Sunday, September 16, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 10-15 knots, Tropical Depression Ingrid to our east

Karl and I went to church today, for the first time in the Bahamas. It’s now eleven at night, and we’ve been fully immersed in Bahamian culture all day. I’m exhausted, but exhilarated. All our dreams for integration are coming true, and it’s a little bit of a mixed blessing. I’m beginning to realize that our stress the last couple of weeks might not be coming from the boat or the house, but from the effort it takes to maintain one’s equilibrium in the midst of a foreign culture.

The thing is, we’re trying really hard, in a way that people haven’t seen here. They’ve seen white people, and they’ve seen tourists, and they’ve seen boaters, but they haven’t seen Americans spending time among them every day, for this long. This became apparent today, when we finally realized that people thought we were with the DEA. (The Drug Enforcement Agency, for the beauracracy illiterate.) Occasionally, and for a long time we’ve noticed that people have been wary and suspicious of us, without us understanding why. Drugs are a big deal here, and even members of the morally-upstanding Seventh-Day Adventist community made a lot of money in the eighties from Colombia. We’ve heard stories about respected members of the community found with packages in their cars--the money was just so easy to come by, why not? We even know someone who’s twin brother was shot dead by a cartel.

Of course they would beware of us. The only explanation for our extended, drawn-out, hippie-like visit with them would be to sniff out current supply chains, still very much in existence. The bright-orange Coast Guard helicopter does fly by, every single day. I think of it like an annoying wasp, checking up on the good Americans to make sure they don’t set sail for Cuba one day. It’s annoying. The whole situation with us here reminds me of my dad’s solo forays to the north of Thailand, the heart of the Golden Triangle, to work with Cambodian refugees. Everyone was convinced, no matter how strenuously he protested, that he was with the CIA. That was the only explanation for his presence. One of my high-school classmates, an obnoxious boy who liked to snap my bra strap when I was at my locker, had his father killed by guerrillas, who of course thought he was CIA. That was how things stood.

Sitting in church today was like stirring up the big ant’s nest of our visit. All the island people who haven’t met us yet, mostly the older women who aren’t out and about too often, were slightly hostile. The others, whom we’ve met before, seemed to put us in a new category: people who genuinely care about their community. It was an afternoon service at the Church of God of Prophecy, Nappy’s church. I really thought it was just an ordinary church service, but it ended up being the Third Annual Back-to-School Motivational and Recognition Serice, collecting all of the churches from the community to celebrate the upcoming school year and the island’s children.

We wore our nicest clothes, but they still weren’t nice enough. Karl wore cargo pants, a Hawaiian shirt, and holey hiking shoes. I wore my nicest skirt and top, but forget my nice sandals, and was sporting my flip-flops. We had both carefully bathed and groomed ourselves. I even shaved my legs, something I hadn’t done since Bimini. Jesus doesn’t love girls with hairy legs.

When we showed up, most of the men were in full-on black suits and ties. The women wore color-coordinated long-sleeved polyester ensembles, in Easter-egg hues, with matching flowered hats, pale pantyhose, and bright gold-and-silver high-heeled shoes. I felt sorely inadequate. I’d like to think people forgave us for our unorthodox attire, and shaggy hair, and Karl’s tattoos. Most people did, I think, as bewildered as they were at our presence. Nappy kept asserting that no one cared, that we were special guests, but I wasn’t sure I believed it, especially when an elderly woman in a snow-white lace dress bounced up out of her seat beside me the moment one on the other side of the congregation opened up. It was a standing-room-only audience, and Nappy ended up pushed outside for most of the service, but no one once asked us to vacate our seats, even though we offered more than once.

It was an amazing experience, to fellowship with the people of God, to participate as the islanders talked about the island’s accomplishments and awarded their honor students. Everyone was there: the pastors from each of the island’s churches, the principal of each of the three schools, every student and most of the parents, the Bishop for the Church of God, the island’s administrator. The Member of Parliament for the island was scheduled to speak also, but he didn’t show. The Bishop spoke on Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

That’s all there is to it. If we are doing right, doing justice, and acting in a humble and forgiving way towards other people, it’s on anyone else if they choose to judge us. We may not have the fanciest shoes or clothes, but we were there to hear from God. I want to go again, to become a regular, to be fed in that way weekly. We’re pushing ourselves here, putting ourselves into uncomfortable situations, but the outcome is so rewarding. The only way to love is to know.

Afterwards, we succumbed to the lure of Blackjack’s, where Nappy treated us to ribs and okra. I felt a little guilty for going from the house of God to the local pool-hall and dominoes joint, but the owner had been at the service too. In fact, Blackjack is the bishop’s cousin. I especially felt caught in the act when the Bishop showed up himself to see if Blackjack had any food. Then again, the Bishop was there too, although he didn’t sit down. Again, it’s between us and God. As Christ said, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by her children.”

1 comment:

cindy bates said...

Hi There! I was forwarded your Blog from Si Campbell, people I have become acquanted with here in Daytona Beach. I was the manager for Pittstown for 4 years 94-98. I am family with Marina Gibson and Willie. I hope to work one more year and also sail down to pive permanetly, please say hi to everyone in Landrail. I miss them all and think of the island almost daily, especially when I am sitting in traffic and know that I could be diving up tonight's meal instead. Cindy BAtes