choice: the wall

The Best Advice So Far - choice: the wall - dilapidated building inland Bahamas

In my last post, I invited you to celebrate with me the successful completion of a yearlong writing goal I’d set for myself in 2017.

Since that post, I’ve allowed myself a break from all things blog. It was strategic. I knew that if I were to just continue on writing at the previously set “goal pace,” I would have felt locked into it rather than having been able, as I did, to have closure on that goal—and to then begin a new one.

Well, today is the day I begin that new goal where this blog is concerned.

As my focus turns toward writing the next book—currently entitled Tried and (Still) True)—I want to be sure that I continue to give the concepts in The Best Advice So Far adequate development. They are, after all, timeless—just as true and life-changing now as they were at the start of things.

I imagine it’s much the same as having a second or third child: being sure, with all the time and attention that the new addition requires, to continue to love and foster and invest in the firstborn.

An idea coalesced during my short writing break: Why not revisit the advice in every chapter of The Best Advice So Far again, but from an as-yet-unexplored angle or with new stories?

As soon as the notion hit me, it just felt somehow right. Familiar and yet at the same time fresh and exciting. And so, for most if not all of 2018, that will be my new goal and focus. I’m not committing myself to stick stringently to plan, if something outside the express realm of the first book should happen along the way and burn to be told. But I believe it will make for a good guiding force.

*****

Sometime back in the early fall, I caught wind of a great deal on a three-day cruise out of Miami to the Bahamas. Little did I know at the time, when I booked a cabin for the MLK holiday weekend, that winter in New England would be plunging the region into weeks of sub-zero temperatures. During the worst of it, temperatures dropped to -19°F with wind chill affecting -35°F. Attempting such simple tasks as pumping gas (should one have run out of the house quickly without donning gloves) was not only painful but downright dangerous. And try as I might—whether by standing awkwardly with my toes tucked under the old-fashioned radiators in my home, or standing in the shower several times a day for no other reason than warming up—I was never quite able to thaw the blocks of ice that had replaced my feet.

So when the day finally came, I was beyond ready to walk barefoot on sun-warmed grass or sand, to squint with hand-shaded eyes at a too-bright sky—and to bask in the profligate luxury of feeling too hot.

As it turned out, the day I left for Florida, my own home area had a freakish warm streak approaching 60°, while Florida saw a relative cold spell, with one night dipping into the 40s. Still, their “chilly” was shorts-and-flip-flops weather for me.

The cruise was all I had hoped it would be, a real soul restorer. And yet, again, I was surprised by the abundance of generally bad behavior around me.

Before we even set sail, during the mandatory safety drills which required that all hands (and guests) be on deck, many people were disruptive and outright rude to the staff: crying out angrily in the middle of instructions that it was taking too long, or that they were bored, or that the (extremely patient) muster leaders were keeping them from the bar and drinks they had paid for.

I frequently passed people grumbling (to whom, I wondered) about the overcast sky.

Several cruisers with whom I tried to engage in friendly small talk while waiting in a line or on a transfer ferry (not, God forbid, keeping them from the bar or their drinks) were unnecessarily aloof—even dismissive.

Late one night, after a full day of fun on shore and a posh dinner in the formal dining room, I came up to the main deck and slid, smiling, into one of the large hot tubs. I asked the two other guests sharing the spa—a father and his college-aged daughter—how they were enjoying their cruise. They immediately began to complain:

…about the weather,

…about the “small” size of the (eleven-story) ship,

…about the “inferior quality” of the food.

Within fifteen minutes, able to tolerate it no longer, I politely extricated myself from the conversation in search of cheerier company.

Mind you, there were numerous dining options available at all times, each allowing all-you-can-eat access to, I dare say, several hundred varied and exquisitely prepared foods.

You’ll have to trust me when I say that I’m being generous to a fault as I describe the rude behavior of many aboard the ship. More than once, it was not only sad but uncomfortable, even for me.

*****

On Sunday morning, we docked in Nassau, Bahamas.

It’s not a beach sort of place. Rather, you exit the ship and are immediately greeted by a cacophony of urgent voices crying out from just beyond the iron fence:

“You! You! Taxi! Taxi!”

“City tour! Come now! I show you the best places only!”

“Beads! Necklaces! Good price, mon!”

Security guards usher cruise guests out of the melee and into a long, narrow—and carefully presented—strip of shopping options, where one can buy anything from Gucci watches and handbags to Vera Wang shoes at prices that hint at (if not outright tout) the use of slave labor.

The tourist shopping area pops in bright pinks, yellows and blues.

Walking beyond the shops funnels the wayward invariably toward Queen’s Staircase.

Approaching Queen's Staircase, all was looking picturesque and tropical.
A stone wall topped by long-rooted and lush trees funnels visitors toward the steep Queen's Staircase

The tall, steep set of stairs leads upward to—more shops on the periphery of what alleges to be the central attraction: Fort Fincastle.

A bright red cannon beside the manicured lawns around Fort Fincastle, Nassau, Bahamas.

For those who chose to look only as far as the wall or back toward the port, it’s idyllic:

Two luxury cruise ships (Royal Caribbean and Norwegian) dock at port, Nassaue, Bahamas.

But turn the other direction—to where the majority of the island lay beyond that wall—and the illusion quickly evaporates.

I stood on the barricade and hopped down a few feet to a square landing made of cracked concrete. From this perch, drifts of garbage became visible, piling up yards high against the wall. Peering through the nearest thicket of palms, I was able to just make out a shanty. A young woman slumped on the porch, watching a naked child and a chicken totter about in the dirt. A rope drooped low to the ground, laden with a few articles of clothing hung out to air.

I had no interest in the veneer that had been set up for tourists. I wanted to know the real people of the island. So it was that my travel companion and I decided to venture over the wall and into the real Bahamas.

I can only describe the change as immediate and stark.

Whereas shops along the main drag by the port bustled with the day’s visitors, every building that appeared to have at one time been a place of business was dilapidated, defaced, boarded up. Closed.

It appeared at first that the other structures were abandoned as well. Crumbling walls. Trees through roofs. Bushes and tall grass growing up through rusted jalopies. Here or there, a scrawny chicken scratched at the dust. Feral cats rubbed skeletal ribs along graffiti-covered walls.

Where were the people?

Dirty turquoise paint peels from walls and trim on tiny stilt homes, inland Bahamas.

Another filthy, boarded-up home/business alongside a crumbled wall and street, inland Bahamas.

A dilapidated home inland Bahamas has trees crashed through the roof; overgrown bushes and vines strangle the house and junk car.

A little further in and there began to be signs of life—voices of beauty heard and strong spirits felt, before their owners ever came into view.

An abandoned shop inland Bahamas is decorated with a bright and beautiful graffiti painting of a roaring tiger.

An old wall inland Bahamas is decorated with skilled graffiti: THE WALL OF RESPECT

Then, at long last, they emerged: the real people of the island.

A thin man with dreadlocks plodded off course and toward us on unsteady feet. It was the first islander to make contact, and we were in another country, outside the bounds deemed “safe” for travelers. What did he want?

When he reached us, he grinned warmly and offered an outstretched fist for a “bump.” We bumped.

::bump bump::

“Welcome to Bahamas, mon! Have a nice day!” he bellowed. We wished him the same and off he went to continue his trek.

A brightly dressed woman and child were next. My guess was that they were on their way to church. Again, they smiled and welcomed us to their island.

A young man waved from a doorway across the street.

Further in we went.

Before long, a police car pulled up alongside us. The window rolled down. The officer smiled. “You came from port?” We confirmed that, yes, we had. The officer continued, “I would suggest you turn back soon. This is a high crime area. Not safe, you know.” We thanked him for the information and on he drove.

Not wishing to tempt fate, we turned down a parallel side street.

We met Kenneth, who told us much about the recent political race in the Bahamas and about his love of American football.

The next street was blocked off with makeshift barricades, as broken pavement gave way to packed dirt and mud. Side-stepping deep puddles, we continued down the road anyway.

A few more strides brought us upon two elderly ladies with shorn heads and dressed in their night clothes, chatting with one another in the middle of the street. No sooner did they spy us than their faces cracked with beaming smiles with many missing teeth. “Hallo!” they cried, one of them reaching her hands out to take ours. “Welcome to Bahamas! A lovely day!” And we felt welcome.

We told them that we’d happened upon their little street when the police had warned us to turn back. “Bah!” cried the first woman, who introduced herself as Shari. “Bah!”

Her friend waved a dismissive hand. “The news lady, she tells the world that we are criminals” (this last bit sounding like creamy-nose). “She say that we are bad people. But we are not bad people.”

The first joined in again, addressing us with emphatic voice and large gestures. “You walk far, yes?”

“Yes, quite a ways,” we agreed.

“And did anyone harm you?”

We shook our heads, smiling.

“Did anyone rob you? Ask you for money or something? Are we robbing you now?”

“No, not at all,” we concurred. “Everyone has been very friendly and kind, including you both.”

Yes! You see then. We are not criminals, bad people. We are nice people. We don’t care who comes here, what color is their skin or nothing. We just want people to be happy!” Shari’s raspy voice pealed, her final word stretched triple length:

Haaaaah-peeeee!

We all laughed aloud together as she continued to grip our hands as if she were our own grandmother.

“And look around you. Is this so terrible? This is a nice neighborhood we have! You see it with your own eyes, yes?

We surveyed our surroundings once more. You would never see such poverty and unfit living conditions even in the worst of places in the United States.

“It’s a beautiful place with nice people and good neighbors like yourselves living here. Thank you for welcoming us and being so kind to us, even though we’re visitors.”

Bah!” Shari cried again, beaming. “There are no strangers here. Only friends!”

I promised them that I would tell you all about them, their kindness and their beautiful island. And though they’ll never know it, I’m making good on that promise.

*****

Now, how is it that those with enough leisure time and excess money to take a luxury cruise with bountiful cuisine and endless entertainment—those who have everything—can find endless reasons for rudeness, disappointment and griping…

…while those who are among the poorest of the poor—those who have nothing—can live as though they have everything, exclaiming that their lives are filled with beauty and that everyone is their friend?

“You always have a choice.”

Therein lies the wall.

best advice so far - you always have a choice - tweetable


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