Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Brown Like Bread: Compliments of Little Farmers




The velvet of the dusty deep blue couch sticks to my sweaty thighs. It is reminiscent of something from Downton Abbey and yet here we sit in 35 Celcius in a tiny yacht club in the Bahamas. The condensation from my Bud Light drips into my lap and trickles down onto the worn velvet. Beside me, Roosevelt Nixon leans back, chatting freely. His laugh lines are deep and his kind eyes at ease. He has welcomed us here, into the hodge podge sprawl of his domain, the bright red building built on the rocks at the northern tip of Little Farmer’s Cay. 


We are not marina guests. Just passers by, we emerged from our sweltering walk across the partially paved roads, roads lined with tamarind and sapodilla trees, past his tiny derelict outdoor basketball court, and appeared – disheveled, sweating and in need of cold drinks. Mr Nixon was obliging. He literally abandoned his errands, getting out of his running car, to invite us in.

In fact, since we zoomed into the little harbor this morning in our dinghies, we have been greeted and welcomed and embraced and befriended by each and every resident of this island. Google tells me that the population is 66 and by the end of the day we have met over half of those.

First, Captain Conch at the dinghy dock who took our lines, helped us up and told us he’s a descendant of Somalia. After the small chat he offered to introduce us to Simon and Jeffery, and began bashing a machete on the dock to call the turtles. Minutes later, in the crystal clear water below, he literally had turtles and colourful box fish eating out of his hand. A family of tourists arrived in a speed boat and paid to join in the feeding while we looked on in awe. We felt like tourists for the first time in a long time. In fact, we felt part of something bigger, having now been isolated to our little tribe of four on the two boats once again for nearly weeks without other human contact.


We wandered off the dock on a little high. All smiles, we passed the tiny souvenir shop waving and promising to visit on our way back, and the emerald green one room post office, boarded up and so tiny it warranted a photo. 


Just then, from out behind a bush, rambled a tall, emaciated man with only a few long teeth. Leaving his yard work behind, he called out “Warm roasted peanuts!” “Come and get. Come and see!” Though none of us were hankering for unsalted peanuts in the heat of the day, we couldn’t resist his quirky charm. Gingerly traversing the tiny path by his cabin, nearly tripping over the blind dog, we came upon his peanut cauldron. Most of them over-roasted, bordering on burnt, and then wrapped carefully in small paper bags. He was proud to offer free samples. Grinning ear to ear, his handful of teeth finding it difficult to stay inside his lips, he explained “I grow herbs! Here is Spanish thyme. Smell!” “This is tamarind. Let me open one for you. Taste! You can use it for steak sauce or on fish. You can take some!”. “Come and meet my goat called Billy!”. 
Apparently a wild dog had killed the female and Darren was saving up to buy a new one. With peanut sales most likely. So at this stage, we knew we were in for at least a couple bags of peanuts. And then he threw in some fresh lemon grass too. In the end, he asked only $2 per bag of nuts and we thought wow, it’s gonna take a long time to get that new goat at this rate. We bought the nuts and added a tip for all his info and enthusiasm.

We moved on down the dusty road to our loose destination – the yacht club. Cooling down in the bar there, flanked by boxes of windows to be installed and random sparse furniture (including the royal blue velvet couch), we listened to Roosevelt’s stories of his descendants. Apparently Nixon was a British loyalist who fled the US in the late 1880’s and like many in his position, was offered any island in the Exumas by the British. He took a slave wife, and the population of Little Farmer’s Cay was underway. Roosevelt says he carved off the entire northern end of the island as his own and now it holds a private airstrip as well as some homes and his yacht club. He’s not doing too badly…

But we wanted to arrange for supper somewhere and had our hearts set on a place in town called Ocean Cabin. So we headed back toward the ‘centre’ of town – the little harbor. Their sign is ‘world famous’ in the cruiser Bahama world. We took the obligatory pic. 


But inside, despite the inviting décor, we must have met Ernestine on a bad day. She seemed annoyed by our presence as she huffed and sighed and rolled her eyes. We left and found ourselves down the road in the far less prestigious establishment of Brenda’s – called Kenya’s Deli. It consisted of an outdoor concrete slab with one long bench facing the street and four chairs. The perfect number for us.


Later that evening, lined up as we were on Brenda’s table, our ‘2 Buck Chuck’ wine on hand, we contemplated the beauty of humanity. The Baptist Deacon with sciatica who can still wind her generous waist looked after us. “How you all so nice and brown?! Brown like bread!” she exclaimed. She rubbed my arm and admired our tans. We shared our wine and talked about traveling. The village drunk, her nephew having arrived and intrigued by our presence, she kept at bay at the edge of the platform, chiding him and gently begged him away.


Full bellied we found ourselves on a twilight stroll and came upon J.R., village sculptor and enthusiastic small farmer. He dragged us through his yard at the top of his 68 year old lungs, shouting gregariously about his pomegranate tree and the many varieties of sapodilla. His wood carvings, all with the same broad nosed indignation, peered at us from their display board as we followed him around dutifully. And then the aloe – the magical cure! He stood above the slighty brown crop and explained he eats it every day. He smokes, yet the tar can’t stick to his lungs… and he offered some for Al’s itchy ankle. Before we knew it he had torn a prickly shoot, chewed off the end and smeared the slimy substance all over Al’s leg. And as if he’d willed the Gods himself to show us the power, the rash disappeared.  We pried ourselves away and wandered on a bit further, but the experience will not soon leave us.

Indeed, this is the other side of cruising that keeps us going. There are the isolated bays with white sand and peaceful lapping waves that inspire us, but then there is this. The imperfect vulnerability of strangers who open their lives to you. The lopsided grins and helpful hands. The friendly tour guides and little farmers. These experiences are as beautiful as gazing over a turquoise sea. They restore our faith in people and society and remind us what it all should be about.

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”