“There’s something about summer, isn’t there?”
* * *
Your feet dangle off the edge of a small boat, weighed down by a pair of long flippers and a snorkel mask that stifles your breathing. Pushing off with your hands you drop below into the cool, clear waters of the Caribbean Sea. Swimming away from the boat, you turn and watch as your parents drop into the water after you. Atop the boat, a young Grenadian man wearing an early-years LeBron James jersey, the wine color faded and worn from years in the Caribbean sun, gestures off to the right.
“Friendship Circle, right dey” he calls.
Following his pointed finger, you turn and swim in that direction. This isn’t your first time snorkeling the Underwater Sculpture Park, but each time it seems as surreal as the first. You kick your feet, propelling yourself through the surface of the water as you survey the untouched, underwater world below. The pale, sandy surface of the sea floor snakes through stretches of rugged, green reef. Flashes of vibrant blue and yellow catch your eye as small fish dart in and out of the coral-covered reefs below.
Suddenly, the reef stops abruptly and an expanse of white, sandy surface spans like a desert across the sea floor. However, it wasn’t long until a shadow loomed in the distance; it was connected to another shadow, and then another. As you approached them the shadows began to take shape; they’re children standing in a ring, facing outward hand-in-hand. They stood still and serene, blissfully at peace, undisturbed on the quiet sea floor.
Drifting over the top of the statues twenty feet below, you prepare to dive down. Inhaling deeply, you kick your feet up and dive. The pressure in your ear immediately builds up, popping as you exhale through the mouthpiece. Reaching as far down as you could go, you take a moment to silently float just above the heads of the children. Their facial features were faint but noticeable, overtaken by the coral, seaweed, and sea urchins in an eerie, post-apocalyptic way. The moment is fleeting, however, the pressure building up in your chest as you can only hold your breath for so long. Looking to the bright light of the surface above you propel yourself up, bursting through the surface and spitting the mouthpiece out to gasp in the sweet breath of life.
After catching your breath, you notice a dragon-shaped mass of land that juts out into the sea. The namesake of Dragon Bay, where the sculpture park is located, the green trees span the entirety of the “dragon,” riding the ridge of its tail all the way out to its head resting out on the water. Looking left, the Sea runs endlessly into the distance. Re-setting your mouthpiece and inhaling deeply, you prepare to dive for a next pass at the statues.
* * *
Everyone in the bar pauses, looking up to see who had just walked in. A few faces light up with recognition, others with surprise or befuddlement. You nod an acknowledgement to the various persons at the bar and around the pool table. You walk over to the big man leaning on the speakers that were blasting soca music throughout the bar, a pool cue in his hand.
“Hey Mansa,” greeting him with a fist-bump. “I want you to meet my parents.”
“Eh, welcome to Grenada,” he says as he extends a hand out to each of your parents with a smile on his face.
“Cosa,” you place a hand on the shoulder of a man sitting at the bar wearing a black beanie, “These are my parents Tom and Janie.”
His eyes light up with delight, greeting your parents with the ever-so-common question of: “So how you enjoying Grenada?”
You order a round of drinks and throw some coins on the pool table. A short while later, the guys around the table, whom you’ve gotten to know well in the past year, hand a pool cue to you and your father. Typical to Grenadian hospitality, they opened up the table and took a seat to watch the foreign father-son duo duke it out for old times’ sake. With a smile on your face, you punch the coins in and rack the balls with the triangle. Chalking up your cue stick, your father breaks the set.
What ensues is a friendly but competitive game of pool; shot after shot and miss after miss, the game soon finishes…but with your father winning. You can’t help but laugh as you celebrate anyway, despite your father getting the best of you in front of the rest of “D Banana Bar’s” regulars.
The rest of the night moves forward, your parents getting a first-hand glimpse into what your life has been like since you left home over a year ago. This is your hang-out, the bar you frequent most, with the people you’ve become friends with, the place where you bring your friends when they visit. Naturally, you just had to bring your family there as well.
“I can’t believe it,” Cosa shakes his head. “You brought your parents here,” he says with a soft smile of disbelief and a glimmer of joy in his eye.
“Of course!” you laugh back. “How could I not?”
* * *
“Why don’t you lead us in a little prayer?” the deep, soft voice of your host-father murmurs.
A slight panic runs through your veins, caught off guard with such a request.
“Uh, sure. I can do that,” you respond.
Folding your hands in your lap and closing your eyes, you begin with something like this: “Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you for bringing us all here safely to enjoy this meal together. It is truly a special occasion, bringing together both of my families: one by birth and the other that has been my family away from home in every sense of the word. Thank you for this opportunity to bring the world a little closer together. Amen.”
You open your eyes, glancing over at your host father, who nods approvingly.
“Very nice, couldn’t have done it better myself,” he bellows.
Exhaling a quiet sigh of relief, you return your attention to the occasion at hand. In front of you is a beautiful display of fine china: elegant plates, bowls, and glasses seldom-used, except for the most special of occasions. To your right, at the head of the table, is your host father Dakka. Seated immediately to your left is your host mother Donna. Across from you is your own father and mother, the special guests of the afternoon.
That morning you had introduced them to each other during Mass at the local Catholic church. It was a beautiful service. A family reunion was being celebrated and the whole congregation was donned in their traditional African garb and dashikis, as Emancipation Day was to be the following day.
But now it was time for the Sunday lunch, the most popular family meal of the week in the West Indies. Donna uncovers the dishes of baked chicken, macaroni pie, cole slaw, sweet potatoes, plantains, brown rice and beans, and pours us all a few glasses of juice. Not a whole lot is said initially, as the dishes are passed around typical of the way a big-family Thanksgiving dinner begins at home. But when all the dishes are filled, the meal begins.
Dakka takes the reigns of the conversation, telling stories from his days growing up in Gouyave, his travels while studying in Canada and England, as well as his inevitable return to his true home in Grenada. Many men in his position move to town, the capital of St. George’s that is, for the stature and social standing that seemingly comes from living there. They all come back, however, he explains. They often miss the sense of community that you find living up in the country. They miss the sense of hometown pride in your community and the way things were when they were growing up. So they all eventually do come back; but not Dakka, because Dakka never really left.
A terrific orator, he continues the discussion about Grenada and its history, as well as touching on what he had learned about the States from his travels there. You and your parents didn’t have a whole lot to say to be honest, other than what they had seen around the island and the different fruits and local dishes they’ve tried up to that point. But that’s okay, for once again, your parents had the opportunity to see what your life had been like ever since you left that Memorial Day weekend in 2017. They saw the first place you called home in Grenada and experienced the same sense of hospitality from the very people who looked after and cared for you as if you were their own. They indulged in the stomach-stuffing Grenadian Sunday lunch, a meal that all but guarantees you won’t have to eat for the rest of the day.
* * *
“Who’s this kid that keeps showing up here?” you laugh out loud as an old friend arrives at your apartment.
“Scottie!” he laughs back, embracing you in a big hug.
It’s Don, a friend you made when you took a volunteer trip to Cape Town, South Africa a year and a half ago. This was his second time in Grenada, having visited you back in December. For some reason he couldn’t get enough of Grenada, or maybe Grenada couldn’t get enough of him; it’s hard to tell.
He introduces you to his friend Ghallib, or ‘G’ for short. You don’t know anything about him but you can tell right away he’ll fit right in. After all, a friend of Don’s is a friend of yours.
You introduce them to your parents, excited that they get to meet somebody you’ve met along your international travels. The introductions are brief, however, as you quickly lock up, hop on a bus, and head north with the crew you now have gathered.
Whipping around the bends of the road up and down the hills, you begin catching up with Don and getting to know this guy called ‘G.’ A short while later, the five of you are dropped in Sauters, the northernmost town in Grenada. After a quick stop in a local market, you strap on your backpack and begin the long trek to Levera.
Arguably the most challenging endeavor of the itinerary you set out for your parents, Levera Beach is roughly a five-mile hike along the backroads of the country. The hike itself, although long, isn’t so difficult. The challenging part of it is that the backroads taken to get there offer very little cover from the blistering Caribbean sun. Nevertheless, equipped with water, hats, and plenty of sunscreen, you set out on your way.
Roughly ten minutes later, you’re walking along a bend in the road. A concrete wall stands to your right, the closest resemblance to one of those sound barrier walls you find bordering a freeway back home. To your left are a few simple homes overlooking the northern coast from atop a hill. Pausing the entourage for a moment, you point through a gap between two of the houses toward the town of Sauters, its church clock tower looming over the rooftops of its schools, shops, and homes that rise up and down with the hills.
But Sauters, as beautiful a town as it is, was not what you’re pointing too. Beyond the town there was a hill, farther off in the distance. You explain its somber, historical significance to the history of Grenada. In 1651, the Carib Indians realized it was a mistake to have allowed the French to settle on the island, so they became violent and killed a number of Frenchmen. In retaliation, the French became determined to wipe out the Carib Indian population from the island and because of their superior weaponry, had quickly defeated the Carib Indians. The remaining Carib survivors, however, made a last stand in Sauters. Upon realizing they were surrounded and defeated, they opted to jump off the cliff to their deaths rather than to submit themselves to French rule. The French consequently dubbed the location, “Le Morne de Sauters,” otherwise locally known as “Leaper’s Hill.”
Continuing on for the next hour and at the mercy of the hot sun, you arrive to the desired destination. Large rocks congregate at the base of a clear, grassy hill. Rough waves crash onto them, as the rocks fall over into the long and vast beachhead of Levera. Sugar Loaf Island sits in the distance, looking more like a humpbacked turtle more so than a sugar loaf. Sandy Island and Green Island, small strips of green land and palm trees peek just around the bend of the coast in the distance. Deep in the horizon to your left are various small, uninhabited islands that marks the last stretch of the Grenadine chain that runs from St. Vincent to Grenada.
Taking off your shoes and jumping down into the hot, soft sand, you walk along the beach that seems not to have been touched in years. You point out the spot where you found a nesting sea turtle back in May, and explain how the beachhead shifts with the changing tides of the seasons. But enough of the talking and geography lessons, you tell yourself, for it was time to cool off in the churning waters where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea.
Floating in the Sea, your body rises and falls with the choppy waves. The water soothes your hot and aching body, already sore and exhausted from the hike in, which all of a sudden didn’t seem as long as it really was. You’re surrounded by both friends and family, seemingly dropped in the middle of the tropics without a care in the world. After all, bathing in the cool waters of the Sea, soothing your hot and aching body under a blistering hot sun, surrounded by family and laughing with a few good friends, what more could you ask for?
* * *
Pushing through the bush-covered path, you pop out from its grasp and into a clearing. Large rocks spot a small river directly in front of you. Looking ahead, a scene unfolds that almost begs for the cliché, “Pinch me, I’m dreaming,” line. Lush, vibrant shades of green trees and shrubs lean drunkenly in over a two-step layer of waterfalls. The first one has a rocky little channel of water that cascades down roughly fifteen feet into an emerald pool. Following up its path, its source is even more impressive. An even larger spring sits tranquil and seemingly untouched by the influence of man. The second waterfall rises nearly thirty feet in the air above it, water rushing down into the spring below with a force that beckons you to jump in.
Excited, you hustle along the narrow path to the second, higher waterfall. You’re the first ones there but not for long, as the Seven Sisters Waterfalls are one of the most oft-visited sites on the island. In next to no time you’re balancing delicately, barefoot on the rocks before diving into the crisp, clean waters of the spring. Its icy, cold temperature numbs your limbs while your heart thumps violently against your chest, confused as to whether it should feel soothed or concerned by the iciness of the water. You turn, backstroking out farther into the spring, looking up toward the sun-streaked canopy of trees above. The rays of the sun cast their light through the branches, striking the water and illuminating it that emerald color you’ve never seen before. Your parents follow in, smiling broadly as they ease into the cool and refreshing waters of the spring. Don laughs uncontrollably in joyous disbelief, loving every glorious minute. G floats where its shallow, soaking in the cleansing feel of the spring. PCVs Hannah Melin and Melanie Figueroa sit on the rocks at the edge of the spring, enjoying the cool breeze of the rainforest.
You and your dad swim together behind your unsuspecting mother. After securing your feet in the rocks below, you two simultaneously lift her up on your shoulders. She raises her hands with surprise, joy, disbelief, and okay, maybe a dash of uncertainty. You pose for a picture. But between the collaboration of weight between the three of you, alongside the strength of the current, you guys are cast out into the water where you now have to tread to stay afloat. The laughter pauses a moment when, upon finally losing balance, you all come crashing down into the water. Re-surfacing, the laughter returns, solidifying the bliss of the moment of being submerged in a spring, deep in the rainforest of a tropical island.
* * *
You’re laying out on the sands of Grand Anse Beach. Exhaustion is setting in, it was your second consecutive day of hiking waterfalls by morning and bathing in the waters of Grand Anse by the afternoon. The fading sun burns yellow on the horizon, casting an orange halo around it. The orange rises to a shade of blue, increasingly getting darker the higher up you look. Across the top of the sky a few soft, cotton-strand clouds take the orange-pink hue of the fading sun. You couldn’t ask for a better finish for the day, or even for the 10-day week of touring your parents around the crazy, hectic life you live down here in Grenada. It provides for a quiet moment of reflection, truly at peace alongside your friends and family. You think back to the week you’ve had:
A scenic view from atop the historical landmark of Ft. George.
Touring the Diamond Chocolate Factory and tasting samples of cocoa beans in Victoria.
Snorkeling the Underwater Sculpture Park, followed by a stop at Grand Anse, Fish Friday in your local community, and a stop at your favorite community bar.
Hiking through Grand Etang National Rainforest on a rainy day before hiding out with fellow PCVs at the West Indies Brewing Co.
Mass at the local Catholic Church and a Sunday lunch with your Grenadian host family.
A day trip to BBC Beach and dinner at Grand Anse.
A day-hike and bathe in the beautiful waters of Levera Beach.
A double-filled day of hiking and swimming the Seven Sisters Waterfalls by morning and bathing in the Caribbean Sea at Grand Anse by evening.
Another double-filled day hiking to and bathing in two of the Concord Waterfalls and reaching Grand Anse by the afternoon, where you now find yourself watching the sun go down with your parents and two close friends.
As exhausted as you are, you would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Funny you say that, however, because you will. For the next day your identical twin brother, Tom, flies in to celebrate the Carnival and take in the sights and sounds of Grenada.
The sun being gone now, you return home. Not wanting your parents’ trip to end, you and your mother attempt making passion fruit juice right from scratch. Sweetening it with just a touch of sugar, you clink your glasses together in cheers. The vacation may be over, but it was done right.
* * *
You hustle back early the next day, having run to town to complete some things at the Peace Corps Office. The next batch of Peace Corps Volunteers were scheduled to come in a week later, but with Carnival and your brother coming in you wouldn’t have any other time to complete their welcome packets that are traditionally done by the island-VAC.
When you do arrive back to your parents, you sit on the banister of the veranda. The old, too-familiar pit in your stomach begins to weigh heavily, knowing your parents’ taxi to the airport will arrive within the hour. You quietly fight back the tears, choking up as you sign your regrets to your cousin’s wedding invitation for later that month. It was to be the fourth wedding you’ve missed in your time down here, and honestly one of the most heart-breaking things for you to constantly miss.
Your mother comes out and sits next to you. Not knowing what else to do, you lean onto her shoulder and the floodgates open. A scene of gravity, it’s the goodbyes that are always the hardest. The time, as it always does, goes by too fast. Time passing inescapably like sand through your fingertips, you say your goodbyes as the taxi arrives and takes them off to the airport and back to the States.
Turning away as the taxi rides off, you cross the road and jump into a bus. You wedge yourself between two passengers, your hugging your backpack in your lap. You continue fighting back the tears, sniffling quietly. But not only do the tears fight back, they win. Tucking the brim of your cap down over the dark shades covering your eyes, you do what you can to prevent anyone else on the bus from realizing you were crying.
The tears wouldn’t have been as strong, the goodbye wouldn’t have been as hard, you tell yourself; if only your brother were still coming in later that day.
* * *
To be continued…