Island Paradise or Prison?
After escaping a major snow storm that grounded 50% of flights at Logan, I boarded JetBlue to New York on Thursday, then Bridgetown, Barbados, and then my real destination, St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), a nation composed of five islands. I was last here
in 2001—13 long years ago—to meet the Fordes, a family with hemophilia on the remote island of Mayreau. It’s not easy to get to. After a one night stop over in Kingstown, the capital of SVG, and a meeting with the lovely Dr. Bhattarai Datta, a pediatrician who wants to start a hemophilia organization, I had a short flight, over to Union Island in a private plane, owned and piloted by Martin Jennett, a suntanned, charming and wry Scotsman who has lived here since the 1970s. He showed up in shorts and flip-flops, and said climb in! His Grumman American
Tiger—which he says is “just my car”— is compact, cute, nimble and does the
job, just like its owner. His gorgeous clipper Scaramouche was used in the Pirates of the Caribbean!
We were airborne at once and pierced the clouds. They billowed on my right, the sun heating them. On my left, islands and turquoise waters. Mayreau eventually appeared; we have to technically fly over it to get to Union Island, where there is a runway. From the air, Mayreau was splayed like a green starfish floating on the sea.
smile and we chatted. He is 6’2” now, a far cry from the skinny little boy that I put on my knee then.
steering column cover. Everything exposed and jerry rigged haphazardly. The door would shut only with a lot of outside assistance. You do whatever you must to keep going here.
her! We laughed. I said, “So you probably don’t remember me from 2001?” He paused and asked, “Did I propose to you too?” We all laughed again.
their tongues, tails wagging so hard their torsos were shaken from side to side.
mother left the family years ago. There is an outhouse and a rain vat. Kishroy shows me his Spartan room, and given
that this may be his home for life, I vow to get him a bedspread and matching curtains next time I come. His cousin Tevin is with him. We unload the gifts: a Bible, pens, books (like Fantastic Voyage, about scientists shrunken to travel through the blood stream), a waterproof expedition watch for him and his father, and wallets. Neither had a wallet.
Kishroy was delighted. And even more with the factor that next was retrieved!
at least find the answer and learn his options. But he needs to go to the States for this.
one of seven sons: Claude, Samuel, John, then Adolphus, Job, “Nomo” (not his real name, but nicknamed such because his mother declared that after that baby there would be “no mo’.”) and Alvin (apparently her plan failed!). It’s clear that Kishroy, despite the risk of living on an island that just got electricity within the last 7 years, and is accessible only by boat, with no medical care, is surrounded by a tight-knit
and plentiful family. In that way, he is richer than a lot of people I know.
to church. Then we hike around the perimeter of the island, admiring the sun sparkling on the sea, and the various shades of blue. We eventually end up at Nancy and Lorne’s cottage, and they invite us in, despite all the yard work they are in the midst of. A few minutes turns into 90, and we eat lunch and I listen to how Nancy sat with various elder women on the island to capture their stories for a book she authored. She gives me a copy, and one for John, Kishroy’s sponsor. I can’t wait to read this. She has I think for the first time preserved a piece of history of Mayreau.
“Yes…” And adds softly and suddenly, “I miss by brother too.”
his pictures that I took of him from 2001 set on the one piece of furniture in
the living room.
The boat was ready, so we gingerly stepped in, balancing dock to rocking dugout; I started doing the splits with one foot on the boat and one on the dock as the boat suddenly drifted away. Thankfully Tevin grabs me and kept me from plunging in!
but you feel closer to people here. Nancy told me only last year for the first time did the island finally get a policeman. A vet comes to the island once a week (there is a problem with too many dogs); a nurse also comes once or twice.
If you get really sick at night, you must take a boat to get to Union, and the facilities there are a bit scary. Martin simply says, “Get to Martinique if you need medical attention.” And I am sure that’s not just a ploy to hire his
Unknown to me, Alphonso has been fishing since the early morning, and returns with succulent lobsters for dinner. He is a man of few words; but I know when I am being thanked. I also note that lobsters are his main source of income; to give away two is a sacrifice. And I note further that Adolphus, for all his lack of education, humility, and humble home, has given me an entire lobster; Kishroy gets the tail of the second, where the sweet meat is of course, leaving Adolphus the head and chest, where there is virtually no meat. I am always struck by the true class some of the poorest people exhibit, and which is so lacking in many of the well-to-do.
Adolphus. A grand meal, a way to say thanks for all those who sponsor Kishroy (first the Castaldo family years ago, and now John Parler) and for those who donate factor. We are all keeping him alive and well. In his slight, faint voice, accented with the British lilt of the islands, he says, “T’anks for the factor and the sponsorship.” Nothing more need be said.
We walk back in the darkness, skirting frisky dogs and a random goat, listening to the blaring and pounding of the karaoke bars nearby, stars above, ocean surf ever present, and say good bye at the gate of Dennis’s Hideaway. What a difference 24 hours makes. What a difference shared lives make. What a privilege to be here.