As sure as the sun was expected to shine, the generator went off again. Every single day! It was the norm, but not always in the most convenient situations. I could hear Mrs. Mackey shouting from across the yard, “Oh Lord, not again! I just put the damn chicken in the oven!”… You see, life on Moore’s Island Abaco was beautiful and simple, yet unpredictable. With a population of approximately 950 people, it is one of the 365 cays off the mainland of Abaco, with a total area of just under 7 square miles. The island’s two settlements are Hard Bargain (the capital) and The Bight. Traditionally, the island lives off farming and fishing. To the average guest, it may seem devastating when such a small island loses power in the middle of the day for several hours. But to the locals, it was merely a setback.
Not later than a few minutes, Charlene, our neighbour, came running out of her wooden one-bedroom house, as if she were on fire, holding her head like she was possessed and screaming, “my head…..my head!”. She sure picked a fine time to chemically relax her hair. The peroxide was burning through her scalp and not a drop of water from the taps. Mum rushed to the kitchen to grab a 5-gallon bottle of water and poured it over Charlene’s over-processed hair. She was lucky to save the few strands left after years of chemical damage. Oh the joys of island life!
It was 1989 when mum was posted at Moore’s Island clinic for one year, as the island’s nurse; just one of her many postings to the out islands, spanning a career of over 50 years. As usual, my younger sister and I accompanied her. We attended the local All-Age School during this period. My first memory of Moore’s Island was landing in a 4–seater chartered flight on a very short and narrow runway. On either side of the tarmac, you could see children playing in the bushes and waving excitedly to the unnerved passengers. For the few international guests that visited the island, staying at one of the two guest houses, this was certainly alarming. But for the locals, this was a normal way of life. The simplicity and innocence of the island was heart warming and everyone treated you as family.
At school, each morning started with the singing of the Bahamian national anthem and the pledge to the Queen, in respect of our colonial roots. This was followed by the recital of the books of the Bible from the old testament. Christianity is very important in The Bahamas, so much so that the church is the deciding factor in many political affairs. Church was a must every Sunday, and it was normal to have lunch there, and sometimes even dinner, prepared by the elderly ladies. It was a common belief on the island that the more we prayed and stayed in church, the more blessings we would receive. A feeling of euphoria came over me when I was asked to sing a solo at the local festival, which was an annual event hosted by the Baptist Church. No-one had ever asked me to sing before. In fact, I don’t think I have ever heard myself sing. But that didn’t matter, I suddenly felt like a local celebrity. That was until I overheard one of the Church members say, “You know how important the nurse is to the island, make sure her children are involved!” Well, that said it all. Mum was the celebrity! Needless to say, I was never asked to sing again.
Owen and Jojo [real names omitted], my older brothers, visited the following year when their school had closed for the summer. They were attending a boarding school in Ottawa, Canada and had no idea what awaited them. Reluctantly, they boarded their flight from Nassau to Moore’s Island after mum insisted that they come. They had already heard stories of the slow–paced non–existent night life on the island, but never imagined just how slow. For two teenage boys, who have experienced the excitement, thrills and fast paced lifestyle of a big city like Ottawa, Moore’s Island would take some getting used to. Jojo took a lot longer to adapt to island life, and he was determined to leave on the next plane out. But Owen settled in nicely; in no time, he made friends with the local teenage boys and frequented the beach, where they dived off the cliffs, went shelling and in search of crabs at nightfall. Crabbing is a great pastime on the island, and one that both young and old enjoy. It must be done when night falls, because that’s when the crabs come out of hiding. Everyone is clothed in long shirts/tops and trousers to avoid being bitten by the islands blood-thirsty mosquitos. With a crocus sack on your back, you move cautiously and carefully through the bushes to catch da crabs, trying desperately not to startle them. Crab and rice is a popular dish in The Bahamas and can often be seen as part of a main meal in many Bahamian homes.
Before we knew it, our year–long trip to Moore’s Island was over, but not before one last unexpected event. We had all settled into bed for the evening. Mum kissing us all good night. At about 2am in the morning, there was a thunderous knock on the door, which woke us all up in a fright. Mum hurriedly ran to the door to find out what was happening. A young lady aged 22 was about to give birth six weeks early. Mum had delivered many babies in her career, but this one was different. There were some complications and it soon became clear that the local clinic, with its very limited resources, was not equipped to handle such emergencies. As calm as ever, mum told us we had to leave on a charter flight to the capital Nassau as she had an emergency, and the island doctor was not available. Still half asleep, we got dressed and left for the airport during what I recalled was a very rainy and stormy night. It couldn’t get any worse – or could it? We safely landed in Nassau one hour later, and the expectant mother was transported to the Princess Margaret Hospital, in the waiting ambulance. I am happy to say that a few hours later she gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
My time on Moore’s Island was an unforgettable year–long experience. Despite the limited resources, it had a lot to offer. This came in the form of a huge sense of community and pride that the locals demonstrated. The natives are the heart and soul of the island and despite their very modest and, for some, unfortunate circumstances, they are a happy people. As a young girl experiencing this, I felt loved and safe by the Moore’s Island community who had a huge impact on my life. Today, 28 years later, I can recall each memory like it was yesterday. These experiences are what make our Islands special for those visiting our beautiful shores.