Friday, August 24, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 10-15 knots

I’m sitting on the boat again, as usual, harassed by endlessly buzzing flies and taking my requisite day to clean and do dishes and write, even though I’m not doing a very good job at any of those things. Karl’s ashore, discussing our future at the house with Nappy. There’s a lot more work to be done, but I’m not sure it’s his job to do it. I’m having moral qualms again about our unnamed role here.

I’m also hoping that this weather situation works out. I feel guilty for not making time to post a comment previously, and not beg for lobbying help earlier, even on Monday when I was using the internet. I loathe bureaucracy, though, especially the awful NOAA website. I’ve gotten lost in it before, and it was only with Karl’s help yesterday that I was able to wade my way through to the comment form. Who knows if any of you will be able to find the spot, and who knows if it would really matter anyway. The politicians’ ways are not our ways, and I’m sure they’ll do whatever they like no matter what we say or do. I just really, really hope I don’t lose my weather. I really don’t know what we’d do.

The best part about being here has been getting to know Nappy and, through him, other Crooked Islanders, to begin to feel like we really know this place much more thoroughly than we’ve gotten to know any other Bahamian island. Not that anyone get really get to know a place in a month, but I feel like we’re more fully immersed than the people who’ve had houses on the beach out here for decades. I’m probably just being egotistical. Another cool part has been discussing Christianity with Nappy, and fully inhabiting our role as bearers of faith, a role that I’ve envisioned for us since we left Marion. Karl, before he met me, had been inside of a church twice in his life, and I think he’s been as influenced by talking theology with people like Nappy and the Reverend Morse as they’ve been by us.

I still can’t get over Nappy calling us missionaries. In some ways, as evidenced by my lousy article, that’s my dream come true. I want to be a missionary, but a different kind of missionary than I was as a fourteen-year-old on my Baptist mission trip to Eleuthera, and a different kind of a missionary than I saw growing up, too.

Nappy, who claims to be a big fan of President Bush’s personal charisma, has the President’s habit of giving nicknames or catchphrases to everyone he meets. Every time he sees Karl he calls out, “Toma-sack!” When he sees me, he says, “live like the lilies!!” In one of our early conversations, after I had escaped from my self-imposed exile on the boat, and no doubt influenced by my tortuous days trying to shape my life thesis into cohesive form, I quoted that passage to him. He grew up in the church and is still an avid churchgoer (we mean to go with him every Sunday), but struggles with his faith in much the same way I do.

I’d like to think my job as missionary is done on this island, just for that. It’s crazy how much Nappy reminds me of so many of our American friends, continually driven on the treadmill of more money, more stuff, more money, more stuff. I’m sure he’s well past being a millionaire himself--he and his wife have real estate holdings all over the Bahamas, and he’s building apartment complexes and duplexes on Crooked and New Providence--but he doesn’t seem happy. He’s shown us around his family estate numerous times, the little broken-down sheds built by his grandparents and great-grandparents to house animals or store produce, the giant fruit trees, the outbuildings used for kitchens and bathrooms. His father used to supply the whole island with tomatoes, he says, and now no one on the island farms at all. In many ways, rural idyllic life in the Bahamas was destroyed by the drug trade of the 80s and 90s, when billions of dollars flowed through the country like water. Now that the War on Drugs has cracked down, and the Royal Bahamian Defense Force is collaborating with the US Coast Guard, Nappy says that Bahamians aren’t willing to work the way they used to, back before cocaine and satellite television.

We’ve heard the same story from several Bahamians, and it’s sad. Nappy’s made a good life for himself and his family by working hard, and now he’s separated from his community because of it. He thinks his old classmates dislike him because of it, and it’s clear he is separate from them. Everyone he meets asks him for a job, even when he tells us later his history with those people, that after he hired them they stopped showing up for work, or overcharged him, or did a crappy job. We try to convince him to hire people, but he refuses. “Trust me,” he says, another of his catchphrases.

So live like the lilies, we tell him. Do with less, make less, spend less. The ultralight life, as I used to call it. We made him what I called “lily food” at the house the other night--a vegetarian salad with hot sauce, fresh lime, and cracked pepper for dressing, then microwaved baked potatoes with New Zealand cheddar. He loved it. We’re mystifying to him in some ways, having both independently given up good, high-paying jobs to escape the stress of American life and to live like paupers in the wilderness. We’re happy, we’re in love. When we need money, we find it. Meanwhile we’re following our path, the way, the Tao, as CS Lewis called it, praying for God to guide our steps.

Live like the lilies indeed. You cannot serve both God and mammon. If we can help just one person escape just a little from the mammon so inextricably intertwined into our 21st-century lives, then we’ll have been successful.

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