Just an hour from Union Island, smashing upwind, motoring at three knots, we pulled into the open bay at Mayreau. The flocks of boat boys in their brightly painted launches circled and touched down for just a second, much less insistent than in Chatham Bay. Their easy attitude left me wanting to buy something from them, wishing there was something we needed. But we didn’t need fish, or ice, or bread.
“Do you have weed?” we winked.
“Psh! Of course I have weed!” said the Rasta driver. So we bought weed.
Mayreau Island was small and lower than Union. A broad yellow beach lay sleepy beneath a small town on a hill. The locals went about their business, mostly uninterested in our boat. I wondered why the people here, just four miles north, would be so much less insistent than the last.
The answer lumbered in the next morning.
Just after sunrise I opened my eyes from my cockpit nest to see a massive ship creeping in to lay its thundering anchors out beyond the other sloops and ketches. Five symbolic masts stuck awkwardly in its top like candles in a gaudy wedding cake and small, vestigial jibs suggested some sort of sailing ability. On the side it read Club Med 2. An ugly beast. A cruise ship from Martinique.
The sandy strip came alive, a desert after a rain storm. Scurrying workers set up stalls, the beach bloomed with colorful dresses, sarongs, crafts, and shirts. “Sail fast, live slow.”
The ship started spewing guests, shuttled to shore on flat people ferries. (Even their dinghies had life rafts). A local charter catamaran left with a group of early risers, heading out for a genuine sailing experience (second to a monohull:)
Kayaks, sailing rafts and paddle boards inflated out of thin air. Beach chairs sprouted from the sand, snorkelers stumbled into the water around the rocky cliffs. An instant village, all watered by a sprinkle of French tourists. Such an influx must rarely visit Union Island, and so the people here are more secure. They know their money ship will come.
I swam to shore, dry clothes stuffed in a 5-liter water bottle, and walked to the far end of the beach, past the tourists. I crossed and scrambled up rocks to sit and just listen to the wind. I was feeling kinda sensitive for some reason…maybe the little bit of weed I smoked the night before, unusual for me.
I watched some snorkelers dive and flip around below, gentle sea surges pinning them to the rocks and then releasing them. An older man pumped his fins out behind like a floating baby. Doggy paddle. He seemed a little out of his element. I wondered if I might have to do a rescue. But they were brave, these tourists. Well…the ones that came off the boat at least.
Walking back I found a sturdy black trash bag in the bushes and filled it with plastic bottles, styrofoam bits, old shoes, the pieces of trash that were neglected, out of sight of the tourists and left to rot in piles of leaves.
On through the well-swept tourist strip, packed sand shaded by almond trees. I noticed a man leaning against the trunk of a tree just as he called me over. I approached smiling, bulging trash bag in hand. As he stepped from the shadow of the tree, I scanned his outfit, dark blue collared shirt labeled “Security” tucked into darker blue cargo pants, a beater stick, sunglasses, tightly wound dreadlocks pulled back and covered with a cap.
“Hi,” I said cheerfully. He could tell me where I could put this trash.
“You have to take that trash back to your boat,” he said immediately, in a low, assertive voice. I had expected that. I began to explain proudly.
“Oh no, this is trash I picked up, cleaning the beach,” I opened the bags so he could see. He didn’t really look. He continued to explain that I would have to take the trash to Union Island, back where it came from.
“I’ve just been cleaning the beach,” I repeated, caught off guard by his suspicion. “Look, there are old shoes and cups in here,” I pulled out a size twelve sneaker.
“That’s from the boat,” he insisted. I looked at him stunned. He stood with his arms crossed, head high, gazing dominantly out from his security guard costume. I bristled at the confrontation. My voice started to shake as I pulled out bits of trash.
“This styrofoam has been sitting in the sun for years!” I teared up from frustration. “I’m just trying to help out and clean your beach. It’s nice and clean here where the tourists are, but down there at the other end there are piles of trash. If you say I have to take it back where it came from, then I will have to take it back down the beach,” I argued. He stayed calm, composed behind his elusive glasses.
“What’s that then?” he asked, poking my dry bag-bottle, slung around my shoulder.
“Oh that,” I was confused, “Those are my things,” I said, “so I can keep my clothes dry when I swim from the boat.”
At this he softened a bit, changed the subject. Finally asked my name, nationality, asked about the birthmark on my cheek. Asked if I have children. Told me his name was Frank, that he hopes I have a son someday and I can name it Frank. Then he asked if I smoke weed.
I didn’t know how to answer. I’d taken maybe three puffs in six months, one of which was just the night before. I processed his dreadlocks and assumed he was trying to make a connection.
“Every once in a while,” I shrugged.
“I can see it in your face,” he went on, knowingly.
“I meditate a lot,” I said, “I think it kind of has the same effect…kind of like prayer,” I added, to try and appeal to his belief system. Connection can diffuse conflict. He continued on as if I hadn’t spoken.
“I’m a spiritual man myself,” his voice was low and prophetic, enraptured with itself. “Have you heard of Spiritual Baptist?” Not really. “It’s from Africa. I’m a spiritual man. I see right through you,” he gestured with a calm pointer finger. “That’s why I stay calm. You are worked up because of what you’ve seen in this world. I stay calm because I am not affected by your emotions.”
I just stared, not enjoying being preached at. His words poked at my old emotional insecurities.
“I tell you, you take the trash out that gate and turn right, and there is a trash drop.” I nodded, grateful. “But next time you have to bring it back to the boat,” he reiterated, like a persistent parent.
I paused, in disbelief. Another day maybe I could have seen it wasn’t worth responding, but his righteousness was infuriating, unjust. And I was boat-cleansed. Months at sea with close community, good communication, openness, honesty. I wasn’t used to dealing with such a stubborn ego.
“You don’t believe me?” I pushed, unwilling to yield to such dominance, no matter who it was.
“I said I take your word for it, and now you’re done cleaning for the day,” calm, smooth, final. I felt like a worked up child. He repeated his instructions, gesturing me towards a break in the chain link fence at the back of the beach.
I stepped from the manicured vacation scene, through a curtain of tropical bushes, into the backstage reality of a small island. Hidden from view, unlikely to be found by a wandering tourist, was a packed dirt lane, backed by rich, stinky mangroves, and lined with piles and bags of garbage.
I looked to the right, where Frank had said. Trash piles started at my feet and ran down the road as far as I could see. Trash everywhere. Where did he mean to put mine? It didn’t seem to matter. (Or maybe I am still trying to justify my next decision…) I set my bag down with the others just outside the gate.
Then I walked down the road to explore. I felt the futility of my efforts, cleaning the beach for my eyes, for the tourists, and right behind a row of trees is a lane of rubbish. I came to the more obvious trash drop, a condensed heap of bags and varying stages of melted plastic. This must be where he meant. I walked back towards the beach. I still don’t know if I intended to move my trash to the main pile. But then there was Frank, waiting for me again in shadows at the gate.
“I told you to go out and turn right,” he greeted me. “I saw you put the trash right here. You didn’t follow my instructions.”
My stomach tightened at his scolding. I looked for a way to explain. “And those?” I pointed at the other trash.
“I don’t know who put those there, but I told you to go right, and you didn’t.”
I nodded submissively, sheepishly, picked up my one bag from the others and moved it down to the big pile. Done…neglected trash successfully moved from one pile to the next. I walked back under the eye of Frank, and tried to lighten the mood, change the subject.
“So then it just gets burned?” I asked, innocently. He ignored my question.
“You didn’t follow my instructions, and so now you messed up,” he said, one last pointer finger in my face, and spun to walk away.
I watched his back, my own ego boiling. Oh hell no! I thought, you don’t get to treat people like that because you are a “spiritual” man in a security outfit.
“Do you want to listen to what I have to say?!” I called after him. He turned.
“You have something you want to say to me?” he seemed surprised.
“Yeah,” I walked up. What seemed to bother me the most, the claim at spiritual dominance, which in itself is a ridiculous exploit. “You told me that you see straight through me, but you didn’t believe what I was telling you, which was the truth. So it makes me feel like you don’t…” my voice shook, wavered. Damn my emotions.
“Spit it out,” he said calmly.
“Just that you don’t see everything, because I was telling the truth and you still didn’t believe me.” I stammered. I needed so much for him to hear this, to hear how he affected me. I realized in that moment that I needed him to see me for my good intentions, not as a bad child. I wanted his approval. He listened to me for the first time, considered my words, and after a slight pause pointed at my dry bag-bottle.
“I saw you swim in with this from the boat. It looks like trash.”
I looked down at my dented old water jug, tied with frayed string, recycled flip flops dangling on the outside. I had to smile at my general ragged appearance. He was right. A little spark of understanding crept through my mind, I could see now why he was so suspicious. I backed off.
“You’re right,” I said. “It does look like trash. It makes sense why you thought I was bringing my garbage.” His perspective flooded my mind, and I cringed at our last interaction. “And I’m sorry I didn’t follow your directions and if you felt disrespected. That wasn’t my intention…”
“Your intent is what you choose to do,” Again he came in close. Again the pointer finger unfolded from his fist. “If you did it, then it was your intention.”
Bubble popped. Understanding swept away like mist. But I felt satisfied enough by our short soft moment to accept that it was time to walk away. From here, our conversation could go nowhere.
“Okay,” I sighed, and with a short, “have a nice day,” I turned back through the gate to ‘Garbage Lane’.
Bare feet padded the soft-packed, powdery dirt, every step discharging a jolt of my electric adrenaline. I moved dazed with heavy tension until I found a small gap in the mangroves, slipped through to the hidden salt pond and collapsed on the dry, cracked mud.
There I broke down and started to cry. Shaking with frustration and anger, I spoke the words I wanted to say to him to thin air instead. Those people who expect you to listen, to respect, but don’t listen back. Those who claim divinity, spirituality, superiority in the name of ego.
Then I turned on myself, my own role in the conflict. Damn these emotions, always betraying me! Why couldn’t I hold it together? I felt retched and inferior, crying there while he had stayed so calm and composed. But even as I judged myself, I searched my mind for reassurance. As is our tendency to defend ourselves against criticism.
I replayed the situation and sought moments where he was wrong. Of course he was wrong! No one should make someone else feel so little. Anyone who dominates like that must have been dominated themselves. An overbearing father, or preacher perhaps, turns the son into a preacher themselves, always striving for validation, balance. If that is spirituality, I want no part of it. ‘True spirituality does not make people feel like this!’ I thought.
I reasoned and crawled my way up through my doubt. I realized defiantly that there is nothing wrong with my emotionality. It is just a fucked culture which says a crying woman is weak, or crazy, or a bitch because she feels something and shows it. It is not crazy, it is honest, and brave. To show how someone is affecting you, to connect and see both sides, that is much braver than hiding behind mirrored sunglasses and pointing a finger. Braver because it is uncomfortable and vulnerable.
My tears dried in the blinding sun, more salt lines on the cracked landscape. I sat up with a strong deep breathe. I can own these emotions, they don’t make me weak, they make me honest. Use them, control them, show them. Be real. Stuffing shit only leads to stuffy stuck people. I stood and dusted off the dry mud.
This time as I walked past the tourist strip, I felt disdain for an island catering a false reality for a big money ship. A band had started up, guests bobbed around steel drums holding plastic cocktail cups. I walked again past Frank and gave him a curt nod. I hoped somewhere our interaction had affected him too, opened him up…but the thing about the ego is it tends to hold onto itself.
I swam back to the boat and scribbled furiously, indignantly, poisoned by my own anger. A strange dinghy approached, and I looked up to see our Polish boys, hitching a ride back from their shore mission for rum and mixers. They stumbled onto the back of the boat, excited and rambunctious, already tapped into the new bottle. The woman who drove them smiled broadly, reluctant to say goodbye to their charming exuberance.
Arek carried two little cocktail cups. “Shit man! We almost got free lobster!” They had tried to crash the cruise ship beach party. “We got free wine, and were drinking it, but our damn green grocery bag gave us away. They made us spit it out!” Their mood was infectious. My frown cracked into laughter. Finally.
“You have to go back!” he said to Alice. “They know us now, but you have to go and get us lobster, they’ll never know. You even speak French!”
“Yeah!” I chimed in. “Screw em! Go get lobster, and wine!” I imagined Alice and Chris sneaking free wine and buffet in front of the unsuspecting security guard.
We plotted the best way to go. In the dinghy? Swimming? With mask and snorkel or not? How would they best blend in? The cruise is from Martinique, so Alice would talk and Chris would nod and say nothing. They put on swimsuits and swam to shore.
I stayed behind and bullshitted with Luci and the Polish boys, grateful for the levity of our boat. They called a launch over to ask the lobster prices, and bought five and a half pounds for $40. Luci set to work butchering and baking them in garlic butter.
Eventually Alice and Chris swam back. Alice was smiling. “How did it go?!” asked Arek excitedly, his Polish accent thick with rum.
“Well, they were done with the buffet,” said Alice, “but we drank half a bottle of wine!”
“Yay!” we cheered.
“No lobster though.” But it was OK, we had our own. We ate and I ranted about patriarchal religions and dominating egos. Then we played music and laughed. Not the first time my crew had saved me, I’m sure, but the first time I started to notice.
The next morning before we sailed on, I swam to shore to run on the beach, determined not to be scared away. I defiantly gathered some plastic water bottles, littered from the cruiseship party, and piled them under a tree for security to find.
It was time to move on, time to get to some hurricane hit islands where we could be of more help than buying lobster and weed.