Friday, July 27, 2007

Samana Cay, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: SE 10 knots, showers and squalls at dawn

For the last couple of days, we’ve been accompanied in our little protected anchorage by a rickety Bahamian fishing boat, it’s entire deck covered in tier after tier of fish traps. We didn’t actually meet them, but they were friends of Junior, off of Sea Hunter, and evidently hail from Long Island (in the Bahamas, that is). This morning, after getting out of bed groggily, and starting the kettle for French-press coffee, I peeked out of the companionway to discover that our silent friend, the fishing trawler, had departed. It’s a little freaky to be here now, a little lonely--just us and an uninhabited island. What I’ve always wanted.

I know it’s cliched, but I am beginning to envy the Bahamians the vividness of their community. We’ve been in awe of it since we got here--the first time I listened to Bahamian radio and heard the caller tell the talk-show host that she hadn’t met him but was good friends with his mother, or heard the elaborate listings of the obituaries, where family members in all of the various islands are listed in detail, down to grandnieces and nephews. Everyone knows everyone, and not just figuratively. When we told the crew on Sea Hunter who we hung out with on Farmer’s Cay, they knew just who we were talking about, and probably who his mother was. There’s no crime here, because when people commit crimes in Nassau and run to the outer islands, the locals immediately identify them as outsiders and turn them in. “Who’s that guy? What’s he doing here? Must be that guy the Radio Bahamas was talking about.” Next thing you know he’s shipped back to Nassau.

It’s bizarre to my alienated American sensibility that a boat could pull into an isolated harbor on an empty island, and Junior would immediately know who they are, who their cousins are, where they’re from, and zip over to say hi. That would never happen in the States. The Bahamian Islands are called the Family Islands, and we’ve been trying to figure that out ever since we first heard it. At first we thought just the Exumas were the Family Islands. Then someone told us that no, all the Bahamian islands are Family Islands. They’re called the Family Islands because everyone knows everyone else, everyone’s family.

I know it is a cliché, and not necessarily a healthy one: Westerners have always thought of people from other, more primitive cultures as “noble savages,” and imagine them as having idealized communities and lifestyles. In fact, most of the cultures we think of as “noble” are inhabited by people who live hard, hard-scrabble existence, eking their lives out of the dirt. Still, there is a truth to the cliché. These people have something that we’ve lost, with our lawns and our commutes and our cable television.

Here in the Bahamas, though, in the Family Islands, they seem to have the best of both worlds. They have a lot of wealth, compared to many of the countries I’ve visited--they have crazy natural resources, and their government is really smart about them. They could be making a killing by overfishing their conch and selling it to Miami. Instead, Bahamian conch is only allowed to be sold within the Bahamas, which not only preserves the conch nurseries, but also forces tourists to come here to have Bahamian conch. I told the guys off Sea Hunter that in fifty years they’ll be the Saudi Arabian sheiks of conch. Everyone else will have fished them into oblivion, and the Bahamian stock will still be thriving.

It is here, that’s for sure. Today I pulled up a conch as big around as our five-gallon bucket. It was one of about 100 I could’ve pulled up. We threw it back--Karl didn’t feel like wrestling it out of its shell and I know there’s plenty more where it came from. We could live here forever on just conch and rice.

No comments: