Monday, 30 January 2012

When it rains...

I recently took a week-long trip to Anguilla in the Caribbean.  Now you may well be thinking, that's a long way to go for just one week.  But it was in actual fact a week of work. For my three children however, it was a hoot!
We have a family business in Anguilla called Uncle Ernie's Beach Bar.  As the name suggests it’s a bar and restaurant situated right on the beach in Shoal Bay.  It was a good opportunity for my grown-up children in particular, to observe that my week long trips to the Caribbean, once or twice a year, were not about basking in the sunshine, but hard work.  And they were able to witness the fact, that I only spent one afternoon on the beach under an umbrella, drinking rum punch.  So another time, when I have to fly off to sunnier climbs, leaving a damp wet England behind, they should feel sorry for me. As if!
My youngest son, Tom aged 14, was thrilled to have his big bro Jake and sister Louise, all to himself.  Louise, married with three children, had taken the trip on her own.  Jake, who ordinarily lives in Los Angeles, flew over to meet us in Anguilla for the week.
Louise and Jake previously lived in Anguilla and went to the local secondary school, where I taught.  They have experienced Caribbean life, including a major hurricane (Louis).  We spent three months without  any electricity and played week long Monopoly games.  So, when one Sunday morning, the heavens opened.  We all took a trip down memory lane and dusted off the, American-style Monopoly board.  The rain doesn't usually last in the Caribbean. Once the sun comes back out again, twenty minutes later, it is hard to imagine that it was ever raining.  But on this particular morning, the dark clouds hung very heavy in the sky.  But it wasn't a problem, my chicks were engrossed in a game and the only thing that mattered was winning.  Incredibly competitive bunch, can't think where they get it from.
We had intended to go down to the bar for lunch.  We kept thinking, any minute now it will stop and we can make a dash for the car, but it didn't.  I thought I'd better ring the bar to see if there were any customers.
"Yes, Silma”said Lily, “we have people here, but de rain coming down hard and just now, we see a car sliding down the hill towards us."
I was alarmed.  So I thought I'd better get down there.  After a few phone calls to friends, I realized this would not be so easy.  Whilst we had comfortably been sitting at home in the house quite high up on a hill, we hadn't appreciated how flooded the rest of the island was.  We attempted to make our way to the beach in our mini bus. Now although Anguilla is quite a flat island, there are one or two peaks and troughs.  In those troughs, the water gathered.  We saw the tops of many vehicles stranded in the water; abandoned by their drivers.  There was no way that we could get through, so we returned home.  By now, I was becoming just a little panicked.  I rang the bar again, and explained to the staff why they needed to tell customers that the bar would be closing early.  I couldn't help feeling that they didn't really appreciate what was awaiting them beyond the hill.  As for the customers, they were  far too sozzled to care.  There was nothing else to do but to wait. 
An hour later, I eventually managed to contact one of the members of staff on their cell phone.  The rain and the flash floods had disrupted the whole communications systems.  It was a very excited Lily, who relayed the story of their adventure.
"Well, we didn't know how bad it was till we got over the hill.  De car jus break down on us.  We had to get out and walk.  First the water was up to our waist, then at times up to our neck. It was so funny.  I took some pictures on my cell phone.  But we get home, eventually."
I couldn't believe it; I would have been in tears, never mind taking photos.  But then that's Caribbean folk, just taking it in their stride.
I was relieved to hear everyone at the bar was okay.  Amazingly, there were no fatalities.
Next morning, after very little sleep I made my way to the beach bar.  The force of the rain swept waves of water through the sand to meet the sea.  It created a trench around 5 foot deep, as well as sweeping sand from underneath the beach bar.  Leaving it precariously balanced on poles.
Now, one thing you have to learn to expect on the island is that everyone is an expert.  Even more so when it is a mere woman such as me, attempting to figure out how to get the beach bar secure enough to be serving food by 2 o’clock that afternoon. It didn't take long to find someone who knew someone else in the construction trade, who could sort it all out for me.
For the tourists, this was a ‘not to be missed’ photo opportunity.  There are different varieties.  The English tourists will watch at a safe distance, not wanting to get in the way, and perhaps using the digger and the carnage as a backdrop to the family photo, (ever aware of the health and safety issues).  The American tourist will just dive in there.  They want to be where it's all happening.  Watching workmen shovel sand and rocks underneath the bar.  The American tourist will want their photo taken in the middle of the debris, with cheeseburger in one hand and a Heineken in the other.  But the French tourist, they prefer to keep their distance and watch the happenings from another nearby bar.
In such times of need, islanders come together.  And by one o’clock it was business as usual. We left the deep trenches in the sand for Mother Nature to repair in her own time.
I fear that when I arrive next time at Anguilla airport the welcome might not be so great.  It does seem as if far too many hurricanes and flash floods happen to occur when I visit the island.  I'm developing quite a complex.

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