent them and not the foreign interests who come offering the latest wads of cash or promises grander than the grandest Prime Minister's.
- I believe that is the obligation of a government to seek out and hear the needs of the people whom it represents. All the people, not just the vocal few at the bottom who have depended thus far on their crippledness to coerce their representatives into enact ill-thought and hurried acts of bribery-in-return-for-votes, or the fatcats at the top who enact coercive acts of bribery of their own.
- I believe in governments who represent and serve the people who vote for them, not the people who pay them, or bully them, or frighten them.
- I believe in equality. That is not to say that I believe that all people are universally idiots, or that we must make all decisions according to the lowest possible common denominator. Rather, it is to say that I believe that all citizens—and, indeed, in a truly civilized nation, all people within our borders—should be equal under our laws and treated as such. No better, and no worse.
- I believe that our ideals should be more important than individual exceptions.
- I believe that a nation should be founded on ideals. Tell me yours.
If you want my vote:
- Don't come waving flags or t-shirts or offering promises of more jobs laying cement, gathering laundry or taking orders for rich white people from abroad.
- Don't come not debating policy.
- Don't come bad-talking the other politicians around you.
- Don't come not knowing basic things about this country, about governance, about policy, or the world of the twenty-first century.
- Don't come expecting my political philosophy to do the trick and make me vote for you party because it happens to be the next best thing to the ideals I hold.
- Don't come expecting your track record to move me.
- Don't come expecting my colour, my family name, my friends, my profession, or any other attribute to influence the way I vote.
- Don't come trusting in your personal political arrogance and my continued political passive stupidity.
- Come talking to me about the Bahamas you will create the day after Election Day, and come telling me in detail how we are going to create it together.
It had better be a different Bahamas from the one I live in today.•••More links:A Reader Responds to the Voter's ManifestoAnswering the challenge: a consideration of patriotism, democracy and voting - Part IOn the mis-education of the Bahamian citizen
Got a piece of terribly bad news this morning: the Zybines are dead. They were found in their Mexico home, having both succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning from their heater.For those people who don't know, Alex and Violette Zybine were dancers who worked in The Bahamas during the 1960s and 1970s. They were engaged by Hubert Farrington to look after the fledgling Nassau Civic Ballet while he worked at the Metropolitan Opera in New York -- in fact, that's where he met Alex. Violette was my first, and only, ballet teacher. Alex founded the New Breed Dancers and most of the successful Bahamian classical dancers of that era were trained by him -- among them Lawrence Carroll, Christine Johnson, Paula Knowles, Ednol Wright, and Victoria McIntosh, among others. They returned to Nassau four or five years ago, and were planning another visit. I heard from Violette, as I always do, just after Christmas, with a set of lovely photographs. I'll share just two of them here. May they rest in peace.
My friends and others have been awfully solicitous this season. It's the first one since Mummy died, since indeed my brother and I joined our cousins in being the elders in the generation (and pretty young elders we are too, the eldest of us being not yet 52). Christmas is a time for family, a time for gathering together with elders, and in our family in particular Christmas has always been special. But in all honesty it hasn't been as hard as people, myself included, might have expected. In many ways, last Christmas was harder. My mother was at her lowest, I believe -- not physically, but emotionally and psychologically. She was coming to terms fully that she was not going to lick the cancer. She was trying a rough new chemotherapy regimen, and the side effects of this one were far crueller than the one before. It was a desperate move, because she'd not long ago come back from Texas, where she had gone in a last-ditch effort to fight the disease, and the consensus there, after much consideration, was that there was not much that could be done. She was depressed. She was unable to eat and was being fed intravenously. She was confused -- a side effect of the chemo. She couldn't find words to express herself. And more and more she was in pain. The good thing about Christmas for her was that she saw family and friends who would not ordinarily be in town. The bad thing was that she knew she was never going to see them again. Last Christmas was the difficult one.Still, the memories I have of last Christmas -- memories of her room, which was cheerful enough, with windows on three sides and the afternoon sunshine slipping through the blinds, memories of all those people who loved her finishing the projects she had engaged them to do when she was still well -- painting the house for Christmas, installing a generator, rewiring the house, and so on -- are bittersweet. They are bitter because my mother disappeared for a short while, and because Christmas was for all intents and purposes without her, even though she was physically with us. They are sweet because there were moments that were very special -- like the concert that was held for her by the Highgrove Singers, on her back porch, with her sitting, wrapped in her dressing gown with her chemo cap on her head, listening to the impossibly beautiful music and weeping because it was so beautiful. There was the morning, in the new year, after we had decided to stop the treatment as it was hurting her as much as it was helping, when I woke up to find my mother beaming in her bed; "Nico," she said, "I had a thought." And this was so very special because we knew then that the chemo brain was disappearing, her mind was clearing, her words were returning, and she was able to think again. There were the visits she had just before she went into hospital, where her mind was sharp again even though her body was weak, and she was able to ask about families and send love to the absent. And there was the day -- I missed it -- she asked to go sit in the garden, and the other day she asked the nurses to take her out to inspect the brand new paint job. There was the day she went into hospital when she was being given options for her care and she was making her own decisions -- a day full of worry and trepidation, but also a day that we treasured because, weak as she was she was once again herself: brave and decisive and trusting and ultimately fully committed to life.So this Christmas wasn't the tragic one that we expected to be. We are not fighting anything, and we are not trying to win any battle that is bound to be lost. The cousins who make up our so very young generation of elders all came together at my brother's house, us and the new generation. We Skyped the absent among us and spent some Christmas with them. We thought, and sometimes talked, about the ghosts of Christmases past -- our absent mothers and fathers, grandparents, uncles, and aunts. And we watched the children coming up in our shadows, and it was all, all good.
Still catching up on deadlines from the beginning of the year.Here's the thing. Walking a tightrope of obligations has this difficulty: if something should throw you off, it's really hard to get back up again.Among other things, I'm working on:
- A long, long overdue review for the Caribbean Review of Books (Nicholas will finally get this out of the way)
- Another review for the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (will I make it?)
- Shakespeare in Paradise search for sponsors
- Directing Dis We Tings for Shakespeare in Paradise
- finishing off this issue of tongues of the ocean and preparing for issue 9
- thinking about courses for next semester, which starts in *gulp* three weeks or so
- thinking about the next set of Essays on Life I want to write, on democracy
- putting together poems for publication
- A whole bunch of other stuff that people keep inviting me to do. Moral of this story: don't. I may not exactly say "no" but you won't get what you want from me. Give me another six months or so to get caught up!
Because I could not stop for Death,He kindly stopped for me;The carriage held but just ourselvesAnd Immortality.--Emily Dickinson
Yesterday we buried Mummy. Or to be more precise, we held a memorial for her and then interred her ashes in my father's grave, as she always wanted. She was cradled in a box, an urn, which was made by her niece Margot, out of cured coconut wood from Indonesia. Fitting, I thought, as Mummy's name -- Keva -- was chosen for her by my grandmother, who had met the daughters of Governor Allardyce, who were named Viti and Keva, names the Governor had come across when he served in the far east.The service was bouyed up by music sung by the Nassau Renaissance Singers and the Highgrove Singers, both of whom are keeping the Bahamian tradition of classical choral music lovingly alive. They sang pieces by John Ruttter, music that we played for Mummy in the ICU when we visited her, and pieces set to music especially for her, and pieces we gathered up in her memory. They sang my father's other song -- not "When the Road Seems Rough", which we sang at his funeral 24 years ago and which has since slipped into the Bahamian vernacular to such an extent that my mother grew very tired of it, grew tired of the emotional upwelling that always accompanied it, but "Praise". Her students sang for her and played for her -- Sparkman Ferguson and JoAnn Callender and Cleophas Adderley. Many people paid verbal tribute to her. We sang her favourite hymn, the hymn sung at her wedding, "Immortal, Invisible", and a Good Friday hymn (Mummy loved the Holy Week services) and an Easter hymn. We sang our grief to the rafters, and afterward we went to her house and we ate and drank in her memory.I have no idea whether it was as she would have wanted it, but I think she would have been pleased nevertheless. There was more drama surrounding her death than she would have liked, and more pomp surrounding her memorial than she would have chosen, but her public service made her a public figure and both came with the territory.So here's to Keva. Here's to Keva. Here's to Keva Marie.