I wrote the title to this post first, but I’m saving the revelation of its meaning in my literary arsenal, to be drawn at the opportune moment. Sit tight, folks!
Which country was I in again? I can never quite keep track of myself, so I can only imagine what it must be like for my dear readers. I believe I failed to share with you my travel plans when last I posted, which is just as well, because they didn’t work out at all as I intended.
“Yes, I’m going to find a ship that will sail me to America in exchange for my service as deckhand,” I boasted quite confidently to Noga, facing me across the table at the Ashram, which I had left a day or two prior, only to return to for frequent visits, thoroughly confusing everyone and ruining any chance of a dramatic exit.
“What??,” I said, once she was done answering, “I can’t hear you! I have carrots in my ears!”
Well, I didn’t really, but I might as well have. My ears had been blocked up for several days by then, and since the Ashram doctor affirmed there was no infection, and suggested I wait it out, I resolved to do just that. This proved, in the long run, to be bad advice, as only today, with the aid of a lovely Israeli-born doctor (they’re everywhere!) did I finally return the world to full volume. I didn’t recall it being this loud!
I wasn’t shouting, either. In fact, everyone kept asking me to speak up. I had no way of telling how loudly I was talking, since my own voice was more or less the only thing I could hear.
“Chewing is especially bad, too,” I explained. “If I chew, and you talk, all I can hear is krksch krksch krksch.“
“I was asking,” Noga repeated, very slowly and clearly, “where you are staying.” She was grinning, because it was funny.
Well, this is one of those awkward moments when I balance my integrity as a reporter with the flow of the story, only to come to the conclusion that I’m not a reporter, but a writer, which makes my integrity a very stylized thing, and in any case, I can’t recall the precise order of events to tell. Call me a liar, if you will. You won’t, will you?
“I’ll give you the money, if you need,” Noga said, once I had told her of my happy go lucky travel style, because by then I had conceded that I might not succeed in catching a boat, and would, perhaps, have to change my flight ticket. I thanked her profusely, but politely declined, and I tell you all this only to return to the topic of my nightly accommodations. You didn’t think I’d forgotten, did you? See, the money’s the thing that leads us there, via a riddle:
Q: How do you walk into a restaurant and get two free meals and 100$ cash?
A: I have no idea, but that didn’t stop me.
It was, however, quite awkward. Which is no surprise, because I am quite awkward. But there’s more to it than that.
You must be wondering, of course, what would possess me to even find myself in a situation where this would be remotely possible. I don’t really know the answer, but whatever it is has been running the show for a while now.
See, this personal demon of mine, or one of its colleagues, had recently driven me out of quite sum money. This meant I was officially traveling on goodwill. I mean to say, my mother was paying. And money is, apparently, something of a sore point for me.
This is why I resolved, when making my initial plans (Well, my initial plans had been to traverse the far east more or less indefinitely, but that fell through, so I made new initial plans), that after my month-long Yoga course, I would spend another month in the Bahamas, and do so most parsimoniously.
It was the first day after the course had ended that I realized two things:
1) This isn’t easy.
2) This isn’t fun.
Well, that’s boiling it down a little too much. I had a scheme, and it involved boats. I thought, back home, I would find a boat, and sail all across the Caribbean, and have an Adventure, maybe even one with pirates. When I graduated, I thought, well, visiting my friends and family in the States would be nice, so either I go with option A, as aforementioned, OR I sail to the US, like the brave pilgrims of yore, except very much unlike them in numerous ways (Here’s a little something extra I’m sure you didn’t know).
When the time came to implement this master plan, I quickly became disillusioned. “Of course you did”, you may be thinking, “you’re perfectly ridiculous!” To which I can only plead guilty.
Local Bahamian fishermen, it seems, have a hard enough time finding employment for themselves, much less some skinny white boy with a big backpack and a dorky hat. AND THEY DON’T WORK ON SUNDAY! (This just in from the ‘note to self’ directory.)
Rich Americans, on the other hand, are assholes. I don’t feel this requires any explanation.
So no boat would take me on, and whenever I told people I had no money, they kept directing me to the US embassy. I felt uncomfortable telling them this, because it was not, in the strictest sense of the word, true. But I was trying to explain why I was looking for a job on a boat, and I didn’t want to go into every detail. This left me in a somewhat uncomfortable situation.
“We’re closing, I’m sorry,” quoth Zsanae, of the Via Caffe. I had walked in wearing my scruffy traveler’s attire, asking to wash dishes in return for a meal. This was just around six PM, so I was quite surprised to hear they were clearing up. I later came to understand that the whole section of Nassau which I was roaming was dedicated solely to the rich tourists coming in on the gargantuan cruise liners, which wouldn’t give me a job, either. More on that later. That dictates the opening hours: 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM.
“Hold on,” she said, or maybe that was Claurinda, the cook, or Maria, the boss. “I’ll check with the kitchen if we can whip you up a little something.” Maria is white. Claurinda, Zsanae, and all the other workers are black. Make of that what you will.
They did whip me up a little something. It was not vegetarian. I ate it anyway. As I sat there, 4.25$ in my pocket, a bedraggled looking fellow approached me, asking for spare change. He had to repeat himself several times before I heard him. (Blocked ears, remember?) I gave him one of the Dollars that had been given me by a friend. They were never mine to keep. This is one of the lessons I found hidden in the haphazard heap that is my adventure. From the plaza, several homeless men gazed at me curiously.
I don’t know if I was addressing this to the three women smiling at me from across the counter, or to the five 20$ bills glaring up at me morosely from atop it. They had called me back in once I had finished eating. They had packed me up a snack for later, they had said, which was true. The 100$ were then sprung on me. It was a merciless ambush. I refused once, I refused twice. They persisted. I accepted, and in my mind I began to formulate another of those little tidbits you could call life lessons. They can be found strewn across the ground like twigs, and are of similar value. But we collect them, and build nests out of them, and they keep us warm.
You see, Maria, Claurinda and Zsanae were aiding me with a much more important currency than the US Dollar. No, not the Euro. I’m talking about kindness. And kindness, just like any other currency, needs to be kept in circulation. So: Accept kindness.
As lovely as this insight is, it has much to answer for. Should I have taken the money? I didn’t need it, really. I could have relied on my mother for that. Would that have been better? What’s worse: just outside the Caffe’s glass doors were men who needed this money far more than me. Never, ever, would they get 100$ if they walked in those doors. What makes me so much better? That I’m young? That I’m white? That I’m educated, and part of the world’s most privileged class? Every one of these reasons more strongly secures the argument that I don’t need this money. Does that mean I don’t deserve it?
Or perhaps, the reasoning is that I can benefit more by this money. That it’s too late for them, but not for me. That they made a choice to live as they do. As it seems to me, though, I had much more of a choice than they did. I simply don’t know.
It seems the wind has blown my twig away, and I must needs start over.
Zsanae walked me to a hotel. She signed me in there. As soon as she had departed, I dropped onto the bed and into a deep, sound slumber.
To be continued…