Archive | April, 2011

Good Friday

28 Apr

Good Friday in Bermuda is a day of celebration. Traditionally people eat fishcakes and hot cross buns (yes, together!) give Easter baskets (containing Easter themed sweets) and fly their kites at the beach.

We’d heard that Horseshoe Bay was one of the main places to go for the festivities, so we scooted down late morning. What is usually a popular but peaceful stretch of sand had been transformed! There were food stands, Rum Swizzle stalls, live music, happy families splashing in the ocean and an unexpectedly beautiful sight of many colourful kites floating on the breeze.


Rich and I had decided to enter into the spirit of things and make our own kite – fashioned out of some sticks, twine and a er…blue plastic bag (We still haven’t really sussed out where to get atypical items such as arts and crafts bits!). Unfortunately we soon discovered that our kite’s tail was too short, and so, after a quick twist in the air, it nosedived back down into the sand! With our careers as professional kitemakers well and truly over, we laid out our beach towels and happily watched those with adequate tails soaring and gliding through a cloudless blue sky.

A miffed Rich with our Kite Fail (and also some streamers growing out of his ear!)

Later, the sound of drums appeared. The Gombey dancers were on their way. We had heard of the traditional Gombeys’ dance parade, and had even tried to find them on Boxing Day when rumours emerged that they may be performing, but until this point, had only seen pictures of them in books.

As the drums got louder flashes of colour appeared. Big Gombeys and mini Gombeys, bedecked in tall hats with peacock feathers, tasselled costumes and bright masks, danced and strutted their way down to the sand, followed by a small band of drummers providing the beats for the troupe.

Gombeys are unique to Bermuda, with the drum rhythms deriving from African tribal music. The dancers are always male, and their costumes and masks cover them from head to toe – a tradition that apparently dates back to slavery, as the coverings meant that slave-masters would not recognise the slaves that were dancing.

There was a buzz of excitement as they arrived and tourists and local people alike snapped and filmed them moving to the rhythms, before they moved across the beach and away from sight. Being a small island, there aren’t many traditions that are truly unique to Bermuda, but the Gombeys are one that the local people clearly take much pride in, and make considerable effort to preserve and pass down to younger generations. Given that the Gombeys perform so infrequently, it was a real pleasure to see them and to partake in something that Bermuda clearly cherishes.


Whale Wisdom

23 Apr

Last week was a week of disasters. My visiting mother-in-law broke her toe; my father-in-law got stung by a vicious Portuguese Man o’War; Rich, at the end of a long day, picked up the green petrol pump and filled our scooter with diesel. Half a mile later the petrol engine spluttered out the foreign juice and died at a roundabout. Things broke in the house; and then, to finish the week off, my work permit application for a permanent job was rejected, after 9 weeks of hoping and waiting. It was the final straw and I spent most of the weekend stomping around the house, wondering if we’d got bad Feng Shui or irritated Fate.

Then, on Sunday, we went on a whale watching trip. Given the week we had had, we expected to see nothing but a few seagulls. But, soon after we left the shore, excited mumblings rippled through the boat; someone had seen a spurt of water shoot up from the ocean.

We scrambled to the front of the boat, necks craned. Sure enough a curve of black arched in the water, followed by a large black and white tail. The silence on the boat was broken by a ricochet of camera clicks. The sight was incredible.

Cresting 2

For the next few hours she continued to shoot up from the waves and curve back down, her shiny, black skin gleaming in the sunlight. As she scooped her fin around, the patch of water beside her turned bright turquoise – the white of her fin reflecting the light of the sun.

I thought then about how, when my mother-in-law broke her toe, a stranger had driven her to the hospital; when Rich’s scooter broke down, two kind gentlemen stopped, put the bike in the back of their van and drove us home, refusing to take any thank you payment. And, here we were now, on a boat in beautiful Bermuda, watching this breath-taking and majestic being in her natural habitat.

Sometimes when the excitement of something new dies down, we move the goalposts. When Rich was offered his job in the summer last year, we couldn’t believe this was happening to us. What an opportunity! And then, somewhere along the way, it did happen to us, and we moved our focus to the next thing that we wanted with no real thought to what we already had.

I am truly disappointed that I cannot take that job. I had big plans – not only for exciting things we could do within the company, but also ideas for ways we could give back to the local community. But, I have also come to realise that what I already have here in Bermuda is wonderful. We eat our weekday dinners outside in the evening sunshine, we spend our weekends on the beach, and we regularly feel like we’re on holiday. And that is more than enough.

The Bermudian Good Life

20 Apr

Homemade jams, prize-winning butternut squash, goat parades and dressage contests… you may think I’m describing a typical country fair in rural England, with green-wellied visitors and WI staff on the cake stalls. The weather would be a little showery, but people would nonetheless have a “jolly good time”.

But actually, these were some of the things I saw during my first experience of Bermuda’s Ag Show (or the Bermuda Annual Exhibition as it’s formally known). There were farmyard animals, bountiful fruit, blooming flowers and homemade baked goods – but flip flops and glorious sunshine in place of the wellies and showers!

The Ag Show is a huge three day event in Bermuda with schools making art displays and individuals nurturing plants and vegetables which are then judged and awarded prizes. It takes place in the Botanical Gardens, a large park just outside the capital of Bermuda, dotted with flowerbeds and hanging baskets overflowing with colour. This year there was also a range of farmyard animals competing for prizes including pigs, goats, calves, rabbits, guinea pigs, ducks, chickens and pigeons with funny peacock-esque feathers!

Alongside the exhibition of animals and foods, there were shows and displays throughout the day including dressage competitions, goat parades and – my favourite – a Dog Agility show, which involved a variety of dogs ranging in age and energy levels jumping through hoops and over hurdles. Some were nippy and sped around the course in seconds; others sauntered round the poles, stopping occasionally to sniff the air – as if looking for the nearest barbecue stall they could head to instead.

The atmosphere throughout the day was wonderful – children giggling with glee at the smelly pigs, parents examining their children’s Recyclable Critters, reading their spindly handwriting with pride, and families laughing and clapping at the animal shows. Everything was organic, homemade and natural – a world away from the traffic and general island hubbub – and it made me long for a veggie patch of my own (and a pet dog I could train to jump over things!) A taste of the Bermudian Good Life!

Ten things I have learned from my husband

14 Apr

On this date last year, the sun was shining, the trees were in blossom, and ninety of the most wonderful people were gathered together in beautiful Cyprus, to watch Rich and I get married under a gazebo of candles and muslin and roses. It was a perfect day.

As a seventeen year-old, I remember telling my school friends that not only did I want to be with him, but I wanted to be like him. Rich was, and still is, infectiously happy with a generous spirit and an incredibly kind soul. Eleven years on I’m still learning from him.

Here’s a list of the most important rules for life he’s taught me so far:

1. Don’t be a different person to different people. Be yourself and stick with that.

2. Approach everything with energy and enthusiasm.

3. Always season whatever you’re cooking.

4. Competition is healthy – be the best you can be with anything, but accept you won’t be the best at everything. Don’t stop trying though!

5. Don’t underestimate the usefulness of general knowledge. Take time to read it, listen to it and absorb it.

6. To worry is to waste a moment of your life which you will never get back.

7. Keep things as simple as possible.

8. Make at least as much time to do fun stuff as you do for chores!

9. Help a neighbour just because you should. And do it with a smile.

10. Let things cool before you tamper with them. This applies to baking and to bad-tempered people.

Happy one year anniversary hubby, here’s to many more 🙂

A Day Without Water

7 Apr

I’m sitting in the living room of my condo and all is quiet. The washing machine is still, despite the laundry bin piled high with clothes, sleeves trying to make a bid for freedom from under its lid. The dishwasher, full of dirty dinner plates and cups, is silent. By the sink is a neatly stacked pile of utensils and pans used to make last night’s dinner, waiting to have the rice and bits of stuck-on onion scrubbed off them so they can sparkle again. And I’m sitting on the sofa, waiting alongside them for the same thing – water. As of yesterday afternoon, we have no running water in the house.

All tap water in Bermuda comes from rainwater, which runs down limestone-treated roofs and is collected in large tanks, usually stored underground. Because the water is treated in the tank, it’s safe to drink straight from the tap and tastes fine. It’s an excellent way to conserve and reuse water and most of the time it works well. But unfortunately for the last two months there has been less rain than usual, and so the tank that we share with the other three condos in our area is now dry as a bone.

Very quickly you realise how much you need water to do anything around the house – washing, cooking, even flushing the loo! Usually when I have a morning off from volunteering, I’ll do a bit of aerobics or yoga. But with no option of a shower afterwards, and an event to help staff this afternoon, I don’t want to risk alienating people! Now I’m just waiting for the Water Supply Man (that’s his official title) to come along in his water truck and top up the empty tanks. Generally he arrives within 24 hours, but a day without water is a very long one when you’re used to taking it completely for granted.

In England we would be flabbergasted if we turned on the tap and nothing came out. I think the closest we have come to having scarce water, in my lifetime at least, has been the hosepipe ban during warm summers, and even then I suspect most people crept out into their gardens in the dark and secretly watered their flowerbeds with fully flowing water, rolling their eyes at Government overreactions and judgmental neighbours.

It’s been an important lesson not to take basic things for granted, and I hope when we return to the UK we have moments where Rich and I say to each other: “do you remember when we used to run out of water in Bermuda?” and be thankful for the water gushing out of the tap rather than just expecting it to be so.

Life Stories

5 Apr

For me, school history lessons were always dull. We spent months studying the Second World War, examining textbooks on strategic offensives and features of the Spitfire. I’d count down the minutes until lunchtime. In contrast, I loved hearing about my grandparents’ experiences of the War – their personal memories lifted my textbook’s words from the page and swirled them round into scenes of colour and smell. Why weren’t there more stories like theirs in my lessons?

When we first moved to Bermuda we stayed with a couple in their seventies. On the way to the supermarket they would tell me tales about visiting their grandparents by horse and cart, the unveiling of the new railway (now just a walking trail) and the island’s hostility to the motor car. It was fascinating and I wanted to learn more about Bermuda’s history – through the people that had lived it.

This was partially the reason why I’ve started volunteering with the Bermuda Senior Islanders’ Centre. I wanted to hear more of these stories which were only written in corners of minds. And, as a youngish person, I felt that I should give something back to the people that were here before me.

Recently, I’ve started teaching one lady how to use the computer. In our first lesson, she told me one of her stories:

She moved from Ireland to Canada in the sixties to work as a nurse. On her first day she stood in the snow and biting wind, waiting for a bus which said HOSPITAL on its front. Numerous buses passed her, sending splashes of icy water over her legs. None were going the right way. Eventually someone told her she was standing on the wrong side of the road. When she finally arrived, another nurse took one look at her and froze, exclaiming “look at your legs”! She glanced down and her stomach churned; her legs were dark purple. The doctors worked quickly and saved her legs from amputation. After that she vowed to continue her career somewhere warmer and arrived in Bermuda.

Her children and grandchildren live in Ireland. She’s heard of Skype and knows of email but doesn’t know how to get started. I’m thrilled that I can make a bit of a difference to this lady’s life, and hear her stories along the way.

Through the Senior Islanders I’ve also taken on the coordination of a project called Write It Down. High school students have interviewed some seniors, and we are now looking to turn these interviews into a published book – my idea of a history book! Sadly since the interviews, two of the seniors have passed away. It’s disappointing that they won’t see their stories in print, but wonderful that others will.

Sometimes we get so busy with life that we don’t make time to stop and listen to each other’s stories. And yet, unlike the history textbooks which will always exist, these personal stories are as fragile as life itself.

If you know someone who has seen more of life than you, take the opportunity to be transported into another time! And watch the person as they tell their tale. When my nan talks about courting my late gramps, her eyes sparkle, and her face becomes full of beauty and light. For me, her stories will never get old.