20 February 2016
As this blog post is being written, we are nearing the end of a wonderful month in the Jumentos/Ragged Islands chain. We have enjoyed not only getting to know other cruisers better, but also the people of the community – Duncan Town is inhabited by perhaps 70 people and it is poor materially, but, like other places we have experienced, rich in humanity. As we have written before, the locals here are the only ones we have met who throw a party – on or near Valentine’s Day – for the cruisers who make it this far south. Indeed, few do come this far as there are few provisions, no marinas, and few places to hide out from clocking winds during cold fronts. In contrast to George Town, on Great Exuma Island perhaps 75 miles or so north as the crow flies (and crows do not fly down here), where there can be upwards of 350 boats in the anchorages for the Cruisers’ Regatta, Duncan Town is lucky to see perhaps 25-30 boats at any one time, and frequently the number is far less. So, why come down this way when it is inconvenient and could be unsafe in a blow? The short answer is “because it is here; because the waters are so gorgeous; and because the people are so generous.”
This year, although Valentine’s Day fell on a Sunday, and the party could have been held the day before, it was postponed a week because the surgeon, who has been an important man in the life of Maxine (who owns the only store in Duncan Town) wanted to come, but his schedule would not permit before February 20. So, Maxine changed the date to accommodate his schedule. The islanders do not charge the cruisers for the food that is served, but the cruisers collect from themselves and donate the money to Maxine. We do not know what she does with it, but we suspect a good portion goes to the school for the children’s benefit. (There are six children in the one room school from grades K through 8.) We volunteered to collect the funds and, from the 24 boats, we gathered $760.00. The food was fabulous – curried mutton (goat), fried fish and lobster fingers, peas and rice, Bahamian mac & cheese, salads, beer, soda, and cakes, all topped off by live music – junkanoo drums and song. The cruisers also conduct an auction of items on their boats that they no longer want or need. In the end, each of us proves the adage that “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” Van was one of the three auctioneers, along with Keith on Camelot and Steve on Sol Mate. We had a ball – and raised $1735.00 for the benefit of the school, promptly delivered the next day along with some children’s books and school supplies we and others donated.
In the course of our interactions with the islanders, we came to know them a bit better, and they remind us a lot of the good people of Ghana, West Africa – simple in needs, but with loving and giving spirits. A few examples: Lauren had a cold and the senior nurse at the clinic took an immediate and personal interest in making sure she got better to the point that each time we saw Iva, she asked about Lauren’s health and cough, and she teared up when it came time to say good bye. Maxine took orders for food stuffs, had her daughter shop for them in Nassau, and then delivered them to us – without charge beyond what she had paid. We even had an LP tank shipped to Nassau and refilled, for which Maxine charged $11.00 – less than we have paid in Florida and we have carried the tank! When we examined the charge slips and figured out that Maxine was not getting paid for her or her daughter’s time, gas, and service, we confronted her. Maxine admitted it was true, so we gave her a gift and encouraged others to do likewise. Even though cruisers are warned not to come to the Jumentos and Ragged Islands because of the lack of support, we were given water and a ride back to our dinghy to transport it back to Gratitude. Of course, we always thanked people and exclaimed how welcome they made us feel, but it was not until we watched Klaus and Karin, on Lucky Touch (and from Hilton Head), who have been coming here for almost 20 years, and their interactions with the locals that we realized how proud and generous these people are. Because of their long-standing presence in the islands, Klaus and Karin know virtually everyone and everyone know them. As they walk through town, people give them news of their families, how their children are doing, and lobster, fish, and crab legs. One man (Evan, aka Van), who knows that Klaus cures and smokes fish and meats at home, supplied him with two bags of organic salt (fresh from the salt flats maintained on “family lands”) as Klaus had ordered to purchase, but then went home to get a third bag “because you have been so good to us over the years.” Lauren exclaimed to Karin that we likely would have said something like “oh, thank you, but two bags is all we can use”, but was pleased to see Evan’s countenance light up when Klaus and Karin (who did not need so much salt) graciously accepted the gift. It was clear that a gracious acceptance made Evan proud that he could “give back” whereas a “thanks but no thanks” would have deflated him. So, while it may be better to give than to receive, sometimes it is necessary and proper to receive, with gratitude, and humble grace for the gift being given.