A Tragedy of Delay: I turned 18 in an election year…

Committed to Democracy

I was so excited!  My voice was finally going to be heard!  18 and full of opinions, full of optimism, there was nothing I didn’t know.  I was especially sure that I would put down my X where it would count.  I was as sure about that as I was sure that I wanted to one day be the first female Leader of Government Business.  Mind you, I hadn’t yet decided who I was going to vote for.  But serving my country was all I ever wanted to do.  My little X would mark the beginning of that journey and the end of it was limited only by the sky.  Me and Cayman, we were in love back then!

And then the General Election was called for… get this… 4 DAYS before my 18th birthday.  I was crushed!

Four years to wait and in those four years another election was called.  I had been overseas at University before the registration deadline but had sent my documents in to be registered in time. My dreams were not very different but I wanted to be educated.  I’d heard that world leaders throughout time had often been best prepared with a law degree.  And so I was off getting me one.  The officer who received my documents misplaced them for some or no reason.  I came home from University sure that I would vote.  This time I’d even gone so far as to say I know who I will vote for.  Only to find out my name was not on the list. And so I missed that one too.  As you can well imagine, I was disappointed.  When would I become a political adult?  A voice that would be counted?

Resigned to the realities, I settled myself to work for the Elections Office.  If I couldn’t be a part of the decision, I would at least be a part of the process.  It was the first election I worked and I’ve worked for every one since.  I was a poll clerk in Bodden Town and after the close of the polls I got in my car and made it to St. George’s Anglican Church from BT Primary School in five minutes to be a part of the count.  It was the first time I saw the ballot papers come to life and a decision that would change history and it was remarkable.  It was so remarkable I wrote about it in my diary… the experience had to be put into words.  The entry was shown to one of my parents who asked me to type it up.  It ended up in the Caymanian Compass.  It was a gorgeous experience that I will never forget and I’m glad that I had the presence of mind to write it all down.

Another four years came by and by this time I was living in West Bay.  When the time came to register I didn’t.  This wasn’t my district and I hadn’t become connected to the process.  It wasn’t about parties or personalities but I’d have loved to have cast my first vote in Bodden Town.  As it wasn’t possible without some false declarations I settled back and decided this time I would voluntarily pass.  It was the beginning of practiced indifference that has led to the entry of earlier today.  I now am part of a growing statistic of young and eligible Caymanians who have never voted.

In this year, however, I ran a polling station for the first time.  I wasn’t selected for the count but I was no less fascinated by the process.  It cemented in my mind a commitment to democracy as the system above all others, where those who vote cannot complain and where losers cannot claim that victors have denied them an opportunity to contribute.

I have today worked in several elections, including the Referendum of the past week as a servant to democracy.  Democracy itself, not politics.  The system itself, not the names populating the ballot or the parties that have waved their flags.

Yes, I have never registered to vote.  To be clear, it wasn’t for lack of trying – at least not at first.  I didn’t register in time for this Referendum, but I might have if I’d been paying attention.

It didn’t begin in an indifferent and irresponsible place, this question To Vote or Not To Vote.  It began with someone who really wanted to, a lover of country and of countryman working hard to do good.

What surprises me is that I am not the only one not registered to vote.  There are hundreds of my peers who have had a far more convenient opportunity to vote and never have.  I note with interest that there are near 15,000 registered voters in Cayman.  When you consider that my high school was near 1,000 and that we qualified at 18 years old over a decade ago, that number looks really small, doesn’t it?  The three graduating classes behind us were even closer to 1,000 and the three ahead of us… if all the persons I went to school with registered you’d be looking at just under 3,000 voters right there!

But we aren’t voting.  And I ask the question WHY?

On the eve of Referendum…

…I know that tomorrow I will not vote.  It is not something I yet care to do and have nought of an inclination to explain it to any man.  I understand the value of the vote and that so many died that I might have it.  But they didn’t have a clue as to what my X would mean at the time and so I am forgiven, armed with knowledge my forefathers and foremothers didn’t have (even if only by my own self).

Nevertheless, to honour them and the freedom I have to choose not to vote, I have worked for every election and referendum since I reached majority and returned to home shores.

What I have gained from working in the electoral system…

  1. …a knowledge that, in spite of popular belief, there are servants of the people who really believe in what they do and do it selflessly, evenly, ploddingly, thoroughly, efficiently and well in the Civil Service.  There is pride in our team, in our integrity, and it is an honour to work with this group.  We are banded together from all parts of Cayman society, not all of us publicly employed other than for this team, but we are led by seasoned old vets of the Service.
  2. Nothing brings people together like public service.  There is a spirit of seriousness mixed with jovial Caymanian sense of humour that reminds me of days gone by when I knew nothing other than how to be Caymanian.  Now, a little more worldly and travelled, cultured, careworn and jaded, the reminder warms me as I work with many who will never know anything else.
  3. Civil Servants are expected to know very little about how my private sector world works, and I admittedly know very little about the realities of theirs.  I get a peek into the beaurocratic systems of management and almost socialist-smelling (and definitely socialized) rules like treating everyone the same and talking slowly with long pauses and a fear of the microphone for hours and I realize… this would never do in my office.  BUT I also realize that my swift decision-making and high-handedness would absolutely never do in their world either.  I tip my hat to the other side of the fence and am able to accept that our differences are what make them good at what they do and me good at what I do.
  4. There is a familiarity to the scenes around me- the shirts with the Coat of Arms, the smell of the public school walkways all rust and chewed-up red erasers, the government issue ballpoint pens that we write with, the obvious security presence, the monotone of the speeches in training, the class clown in the back (sometimes me) and the mix of people from all walks of life in this team that take me back to public school.  I left public school with loads of street cred, no less than 4 convicted murderers in my high school class, and loads of petty criminals and knocked up teenage moms along the way.  There is much violence in my memory that dwarfs the days of total normal and the people that were just regular joes that made up the majority.  This reminds me of the more ordinary days… with a bunch of mixed abilities and mixed backgrounds thrown into a room with just a few things in common and a lot to laugh about.  It really wasn’t all bad, my schooldays.  I wouldn’t go back, but I can now appreciate it with this experience like school days without age limits and without violence.
  5. I love when things are done right.  And so, even if I care not to participate in the content, I am happy to be part of the context.  Democracy fascinates me – not in a fanatical way that others find it fit to die for, but in the way a difficult puzzle fascinates a child with special abilities and keeps them in its thrall for hours.  I am under no illusions about its limitations, but I am pleased to be part of it.  And I am honoured to take part alongside a group of people who, for reasons of their own, are just as dedicated to doing it right.

Another time I will tell you of my scariest election moment during which I was sure I had seen a man die.  But for now I must have my rest.  I am just recovering from the latest drowning and have a full Referendum Day tomorrow.  I pray my Homeland stays safe, peaceful, and holds on to her integrity throughout.

Cayman Wildflowers

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.

The oft forgotten Grass Flower. Taken up really close you can see how pretty they are – little florets circling a purple thimble

Doesn’t she look like sunshine?

Lady’s Slipper, Cayman style.

The flowers are everywhere! Hidden among the grasses and climbing, like this one, through the trees

A swamp flower, only found in the salty lowlands

This flower, about the size of my hand, carpets the roadside along a vine.

In contrast, these little pinks are about a quarter the size of the fingernail on my little finger

The Spanish Needle – a useful plant harvested from the wild to feed rabbits and horses. We often forget it has a flower.

Much like the giant white, this purple flower runs through the grasses and pops up a splash of colour here and there.

We are not the only ones enjoying the flowers. This is some form of wild pea and you can see the similarity to the St. Elizabeth Gungo Pea flower.

This heaving vine doesn’t always begin wild. But it is hell to control once its roots hit soil.

There is one grass flower, hard and stiff, poking up among the grasses and hiding in view of the trees. Can you spot its brown spikes?

Just A Lil Rain

We’re a tough old flock, us islanders.  Raised on salt water and sea grapes, breadkind and fish, we are hard to beat.  Perhaps this is why we are the ones Hurricanes are sent to – the world hears about the East Coast getting by a little Cat 1 (a mere kitten) for months but a 100 square-mile island being swallowed by a monstrous Cat 4 (much closer to a tiger) gets a few minutes of news time.  And that’s ok.  Because we are ok.  And, God willing, we always will be.

Category 1 hurricanes find us battening down and then going to the beach.  The calm before the storm is usually the best beach day of the year and the beach is best enjoyed with mangoes in the sea, sweet sticky fruit met with salt.  Our damage is usually minimal due to our construction and preparation.  Informed by hundreds of years of experience we know our flood zones and our best defenses and are fortunate enough to be able to afford to employ our knowledge to our protection.  June 1 is a big trip to the supermarket to start stocking up for the season.  But when the storm has passed and we have had minimal damage, it is not uncommon to see adults and children alike bathing in the rain and riding wave runners and kayaks in the flooded streets.

Shipwrecks, pirates, battles and storms tattoo the tapestry of our history.  We have learned to laugh the laugh of the children of sailors.

Funny thing is this little weather event caught me as the only member of my immediate family on island.  This weekend my dad was in Cuba, my mom in Florida, and my brother in Jamaica.  And of all weekends, it had to be this one.  Funny enough, however, this little event affected us all.  My mom’s flight back was delayed and both my brother and my dad were fighting through the same rain on islands to the north and to the south of where I am.

I became vaguely conscious of the rain in the early hours of the morning.  It made sleep sweet and the Public Holiday (Discovery Day in Cayman) even more relaxing so I rolled over and snuggled deeper with a sleepy sigh of the blessed.  And then I woke up.

Kids Kayaking in the rain outside an old shopping center, torn apart by our last big hurricane. Today’s fun on the grounds of yesterday’s disaster.

My back yard was a lake.  There was no walking of dogs this morning.  The water would have near covered their little backs had we tried to step into the parking lot.  My neighbours didn’t move their cars all day but,  me being on the edge of the flood, I pulled out determined to get my day’s errands done.

Not too long into the day did I realize that this thing wasn’t going to stop.  Errands were rushed and plans abandoned and at some point after noon, and after hours and hours of falling sheets of rain, I joined up with my mad family, the ones who never heed a warning to stay inside unless it is called a C.U.R.F.E.W., and drove around the island in a four-wheel drive.

Have a look at how the day went.  Some of these are mine and some are borrowed.

Tubers pulled behind the white truck enjoy the wake left by passing cars.

A cow pen off the side of the main road at Breadfruit Walk with at least four feet of water stained red by the dirt

I had intended to go down this road but turned back after seeing the high water. Passing by later I saw a fellow traveller who missed the memo.

For more flood photos, visit the Cayman27 site.

Crab Season

I know… it sounds like a conflict to many.  The region I call home is thought to be in perpetual summer, always sunny and the sea always glassy smooth.  But there are seasons and they are very real.  You can set your calendar by Hurricane Season – a season the world is far more aware of since last year’s American East Coast fiasco that hit home a little closer to the seats of power than Katrina did.

But then there is Dry Season.  Deep into Dry Season we find ourselves in Tick Season.  Right before the rains come there is Orange Season.  And then the downpours herald Rainy Season.  And with Rainy Season comes Mosquito Season.  About two months into Rainy Season we have Mango Season.  And a little into Rainy Season we also have Crab Season when the crab holes have been flooded and the animals scuttle around roadsides with natives chasing them into buckets.

Some of my early childhood memories are of me joining the pack of kids roaming the neighbourhood with 5 gallon paint buckets with strips of wood across the top.  My family didn’t eat crab – as good Adventists back then we stuck to the food laws of Leviticus.  But that didn’t stop me from crawling under hedges and stick-fencing with crabs at the edge of swamps with the best of them.  Red shanks were never kept, seen as too small to eat and more of a nuisance than a delicacy.  But the big, round land crabs with their khaki shells and bad attitudes – those were the fellas we spent rainy season afternoons chasing.

Growing up I had a dog named Vicky.  She was Queen Victoria – funny how all our animals were named for historical leaders.  Napolean, Alfred the Great, Margaret Thatcher (she was a right little b***), and now, of course, my very own Julius Ceasar.  Vicky had a thing for crabs.  I remember her first crab season she got a little too close to a red shank and came running into the yard screaming with this red claw stuck to her leg!  I must have been around 4 at the time because I remember screaming “Mummy Mummy Mummy Vicky’s guts are hanging out of her leg!  Help her!  She’s gonna die!”

Alfi was good with them.  He would stalk a crab for hours, patiently waiting for it to make a move and simply follow it to the next location.  He was a big goofy golden retriever and if he were human he would have been Buddhist or something – a strong pacifist, with harm to any other animal on earth seen as a sin.  (Unless, of course, said animal was human or canine and decided it should get too close to myself or my brother.)  I remember Alfi watching the cat hurt a lizard, chasing the cat away, and then laying down next to the lizard, the size of one of his claws, as it died.  We couldn’t go swimming with Alfi around because he would lumber into the water splashing everywhere and haul us by our collars into shore and a safe depth – safe being 3 inches.  But Alfi loved to watch his crabs.

Thatcher was a crab killer as a pup.  She’d follow and destroy even though they were about half the size of her spicy little self.  In her later years she would simply watch them walk past her into the house, bored by them after 15 seasons.

But now, I’m afraid, my dogs have been urbanized.  We have moved out of my parents’ country home and into manicured lawns, complex rules, and twice daily walks on pavement rather than through bush.  I notice more and more how little like country dogs they now are – don’t like walking on grass, hate the rain, despise other dogs.  On our walk this morning this gorgeous land crab came right out in our path.  Julius turned his nose up in the air and walked right past.  Lola, seeing my surprise, gave him a little sniff and teased him for a few seconds.  Looking up at me to see if I was satisfied, she joined her brother and began to pull me home.

Big. Juicy. Crab. On the tidy sidewalk in our suburban neighbourhood

Sea Kisses

It’s been one of those days spent embroiled in fantasy to escape the storm.

A friend of mine called me and told me to get up.  Now.  Get off the couch.  He gave me specific directions.  Drive 1.4 miles up the street from your house, past the condos on the beach, and park at the white gate.  Walk down the rise to the water and get in.  I don’t care what you’re wearing just get in.

I followed instructions.  Walked through the hole in the gate and down the drive to an abandoned foundation of a house reclaimed by the sea in Hurricane Ivan.  The drive has long been eroded away with holes and eaten edges now claimed by bur grass and sand.  There was a single family to the East and clear beach to the West and, still unmoved, I sat down.

My friend, as though stalking me on bbm, said “ok now Bushy, get in.”  But there’s a family in the only spot free of grass!  “Swim out past the grass.  Just do it.”  And so I did.  But not far.  Half-sitting, half-floating in 4 feet of water my body began to relax.  Tension eased out of the shoulders as they let go.  And then I saw it.

I stood up straight, shocked to see what looked like a head sticking out of the water about six feet out from me.  Relieved to find sand beneath my feet I shot up about 2 feet out of the water to see better, and then thinking better of it, I clambered to shore.  Squinting out with concentration I watched for it again.  And there it was!  And  another one!  I asked two little girls walking the beach if they saw them – did you see that?!  They looked at me and smiled at eachother in agreement (this one’s nuts).  When I turned they had disappeared.

From the height of the shore, when they reappeared I could see better the graceful animals as they came up for air and dove right back down out of sight before anyone else could see them and believe I was anything but insane.  When I was alone again they came up for longer periods, eyeing me as they swam across my view back and forth, their leathery heads and the hint of a shell sparkling as they broke the water.  My heart just about burst with a smile, looking at my fellow Caymanian creatures swimming in waters that our ancestors have shared for generations.

Seeing them and feeling the connection as our eyes locked, I walked back into the water with calm and a singing spirit.  To any onlookers I must have looked a fool!  A woman up to her neck in water blowing kisses and singing to turtles no one else could see.