My last weekend in The Bahamas flew by, not in Abaco but in Eleuthera. After a week of interviews, trips up and down Abaco’s length, overheard conversations, writing, and fine dining in the name of ethnography, I flew out under a thunderstorm on a six-person plane from Marsh Harbor to North Eleuthera, a green swath of forest, farm and hills. It was in some senses a working vacation – I learned some valuable things for Amelia’s research in my travels – but more than anything it was to satisfy a cavernous craving to visit a little corner of Eleuthera/my heart: the Island School campus. It was to answer a few concerns and questions I had, speculations accumulated from my first visit to Eleuthera about what IS actually is now that I have some distance. Also, to visit a friend from my semester there in 2010, Nick Lanza (who is summarily kicking ass and revitalizing the marine ecology class as a professor – I’m pretty damn proud). This post is in two parts: my itinerary, my reflections.
In the 52 hours I was on Eleuthera, time was allocated as follows:
- 8 hours driving, up and down – in some ways the highlight of the trip, or maybe the most necessary space the trip could provide. Cruising the islands varied landscapes, windows down, my friend’s (who too generously lent me his car for the weekend) jazz cassette warbling at high volume, landmarks setting off small sonars in my head, echoing around and reminding me of myself and otherwise.
- 1 hour in Tarpum Bay, where while dancing around the idea of finding my home-stay family (a specifically traumatic but informative experience), serendipity shoved me into meeting them at the conch salad stand. It was very intense and I won’t go into it right now except to say the conch salad was very good but left my stomach a bit upset and it feels like a metaphor too. Or, also, that as I drove out of Tarpum Bay I had to shake myself a bit to unruffle my feathers – there is something about Eleuthera that makes me the right sort of brave to confront myself and engage fears.
- A little over 12 hours at Island School:
- I drove in through Deep Creek Friday evening, with the strangest nostalgia,
- over a highway I ran almost every day for 4 months,
- through the setting sunlight, filtered by Casuarina,
- and on to campus, just in time to catch Nick! It was, right off the bat, so great and easy to be with him – a testament to his good spirit. While we were at Island School , he seemed to be something of a guru to the boys, a strange and surreal sensei (as the only senior, it seemed like he’d access to worlds unknown). He attempted to bleach his hair, which was subsequently too bright to look at directly. I vividly remember the American Flag Speedo he wore on parent’s weekend.
- Just in time, too, to be caught by founder Chris Maxey: “Hey, glad you’re here! We’re having an alumni event in a half hour for this Teacher’s Conference – you should come speak!” Nick: “Well, she just got here, she might be overwhelmed, want to -” Maxey: “She’s an IS alumna – she can handle it.” And lo, Kalik in hand, I talked IS and pedagogy for 2 hours.
- Saturday was spent exploring parts of campus I’d missed, forgotten, had yet to exist in 2010. I napped in a few different spots around campus, read, photographed, explored.
- 3 hours for evening shenanigans on Friday night. I took ethnographic notes. Having removed myself pretty much entirely from the twenty-something scene this summer, it was a challenge to not do some “othering” in this practice (I’m 82% joking).
- 3 hours freediving with Nick and some lionfish researchers from OSU on Saturday morning – notably trumpetfish and triggerfish, but otherwise the usual smattering of patch reef small fish. Most notably is how clear the water is around the Cape – a stunning deep blue. Abaco has tended to be a little on the murkier side, and I’ll get back to you once I find out why.
- 3 hours watching the sun set from Powell Point at an IS farewell gathering Saturday night – caught up with an old IS research professor, made some new friends, got lectured on why coral restoration is a highly controversial conservation principle.
- 3 hours Sunday morning at, going to and from, Lighthouse Beach, probably one of the most stunning beaches I’ve seen: the water is this color blue that sings, the sand pink. Bumping along a dirt road to Jobim, quick hikes, beach walks, and crystal clear water.
- A handful of hours sleeping.
- Some time, quickly, in Governors’ Harbor with friends, snorkeling to find a wedding ring. Found a sting ray instead.
I don’t think I was ever wholly blind to Island School’s flaws. Amelia was kind enough to point it out, but it’s true that what I loved about IS was, more than anything, being given the space to think for myself to a new degree, a real freedom and opportunities for adventure around every corner – the amount of personal growth I knew I could do for myself if someone gave me a pencil, watercolors, and a supply of notebooks. I’d wished that the science was more rigorous while I was there (Flats Ecology was, and I had the good fortune to be on that team), but otherwise loved that the teachers questioned themselves and asked you to do the same. Histories of the Bahamas and Literature of the Sea were great courses that could have gone further. Then, socially, the privilege of the space, conservative gender dynamics, lack of self-care, odd pairing off in the staff, never sat well with me (too excited about the environment around me to speak very vocally about it at the time).
Finally, Island School and CEI need to think critically about the role they play in knowledge production in the Bahamas, what it actively contributes to the Bahamian community, and the social, professional norms it actually encourages its alumni to participate in. It can do this knowing that the self-criticism I loved in my teachers can only aid the school, to move forward and stay relevant. To explicitly address the economic systems which have enabled the institution’s success in the first place. One of the administrators wink-wink-nudge-nudged that I should teach a course on Tourism and Development after my brief introduction to the material with Amelia this summer. Maybe. But, talk about place-based, I would want my students to engage what Island School means in the context of Deep Creek, Eleuthera, The Bahamas, etc., what it does for/to science, site, and ecology on Cow’s Point. And tourism more broadly, too. Duh. I see no reason for high schoolers to not know about postcolonial studies.
I love that place. I do. Driving down the highway from Deep Creek felt, dramatically, like my heart was breaking and healing at the same time. So many of the people who work there have so much love in them, and the space has always felt powerful because of it. For all my criticisms today, to attend the Island School is one of the greatest gifts a high school student can receive.