Ta-daaa – 180 Days of Magic

Sleights of moment, waving the family wand

Baobab blues

Posted by PlayGroundology on November 3, 2008

It’s hard to believe that a girthful, monkey bread bearing baobab and kiting coastal frigate birds updrafting to higher heights are Barbados memories that went AWOL on me. They are not alone, there’s the fishing village close on Brandon’s with fine people, rum shops and limes with friends as well as the faces and names of individuals who surface unannounced after 2 decades of snowstruck winters. Presence – seeing, smelling, hearing, touching, tasting – is a passport to yesterdays whose signature beat still echoes in my heart. Back then each cockcrow sun and tradewind night had the wonder of new wrapped up in discovery’s expectant learning. In this now, the cadence of morning greetings is a warm singsong, a hopeful welcome to a new days bridge of remembories.

I was an immigrant through marriage 25 years ago arriving in St. Michael with my Bajan wife and three-week-old daughter. It was an exciting time immersing myself in a new country and being Dad to a beautiful little girl who could claim both Barbados and Canada as home. The transition was pretty much painless as I “married in”, the family was modestly prominent and I was endlessly curious. After little more than 18 months on the island the marriage went to hell in a hand basket. I cycled out of the land of mangoes and soursop to wind my back to apples and blueberries.

While in my new home I experienced many kindnesses. For one, newspaper editors took a chance on an unknown and untested young Canadian. This enabled me to cobble together some income writing feature articles – primarily on music, dance and theatre – for The Nation, Caribbean Contact, The Bajan and the Caribbean News Agency. It was a great opportunity to learn about the country and the region, to immerse myself in the Caribbean’s contemporary cultural expression and to meet people some of whom would become friends.

This was my first time back since a 1 week visit in 1990. Mélanie made it all possible by suggesting we make a Barbados splash with our air miles cash. She supported me with the time, space and love to root around in my past, wallow in a bit of nostalgia and prattle on sometimes endlessly about this time in my life. I was able to reconnect with extended family, explore old hangouts and catch up with some dear friends. There’s also been a bit of reconciling the older man I’ve become with the young man that I was through that imprecise and at times selective recall review mirror.

farrell-the-nationPulling into the driveway of the Bagatelle home one hot afternoon – well they were all serious stinking, sticking, sweating, dripping hot, high relative humidity 29∘C feeling more like 41∘C – there was Farrell’s unmistakable voice jammin’ across the airwaves, a welcome touchstone. Red Ribbons was playing, a cautionary tale of deadly AIDS, a words and music story shouting out the danger of irresponsible sexual behaviour. This was Farrell doing his stuff – popularizing, getting the word out, participating in effecting change in how people do, be, see, act.

Later that week, I took the windy roads through cut rock and cane fields to Farrell’s house close by Jericho, St. George – 1 of only 2 landlocked parishes in the country, the other being St. Thomas where we were staying. Farrell gave me good directions but I got lost just the same. With no map to backup the verbal directions, it was more often miss than hit in our meanderings.

Only major roads are named on maps. For all the others it’s pure, or as Bajans would say, bare luck to correctly link up the physical road you’re driving on with the the blue, grey and green lines that represent where you want to be. We had plentiful helpings of asking, backtracking and bemoaning the lack of signage. The Opposition raised the lamentable lack of directional signs in Parliament which led to a little media play. At least it’s on the agenda to be addressed. If totally flummoxed and there are no parliamentarians available to provide a helpful hand, come from aways can always get back to Bridgetown by following the lollipop bus stop signs that declare – “To City”. If you’re country bound though, the flip side, “Out of City” is a tad short on precision and won’t help much in getting a bead on your destination.

That day deep in the heart of Barbados I was set on the straight road by a woman who came out to feed her madly barking dogs and tell me there were no Farrells about that part. She gave Winston a call and sorted out how I was to get from where I thought I already was to where I was supposed to be. I headed off still uncertain of the exact route and there was Farrell out on the main road walking toward the car as I crested a small knoll. I was off course about 3 kilometres because of righting instead of lefting at one of those “it’s time to make a guess junctions”. These were the unassuming but wily converging roads that sucked any pretensions of navigational acumen right out of the map part of my brain. We had the “H” brand on our plates designating a rental vehicle as well as the stunned look of the lost circling and back and forthing so close, yet so far from our intended destination zones.

Farrell shares a new 2 family home with his brother-in-law. I met his wife Beverly who showed me the wedding album keeping dear their wonderful ceremony and reception at Bathsheba. Farrell and I swapped stories out on the balcony enjoying the breeze and the country view of fields sloping gently down and then up toward the island’s high east coast peaks. The fruit trees – banana, plaintain, mango, coconut – gardens, black belly sheep and the broad expanse of sky were welcome conspirators in an unhurried, rooted ambience. That afternoon the sky was split. Half was building steam, greying to angry black – storm a coming. The other half was high bake hot sun and cotton ball clouds in a sweet blue sky. Storm would win and I left before dark drop and rain fall.

We chanced across Farrell a couple of days later in Queen’s Park. These are welcome happenstances at any time and all the more remarkable when far from home. The laws of probability wouldn’t give great odds on bumping into someone you know in a country where you can count friends and acquaintances on two hands.  But there we were matter-of-factly discussing our plans for the coming days. The Park is Bridgetown’s green sanctuary complete with playing fields for cricket and football, a playground for the smaller kids, a massive baobab tree and other flora more common to the island. It was also once the home of a theatre and other cultural spaces but due to lack of maintenance these have regrettably fallen into disuse.

Our surprises weren’t over. Passing by Amen Alley we made our way to Broad St. and one of the many Chefette’s in the downtown core. It was time to hydrate, sit in the sweat resistant AC cool and take in some carbohydrates. I saw a wave from the food prep area and it was Andrea whom we had met nearly 2 weeks earlier at Bathsheba’s tidal pools. It had been our first of 3 visits to the east coast’s rough windswept beauty. On this treacherous, craggy stretch the salt crests roll uninterrupted across the Atlantic linking this rock rattled shore to West Africa. Here all vegetation leans landward seeking to escape the constant buffeting, the push, push pressuring of winds that rarely calm.

As long as there’s no rain you can be oblivious to the wind and deadly currents in the enclosed safety of Bathsheba’s tidal pools. Our first day out they were not busy. Andrea, her husband Alistair and ourselves were alone with the incoming tide and the fish who come and go with the ocean swells. It’s a great place to contemplate, to chill, to wonder how the gargantuan, pockmarked coral boulders arrived in situ. Perhaps they are sentinels sent by the Carib gods…

That afternoon we shared stories with Andrea about kids, daycare and the cost of living. It was good to connect and hear the real love of place. Andrea had visited her mother who lived in Toronto but had no interest in relocating. East coast Barbados was where she wanted to be. They invited us to a kids fair type event over the weekend but sleep schedules, heat and some creeping inertia kept us away. I’m glad we saw Andrea again at Chefette…

Prior to meeting up with Andrea again at Chefette, Noah played in the sunsplashed park and I wondered how I could have misplaced such a huge tree in my memory. In Sénégal years earlier their sorcerer silhouette’s had imprinted themselves on my imagination – guess it wasn’t indelible. Apparently that Queen’s Park baobab came all the way from Africa. Even though Saint Exupéry’s Little Prince feared these mighty and venerable upside down trees would split planets, it turns out that this extrapolation is rooted in exaggeration. There are no island wide fissures radiating from the bole of this import. Everything looks pretty safe for the time being.

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