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Tobago Bush Life

My sister Dawn

Here are some little stories from an island that fed me and I tended to in turn. I first found myself in Tobago working construction trade for a friend of a friend. We got a place to stay and a little money for food. My partner and I worked hard with Tobagonians. We mixed concrete in wheel barrows, plastered walls and painted. At the end of the day we were filthy, sweaty and covered in paint and concrete. The locals were surprised to see us working and not just on vacation. But that’s us, no money, a need for adventure and a strong work ethic. I worked as hard as any man on the site and they always warned me to not work to hard because I wouldn’t be able to have a baby someday. They scolded my partner for letting me work so hard but we just laughed and I told them ill be fine. They took a liking to us and we had a big community of friends. We earned the nicknames of Joseph and Mary. Always barefoot long hair down and a scarf over my head. We were welcomed in by Rastafari family and received and practiced their spiritual teachings. This was before many people had cell phones. We were free, we were present and a part of a living breathing villiage of human connection. I did travel with a camera most of my life and I am grateful that I documented a lot of my travels.

The cove we swam in most days after work

Sunset with the kids

In Tobago it is a tradition that a village every weekend hosts the community with food and drinks and it is usually the wealthy families sharing their abundance with the community. They call it “Harvest”. We would go to Harvest all over the Island enjoying the delicious food and local culture. We ate iguana, roti, busup shut, pigeon peas, fish tea, and lots of curry goat, my absolute favorite which inspires me to raise goats to this day to feed my family and community.

We lived in a house about half a mile up a dirt road. We had no vehicle so hitchhiking was the way got around. We had to carry all our food and water up the road to our house because it was not fit for vehicles. Every day we walked down to the ocean to take a sea bath. A mile walk just to bathe. Well worth every step. There wasn’t much furniture in our home but oddly enough.. there was a bow flex. So when I wanted to sit I’d take a seat on the bow flex. And how can you not want to use it if your sitting on it! Needless to say this lifestyle kept me very healthy. Yoga twice a day, laying in the sun, bow flex, lots of walking, construction work, climbing coconut trees for food, eating paw-paw, sour-sop, dasheen, kasava, and fresh fish. It was a beautiful life style living with the land. One winter I planted a garden full of food and dug irrigation so the daily rainfall would water it while I was gone. When I returned the next year we ate from it.

Harvesting cooking banana on the road we lived on

View from the roof of where we stayed

Sunset on the roof

One afternoon I was walking toward the beach at sunset and a young local started walking along side me and asks “are you going skinny dipping?” and I responded I don’t skinny dip I ‘Chunky Dunk’. That made him laugh and he must have told all his friends about it, because whenever I was spotted around town all the teenage boys would shout “Chunky Dunk!!”. Even when I left the island and returned a year later I would be greeted by a truck driving by with a bunch of boys in the back shouting “CHUNKY DUNK!!!” most of them I didn’t even know!

Life in the bush was full of medicine and magic. Rainbow colored iguanas walking by. Beautiful birds and magnificent trees. All over the island you would see goats grazing to “keep back the bush” which is constant work. A home, yard or clearing can easily become over grown by the vigorous tenacity of the jungle. She wanted to cover all the land and would do it not so slowly and very surly.

The locals have a saying that the sea has to take a couple lives a year. Always warning caution. One day we were traveling and it was so hot and I wanted to go for a swim the only spot nearby had a dangerous reputation. I went out and sure enough.. she tried to swallow me. Like I had been warned. The tide ripped me out to sea, the waves sucked me under against my will. I lost my footing, the waves pounded me under, my feet in the air and my body tumbling like a rag doll scraping the ocean floor of rocks, coral and sand. It pulled me out so deep the ocean floor was no longer below my feet. I’d fight my way up for air the second I’d take half of a breath I was slammed again sucking in water more and more each time. I was drowning fighting my way to shore. Lungs full of salty water repeatedly being pulled under. Helpless. I had two friends on shore who feared for my life. One didn’t know how to swim the other in shock tried to make his way to me. I tried to yell for help in between waves and breaths but needed every bit of air and could only manage to get some bursts of air but mostly water, I quickly became exhausted running on adrenaline. Fighting for my life I’ve never swam so hard. By some miracle I made it to shore. A battle with the ocean. She gave me my life. And left me humbled and wiser.

A calm cove

The people on the island are beautiful, loving and generous. I was auntie to two little girls Jovonus and Auhnaya. Their parents were my best friends on the island. We would harvest food in the jungle together and they would take me to their sacred places. They lived a simple and humble life tucked away in the jungle raising their little family away from the streets and gang violence they grew up in on Trinidad. Their mom was a sister to me. Scars on her beautiful face and chunks of her ear missing from knife fights. She spoke beautifully and with faith.

The island took me in and cooked me into something more. Inspired by the community, the spirituality, and the lifestyle. She gifted me with many experiences and visions. Gave me my life back twice. Taught me many lessons. I fell in love in so many ways. With tastes, sounds, laughs, smiles, beaches, birds, music, fish, and landscapes.

Wherever our feet take us on this beautiful earth we build a relationship with the environment. The landscape becomes a part of us. We eat from it, its literally and spiritually becomes us. Nourishes us. Its an ancient human thing to become a part of a landscape and let the landscape become a part of you. Drink from her wild waters, eat the plants and animals that grow. Breathe the beautiful air. We are all a part of that humble cycle and rhythm. Dependent on the sun and water. The thing that inspires me the most about where I live today is the close relationship with the cycle of life. I hope that everyone can feel connected to the cycle of life through their food and how they interact with their environment. Raising goats for meat is fully inspired by my time on the island. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to take care of these beautiful animals. Its gives us a deeper connection to our landscape here on the farm in Vermont.


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