The air around me pulses with the rhythm of the Caribbean. All around me, the crowd lining the street moves to the beat of the music. This is not America, where we stood stoically and watched parade floats drift by. This is the isle of Sint Maarten, and we are a part of the sound and color here.
Today, it is a holiday. It is Carnival, and the children are marching in their very own parade. Miniature dancers twirl in miniature costumes, nearly unrecognizable in paint, feathers, and glitter.
The winners of last week’s junior pageant are here, dressed in their royal finery. They wave to us with the queen’s wave, and we wave back.
The parade is filled with the heroes of a child’s word– princesses, super heroes, minions, even Kung Fu Panda!
My personal favorite were the candy dancers. I loved their giant hoop skirts and sweet designs.
Ben liked the Lionfish Dancers. Their costumes really did look like the fantastic “feathers” of a lionfish!
Although this event was not popular with the tourists, hundreds of locals turned out. Many of the other expat families also came to watch! Some American University of the Caribbean students’ children came to watch friends march in the parade.
If you want to see the future of the Caribbean, this is the place to come. All around me, I saw the future of the islands in the faces of the children. If we want to invest in tomorrow, we must invest in them! Perhaps the whole reason for the junior parade is to remind us of this.
Well, my master’s classes are in full swing and I’m not exactly off to a fabulous start. Admitting that is hard for me, because I’m a type-A personality who had a 4.0 GPA in undergrad. People warned me that taking online classes can be a lot harder than actually going to class unless you’re extremely organized and on top of things. Generally, I am. But I’m a lot better with paper and pens than I am with a double-password access online classroom with instructions in electronic format in a few different places. Find the library on campus? No problem. Find the library online? Well, now. That is a different story.
So here I am, looking at ten articles that I have to read and use to write a discussion paper and post online for the class to read by… well, by last Sunday. I guess tomorrow’s deadline for the unit meant the unit closes then for further discussion, not that the reflection is due then. That is something really I wish I figured out before today. I guess now that I know, I won’t be making that mistake again.
I’m sitting here with my pen and paper, feeling a little discouraged about my abilities to pull this off. School has always been my strength, and now I don’t feel so sure that I can be good at this online school thing. Besides, everyone else in my cohort has a lot more experience than I do. And let’s not fail to mention the fact that this is University of London, and I’m American. Will I be able to remember to spell “analyzing” as “analysing” with an “s?” Or put my quote marks on the inside of my punctuation? Am I supposed to do ‘ or ” for quotes? Will I get marked down for spelling things American-style?
In the middle of this stream of self-doubt, an image breaks in:
These kids are so inspiring. Every afternoon, they come from Dutch, French, and English schools to Player Development Program for further help with reading and math. It’s really hard for a lot of them. Being bilingual or trilingual makes learning to read really, really tough. Some of them are in sixth grade and struggle to read very basic English kid’s books. But they don’t give up, they don’t let embarrassment stop them, and they keep pushing to get better and work up from where they are.
I’ve seen Spanish-speaking kids learn English in two months. I’ve seen kids who struggle with reading and writing spend as long as needed to compose a thank-you letter. I’ve seen kids sit, study, and sound out long words in until they could read the whole book.
To me, writing a short summary of Curious George is not hard. Reading 16 pages doesn’t drain me. Conjugating and pronouncing verbs takes no mental energy. But it does for them, and I would say that they have to work a lot harder to get it right than I’ll have to for my master’s degree. Does it discourage them? Sometimes. Does it deter them? No, it doesn’t.
If a seven-year-old can learn to distinguish vowel names and sounds in French, English, and Spanish, I can learn to use “s” and “u” the British way. If a twelve-year-old can have the courage to learn English as he goes during baseball practice, I can have the courage to post my late work where everyone can see, have a positive, non-defeatist attitude, and do better next time. If a nine-year old can have the humility to do sight-word flash cards in front of his friends, then I can have the humility to admit I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m willing to do what it takes to improve.
You know, the kids at SXM Player Development Program think that they’re learning a lot from me. I guess they are. But I think I’m actually learning more from them. God knew what he was doing when he put me into their world. There’s a lot of determination, courage, and hard work going on at those blue picnic tables. There’s a lot to be inspired and encouraged by. There’s a lot to look at and think, “that’s how I want to be.” I know that if they can work hard and never throw in the towel, so can I.
So I’m going to wipe away these tears of frustration, go back to that online library, and find that PDF e-book that’s hiding from me. I’m going to write my best paper, and I’m going to turn it in even if everyone can see that I’m late. And tomorrow, I’m going to do better. And I’m going to do it with those kids as my inspiration and my encouragement.
The best thing about being a teacher is being a grown-up and STILL getting spring break. I’m not in education anymore, but my friend Ally is, and she decided to spend her spring break on the island with me!
Those of you who are also expats know just how wonderful it is to hear from friends back home. You also know that it’s a hundred times more wonderful to have them come visit you!
I spent the days she was here showing her all the best parts of the island. If you have a few days on the island and don’t know what activities to choose, these are the things to do.
We managed to hit seven of Saint Martin’s 37 beaches in four days:
Airplanes at Maho Beach, SXM’s best-known tourist attraction.
We relaxed on Mullet Bay Beach.
Indigo Bay Beach is beautiful. Kito wasn’t too sure about the waves.
We decided to be ‘Mericans and get McDonald’s ice cream at Great Bay Beach in Philipsburg.
Plum Bay Beach had impressive waves the day we went. We tried to get a Little Mermaid-style splash photo…
We also went to Kimsha beach and Long Beach for a few minutes, but didn’t stop to take photos.
Naturally, we had to take advantage of the clear water at Mullet Bay and go snorkeling.
We spent some time in both of the island’s capitols, too.
Philipsburg is the Dutch capitol. Jack Sparrow apparently lives there.
What do you do when you have twelve kids who love trains but have never seen a real one? You take them on a train ride, of course!
The island of Saint Martin doesn’t have a train, but the kids from Player Development SXM know a lot about them anyway. Each day, these boys and girls gather on the little league field to practice for baseball games and improve their academic skills. Many days, my friends and I join them to help with reading and math or coaching.
When practice and homework is done, the kids run inside the repurposed shipping container that serves as their clubhouse to play with their favorite toy: the model train set.
The kids are excited, because this summer, they get to ride a real train. In August, they’ll be packing their bags for the long trip to Toronto, where many dreams will come true. They get to watch a Blue Jays game, see Niagara falls, play against a Canadian little league team, and ride a real train for the first time. For their homework, some of the kids have written about their hopes for the upcoming adventure:
For many of the kids, this will be their first time off the 37 square-mile island.
Many of the kids dream of being a pro ball player, and this will be the first time they get to witness a major-league game.
This is a really big deal for them.
The logo for the team is, of course, a train. Coach Tom asked me to design it for the team, and my friend Andrea made it into a t-shirt for the kids to wear during the trip.
Like it? You can actually buy one for yourself, or send one to one of our kids! All the proceeds of the purchase also go toward the kids’ plane tickets. Make a difference for these kids. Click here!
We’re bound for Canada! But first, we’re participating in Art in the Park right here at home. One of my favorite memories of my childhood hometown is Art in the Park. Flagstaff, Arizona held it this festival annually on the lawn of the library. It’s something I missed when we moved to Phoenix. Now that we live in Sint Maarten, Art in the Park is back on the agenda!
The best of SXM Art in the Park for me is that I get to be a part of a booth this time. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that I volunteer with a local Little League team that incorporates academics into its daily program. This summer, we all get to take a trip to Canada to watch the Blue Jays play! The Rotary Club is sponsoring the trip, but of course we are teaching the boys responsibility by having them fund-raise as well.
The kids have been working on their merchandise for a long time. Coach Tom and his wife, Lisa, came up with some great ideas. The team has a rock tumbler, and they’ve polished a couple hundred rocks over the last few months. We’ll put magnets on these and sell them for a few dollars. The kids are also making lanterns with a Canadian maple leaf on the front. I’ll be contributing some of my paintings to the fundraiser, as well.
Here’s how we made the rock magnets:
The kids ran around the baseball field, gathering various little rocks.
2. The first week, Tom tumbled the rocks with some abrasive. They came out clean, but still pretty rough. The kids washed all the gritty gray liquid off and Tom added new abrasive.
3. The second week and third weeks, the rocks were tumbled again.
4. The fourth week was the last week of tumbling. This kids washed them off and shined them. We put a little lacquer on them to make them even prettier.
5. Finally, we glued the magnets on the back. They’re ready to add some natural beauty to your fridge!
Can you identify the igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks? Little K. can!
The older boys worked with volunteers to drill holes in coffee cans for the lanterns. Then everyone had a chance to paint the leaves Canada red.
Making a handle…
Stacey and I are working on an informational display for the festival, too. All the kids and volunteers traced their hands on the background.
If you’re on Saint Martin, come visit us this Sunday (February 14) at Emilio Wilson Park in Cul de Sac between 10 and 4:30! Just head to Philipsburg, take the round-a-bout north instead of heading east to Cost-U-Less, and look for the park on your left a little past the baseball field. Let’s send these kids to Canada!
Thanks to Stacey and Tom for providing the pictures for this post!
They have forgotten us. We have faded from memory, like our flesh faded from our bones centuries ago. Yet we are here, invisible yet seeing, inaudible yet hearing, intangible yet sensing. Our spirits laugh with the lapping waves. We cry with the soaring birds. We moan with the wind. And we rage with the storms.
There was a time when warm blood flowed through our bodies and warm flesh wrapped our bones. We walked on the shore then, cooling our feet in the ancient and everlasting waters. We ran under the tropical sun from shore to shore. Our children dove from the cliffs—how different they looked then!—into the clear waters of the reef. We tasted the sweet meat of the crab and danced in the firelight to the rhythm of the tide.
Then they came—the strange men with strange words and strange clothing. They were harsh and resolute, and we hated them. They brought with them their vicious dogs, their explosives, and their lust. We grew weak, and our children died with raging heat in their bodies. Our women and men died with boils and scars. We wailed as our loved ones died, and we buried them with broken hearts near the sacred islet. I died, and I lay in the chill earth, away from the warm sunlight.
They left, and came again, this time with their cannons and ships and slaves. They had already forgotten us, and they walked on our graves. I heard their footsteps on the ground above. They dragged their cannons over our graves and shattered our silence with their wars. They annihilated our peace with the crack of whips on human flesh.
They left, and others took their place. Generations lived and died. We slept in peace for a hundred years, with only the occasional wanderer to stir us.
They came. Their machines roared, rattling our bones. They dug over our resting places, and built great structures over our graves. I felt the pressure of a great tower over my body. We groaned under the weight. Many people came from the whole world over, and trod on our sacred tombs. We moaned, but our cries were lost in the wind. Our bloodless beings saw the blush of the new bride. Our bleached bones saw the sun-kissed skin of the happy travelers. We remembered what we had been, and what we had lost. And we remembered that we were forgotten.
Our moans whirled as wind around the whitewashed walls that had become a monument to our destruction. Our screams filled the air, and our souls ripped from our broken bones. We broke through the sandy earth, through the cracking concrete to the surface. We felt again the humidity of the air. We knew again the roar of the sea. Our tears of rage and loss poured from the heavens, and the rush of our agony ripped through the trees. We stirred the elements and raged from sea to sea, screaming our anger through the darkening sky. We saw them pour from buildings and take flight from our island home. We saw them take cover in every nook and cranny. We saw that they were afraid, and we took our vengeance.
We tore through the quaint buildings, tearing with invisible claws at the rich furnishings of each room. The sound of shattering glass was lost in the volume of our screams. We threw the books, the paintings, the decorations out of the windows and doors. We destroyed their world, just as they had destroyed ours.
We satiated our lust for vengeance, and we regarded the havoc we had wreaked. Shredded curtains floated in the gentle breeze. Glass and splinters carpeted the earth. Not a living soul was to be seen.
Only dead ones.
We could not return to our graves. We could not penetrate the earth again. So we haunted the empty rooms, weeping in silence. We could not return the decayed flesh to our bodies or our island home to our children. We could only swear to defend the site of our sacred graves to the end of time.
These eerie photos are were taken in the ruins of La Belle Creole, a resort that was deserted after it was heavily damaged when Saint Martin was struck by Hurricane Luis in 1995. Local superstition states that the resort was built over an ancient Arawak grave site, which is why no modern building projects have been successful on the peninsula. Of course, I don’t believe in haunting spirits or jinxes, but I found the legend interesting and the ruins creepy enough to warrant a paranormal telling of La Belle Creole’s story.
One thing that I love about the ocean is the line of indigo at the horizon. This is my favorite part of painting ocean scenes. I love the way that turquoise becomes aquamarine becomes indigo. On sunny days in Dutch Sint Maarten, the indigo line stands out sharply against the clear blue sky, creating the perfect picture of paradise. Indigo Bay is aptly named for its lovely view of this deep blue phenomenon.
If you look at a map of Sint Maarten, you won’t find Indigo Bay on it. If you drive the entire circumference, you’ll never catch sight of it. Indigo Bay is actually the name of a luxury housing development located on Cay Bay. To find this area and the beach that belongs to it, you have to find the billboard advertising Indigo, turn right, and follow a terrifying road down to the water. The road is actually not as terrifying as it looks, once you start driving. In fact, as you go, you’ll be amazed at the gorgeous landscaping and layout that is invisible from the road above.
This morning, some of the other med school spouses, kids, and I visited Indigo for the first time. It’s a great place for both kids and puppies. The waves are soft here, even when the rest of the island is dragging out their surfboards to ride big breakers. Here, it is calm and peaceful. Little boys splashed in the gentle surf while little girls ran through the sand to fill little buckets with perfect little shells. My puppy, Kito, contented herself with digging deep holes in the sand and biting any ankles who entered the circumference of her anchored leash.
I usually am the first to grab a board or snorkel mask and jump into the sea. Today, though, it was a morning for relaxing and chatting. There will be many more days of beachgoing for us in the next 15 months, and more than enough time to dive into the sparkling waters. Twelve beaches down, 25 to go!
Twirling skirts, bright eyes, steel drums and johnnycakes… this is Sint Maarten’s Day! Upon hearing about this holiday, my first question was whether the day celebrated the island’s heritage or the actual feast day of Saint Martin. As it turns out, it celebrates both. According to the story of the island’s earliest known history, Christopher Columbus stumbled upon our island paradise on November, 11, 1483–Saint Martin’s Feast Day– and named the island in honor of the day. Today, Saint Martin the man is more or less ignored, and the island people celebrate their heritage and homeland.
Ben and I had been looking forward to this day since we landed here because American University of the Caribbean gives its students Sint Maarten’s Day off classes. I was also looking forward to the day-long cultural celebration in Philipsburg, the capitol district. We took a bus in the early afternoon to join the throngs of people in the streets of the capitol. The air was absolutely electric with energy!
I immediately felt a little out of place– virtually everyone else was rocking red, white, and blue t-shirts; most of them even had patriotic designs! I was wearing a green skirt with a pink top. Oops. We went in search of Saint Maarten t-shirts. I could see that many of the stores in the shopping district were selling such apparel, but all the stores were closed, as per the law of the land. We finally found some in Festival Village, but all they had left were XXLs. “They run small,” offered the lady at the booth apologetically. I said no thanks, but bought a Sint Maarten flag.
Festival Village, a large, purple outdoor complex on Pond Island, was filled with shouts, laughter, bubbles, and flashing lights. The kids were having a heyday on the inflatable bouncers! Their parents enjoyed fried food and bottles of soda at gaily decorated food stands around the edge of the complex. Under a canopy, domino players determinedly focused on their annual tournament.
The schedule said the parade would start at 3:00, so we made our way through the streets, under the bunting-covered palm trees, to where the parade would begin. We waved at a recording drone that hovered overhead and watched the crowd fill up the streets.
The crowd thickened around us and began to build upward– people appeared in second-story windows, on balconies, and on their daddies’ shoulders. We smiled and greeted people we know as they pressed through the crowd to their favorite parade-watching spot.
Ten minutes passed, half an hour, fifty minutes, an hour. Finally, we heard the sound of steel drums and dancing feet. True to Sint Maarten, the parade started on “island time.” Nobody seemed bothered. We crowded closer together and strained to catch a glimpse of the first dancers.
Sint Maarten is home to people of many heritages, so cultural St. Maarten dance is diverse. My favorite were the women in hoop skirts who twirled and whirled down the street. Click on the thumbnails below to get a better look at the photos. So much color, so much movement! The women danced to the rhythm of the drumbeats that filled the streets and echoed off the buildings.
Women dancing in cultural dress
Miss St. Maarten and her amazing skirt
People of all ability levels participated in the parade
Women dancing in cultural dress
Fruit market queen
Dancing man in cultural dress
Dancing with a hoop skirt
We loved the drums! I couldn’t help but dance a little myself. The whole crowd swayed and pulsed with the beat of the drums. The Jolly Boys, a local band, played their calypso beats as they drifted by on a float.
Steel drum band
The drums were awesome
Band on a float
What’s a parade without the smiles of children? There were dozens and dozens of kids in the parade– some dancing in patriotic tulle dresses, some dressed in historical garb holding their mothers’ hands, some waving like princesses and others peeking through windows.
Cute girl in the parade
smiling “market” girl
Boys dressed as salt pickers
Steel drum band
Cute kid in the parade
Kids in straw hats
The car enthusiasts also contributed to the parade. This taxi is a little spiffier than the ones you usually see on the roads, but it still has the typical giant front-window sticker.
Unofficial motocycle parade
Da Party Bus!
This is my friend Lisa. She marched in the parade wearing cultural dress. The cultural clothing was probably the most visually interesting part of the celebration. There were clothes from every era in every style, from the drab and dirty slacks of the salt pickers to the Princess Julianna dress with a hoop skirt the size of New Jersey. I was excited to see professors from Ben’s school, American University of the Caribbean, representing the school and rocking salt picker hats!
American University of the Caribbean professors dressed as salt pickers
Flag monument float
Princess Julianna dress
Women dressed as colonial gentry
Women dressed in cultural dress with baskets on their heads
Dutch house float
I was amazed at the stilt-walkers! The parade lasted about an hour and a half, and these people walked on stilts the whole time. That takes some serious skill. There were probably fifteen of these– I wonder who made the clothes for them? Equally as cool were the living statues. They looked so real! I’m not sure, but I think they were based on some of the statues on Sint Maarten’s round-a-bouts. This side of the island has more round-a-bouts than intersections, and each one has a statue with local significance.
As the sun began to sink, the parade marched to its final destination– Festival Village. Tired dancers and sweaty but happy walkers disbanded and began to enjoy the celebrations for themselves.
Happy Sint Maarten’s Day, everyone! What a wonderful way to celebrate our island home.