So I’ve been on the island for 3 nights now, and its been more interesting than I had imagined!
When I left you last I was on the way to Sint Maarten. Well, I spent one night in this beautiful cliche Caribbean paradise, sipping beer on a deck over a lagoon, eating ‘Pork l’Orange’, and sleeping in a big bed with airconditioning. Beautiful long white sandy beaches the next day, and rides in shiny new mini buses with sun seeking liesure creatures.
Flew to St Eustatius (‘Statia’) the next day in a tiny 18 seater with propellers, mixture of Statians and tourists and foolish prospective interns as passengers. As soon as we approached the island I knew something was different.
No long white beaches and resorts here.
A line of oil tankers waited in the bay.
Landing at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Airport the first thing I saw was a line of cows crossing the road. And then a bunch of goats crowding around a side street, looking edgy and eyeing me furtively.
Clearly things were a bit different here.
Heading up with Grant, the Island Archaeologist, to the SECAR building, he asked me whether Jordan was the extent of my experience in the developing world, suggesting that there would be a few things to get used to here. When we got up to the building I was pleased to find a cool big house, with a nice overgrown backyard with coconut palms, other strange fruit trees, lizards crawling around. But my hopes were then struck down when I saw a cat basking on the floor inside the building, named Vincent! Wouldnt be a problem usually, but Im allergic to the damn things. So feeling not as idyllic as I’d hoped, I dragged a mattress outside and started brooming the cat hairs off it.
Next day I went exploring with the aid of Amir, who is also being an intern here. Eventually, I braved up and walked down to the shore, determined to find a place among the rocks to swim. Finding a little patch of black sand, with a bunch of people swimming, I stripped off and got in the water.
The water is cool, salty, and immediately refreshing. Next thing I know, a couple of people are saying hello to me. Turns out they are Dutch, and live on Rosmary Lane right near where im staying at the SECAR building. Yeln tells me about the colourful fish swimming around everywhere, the reefs and sunken ships to dive on. Tells me its cheap to learn to dive here. I take a little test duck dive, and see just north of where we are swimming a jumble of submerged stone walls: some of the 600 warehouses that covered the little bay when Statia was the centre of the world in the 18th century. Things all of a sudden arent looking that bad.
Having been left to settle in over the weekend, the next day I go exploring a bit more. Having been briefed by Amir that it is custom to wave when you pass a car or person on the road, I wave lazily all the way down the hill, island slow-down starting to have its pleasing affect on my metabolism. And everyone waves back! Things arent looking so bad at all…
Stopping at the little supermarket, run by Chinese people, I buy some chillies, fish sause, and a big bottle of Dominican rum for $5 US. Things were indeed looking up! Next! Searching for a short cut down to the beach from the street on the hill, I take a vague path and ask a local Statian if indeed the beach can be accessed from my chosen route. ‘Yes…?’ is the kind reply, like I must have lost my mind and they felt sorry for me. So I followed the path, to find a little bit of paradise after all. So maybe there would have been a beach here, if it werent for the ruins of all the warehouses, what Im here to study. And not long white stretches of sand, its more of a volcanic rock jutting out of the ocean, a fact celebrated in days gone by. I had a little read, and tasted the rum too.
Continuing down the little trail to the shore, I looked down at my feet, and I think it was at this point that I started to feel real happy about being here. My feet were starting to brown up, and I abserved that they were getting used to their new surroundings. Its funny how people have this own sense of themselves, this capacity to abstract things so much that they think about themself and whether or not they are liking something, that they worry about something that is happening exactly as it should. My feet werent worrying about whether they would be happy in the sun, they just went ahead and got brown.
As if rewarded for the trouble, a little artefact popped out of the trail in front of me. Everythings going to be sweet it whispered to me.
Getting to the bottom of the hill I thought of the woman who had asked Amir and I to climb one of the volcanoes on the island with her later in the year, and I haven’t stopped looking forward to it yet. At the bottom I went for a little walk along the beach, then watched the sunset over the boats, from little bar on the rocks, with a $2 beer in my hand, pacified.