Having heard my husband’s adventure stories on Acklins for the past 34 years, I have been wanting to visit this island. This is our last day in Acklins and I want it to be perfect, which means it must include Nay. But first, we all trooped into Chef Peter’s immaculate kitchen with its welcoming table where we sat and talked to him as he worked. Another man, who is here working on road construction, sat with us. Velma, the owner, learned that Jason had performed Disney’s Be Our Guest for her sister-in-law, and she insisted he sing for everyone at the table after we finished eating. He willingly obliged, after which the kitchen guests and staff applauded enthusiastically and loudly praised our boy, calling him a star. They were so sweet!
Walter and Jason returned to our room but Chef Peter and I were still talking, as he’d asked me about my work. I told him about my organization DiveWise and my older sons’ freedive accident. He was very interested and wanted more information about freedive safety, so I provided him with my contact info. I went to shake his hand but this tall, elegant chef would have none of that. He embraced me warmly, wrapped his long arms around me and told me he loved me. I then walked over to Velma to tell her goodbye and she gave me a fierce hug and kiss and told me that she loved me. I really wasn’t ready to leave, but we were leaving the very next morning. There was no getting around that sad fact.
Walter wanted to visit Nay at her home today. She lives directly across from the gas station, which she owns, along with several cargo vessels. The needle on our gas gauge was sitting on dead empty. We set out and made it before we ran out of fuel. Walter added some oil to Velma’s rental car, along with a little water, and filled it up with gas and then drove the car across the street to Nay’s.
Eighty-three-year-old Nay was thrilled to have Walter return to visit her again. It was the perfect weekend for our visit as it was Reunion Weekend. We chatted with Nay on her back porch and met her family who were in town for the big weekend.
Her oldest son from Nassau then showed us around the backyard where we saw the tiny restaurant where Nay had provided Walter and his three shipwrecked friends with ice cold Becks beer, corned beef, and grits after they had washed ashore in rubber rafts and made the long arduous trek across the island. Nay’s lunch was the first real food they had eaten in four days. They knew then they were going to make it.
Walter had often told me he had to duck to enter her restaurant and I got to see him do it first hand. I had to duck, too. Nay is not a tall woman. We had a full tour of her yard that looked pretty much just as it did in the photos I’d seen. I felt like another piece of the puzzle had been completed.
Nay offered us Keneps and we picked several from her tree and ate them. How have I never been exposed to this fruit before? Keneps are related to the lychee, but I think keneps are much better. Like sweet custard but the size of a lychee. I’m determined to plant one when I return home.
We walked back onto Nay’s back porch where she offered us a cold bottle of water.
“Did you know Walter before he was shipwrecked?” she asked me.
I shook my head. “No, we met one week after he washed up on Acklins.”
“Oh!” She studied me and added, “I caused you to get a husband.” We laughed.
“When you come to Miami and visit Baptist Hospital, you can come stay with us. I have a room just for you.”
She liked that and promised to come stay with us in February. As we said our goodbyes, Nay hugged me tight and told me that she loved me. The people here in Acklins are so loving. It’s getting harder and harder to think about leaving tomorrow.
Walter and Jason decided to dive in a couple of blue holes here in Acklins so they donned their dive gear and headed over to Thompson’s blue hole. Walter swam down about 20′ but still couldn’t see the bottom. He’s not sure how deep it is but there were plenty of fish: a school of horse-eyed jack, a school of blue runners, a hawksbill turtle, a school of mangrove and lane snappers, turbot, blue tangs, goat fish, angel fish, doctor fish, and so many others.
They had also noted there was a blue hole right off the beach in front of IVel’s. Walter and Jason were creeping up to the edge of it to peer over the edge into the blue hole. Jason had his mask on and stuck his head in the water and noted the hole was only 20′ deep. He popped his head up and said, “Well, that was anticlimactic!”
Then they swam around the edge and saw where the west side of the hole had a big cave that went far back under the edge of the hole and into the flats. There were several holes on top of the flats that let in shafts of light so you could see way back into the cave, beyond even where their vision could reach. They spotted a few snappers and various other tropical reef fish.
Walter kayaked out to do some bone fishing on his own today. He pulled into a quiet cove and stumbled upon the island’s elusive Flamingo flock. Two years ago, when Hurricane Joaquin slammed this area, hundreds of flamingos were killed. Their long necks and slender legs were no match for the killer hurricane. Today there are eleven Flamingos on Acklins and eight on Crooked Island. Walter found the flamingos but he couldn’t find the crafty bone fish. Jason watched Walter trek in dragging his kayak and went out to help his Dad haul the boat back to IVel’s.
It was getting late and time to head over to the final Reunion Celebration on the beach. I didn’t want to miss Norma Cox’s tropical conch salad or her coconut candy. This time we took Jason with us.
We arrived at the event on the beach and Jason shot out of the car and onto the beach. It was about 7:00 p.m. and the sun was beginning its glorious descent into the sea. Walter and I watched it for a few minutes. We then looked around for our son and found him running around with about 12 island boys of all ages. He initiated a couple of races and the native Acklins boys – ages 2 to 14 – all clambered around to play with him. They ran through the surf, kicked up water, threw sticks and rocks into the sea, jumped over cement structures, hollered, laughed hysterically, and took pictures of themselves with their arms around each other as the sun touched the ocean.
That evening, as we were getting ready to leave, one of the teenagers and a boy Jason’s age, hung around to talk to me and Jason.
“Why do people from the States have swimming pools? Why don’t they just use the ocean? It’s all around us and you don’t need a swimming pool.”
“The US has the ocean all around its coast, but there are many states in the interior where there is no coast and no ocean. They don’t have access to the ocean. Some people like to be able to get in the water anytime they want right in their own backyard, so they put in a pool.” I replied.
“I have so many questions for you! I wish I had time to ask you everything I want to!”
“I have time. What do you want to know?”
“I wish I was white. I hate black people.”
The tall Bahamian boy beside me leaned towards him and said gently, “But you’re black.”
“I know. I hate myself.”
“It doesn’t matter what color your skin is – white or black – it only matters what’s in your heart,” I said tenderly.
“That’s true,” the tall boy said to his friend.
“Here’s another question. How do you get your hair to be like that?”
I smiled. “You mean long?”
He shot me a toothy grin, “Yeah.”
“That’s just the way it is. I don’t do anything to make it that way. Would you like to touch it?”
“Yes!” He came closer to touch my hair and Jason’s.
I smiled at him as he touched my hair wonderingly.
I really liked this boy. He freely said what he was thinking and I loved his curiosity. He was very clever.
“You love my hair, but I love yours. It looks great on you. You’re a very handsome, smart, and kind boy.”
I thought back to Walter telling me about the young primary students at Lovely Bay 34 years ago running out to see the girls and curiously touching their hair. Acklins island is still so isolated that the children here don’t understand how our hair is different to theirs. I find that extraordinarily special.
The island’s relative isolation from the outside world has protected these beautiful people, their children, and their heritage. They have big hearts for newcomers as well as their neighbors. They cook amazing meals full of love. They worship God and attend church together. They travel long distances on overcrowded mail boats and planes just to celebrate their rich love for each other and to strengthen their powerful family bonds.
I’m jealous of what they have here in Acklins. I’m very sad to be leaving these caring, compassionate, warmhearted, and generous people. I can’t wait to return.