Sunday, August 19, 2007

Pittstown Point, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 20-30 knots, edge of Category 5 Hurricane Dean passing 600 nm due south

Karl stayed at the house while I drove with Nappy to the airport today, I’m sure arousing a whole bunch of gossip among the local townpeople. I’m not sure whether everyone thinks I’m Nappy’s new American girlfriend, or whether I’m the rich builder of the million-dollar house, slumming it in my hippie clothes. I’d be happier if they think the latter, because it would explain why Karl and I are hanging around so much. Although the former wouldn’t be bad either, because it would stave off the unwelcome affections of all the Bahamians on the island.

As we’ve found in other islands, the Bahamian men on Crooked Island are remarkably predatory, even when they carry wives, girlfriends, and children in tow. It’s been on of the most shocking things that we’ve encountered culturally, and I’m not sure if it’s related to a Caribbean sense of male machismo, or just a longing for anything other than what they’ve grown up with on the island. All the women must leave and go to Nassau or the States, looking for more promising futures than what they can find on the islands, because the ratio of men to women on every single island we’ve been to has been at least three to one. Today, as I was sitting in the car peaceably reading and waiting for Nappy to finish his business at the airport, a kid named Simon, at least half my age and my height, came up to the window to beg me to bring at least five girlfriends in bikinis to Crooked. Any size, any age, he said. Any takers?

I was happy to see Reggie, a guy who had flirted with me unrelentingly while Karl and I played dominoes with him at Blackjack’s, because I was able to give him a wave and a hello that allowed me to escape from Simon. As it turns out, Simon is Reggie’s nephew, which figures. Everyone’s related to everyone around here. We’ve even heard horror stories from Salina Point, over on Acklins Island (Nappy calls Salina Sin City), of a half-brother and sister who married each other inadvertently, producing deformed offspring, not knowing that they shared the same father. Believe it or not there’s a song on Radio Bahamas called “Your Mama Don’t Know,” in which a boy falls in love with a girl, tells his father about it, only to have his father tell him that the girl is his sister but, so goes the catchy refrain: “your mama don’t know.” The crux of the fable? The boy goes to his mother and tells her the truth, but she says not to worry about it. “Your papa’s not your papa,” she says, “but your papa don’t know.”

So I guess the women can be as bad as the men, although we’ve had more evidence on the male side. Andy, the proprietor of the Seaside Restaurant, even told us matter-of-factly that every Bahamian man has a wife, sweetheart, and girlfriend to take care of, with others on the side. We’ve seen pictures, without meaning to, of Cuban and Colombian “friends” in thong underwear, from tourist visits to those islands. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around all this philandering--I am just a naive missionary kid, after all--and I never believe that people have ignominous designs on me until proven otherwise. Karl is much more wary, as befits his role as defender of my virtue.

The bizarre thing is how Bahamians surpass their love for women only by their love for church. On Saturday the Radio Bahamas plays “Your Mama Don’t Know,” and on Sunday they play nothing but gospel songs, hymns, and entire church services of all denominations. Yesterday, on our adventure around the island, Nappy stopped by an old friend’s house, that of the 93-year-old Reverend Morse, and we all had a great talk about the Bible and God. Nappy introduced us as missionaries, filling me with joy. The encounter was marred for me only by the Rev’s theology on women, taken straight from Genesis and stirring to life my consistent childhood problem of reconciling my ardent feminism with the Baptist faith, as much as I enjoyed the conversation. The Rev introduced us also to his third wife (he was twice widowed), an elegant elderly lady in a sundress and a straw hat decorated with flowers. “She’s my third,” he said, “and when she dies I’ll get another one!”

It all made sense when Nappy, our cultural interpreter, explicated it for us. His current wife was his “sweetheart” during a previous marriage, with whom he had fathered a child. Maybe he has some more sweethearts floating around. I applaud his ambition, though, at 93 years of age. He said the worst storm he had ever seen was the Hurricane of ‘22. I can’t imagine the changes he’s seen during his lifetime.

The reason Nappy had stopped by was to investigate the Rev’s ongoing building project, an addition to his house. The kid the Rev had hired to do the building had stopped showing up, and the Rev was trying to convince Nappy to take the job. He told a rather pointed parable about the rich man and Lazarus, trying to convince Nappy to not neglect his old friends now that he was a rich man, to my way of thinking. I’m not sure Nappy caught the point, but it made me think. I’d love to go over and help him with his building project. With Karl and Nappy and me, with my newfound building skills, I’m sure we could put up the Rev’s room in three days flat, and we could do it as volunteers, putting all Baptist mission trips to shame. We are now missionaries, after all.

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