Archives For St Croix USVI

It was a Honey of a Day

February 14, 2018 — Leave a comment

I had plans. Planting the cuttings people have so generously given me – two, what I hope will be one day be glorious shooting star (Clerodendrum) bushes, and two Danish flag vines (I don’t know its grown-up name), except instead of red and white my clippings are red and pink. Don’t know why. Then I was going to write, write, write.

Instead what did I do? I sat. First at a chair positioned just so at our dining room window, then on the barstool in the kitchen, then upstairs at the hall window. All overlooking our neighbour’s garden. I had become a voyeur.

It was the men that did it. Two husky men with dreads and beards shoving their legs into white coveralls at the bottom of our drive. A young woman covered from head to foot in all manner of garb, including a tee-shirt draped artfully around her head, completed the trio. Her job, seemingly, was to shove greenery into a kettle-like contraption which was then lit by one of the men. She then pumped and primed it until smoke blew off in satisfying curlicues to dissipate on the omnipresent north-easterly winds battering St Croix this month.

Now you must remember I was not in close proximity and so I could be forgiven for thinking, when the masks came out, that the trio were heading to a fencing tournament. And then I twigged.

Bees!

I am rather fond of bees and we are planting a garden to attract them and hummingbirds and bananaquits, the rather charming and cheeky little yellow-breasted birds – smaller than a British robin – who twitter around any flowers. I have though in the last few months been bitten twice by bees – not something that has ever happened before. I can report that they hurt like hell, then itch, then swell into an unattractive lump before disappearing. I am obviously not prone to anaphylactic shock.

But I digress. We had searched our property but could find no evidence of bees, neither had we noticed a great deal of buzzing next door. And so I was intrigued. Hence, the various watch locations stationed in my house.

Rather a lot of toing and froing took place. Boxes. Empty frames. Ladders. The kettle. And, I was pleased to see, long gloves. Clambering up the ladder in his ungainly gear went one of the men and with a puff of smoke the first surge of bees were evicted from the underside of the eaves. Plywood was ripped down and another flurry of activity showed the bees’ displeasure.

It was at this stage the attendant woman beat a hasty retreat and spent the rest of the morning lying in the sunshine. I can’t say I blame her.

I was though a little disconcerted to see, as the first wadge of bee-blackened honeycomb was torn from its sticky home, the second bee man remove his gloves and poke his finger along the dripping piece before dropping into a box and hastily pushing the lid back over.

“No, no,” I muttered from behind my glass seraglio. “Put your gloves back on.” But he didn’t hear me.

Smoke, swarming bees, intense studying of each piece of saturated honeycomb was the order of the morning. More plywood was removed, security lights were rudely displaced to hang like giant testicles, and a thousand bees tried to attack the men who dared take their home.

One section of honeycomb must have been eighteen inches long and it was then the larger of the two men clambered down, settled onto a step, took up one of the empty frames and began, after first shaking off more bees, to push honeycomb into the frame. Snapping off any bits outside the frame, he then tossed them into a bucket, and repeated the process five times. Each filled frame was carefully slotted into the box by the shorter of the men. (I admit my description of the apiarists is not full but you try describing men in white jumpsuits tucked into socks and boots, wearing full head masks and long gloves – well one of them anyway. I can tell you the gloveless man had black hands.)

And all the while bees dive bombed them. Outrage thrumming with every wing beat. The clumps of comb became smaller, chiselled away from the roof, and bees began to settle on the outside of the eaves. A crawling black mass to be swept into a Tupperware container and unceremoniously tipped into their new hive.

The entertainment was over and deciding prudence would be the order of the day I sat down to write – why risk planting when stray, and discombobulated, bees might still be at large? But I was restless and decided to go and run errands.

Sitting by the roadside were two men with beards and dreads and a woman in all manner of garb but without a tee-shirt wrapped around her head.

“Good morning,” I said through the car window, because no conversation on this island is started without a pleasantry. “Thank you. I’ve had a wonderful time watching you work. And you,” I accused the shorter chap, “you weren’t even wearing gloves!”

He smiled – his eyes were topaz by the way.

“Good mahnin’. Hey mon, we got de queen!”

“Great,” I said, “does that mean those bees still buzzing around will go away?”

“Yeah. It called ‘driftin’ – the workers will look for another hive,” said the main man, who I have since learned is Roniel Allembert, aka the VI Honey Man. And now his mesh face covering was removed, I can report his beard was greying, and plaited. His eyes were a muddy brown and his smile was as wide as Niagara.

“You want the best honey on the island?”

“Sure,” I replied. “Thank you.”

Languidly he rose, delved in the flatbed of his battered truck and returned to my car. Leaning through the window he gave me a piece of dripping honeycomb.

It was good. And I had a honey of a day!

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This article was published in St Croix This Week – February / March 2018

Despite Hurricanes IrMaria trying to destroy these Virgin Islands, trying to dampen spirits, and black-out homes, perseverance and resilience are winning and life is returning to normal.
Much has been made of the destruction of the mahogany trees on St Croix – both by hurricane and chain saw. With the heightened awareness of their value as shade, beauty and utility, perhaps we should look to a viable long-term use of the timber now lying discarded.
It was a theme taken up by Sergio Fox, an environmental and sustainable resource engineer, when speaking at a recent symposium in Christiansted. Why not use it in the proposed conservation of the Old Army Barracks?
Hosted by Gerville Larsen, a Crucian architect well known for his vision for a Christiansted Town Plan, and Ulla Lunn, a Danish preservation architect representing BYFO, the Association of Historical Houses in Denmark, I learnt of the progress made on The Legacy Project, which plans to stabilize, conserve and bring new life to the current eyesore on Hospital Street. It is a dramatic vision that will benefit all who live on these islands, and beyond.
A school where Virgin Islanders could earn an associate’s degree in architecture before transferring to accredited institutions in Puerto Rico, the mainland, or Denmark. In keeping with its ideal of serving all segments of society, this venue would also teach building crafts – carpentry, metal work, brick building and so on using the old techniques that have proven, through many years and numerous hurricanes, to withstand harsh conditions. At the same time recognizing and incorporating modern methods and materials.
The provisional name, The Center for Architecture and Built Heritage, will also (provisionally) have an auditorium, an archive room, a cafeteria and gardens – all open to the public. A true venue for the preservation of Crucian culture.
Visions don’t come cheap but with the $150,000 seed money from BYFO, matched by the VI Government, this joint venture can now start raising the $20M required to see both this project, and one on St Thomas, realised. Full funding must come from foundations, organizations and government in the US and Denmark.
Some might remember the exhibition at The Blue Mutt in January 2017 showing designs drawn by students from Aarhus University after their visit to St Croix – and all of which inspired those interested in the conservation and restoration of Christiansted.
A couple of weeks ago at the symposium, first held at Balter (thank you, for the delicious appetizers), and subsequently at the Florence Williams Public Library, we were treated to a presentation of three designs drawn up by two young architects – Crucian, Felicia Farrante and Norwegian, Hildegunn Gronningssaeter. Their enthusiasm was contagious as they talked us through ideas ranging from safe traditional, to an elegant compromise of old converging into new, to a thrilling modern design that, to my layman’s eyes, made the most of the remains of the army barracks whilst giving Christiansted a brave new look. For a brave new enterprise. All the concepts, as Ulla Lunn commented, “cherish the ruins”.
Describing the history of this decaying relic, from the time it was the Danish army barracks to a military hospital in 1835, to 1961 when it became a high school and finally a police substation before being abandoned to asbestos and bush, Farrante said, “You can touch the life in every single brick in these buildings”. Gronningssaeter continued, “We cannot preserve all values at once. We have to have a focus. Something that makes you reflect on time and history.”
But why, when so many things need funding, particularly after the devastation left by the 2017 hurricane season, should we put time, energy and money into, again in Hildegunn Gronningssaeter’s words, “a beautiful decaying structure returning to nature” ?
Because to not conserve and preserve the culture is to disown the heritage – the good and the bad. By moving forward with a project like this, which must be community driven and in collaboration with BYFO in Denmark, we are valuing the past, present and future – a true Legacy Project.
More prosaically, a well preserved St Croix would help tap into an international market geared to heritage travel, and therefore tourism dollars.
As the symposium came to an end, I was reminded of Gerville Larsen’s opening words, “People are the heart of the town.” By taking a decrepit ruin and turning it into a grand design built by Crucians for Crucians and any who would like to visit St Croix we acknowledge, as Senator Myron Jackson said, “Arts and culture are the framework of a community.”
Let’s put the mahogany trees to good use. Store them, let them cure properly, then by the time funds have been raised for this exciting venture, those stately old trees will have come full circle – creating shade, beauty and utility.

Out on the Boardwalk….

January 15, 2018 — 1 Comment

Out on the Boardwalk we were having some fun! Saturday night saw “Patrick and the Swayzees” perform at Shupes on Christiansted’s Boardwalk, and St Croix came out to listen. Styled as rockabilly, soul, rock ’n’ roll, they played everything from Elvis to Jerry Lee Lewis to James Brown, and many others, as well as a couple of original numbers. The joint was jumping to such an extent it did cross my mind the Boardwalk, a little hurricane weary, might not withstand the sheer joy of hundreds of people having fun. But it held up. And so did the band.

Hailing from Key West, Florida, though its members are all imports from northern states, the band is young. Only three years old and founded by Jerrod Isaman, guitarist and vocalist. There is though a Patrick in the band – Patrick Stecher, by day a wire artist by night a cool dude playing bass. But rather than a group of lads playing around at music, this is a group of lads who live music. And it shows. The band is tight, professional and, in true musical parlance, utterly awesome!

Keyboardist, River Seine, the youngest member of the group, has spent part of his 20 years on another island, Hawaii, where his mother sang. His fingers danced along the keys with such fluidity and speed I have no idea how he managed to stay on his feet, and his vocals, both as a soloist and backing singer hit every note. Elvis came alive.

Tyler ‘T-Bone’ McHone as drummer has the oh-too-cool-look-to-be-enjoying-himself down pat, but handles the sticks with verve and speed keeping the beat and energy  flowing from number to number, and as the crowd howled for more I saw a smile flicker.

Shout, Johnny Be Good, Love My Baby, Runaround Sue and many more rocked Shupes as patrons, young and not-so-young sang, danced and made merry. An evening of sheer entertainment which backed up vocalist Les Greene’s assertion in an interview with Angel Melendez of the Broward Palm Beach New Times when he said, “These songs are songs that need to go back into the world.”

Greene is a great ball of fire and energy. His stage persona is electric with vocals to match. His soaring rendition of Leela James’ Change is Going to Come brought the rafters close to crashing and the floor boards trembling. And his moves. My God, his moves were a combination of Fred Astaire and Michael Jackson, with a little bit of Louis Armstrong thrown in with his frequent brow mopping from a cloth tucked into his back pocket. He engages the audience with verve and the audience responds, “I want you to sing after me. Baby, baby, baby.” And we did. Repeat after me, “Shout!” And we did. If he’d suggested we all followed him into the crystal clear waters off the Boardwalk of Christiansted harbour, we just might have.

It is hard to imagine this young man suffering the agonies of stage fright but he did, and still does, but has found ways to manage it. From cruise ship massage therapist to high-octane performer is quite a leap.

“Patrick and the Swayzees”, not it must be mentioned because of any great affinity to Dirty Dancing but because Isaman, McHone and Stecher – the original members – were playing around with ‘swayzee’ as an adjective, are part of the Saturday Sunset Series sponsored by Shupes and the Caravelle Hotel. Kudos to both for bringing light relief to St Croix after the torrid times of 2017.

I do hope “Patrick and the Swayzees” soon come again to the Boardwalk to have some fun! Because after a non-stop two-hour set, with Greene breaking from his powerful vocals and fabulous moves only occasionally to sip water whilst the rest of the band continued playing their hearts out, it was an evening of not only brilliant stars but brilliant entertainment.

Cherish the Ruins

December 31, 2017 — 2 Comments

The flurry of Christmas is over, and it’s that time of year. Time to reflect, but not linger, on the past.

It is a theme that has been much on my mind lately as I have been writing an article on an exciting joint USVI / Danish proposal, known as The Legacy Project, for St Croix This Week – which, as a Caribbean quirk, is produced bi-monthly. It is on the conservation of the past, the restoration of the present and the transformation for the future.

I am referring to the old Danish army barracks which, after their final iteration in the 1960s as a high school then police substation, were abandoned to asbestos and bush. It is a project dear to my heart and not only because it is IMBY (In My Back Yard) but, and this is a direct quote from the piece which I thought quite good even if I do say so myself, “Because to not conserve and preserve the culture is to disown the heritage – the good and the bad.”

The history of these aged barracks is etched into the walls built from ballast bricks and coral stone. The bricks were used to stabilise empty ships arriving from Denmark ready to load up with sugar and rum for eager consumers in Europe. The coral stone was cut by slaves, hauled ashore and used not only to be aesthetically pleasing but to help cool the buildings.

But this isn’t a blog about buildings – you’ll have to read SCTW for that.

No, I’m talking about me. In May 2018 I will reach the 60 milestone or, as miles were counted in Nigeria, the 60th pole – the telegraph poles strung along the dusty roads crisscrossing the country when I was a child.

It’s a bit of a shock. In my mind I am 35 but my mirror says, “Add 25 years, ducky”. 49 stitches down my back is a good start for counting the scars. My husband did suggest I get a zip tattooed over that one. And my face is running out of room for stitches, no matter how adept the plastic surgeons. But as I reflect on the past I comfort myself that the physical flaws are part of my heritage – the good and the bad. I’m sure I have mental flaws but can’t think of any at the moment!

I have been inordinately fortunate in my life. I come from a happy, if slightly unusual and nomadic background. I met a man in Papua New Guinea 40 years ago and still adore him, and our children and grandchildren bring great joy. Of course there have been tears, disappointments, frightening times and moments of ‘what the fuck’ but those are events that have etched themselves into my psyche and made me stronger, if not more patient. There’s a flaw!

I have wiffle-waffled around in various jobs in various countries – all of which have been great fun but none could have been called a career. Perhaps it is the fault of my Zodiacal sign. Geminis are notoriously fickle. That question, so often asked of me around the world, ‘what do you do?’ has invariably caused a seconds conundrum.

However the last ten years have seen me knuckle down. Expat Life Slice by Slice (Summertime Publishing 2012) was a memoir and, much as I enjoyed writing it, did not to my mind give me the right to call myself a writer. The words did not come from rigid discipline, interviews and research as non-fiction does – they came from my memory nudged by diaries and photographs. Or as in fiction, from allowing the imagination to float freely backed up by discipline and research.

But with the publication of Fireburn (OC Publishing 2017) – an historical novel set in the Danish West Indies of the 1870s, I have a label. No longer will those little tags at conferences, cocktails or coffee mornings merely give my name – I have, at the ripe old nearly age of 60, a bona fide career. Writer.

Oh yes, another mental flaw – procrastination!

As we head into the New Year, I’m going to stop dithering and write the sequel, Transfer of the Crown. And I’m not going to linger on birthdays and scars. Instead I’m going to return to those decaying army barracks and think of the words spoken by Danish architect, Ulla Lunn, as she passionately called for their restoration – “cherish the ruins”.

May 2018 bring you health and happiness – and wonderful stories to share.

Christmas Treats

December 24, 2017 — Leave a comment

For many years my treat at this time of year was The Nutcracker, either performed by whoever my daughter was dancing with, and latterly, The Houston Ballet. This Christmas, I’m on St Croix and despite living opposite a dance studio, Tchaikovsky’s ballet is not on the dance card. And so I’ve found something else to satisfy my cultural thirst – and not just one performance.

There’s something about Sundays and music that goes together – whether it’s a church organ or, as has been my pleasure a couple of times lately, an afternoon of Colombian Cumbia, Brazilian Choro (street music), jazz compositions from the greats and original pieces inspired oftentimes by this remarkable music duo’s mode of transport. Their 43’ sloop – S/V Catherine.

This treat has been on offer for the last month at the Caribbean Museum of Culture and Arts in Frederiksted on the western end of St Croix. The venue is perfect for an afternoon of sometimes fierce, sometimes haunting, sometimes lyrical music – none of which it is possible to sit through without moving, at the very least, your toes. The music adds another layer to this elegant building exuding history through the thick walls which surround an inner courtyard. Art covers the walls of the upstairs gallery – at the moment a fascinating exhibition celebrating gay pride.

Through the open windows the hulking outline of the cruise ship housing FEMA, Red Cross officials and others who have responded to the call of St Croix’s need after the devastation of Hurricanes IrMaria, sits at the end of Frederiksted pier. Palm fronds, slowly straightening and growing back, sway in time to the music it seems, with the occasional bird flitting by as if curious to hear the freely floating melodies.

The current artists-in residence at CMCA are a husband and wife team, who play the piano until the historic walls positively quake, and who make a flute sing so sweetly as to bring tears. I believe their daughters are also musically-minded but I haven’t heard them perform yet. They are sometimes joined by local musicians – this last week by Junie Bomba on the conga drums.

Jarad and Christel Astin, aka Stell & Snuggs, met at the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts over twenty years ago and, until relatively recently, followed individual musical careers. Their life changed, dramatically, just as so many Virgin Islander’s lives have changed recently – due to mother nature. It was Hurricane Sandy who tore into the fabric of their existence but rather than bemoaning their misfortune, this intrepid couple turned their back on conformity and began their nomadic lives, making music wherever they happen to moor.

Their daughters are homeschooled afloat – and I’d hazard a guess, are getting an education that will stand them in wonderful stead. Resilience and adaptability being two traits that will get them through any number of adventures as they find their own feet, or maybe fins.

As I watched Jarad, so at one with the grand piano in the upstairs gallery, his fingers skimming, pounding or fluttering along the keys, I wondered whether he missed having access to such an instrument as he sails from gig to gig. And I would think traveling with an accordion has issues all of their own. Christel’s work tools would seem far more portable – a flute, a ukulele and her voice.

What did traveling minstrels do before iPads? A quick swipe and notes appeared – maybe Wayne Shorter’s Little Waltz – slow and haunting, or a lively salsa straight from Santiago de Cuba. “Music,” Jarad said when describing the Afro-Caribbean beat, “ which all came out of a trip taken on a boat that they didn’t want to take.”

The power might have fluctuated and then gone off but there was no fluctuation in the power of the music. An original composition, Love Piece, soared up then thundered down – perhaps a description of a brief but intense affair or maybe a long marriage.

Jarad’s comments between pieces continued to be thought provoking – “Jazz brings people together from all over the world, regardless of colour or race or creed” – if at times as odds with his slightly rakish look of shaggy hair cut and porkpie hat!

The final composition was another original written as he sailed across that notoriously rough stretch water along the west coast of France, without Christel. Called Sans Romance de Bay de Biscay, it brought to mind loneliness and longing, before moving into a lilting crescendo as presumably he neared home.

The Astins are not only talented musicians but actively involved in encouraging youth to express themselves through music. I truly hope they continue to moor up at St Croix both for what they can teach and for the pleasure they bring.

I might not have listened to Tchaikovsky or watched The Nutcracker this Christmas but I certainly didn’t miss out on a cultural musical tour.
Merry Christmas, and may 2018 bring magic and treats to you and yours, in all its forms!

Moths, Maggots and Mould

November 13, 2017 — 8 Comments

Here we are in St Croix! The sea is an ever-changing panoply of brilliant blues and glorious greens and is a ready distraction as I glance from my study window. I’ve just watched the ferry depart – it’s rather odd four-hulled shape making smooth headway across the channel to St Thomas. It is a constant on an island that has few constants at the moment after first Hurricane Irma skipped to the north, followed a week later by Hurricane Maria who skimmed the southern shores creating merry hell.

Power being the least constant of them all. Most of St Croix is still powerless though the hordes of beefy-looking linemen from the mainland, and our own crews, are steadily making their way across the island installing new poles and lines. March, or at the latest April, is the month being touted by Governor Mapp – I think that’s called “hedging one’s bets”!

Arriving on Wednesday after relatively stress-free flights considering we travelled with Bonnie, the cat and her partner-in-crime, Clyde, the dog, we were astounded to find we are part of that small percentage who do have light and therefore water. Along with the delight was a momentary pang of guilt – assuaged by offering ‘power and shower’ to people we know who are in need of a top up.

Hurricane Maria stripped the island of vegetation. Stately mahoganies tumbled. Elegant palms may be upright but their waving fronds have fallen or dangle impotently, providing little or no shelter. The genip tree across from our sturdy West Indian home is showing signs of life but until a few days ago was naked – it’s branches skeletal against the ocean backdrop.

But life is to be found. In our house it is in the crevices of old brick walls, or sending tendrils across walls and furniture, or in the fridge.

Moths emerge on a minute-by-minute basis. They had taken up residence in the pantry, managing to invade tightly sealed packaging to leave mounds of sawdust on the shelves. Bleaching and repainting have helped but still they flutter out to be met by a barrage of Raid.

Mould is an unsightly web of varicose veins across walls covered with anti-fungal paint, and wood furniture polished with wax. Diluted vinegar has been sluiced over every surface, left to dry, rinsed and then sprayed with eucalyptus anti-mould magic. We’ll see.

And maggots inhabit every nook and cranny of the fridge and freezer. The saving grace. Power came on the day before our arrival and so instead of a seething mass of blancmange-like grubs there is a bucketful of dried oat-like particles coating every surface and deep within the fridge’s innards. I will never look at muesli the same way again.

Drawers, rails, the ice-maker, and various screws, bolts and important parts line the gallery catching every skerrick of sunshine as vinegar and lemon do their part in eliminating odours. I have a minor concern that there will be one vital part missing when the fridge is reassembled, and I believe it is an unacknowledged concern of the man who will be putting it back together. It has been a back-breaking endeavour and why, I have been told, my husband never went into the plumbing business. A tall man in a confined space is not a pleasant work environment. We have spritzed, we have poured, we have scrubbed, we have dug into every possible fissure with toothpicks in order to rid our cooling device of it’s unwelcome, though thankfully dead, visitors. Baking soda and a constantly rotating fan are now doing their job and one day, soon, we will have a functioning fridge.

There are many small jobs which need attention. Shingles have been rudely cast aside by Maria’s wrath exposing the inner structure of our home. A few shutters now swing forlornly on broken hinges in the intermittent trade winds but the windows held true as did the roof, hurricane clipped at every conceivable point. An enterprise I, at one time, considered excessive but for which I am now grateful.

But we have it easy. Blue tarpaulins dot the landscape in FEMA’s effort to keep the daily squalls out. Many have lost much. Piles of debris litter the road sides – mostly organic but sofas, mattresses and televisions are seen in some areas. There is a recycling centre but it is overwhelmed – it’s dumpsters out and about around the island trying to corral the odiferous detritus left in Maria’s wake.

Frederiksted, on the western end of St Croix, took the brunt of the hurricane as she spumed her way to Puerto Rico where she inflicted even greater damage and hardship. This end of the Caribbean chain has been hard hit this year so we are receiving cruise ships who normally shun us. St Thomas, Tortola and many other regular cruising destinations are unable to host great numbers of tourists and so St Croix is grateful to be able to receive them – albeit offering limited delights but each day is better than the last, and the spirit of resilience is ever present.

These islands need tourism, and to those who have made plans to visit, or are considering a Caribbean adventure, please come. All are welcome. But please be patient if your credit card does not immediately work, or cell phone reception is patchy, or if the power fluctuates – this is what islanders have been managing for many weeks, and in some instances will be coping with for months to come.

Moths, maggots and mould are easily dealt with and do not dampen the warmth and friendliness of the Caribbean, and remember it is always about the people.

VI Strong!

October 6, 2017 — Leave a comment

Once upon a time – long, long ago – I lived on a beautiful little volcanic island, covered in jungles of ceiba, mahogany, palms and giant stands of bamboo like rows of drill pipe that lie in neat piles in oil service company yards. Bioko, in the Gulf of Guinea. For those who may not be familiar with West Africa, Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, is on that island though President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo would dearly love it to be in his home town of Mongomo, well away from the threat of a coup d’etat, perhaps staged from the sea. Think of Frederick Forsyth’s The Dogs of War and you’ll get the picture.

Living there for nearly three years was arguably the most challenging experience of my life – not least because of the lack of culinary supplies though boatloads of San Miguel beer were regularly unloaded at the docks. A ‘keep the man on the street drunk and he won’t worry about basic human rights’ sort of ethos. And what I couldn’t do with an aubergine was nobody’s business.

Cement and sand were also in short supply. Both, as the most inexperienced builder will attest, are fundamental to construction of any kind. One might struggle with the concept of sand being unavailable on an island, but believe me when I say you do not want your home built with black sand. It might take a month for streaks of black and a purplish grey to leach through any number of layers of paint – rather like varicose veins creeping uninvited up aging legs.

Cement was in fact the tipping point for signing a contract on our home. The tawdry monetary details had been settled, but still, but still, the landlord – a crafty and not entirely reliable banker – held out. In the round about way of African negotiations it became known that a bag of cement would seal the deal. Not the size of one from say, Home Depot, or B&Q. No, no, the bag in question needed a forklift and a crane to maneuver it into place.

Why this fixation on building materials?

Well, on our walk along Buffalo Bayou this morning, Clyde and I noticed one such bag of cement. It was large enough to cause a certain amount of consternation, and a lot of barking for my companion. It is being used in the construction of a much-anticipated cycle and walking path around the University of Houston Downtown. It will allow a pleasant circulatory ride, or amble, and negate the need to back track to one’s starting point. Across the banks of the bayou, by Allen’s Landing, which as any Houstonian will tell you, is the birth place of Houston, are mountains (I exaggerate only a little) of soft yellow sediment sand. Deposited by the swirling wrath of Harvey as rain pelted into already soggy land and overflowed already swollen waterways, the sand left the banks of the bayou looking like naked dunes. It has now been scooped up by dinky little red backhoes and piled underneath the bridge, presumably to be used elsewhere.

Now I have a home on another island, this one in the Caribbean. St Croix is also in need of building materials. Not because of poor governance as in our West African home, but because she has been ravaged by nature. Hurricane Maria, a Category 5, ripped roofs, stripped trees, tumbled power lines and crumbled walls as she blew in all her rage across the edge of the island. Remember a fury of her magnitude can stretch 150 miles with hurricane force winds and another 150 miles of lesser winds. For an island of just under 83 square miles that is enough to wreak catastrophic damage – which Maria did.

And so sand and cement, or lack thereof, again take on an importance not necessarily commensurate with their normal value, in one of the places I call home. These seemingly simple commodities delivered promptly to our Virgin Islands, will help rebuild the infrastructure. So too will jungles of ceiba, mahogany and palm regrow to once again entrance and shelter the resilient inhabitants who, despite Irma and Maria’s ill-temper, have remained VI Strong!