Project Grow

Project Grow bracelets for Plant Day, on adults and kids alike.

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.

 

The Island Of the Now

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?

Ready and waiting for us - a bonfire with a wood pile

One of three guardians

A pleasant walk down the beach to ironshore and tide pools

One tide pool covered with Sea Eggs (Sea Urchins anywhere else in the world). In the Far East these are a delicacy. In Cayman they are a beautiful but painful nuisance.

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.

Out on the lonely road in search of breakfast

Driving up the only hill on all three of the Cayman Islands, The Bluff. This spine-like cliff runs the length of the island of Cayman Brac starting low in the West and rising to around 110 feet in the West where it drops right off into the sea.

An appropriate place of honour for Veterans and Sea Men on the island that once boasted of having more sea captains per square mile than any other land mass in the world.

Going down the Bluff on the North Side you can see the Eastern end of the island clearly.

Everything here but MEAT. Fish is all we would be cooking here on the Brac!

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.

Bouganvilla petals carpeting the Bluff-side garden

Gorgeous orchids... you know I begged for a piece of this to take home!

Bouganvillas climb up the Bluff face

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.

Steamed fish - MAN FOOD. Or at least man-cooked.

Each day I would "rub up" either Fritters or Jonny Cakes - traditional Cayman breads to eat with fish.

Fresh golden Jonny Cakes

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.

Last sunset on the Brac watched from the Lighthouse

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.

On our last night everything was cooked on the fire. Roasted fish with hard tack, fritters, a sweet yam, and everyone went to bed full.

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?

Place of Rest

The Rich Red Earth of St. Elizabeth

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.

Red dirt road to Lookout

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.

Ploughed field waiting for seed

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.

Tomato and mellon often grow side by side.

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.

Climb to our favourite spot at the Lookout

CONQUEROR

From this perch the view is AMAZING!  To the West is Treasure Beach.

Treasure Beach from Lookout

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.

Lighthouse at Lover's Leap

To the South we see the far fall or steep hike down to the Caribbean Sea.

Far fall to the Caribbean

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.

Baby Billy getting his milk

And this dainty little one came pushing up toward me.

Curious Kid

We would also pass papaya trees,

Papaya tree loaded

gungo peas,

The Gungo Pea, also known as a Congo Pea, and closely related to the Pigeon Pea

rows of corn,

A row of corn by a tomato patch

carrots,

Carrot head just out of my shadow

rosemary,

Rosemary grown but not often used in St. Elizabeth

and thyme.

Used to cook just about everything in Jamaica, the Thyme plant is a must have in every St. Elizabeth garden.

There is always something small to snack on like the little tomatoes,

Little hands full of snacky tomatoes

and Star Apples, sticky and sweet in their tropical richness,

Star apple, not to be confused with the Carambola known as Star Fruit. Both are grown in St. Elizabeth.

and Strawberries.  Who would have thought, right?

St. Elizabeth strawberries. There are two varieties in the family garden - these are the smaller ones.

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.

Aunty makes Bammy, a Jamaican cassava bread rich in fibre and mild in taste, to go with my lunch, a simple variation of the Jamaican national dish of Ackee and Saltfish – without the Ackee.

Handmade Bammy - I am truly blessed!

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.

Lunch off the fat of the land

Lunch off the fat of the land

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.

Related Posts:

  1. First day in Kingston
  2. Journey to St. Elizabeth
  3. Flowers of St. Elizabeth
  4. Life in St. Elizabeth

Intoxicating Simplicity – The morning after

“Cincuenta guineos por veinticinco lempiras!”

Nena's stream

Everything is sold door to door.  Tortillas, ice, green bananas, cheese, a Ceiba woman can do all her grocery shopping from her front door.  This morning I am sat once again on the patio watching the rain reclaim the city that was once her worshiping forest.  The loudspeakers from well worn pickup trucks have passed twice now since I sat down.  The green bananas (guineos) were the last to leave and the truck was filled to bursting with stiff, milky fruit tight in their leather-tough green skin.  I was sure he must be confused – fifty guineos for twenty-five lempiras?  That’s just over a dollar for the fruit of several trees!

It has rained all night and shows no sign of letting up.  Today I was to go to the islands and to my Uncle and hundreds of unmet cousins.  But the catamaran that would take me over is likely parked in safe harbour right now.  There is bad weather between us and Cayman and the islands in between are getting a good taste of it.  Only the most seasoned islander would take to the ocean today.

But it is just as well.  Coffee is on the stove and semitas are coming with it.  I am rested and comfortable on the adirondack two-seater on the porch.

Nena is still asleep, her baby Monkey up close to her for warmth.  I slept in another bed under a heavy blanket with the image of a galloping stallion.  I had teased little Fiore that he would likely wake me up galloping in my sleep in my broken spanish the night before.  Still shy, or perhaps not understanding my torn up attempt, she smiled and nodded.  The breeze was cool with rain and I snuggled deep under the covers.

My orchids would love this place.  In fact, the orchidia brasavola is the national flower of Honduras!  There must be magic in the mountains for an orchid hunter here!  All around the garden and in the trees in the surrounding hills raindrops fall like diamonds and hang languid to the leaves until sliding slowly to the leaf below.  Each drop makes its way slowly to the stream that runs through the property to the left below the garden.  It is an aching beauty, an untamable wildness pretending to be domesticated, and an intoxicating simplicity.

Puentecito Nena - The Bridge Nena Built

Under my blanket I dreamed of love and believed it possible.  There is so much more space in ones being when messy clumps of the material life are stripped away.  Bills are gone, corporate struggles forgotten, conflict does not exist and all that is left are the basics of being.  The eating, the drinking, the laughing, the loving, the remembering of a childhood and reliving the things that made it great.

I realized today just how Honduran I have been all my life.  My family has always congregated on broken chairs and hammocks under the tamarind and mahogany trees sharing stories and laughter, jokes and pepsis, catamales and fried fish.  Much of what I always believed to be Caymanian is in fact Honduran.  The two are similar, don’t get me wrong, but there is a rawness and a boiling intensity to the Honduran that is missing in the other parts of my blood.

My hostess is an amazing woman.  Known as Nena to her community, she is a Chona – a follower of Visitacion Padilla, a feminist famous for the way she changed Honduras.  In her early 50s or late 40s (I wouldn’t dare guess which on this blog), my Nena is completing her qualification process to be an Abogada here in La Ceiba, a lawyer licensed to practice in a year’s time.  Bo, her son, is studying the foundation courses that will take him into medical school.  The little bridge that crosses the stream before we get to her house is called the Puentecito Nena.  There was a bridge before that washed away in a hurricane many years ago and she worked hard to get it rebuilt, lobbying local government, supervising the workmen and feeding them daily.  She is a woman of great passion, rosy cheeks and a huge laugh that fills her home and tickles everything in her orbit into laughter as well.  No one would believe the things she has survived.

Love is possible here...

Two children join her and Bo in her home, her neice and nephew.  Christian is in the early stages of his fight to manhood, a spicy boy of 13 with the makings of a man of power.  Fiore is tiny, doll-like, with flawless skin and beautiful brown eyes shining from an angellic face that bellies any suggestion of the mischief she can make.  She will be a knockout in no time.

The story of the Honduran home is evident everywhere you look outside these walls but Nena is an exception.  Not for her family the division of roles along sexual lines.  Life has taught her that she is capable of successes well beyond the imaginations of others.  Her family is a well oiled machine, her children capable and efficient, and her home powered by respect.  In other families the girl will run the home but the boy will need a wife to run his.

But love is possible here.  To my surprise today I see far less wrong with the lean of our culture, here in its natural element.  I see it as neither a lean toward man nor toward woman but toward an era that has passed by in my home and in Nena’s home but is the present tense with distinct heartbeat in most homes in this rainy land.

Barista de San Jose

Flowers and Food

It is the haven where I sit with my cup of coffee in my pajamas and write for a few hours.  It is my most brilliantly decorated space.  It is where I can feel the breeze filter through screens and dance over petals to bring offerings of fragrance to my nose.  It is my pantry and my showcase where tomatoes, parsley, dendrobium orchids and sun roses overlap like uneven partners prepared for a waltz to begin.  This little piece of Eden is my very own porch garden.

So many things that a woman needs can be found on this eight-by-twelve piece of the world.  Rest, birdsong, breeze, peace, puppies (always at my feet), mint, new blooms, cushions, books, lightning storms, rain, and soon to come, a hammock.  But this morning I will focus only on two essentials.

Every Single Woman Needs FLOWERS.

Snow White

And I don’t mean the hastily selected gas station bouquet held behind his back when he comes on his first date.  I mean her very own blossomer that she teases and talks to and sings to and protects that will once or twice a year reward her with gorgeous flowers round and sweet.  I am an orchid lady.  My girlfriend in college was a daffodil woman.  My aunt in Jamaica dwells amongst her proud ginger lilies and birds of paradise.  My mother has never been able to love one flower over another and has every possible bloom she can get her hands on hanging from and propped against her trees.  Pick your flower or love them all, flowers are a necessity.

Moving from the city to back home was a big change for me.  I found myself in tears at the most unexpected times, I had nightmares and the silence of island life and pressures of work began to drive me crazy.  One afternoon after a particularly bad night of tears and alcohol I woke up to find a white dendrobium balancing on my bedside table.  My mother, helpless but relying on the power of the flower, had gone to town in search of a way to help me see past the clouds.  She selected something of beauty that would change my life.

Another darling to join Snow White

It was my first orchid.  Today she is blooming in bursts of purity right next to me as I write.  She is over two feet tall and makes me very proud.  Several others have joined her but she is very special, my first.  I learned that morning as I fawned over young blooms through tear-tired eyes that I too can blossom out of nothing but air and water.  I made the decision there and then that I would be an orchid lady.

Every Single Woman Needs FOOD

Vegetables.  And fruits.  And roots.  But how about we start with veggies.

Young Herb Garden

Anyone who tries to eat healthy or, more difficult, to become a vegetarian, will tell you that it can be very expensive.  Picture a supermarket cart full of fresh vegetables side by side with one full of processed chips and pastas and rices and butter and all things bad for you.  The veggie cart will always be more expensive.  Worse now that we are in a recession.  If you are in the USA, run the experiment of shopping at the local Whole Foods store and then go do the shopping at Publix and see the difference.  The grocery bill for healthy food will blow your mind.

In comes the garden.  Lacy mint and proud parsley, crawling cucumbers and bright tomatoes.  You decide how much to sow and how much to reap.  You putter over the pots in your slippers with a watering can in one hand and your coffee in the next.  All for the cost of a few seed packs and some soil you can have your own grocery cart full of vegetables.

Mint

In our strained economic times it is very easy to feed off the bottom with places like KFC and Popeyes, Wendy’s and Burger King.  But you are still spending for three meals every day more than a pack of seeds and some soil for food that will not clog your arteries and take years off your life.  Do it right and those seeds will be the gift that keeps on giving.  Many a Single Woman has discovered for herself a green thumb she didn’t know she had until she lost her job or had financial troubles tumble down toward her.

But why wait for disaster?  We have no excuse.  We don’t have a husband or a boyfriend pressuring us to put greasy toe-cheese on the plate every day.  Just like our financial plans need to be independent and geared toward protecting us into the future, so too should our bodies be invested in as the vehicles that take us into tomorrow.  We need to keep our tyres changed and oil checks up to date – we need to eat our vegetables.

I encourage every Single Woman today – if you have a garden outdoors don’t shy away from it.  If you have a patio like mine or a porch, invest in it.  If you only have a window in an urban apartment, open the blinds and let light fall on something that is growing.

As my tomatoes peek out from their little seed pods I can already taste the tang of vitamins as I imagine biting into the first red fruit.  I’m sure in the supermarket they will cost me up to $2 a pack.  But for that amount of money I can have the all year round from my little trees.

One tree's crop for $2

New Life

Herb Babies

The one thing I went outside my budget for on my Shop Like An Accountant spree was justified to me as an investment.  It was a little box that promised to be my own herb garden.  I figured $16 is the least I could pay for an unlimited supply of lovely smelling and tasting plants in my kitchen, no?

I wasn’t home properly yet before I was tearing open the cardboard – the little stand and the little pots were all neatly packed with soil pods and sachets of seed.  Before unpacking my clothes I had put the soil to soak and stuck my finger in to make holes in the spongy damp to dump little mounds of seed into.  At about midnight I put the pots on the stand out in a spot carefully chosen to get the best of the morning sun.

This morning I came outside to a great reward.  Not even a week later the green shoots are fighting their way up in four of the five pots.

Sun Rose smiling

Not only do I have herb babies this morning, but my sunroses are peaking out at me.  Tiny little suns that solicit a smile from the blackest of moods.

But best of all are my orchids.  Today I found not two, not four, but EIGHT orchid spikes!  My home will be bursting into bloom before my birthday.  Some would believe it is my Grandmother, the orchid lady, reaching from the beyond to comfort me.  I prefer to believe it is my God, using the things of beauty and the memories of meaning to get me back on track, back to his business.

Pink dendrobiums!

New life brings new promise – be it a plant, a puppy or a child.  Today I am taking all my promises in with a deep breath of fragrant garden air.

Happy Friday!