This story is by Desmond Keefe III and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I was jogging down the side of the road, there were no sidewalks, so I was running on the uneven grass between the gated residences and the busy street. I saw the Jitney going the other way and knew I would have to hurry to catch it. I was in a suit and tie and carrying laptop in my shoulder bag. It was Monday at 7:20am and it was already ninety degrees. I had gotten out of the shower less than an hour ago and was already sweating, and my shirt was drenched.
I arrived the bus stop and wiped my brow. It was over twenty minutes before the jitney arrived, hurry up and wait, this would become a way of life in the Bahamas. Stepping onto the jitney was like walking into a cultural twilight zone. Bob Marley was singing from the speakers,
“…don’t worry, ‘bout a thing, cus every little thing is gonna’ be all right…”
The air conditioning was blasting, and the jitney was half full with; school children in parochial uniforms with starched white shirts and plaid skirts, women on their way to housekeeping jobs, and gentleman on their way to landscaping and maintenance jobs. Bahamians are a very formal people and when the jitney stopped for pickups, the new arrival would stand in the doorway and bow and say, “good morning” to everyone onboard to which, everyone would return the greeting. Riders were tapping their feet and nodding their heads to the beat of Mr. Marley.
Traveling along West Bay Street gave a perfect view of the ocean and beaches, which was spectacular. This is certainly where the phrase “It’s Better in the Bahamas” comes from. The blue-green ocean was sparkling as the morning sun reflected on the waves, there was the occasional yacht in the distance on its way to Paradise Island to dock alongside the other $50 million yachts.
We turned left onto Nassau street right after Junkanoo Beach and the scenery changed drastically. Potholes the size of Lake Okeechobee were everywhere and impossible to navigate around. “Potcakes” (Stray dogs) loitered on the sidewalks, they might be strays, but they were the smartest dogs I have ever known. The name comes from the leftover scraps they are fed from the cooking pots. Condemned buildings on every corner and shanty towns, which had no running water or electricity, were a common residence for the less fortunate.
It was my first day at the university and I wanted to be on time. My fiancé and I had arrived in Nassau three days ago, this was not really the first day, that happened the day after we had arrived with Caliente our very large and very unfriendly cat. It was a journey that could have been much better what with, an unexpected round trip ticket purchase due to not being able to produce the work visa (these were to be processed upon arrival), being guided to the wrong terminal and nearly missing the connecting flight, sitting on the tarmac delayed due to someone on the flight forgetting their passport (seriously) once we boarded, and finally, having no one there at our new townhouse to let us in for two hours while we waited in the courtyard, hurry up and wait.
The first day was an orientation and meet and greet. The Provost, Dr. Linda Davis was a very tall and athletic Bahamian woman, attractive and imposing at the same time. On our way to meet the President she informed me that “the president really likes being president” this was in response to my question as to how to address him. “President-Doctor Smith will win you good points from him.” I took her advice, which got me an impressed smile and a sideways glace at the provost. I got the impression that the provost would be a confidant and comrade, I learned later this was the wrong impression.
Bahamians are very formal and use titles for everyone. If you have a doctorate, then you are always Dr. Smith. If you do not, then you are Mr. Stevens, always.
My next step was to have lunch with the Dean, Ms. Remelda Moxie. She was to become my nemesis, if there was anything, she could do to impede my progress or throw me under the bus she would do swiftly and with glee. At one point while in her office she stated to me,
“You lie Mr. Stevens, the truth is not within you!”
She had accused me of using student funds to pay for an airline ticket for my fiancé, I had receipts and the word of my assistant to corroborate my having used my own funds to make that purchase, but she had made up her mind and when I rose from my chair and insisted on an apology none was given and I was excused.
I made friends with the Dean of the Graduate School and we texted notes to each other in our Dean’s Council meetings like a couple of school kids. The fraternity of Ex-Pats was very strong, as it was very easy to feel isolated and ostracized by the locals. The feeling of isolation was even harder for my fiancé, home alone all day thank God she is a maker, spending her time creating beautiful jewelry during the day. There were times I had to console her and promise that if things did not work out, we’d move back to the states contract or no contract.
Our lunch was at Fish Fry, which is a tourist location and a local favorite consisting of restaurants and night clubs outside of downtown Nassau. We ate at a place called Frankie Gone Bananas, one of many places that you can get the local favorites of Conch, Conch, and more Conch. I tried the fritters and some grilled snapper, (meh). During lunch Ms. Moxy went through faculty and staff that I would be inheriting and gave me her critique of each one. Dean Moxy went through every one of them giving me her opinion and what my actions should be.
After lunch we returned to the campus and had a meeting with my new faculty. My assistant Allison was a task mistress, calling the faculty and shepherding them to the conference room for our meeting. After introductions, I gave a short talk on my expectations and goals for the faculty, students, and program. At this point the dean excused herself and suggested we continue our meeting.
It was then that my new team informed me that this meeting had not been scheduled with them and that they had been ordered to come on very short notice. I apologized for the inconvenience and they said this was a common practice and that I should get used to it. I would learn the oppressive nature of the administration and the view of the faculty and staff later.
Chef Devain Maycock was a tall, dark-skinned man with an incredible deep voice. I could listen to him all day. He had a wonderful sense of humor and he and Chef Sterling Thompson, our dining room manager, had great fun speaking in the Bahamian slang in front of me knowing that many times I had no idea what they were talking about.
“You get dat tingum for da bakah?” (“did you get the part for the oven?”)
When we arrived at the airport in Nassau, we went through immigration which meant standing in line while an unhappy man looked you up and down and asked a few questions to determine if they know anyone that you know. One time while arriving back from a trip to the states, the immigration officer was quite rude to my fiancé and she tossed her phone onto his desk when he asked for it at which point he looked at me and said;
“you need to learn to control your woman.”
As you can imagine it took some time to calm my bride down, I thought she was going to climb over the counter and grab him by the throat. I would have paid good money to see that.
Our porter helped us with our many bags and asked if we were vacationing. I informed him that we were moving to the Bahamas, to which he said.
“Don’t tell the customs officer that, you just follow my lead and I’ll get you out of here. Just hold up your passports and let me do the talking.”
Thus, the introduction to another Bahamian tradition, lying to the customs officer to avoid paying customs taxes.
The jitney dropped me about 100 yards from my building, so more walking and sweating. When I arrived at my building, I was pleased to see that they had already placed a picture of me with my title on the wall of the lobby. I climbed the stairs to the second floor and found my way to my office.
“Good morning Mr. Stevens.”