Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Meet Monroe and Eddie

Eddie and Monroe, native Bahamian fishermen, live on a 20 ft. fishing boat anchored in the creek between Chub Cay and a neighboring island in the Bahamas. Their boat is as basic as they come, and does not include a sleeping cabin or galley. Eddie and Monroe sleep outside in the covered cockpit and live off the seafood that they catch. Eddie, having grown up on the water, loves his life as a fisherman. He has a strong trust in God, and makes sure to live for the day. Because he does not have a wife or children to support, he never stresses over how much money he makes. Eddie and Monroe do not wander far from their fishing grounds. Last week for Mother's Day, Eddie traveled 90 miles to Bimini to visit his mother for the first time in eighteen years. She was so excited to see him that she couldn't stop staring at him and giving him hugs.

Eddie and Monroe catch conch, fish, lobster, and turtles, to sell to the Chub Cay Resort. Chub Cay, once an unpopulated island, was sold by the Bahamian government to the British over 40 years ago, and more recently sold to a group of wealthy American real estate investors. The group privatized the island and turned Chub Cay into one large marina and resort. Although Eddie and Monroe provide the Chub Cay Marina Resturaunt with seafood, they are not allowed to step foot on the island after dusk. Monroe says that it is typical for the Bahamian government to sell uninhabited land to Americans. The land is not in use, and the government needs the funds. Monroe obeys the rules without feeling resentment. "They purchased the land with money and have the right to make their own rules," he says. Eddie, on the other hand, does not pay attention to the rules, nor does he make a fuss about them. As a Bahamian, Eddie feels it is his natural right to move about freely on the land.

Both Eddie and Monroe agree that they like having the presence of the American Coast Guard throughout the Bahamas. The Coast Guard is able to keep a good watch on Cuba from the Bahamas. Eddie and Monroe say that Bahamians are scared of the Cubans, who like Americans, want their land desperately. However, they say that with Americans, they don't fear the threat of genocide, which they would have if a Cuban government were to take over their land. Eddie says that his people are peaceful, and do not like to fight. They have a tremendous trust that everything happens in accordance to God's overall plan. Eddie laughed at me when I asked him if he thought all Americans were as rich as the ones who visit Chub Cay. He said no, because he visited Florida once, and was able to see America firsthand. Eddie and Monroe invited me back over to their boat later on in the day for conch salad, a favorite Bahamian dish. However, we had a good weather window and decided to make the crossing to Fresh Creek, Andros, Before leaving we gave Eddie and Monroe a few potatoes, which are hard to come by in Chub Cay, and two, warm, Coors beer. In exchange, they gave us advice on fishing and jury-rigging our broken prop.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Meet Penelope

Penelope moved to Key West at the age of two. The year was 1981. Her father landed a job diving for gold and hidden treasures with Mel Fisher, the famous treasure-seeker who had just found the Atocia, the Spanish gallion that had sunk off the Florida straights in the early 1800s. Penelope's parents fell in love with Key West, decided to stay, but divorced shortly after the move.

When Penelope was five, she moved onto a boat with her mother, stepfather, two older sisters and two younger brothers. Her father lived on his own boat, but still played an active father role in their lives and would often bring over lobster and crab. The boats they lived on were cheap, had no engines or sails, and didn't even move. They were anchored off the shore of Christmas Tree Island, a manmade island visible from the shores of Key West. She remembers being nine years old, playing on the beach, and her father would all of a sudden appear out of no where wearing his diving gear. He would let her breath of his diving tank. Penelope saw her father as Heman, the most handsome and strongest guy in the world who dove for gold and treasures.

Penelope remembers boat-life being a new and completely different way of life. "We were so young we just got used to it," she says. There was no notion of privacy on the boat. They peed in a bucket attached to a rope and showered with a shower bag. Her mother, stepfather and youngest brother slept in the V-birth and the other children slept in the main cabin. They did not have many toys and entertained themselves by swimming, playing cards, and taking care of their dog Bootsies' puppies. They had a couple of televisions throughout the years that didn't get much reception. "I remember spending hours trying to fix the antennas just to get Scoopy-Doo or the Smurfs," laughs Penelope. Summers were long and often her parents would go to shore and leave them alone on the boat for hours. They would find creative ways to entertain themselves with other neighborhood boat kids. The community of boater and boat children would often have camp-outs on Christmas Tree Island, where they would barbeque and wash the dishes along the shore.

During the school year, Penelope and her siblings were dropped off at the closest beach. After school they would return and hang out on the beach until their parents were ready to pick them up. Other children at school lived on boats, however, Penelope was aware that it wasn't as normal of a life as most children. It was harder for the girls to adapt to the boat life. Penelope secretly wished sometimes that she could have clean clothes and live in a house like normal children. She would get scared during storms and remembers one night in particular waking up to the boat being completely tilted on one side. She found her mother naked, hammering a screw driver into one of the water tanks to balance the boat back out.

Penelope's family celebrated holidays on the boat. Some Christmas years were more plentiful than others. In her eyes, figures such as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were a fable. But for her younger brothers sake she would play the role and make up funny stories about how the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus rode jet skis or took small skiffs to bring presents to the boat.

Now, 28, Penelope says she would still consider raising a family on a boat, but has a bigger dream of living on a farm with tons of animals. She has kindred feelings when she meets other people who grew up on a boats. "I don't know a lot of kids who at the age of eight were sitting on skiffs, wearing raincoats, trying to get back out to there homes, having to turn around three times because the rain was too hard and waves too big to make it home without toppling out into the ocean." Penelope believes that we choose the lives and parents that we are born into for whatever reason that maybe. Growing up on the boat was hard in many ways, but at the same time she feels lucky that she was not raised in the suburbs or a trailer park. "We were surrounded by so much beauty that made our struggles that much easier."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Meet Becca the Sailor

Becca loves the act of sailing more than the destination. She describes her passion as an addiction. For the past six years, she has lived aboard her Bayfield 29 cutter-rigged sailboat named Angel. Becca writes a monthly sailing column for Southwinds Magazine about her journeys cruising in the Caribbean. Her column tells positive stories, full of little adventures, that make people excited about sailing.

Becca grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and spent much of her youth boating on the Great Lakes. Her mother's family are Salmi native, Laplander people who fished the Arctic Circle for hundreds of years until they were kicked of there lands and sought refuge in the Great Lakes area. Becca carries on the tradition of her native people. Recounting her youth, "I was just a tiny little baby bopping around on the boat and my parents said it would keep me quiet and calm. I knew how to row a boat, before I even learned how to ride a bike".

Growing up and even into her early twenties, Becca did not foresee her lifestyle today. " I just thought I would do what everybody in society does, get a house and career, and live the happy, happy American Dream", she explains. Becca loved college. She studied industrial and graphic design and received degrees in both communications and mechanical design. After college she worked as a product designer and purchased her first home and recreational sailboat that she took out on weekends. Soon, however, she began to notice a feeling of disappointment with her home. " I thought, Jeez, I'm American, I should be happy to have a house. I worked my butt off for that house and saved, but it just wasn't for me. It was the boat." In order to spend more time on the water, Becca dropped her job down to part-time. She started crewing for friends boats, and then found Angel, fell in love and sold the house.

Becca has met many cruising couples, but not many women who single-hand their own boat. Most male sailors are not shocked when they encounter Becca on the water. "Some sailors are curious and think, WOW, a girl, lets go out and play because there are hardly any girls out here", Becca explains. She says people on land, who don't know much about sailing, sometimes think she is a freak of nature. A woman who chooses to be alone on the unpredictable seas? But for Becca, it is about confidence and preparation. "It's not like I'm this fearless, macho person. I am not superwoman. I am an ordinary, very plain, 5-ft tall, little cheek-boned, Salmi native." Her confidence comes from being prepared, having the right safety gear, back-ups, and knowing that she has a strong, seaworthy boat.

Sooner or later Becca admits that it is inevitable that you will run into a storm. "You can prepare for the hurricanes, but you have to watch out for the nasty storms that appear out of nowhere. All of the sudden you think its a little rain cloud and then you are getting hit by winds that gust about 80 knots", says Becca. Last summer she withstood 40 minutes of hurricane force winds, hanging on one anchor . Boats around her were capsizing left and right, but she just got lucky with Angel. You can read about her storm experience in the online March issue of Southwinds Magazine.

Becca does not see herself ever getting rid of Angel. "We are pretty bonded. I love her and I will be with her for as long as I can." Her goal is to stay healthy, make as much money as she can to keep sailing, take good care of Angel, and meet other fun people out there sailing. "At first it sounds kind of selfish, but really, you find what brings you joy, the lifestyle that is true to yourself, and you will become more happy and productive in life and that joy will spread to others. Although it is not always that easy, takes courage and little steps at a time, if you find what is true to you everything will fall into place."

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Meet Todd

Its February and I have been living in Key West on a sailboat now for about four months. Its been an adjustment from Kentucky, but I am really enjoying the challenges of a new lifestyle and home base. I live simply, even pee in a bucket and shower in a cold shack! Yep, but it's great.

I am glad to finally start focusing more on the Meet A Stranger Project, which I have been neglecting! I purchased a new recorder, replacing my old dictaphone, with grants funds from Damali Ali. Damali also hooked me up with a mentor, April Baer, who is helping me learn more about audio podcasting. These are my very amateur attempts, but I hope to see them improve to be pretty cool as time goes by!

Below is an interview I did this week, with a fellow named Todd, who lives on the street. I was parked outside the library using WiFi, when I heard Todd singing Total Eclipse of the Heart. I couldn't help but ask him to sing it into my microphone....

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Meet Michael

I meet Michael while riding my bicycle. Michael stands outside Home Depot most days looking for work. He calls this practice, "pick up construction", and prides himself on his good sign which reads, "Will work hard, for cash today". Michael says he has learned more about home improvement by watching television shows such as Flip this House, Sell This House, and Curb Appeal.