“Wanna go for a walk?” my host sister, Satera, asked as I ate dinner on the balcony of my homestay.
“Sure,” I responded; pleased to have the opportunity to walk around and orient myself with the area.
Together we walked down the steep drive to the main road, turned right and began heading up the hill toward the mountains. We walked side-by-side along the edge of the road, falling into single file whenever we heard a car barreling up the road behind us. We crossed over a bridge, a river rushing underneath it due to the rains that came down that morning. Crickets started to sing their songs increasingly louder as the sun began to set. The next road up ahead to the right seemed narrower than the first; it was much steeper, too. Climbing up the hill, Satera began pointing out the landmarks of her childhood. First to the left was Florida Government, where she attended school growing up. A little farther up and to the right was the house where her grandmother used to live; however, you couldn’t see much of it as various trees bordered the property line, concealing it from view. She explained to me that we were headed up to her parents’ home in Gouyave Estate to pick up her 18-month-old daughter, who spent the day there.
We kept climbing up the road through Latorre, the next town that marks the transition from the coastal fishing town of Gouyave to the mountainous jungle characteristic of in-land Grenada. The air began to cool as the sun continued to set. Locals were sitting by the roadsides and outside of the rum shops, sharing drinks and conversation as Socca music echoed from nearby. A few kids were running up and down the road, playing in the last of the fading daylight. To the left the hills continued to rise, but to the right just off the road there was a steep drop. Some of the houses are built on what looks like concrete stilts, delicately but solidly supporting the small homes on top. Looking beyond the houses, the sun burned orange in a perfect circle as it slowly worked its way toward the water. It was one of those sunsets that you could watch for hours, and the sun was subtle enough that it wasn’t bothersome to the eye. The horizon just above the water followed the sun’s lead, taking on the burnt orange color underneath a darkening sky above it. I paused a moment, not only to catch my breath, as we’ve been walking uphill all this time, but also to try and take in the view of the sun setting behind the water.
“Wow, what a view,” I said between breaths.
My host sister laughed with a smirk, understanding that this view is totally new and inspiring to me, but is an everyday characteristic of home for her.
We continued on and darkness fell. It became easier to tell when the cars were coming up behind us, as we would wait for headlights to shine our way before stepping to the side of the road. After about another twenty minutes or so of walking passed, we came upon her parents’ house. She stepped off the road and down the scattered pattern of rocks that lead to the house. Her daughter was on the porch, immediately dropping the toy telephone she was playing with, excited by the sight of her mother. A man was just off the corner of the porch, underneath a banana tree and standing next to a blue barrel full of water. Dressed in nothing but a white towel around his waist, he had a couple of buckets at his feet. One was empty while the other was full of soaking clothes. I introduced myself to Dominique, Satera’s father, while she went inside the house. I explained who I was and how I ended up in Grenada with the Peace Corps; he, as many locals do, immediately asked how I’ve liked being here so far.
It was only my first full weekend on the island, so I told him what I had seen so far and what else I’d like to do. He began wringing out the soaking clothes from one of the buckets and looking up into the night sky, he carefully chose his words as he explained to me some of the history of Grenada. He spoke of the pre-colonization days, and how Grenadians made a living for themselves. Then the French occupation came, followed by the English. He meticulously recalled the conflict between the locals and the colonizers. One specifically was Leaper’s Hill up in the parish of St. Patrick, where legend has it that a group of Carib revolutionaries opted to jump to their death rather than surrender to the French colonizers. He described affectionately how Grenada’s culture began to develop into its own, taking on different cultural aspects from the French and English colonizers, West African slaves, and the native Amerindian and Carib peoples, and how they all merged into the Grenadian culture of today.
He thought back to Grenada’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1974 and the rise and fall of Maurice Bishop. When Bishop was assassinated and a shoot-on-sight curfew was in place on the island, the U.S. military intervened in 1983. Since then, Grenada has remained a democratic nation, and continued forming an identity of its own.
Dominique was a man who enjoyed geography and history, and was clearly well-educated in both areas. He asked me my thoughts on President Trump and what he’s done in his term so far. That’s a delicate question to navigate, as here anything I say can be misunderstood as the viewpoint of all Americans. So I shrugged it off, stating that he won the election and hopefully whatever he accomplishes is for the better of the nation and the world, but only time will tell. It was not the first time I have been asked about Trump, and it won’t be the last. We laughed, shaking our heads as we discussed the current political predicament the world has found itself in recently. Together we tried to understand why it is that sometimes people just can’t get along, agreeing that peace is the only proper solution. Unfortunately, that solution is easier said than done.
Our whole conversation built up anticipation within me to really begin exploring all that Grenada has to offer. This cross-cultural exchange is a huge aspect of Peace Corps, and one that particularly excites me.
On top of this, there was a sense of simplicity in this moment that left me awestruck. Here was a man of Grenada, well-educated in his country’s geography and history. He was wrapped in nothing but a bath towel, casually washing his clothes by hand with water from a barrel and a few buckets. The stars decorated the sky above us and the songs of the crickets rang out through the jungle of trees around us. Even in the nighttime, down the way in the distance, you could see the Caribbean Sea. The light of the moon leaving a faint glimmer on the water. In a moment like this, you could almost go back in time and feel the history of the island. The people that have come and gone and the events that occurred, traces of their influences left behind for Grenadians to remember and pass on along to the next generation.
* * *
A week later, I stepped off the bus onto the main road in Gouyave. Locals were in the rum shops and walking up and down the sidewalks. The bus drove off and across the street was an opening in between two red, wooden doors in one of the buildings. I walked across the street and stepped through the opening into Danny Boy’s Barber Shop. Red benches were placed on three of the walls. On the bench straight ahead were two teenage boys, their haircuts freshly done and waiting on their third friend, who was in the sole barber chair to the left. Quietly going about his business was the man they call ‘Danny Boy,’ an older man with light skin and white, whispy hair across his head. He circled around with his pair of clippers and scissors, meticulously working to make the third boy’s cut just right. Seated to my right was a man of about 25 or 26 years, with crutches on either side of him, his right foot extended forward in a cast.
“Good afternoon,” I announced, unstrapping my backpack and taking a seat beside the man in crutches. The white walls looked worn and beaten, and there wasn’t much air flow in the room. On the wall to the left of the chair were a number of hair clippers hanging from nails in the wall, connected to a power strip on the floor. A fan pointed at the chair quietly hummed to provide what relief it could for Danny Boy and the boy in the chair. The sun was shining through the opening of the doors, casting sunlight on me. I immediately began regretting wearing my black, button-down shirt that day, as it never fails to make the day all that much hotter for me. I unbuttoned another button and rolled up my sleeves, trying to get comfortable and keep cool in the hot air. I looked up to see my reflection in the mirror and I couldn’t help but smile. Here I was, the only white man in a barber shop full of foreigners, only I was the one that was the foreigner. I felt as if I was on one of those travel shows like Anthony Bourdain, going about everyday things in life with the locals in a foreign country.
I turned to the man with the crutches and introduced myself. His name was Kelly. He lives in the next town over, but comes down to Gouyave every other week to get a shave and a haircut from Danny Boy. He asked me if I had been to the Caribbean before and how I liked it so far. Kelly then began telling me about Gouyave and all the type of people that call it home. When Danny Boy finished working with the boy in the chair, Kelly stood up and setting money on the counter, took a seat in the chair.
Then of the boys, with a sly smile on his face, turned to me and asked, “You come for a fresh-up? For Carnival?”
I laughed and said that I did. He asked if I would be ‘playing mas’ in Carnival this year, to which I responded that I would only be watching, but maybe I’ll play in next year’s Festival. I explained to him I was the new Peace Corps in Gouyave, and his eyes lit up when I told him I would be teaching at St. Peter’s RC School. Although he had already passed from ‘The RC,’ as they call it, he talked about how he still supported the school and had great pride in having gone there. He asked if I knew Mr. Prigge, in which I replied that I not only knew him, but would in fact be taking his place as the new Volunteer at the school.
My turn came up and I took a seat in the chair. I introduced myself to Danny Boy, and explained that Kevin had referred me. He asked where in the States I came from, and we made small talk about life back in the States and how it compares to life in Grenada. Passer-bys kept popping their head through door calling in, “Eh, Danny Boy!” He finished my haircut and after paying him, I picked up my backpack and stepped back out into the hot sun to begin my walk home.
* * *
Later that day I found myself at the local basketball court, shooting hoops for the first time in awhile. The youth basketball camp that was taking place had cleared out and now just a few locals and me were left at the court shooting. We were all taking our turns shooting, rebounding, and passing the ball around. We didn’t know each other, but shared a connection simply in the game of basketball. As the daylight began to fade, our shoot-around had turned into a couple of games of one-on-one. The first guy I played was Elvis, 20-years-old and had finished with school and now looking for work. He was playing barefoot on the court, but didn’t seem to mind and still managed to move with and around me. Next thing I knew, I was playing Randy, a boy of about 18 or 19-years-old. Randy was shirtless and shoeless, and had rolled his black sweatpants up into shorts. We went back and forth, competing against each other late into the night. At the end of the game we sat down on the bench at the side of the court.
“You going to be here tomorrow?” he asked me.
“Not tomorrow, I have to go into town,” I replied. “But I’ll be around here for awhile.”
Randy went on home, and now I was the only one left at the court. The stadium lights had been turned on at the football field next to the court. I took some time to process my time here so far, and to catch my breath.
I left the court and walked along the coastline sidewalk that leads back into Gouyave. I paused again, and listened to the waves calmly splash against the rocks. Out on the water was a single, unmanned, white boat. It casually reflected the light from the moon, illuminated in the night.
“I’ll be around here for awhile,” I thought back to myself.
It’s beginning to feel good to say that.