The rains have begun and we have had our first flood. It’s funny – the only time the sun is not out in the Caribbean is when it is raining but that doesn’t make it less hot. The humidity is sweltering and even more so when the clouds linger. But when the sun does come out, it is with a vengeance. Wildflowers pop their heads up in the most unlikely of places. Some burst into flames in the sun, others cling to the hope of the shade. These are some of the wildflowers in my neighbourhood. They don’t scream out at the casual passerby. But if you really stop to look, they reward you with casual lowland beauty.
As our islands get washed clean and flooded for a time with pure rainwater, there are little children looking out rain-splattered windows and dreaming about Project Grow. They wished and prayed for rain and here it is, in all its glory.
This is a project I believe in, one I encourage my team members to take part in, and one that has been proudly introduced to Cayman. It is a farm-to-plate lesson in agriculture and nutrition that our children, more accustomed to video games and air-conditioned indoor activities, have tucked into with gusto.
Schools apply to participate in the project. If they qualify, a Grow Box is set up in their school in preparation for Plant Day. Plant Day is when the kids and sponsors meet at the box early in the morning and plant seeds and seedlings – carrots, corn, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, blue berries (if you can eat it we will probably plant it). There is a curriculum to follow, a farmer’s market, and recipes for kids to cook the foods they have lovingly grown.
I have vowed to not mix business with pleasure on this blog but there are some days I absolutely adore my job. Most days I just love it, but Plant Days are all Adore Days. I’m looking forward very much to what comes next.
It was a last-minute plan made by tired people. We had four days off from work – public holidays around Easter – and we needed to get away. From everything. Tickets were bought and hotels were sold out so we ended up with a house. On the South Side of Cayman Brac.
We arrived to gentle moonlight, near enough to the full moon to ease us into the silence. Silence of phones, of computers, of television, of radio, of demands, of jobs, of drama… and heard the deafening sound of waves. Quickly we were asleep.
This was to be a spiritual journey for me. I intended to relax and renew but I also brought reading material – The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. There was something fitting about this book because NOW is all I had this trip be about. It was about sleep when my body called for it, waking when the sun rose, meditating in the morning breeze and eating whatever fish came our way that day.
On the first morning we began by taking a look around.
The property itself fit our needs perfectly – it was by the sea, had a hammock and lounge chairs, a few mean-faced guardians and a fire pit. What more could a sojourner need?
After the first walk we were hungry… and the kitchen empty. And so we left the sanctuary and went in search of friends and food. All the while savouring the warmth of the sun and the fresh air through the car window.
With food sorted, we decided to drop in on some relatives of one of our companions. While the family caught up, we explored their garden, connecting with the flowers, the power of the Bluff face, the traditional decorations of this traditional sand yard.
Cooking was a joy and not a burden. Fresh fish caught the same day and vegetables we got on our morning drive were thrown into the pot by the man that was with us. My task was to make the fritters or the jonny cakes to eat with the fish. It was a truly Caymanian vacation – not at all free from form or context but at the same time free of all restriction.
Every day we rested. Every day we read. Every day we walked on the beach. One day I went for a swim and came face to face with an 8 foot Nurse Shark – talk about feeling every inch of the NOW!
On our last day we drove up the Bluff and along the Bluff Road to the Lighthouse at the highest end. We sat and soaked up the breeze of the moment, watched the Man-O-Wars glide up and down the Bluff face keeping watch over secret nesting grounds, and marveled at the blue of the sea. I have never seen sea so blue as off the Bluff. This has been a marvel for me from childhood.
Determined not to dwell on our return to our home island, and determined to remain in the peace we had found for as long as we could, we lit a fire and cooked our dinner over it.
It is so easy to rely on the past to tell you who you are and who you should be. It is also easy to rely on the future to offer you salvation from your worries, your fears, your stresses and your pain. But why would we rely on the past and the future when We and God are both here and the NOW is so very perfect?
I saved this for last. For a moment when the stress of real life returned in full force so that I could go back to my photos and take a deep deep breath of beautiful St. Elizabeth in snapshot.
In the cool of the morning in St. Elizabeth my cousin Mac would take me down to the Lookout. We walked 20 minutes down and 40 minutes back up a red dirt road through the hills pregnant with crops taking pictures along the way.
We would pass the odd field, freshly ploughed and waiting for seed, smelling of bauxite (or what I would imagine bauxite to smell like) and the broken stems of plants.
The tomato fields are bedded with straw and on one of our walks we saw a man weeding, using his machete to slide under the straw and break up running roots of creeping weed. As they start to change colour the tomatoes are picked because once the ripening begins it is a quick run to red.
Mac and I climbed to the Lookout point around rocks and cactus flowers to see the breathtaking view of the coast of South St. Elizabeth.
From this perch the view is AMAZING! To the West is Treasure Beach.
Much of the coast is uninhabited and anyone who has survived a hurricane can well imagine why. The wind against the face of these mountains can destroy like no force of man.
To the East of the Lookout we are able to see Lover’s Leap. The place is named for two slaves who loved each other very much but whose masters intended to separate them. They jumped from the place marked with the lighthouse at the top of the mountain.
To the South we see the far fall or steep hike down to the Caribbean Sea.
On the way to and from the Lookout we would pass friendly neighbours and their animals. This little guy got my heart, bucking and bucking at his mom to let him near enough to get some milk.
And this dainty little one came pushing up toward me.
We would also pass papaya trees,
rows of corn,
There is always something small to snack on like the little tomatoes,
and Star Apples, sticky and sweet in their tropical richness,
and Strawberries. Who would have thought, right?
What comes to the table depends very much on the season. In another season it would be Ortaniques (a unique orange variety), Star Fruit, Mangoes of every variety, Naseberries, Sweet Sops, oh my goodness I could go on but not without getting very hungry.
At the end of a blissful morning with a long walk to get my blood flowing, fresh air to fill my lungs, the sight and smell of crops and animals to give me a sense of peace, I sit down to a lunch of traditional Jamaican food, fresh off the land and out of the pot.
I hope you’ve lived vicariously and enjoyed my time in St. Elizabeth with me. It won’t be long before I’m back there in another season with other fruits and learning new things.
These are photos of the life of a St. Bess family. It could be any family in St. Elizabeth, but it is mine.
One day I will tell you the stories of my cousins. They are a rainbow of colour in their characters; men with strong shoulders, easy smiles and dedication to their children and women who have toiled with love and determination to feed and provide for their children side by side with their life mates or on their own in their abandonment. One day I will share. But not today. Today the photographs will tell all.
There is a lane in a village up a hill and out of the way in St. Elizabeth. In that lane there are several houses and fields of crop between them. One or two of these houses have electricity, brought by wires run through the hills from the village. The electricity is very weak and flickers every time you plug in the kettle or the iron or anything really. But there is no need for air conditioning here. Here you smell the cool and deep inhales and exhales of the mountain spiced with rosemary, thyme and scallions.
There is a mountain in the kitchen. The house was built into the mountain but this particular stubborn piece just would not be moved. In the really cold mornings the mountain sweats. In heavy rain the water seeps in. But hey, if you can’t move it DECORATE IT!
A piece of fruit cake and coffee. MMMMMMM!
For homes without a tank the need to call for water is very real. We sat on the porch and my cousin told me she’s so glad we don’t need to pay out for water any more! The tank holds all they need and rain comes, thankfully, frequently enough to fill the garden tank as well as the house tanks. The tank is filled with fresh and clean rain water and everything we eat is cooked with it, our clothes are washed with it, and we bathe and wash our hands in it.
Red dirt rich in bauxite and rejecting nothing is ploughed up by tractors and sowed with seed. But there are great mysteries to farming. For instance, the man down the street who plowed up what was once a carrot field and planted nothing but woke up one morning to a growing crop of callalloo.
Waiting for the kids to come home from school, I sat with my book, my pen, and my popsicle watching the breeze dance over the mountainside.
Transportation is no easy thing. Much walking is done in St. Bess as roads such as this country lane are steep and gouged out with water trails in rainy season. Many an undercarriage has been torn up turning up this little lane. To get to school my cousin walks to the end of the lane and takes a taxi. Other taxis pick up primary school children like a bus and take sometimes 8 sometimes 10 little kids to school sitting on each other’s laps.
St. Elizabeth people value education and prize their educated. Every family is proud of their doctors and their lawyers and the whole parish is proud of their esteemed such as Colin Powell, a man from Lover’s Leap. Those who love farming will farm and those who do not must educate themselves out of it. But there is great pride in every occupation as long as it is honest.
Neighbours depend on each other and share their crops freely. Little man has come to ask his Aunty for tomatoes please.
Little boys will make toys out of anything! This time two bucket covers are used as steering wheels and they jostle one another to “drive” through the “gate”.
As evening falls the sky seems to grow even bigger. There is much peace to be had in the simplicity of St. Elizabeth.
They deserve their own page – the flowers of St. Bess. In the words of Aunty Adne, St. Elizabeth earth rejects nothing! Another post on its own will be the food being grown in St. Bess. Keep an eye out for it in the coming days.
I’ve been cooking with my cilantro and bits of oregano, been watching my thyme reach high. But there is nothing quite as rewarding as that first tomato!
In the fresh morning air, just before what is considered a decent hour I had a visitor. A little white hen peered over my door frame and through my coffee steam. Gave me a good once over, looked me up and down, in my own house. The dogs were quiet, still sleepy, Lola on my lap and Julius spread out at my feet. They didn’t bat an eye. She was the colour of cold cream and just as cool, her stare unswerving and assessing. She moved from me, dismissive, to stare with fascination at first one dog and then the other, turning her head to the side to better capture them. Before today I would never have imagined that a hen cold be curious!
I could just hear her hennish thoughts – lucky animals, safely owned and fed, not having to scratch for a living. There was the wistfulness I have only ever seen in a married woman and mother looking into a single girl’s life – the freedom of one’s own thoughts before laundry and nappies and a husband takes over. In a hen. And then, as if to prove my thought true, in fluttered her Rooster, young and proud and a right pain in the ass, tormenting and squawking her out of our moment.
She fluttered off at full hen-speed with him pestering behind her tail. Following her with my sleepy eyes I caught a flash of white. A long anticipated one. A single, clean, pristine orchid bloom.
Smiling and grateful sat I, coffee in hand, writing about the Light as my morning glided on dressed flawlessly in white.