Its 12pm and I am about to go eat lunch. It’s International Day at Tea Leaf Vision, the school with which I am teaching English. Long, jeweled sarees, and beautiful pastel-colored attire gallivanting everywhere. A celebration of culture, womanhood, manhood, etc., it was truly a festive day. Wrapped up in the motion of events occurring around me, I am suddenly approached by a teacher. “Ms. Lindsay, may I speak to you a moment?” she asked. “There is a student I think you should meet.”
I was a volunteer English Teacher in the tea estates of Sri Lanka. The school’s first American teacher, it was an added bonus that I was black. I don’t think the students had ever met a black woman before. So you could imagine the sheer surprise of my presence. I was there to teach English to the children of the tea pluckers. They were not children per se, but more like young adults. I was different from the European teachers they were accustomed to. I was American. The most striking thing was that my English was different, and students really liked this. It was a thrilling experience for them, having me there. For me, it was more of a healing experience.
A Journey Through Womanhood
Sri Lanka was the answer to something I was trying to run away from- a shattered heart. An 8 1/2 year-long relationship I had had was coming to a close. My partner, my confidant, the person I’d easily get lost with in any country, was no longer there. He was no longer someone I knew, and frankly, there was nothing I could do about it. I was losing every bit of myself. You see, no one has ever been kind enough to write a guidebook on how to heal a broken. As a woman, I can attest to the fact that we tend to throw ourselves in either education or travel in order to mend fragmented portions of our lives. It is almost natural. In my case, I did both.
During that period, I was getting my Masters, but being an avid lover of humanitarian work, I didn’t want to put this aspect of my life on hold. I somehow managed to still find time to do something that I loved, which was volunteer work. I really should not have gone to Sri Lanka, but it was the support one of my professors, who happened to be Sri Lankan himself, that carried me through. Encouraging me and finding inciteful ways to prepare me for this trip, he knew that this venture I was embarking on would be impactful. It brought me so much joy to know I was making him proud… but I digress.
The teacher had explained that this young woman just needed someone to talk to. Her situation was “very sad,” as she put it. I did not understand what was meant by this, but soon enough I was acquainted with this student. A lovely young woman, with long raven hair, and a rather reserved demeanor, stood before me. A sudden look of fear and embarrassment overtook her. In an attempt to calm her, I smiled to ensure her that there was nothing to fear.
She was a single, 19 year old mother to a 4 year old boy. She and the child’s father, who was Indian, were to be married. Misfortune struck when his family did the unthinkable and sent him back to India for better prospects. All the while, she remained in Sri Lanka, pregnant with his child. From her son’s birth onward, shame caused her to lock herself away in her family’s basement. This shame was mutual from both sides, as she was detested by her own family. It was a friend who had mentioned Tea Leaf Vision to her and the opportunity to learn English, which propelled her to seek the change she so desperately needed in that time in her life.
Laborers of Love
Shy, she said to me, “Miss I come to this school every day for my son. I travel 3 hours to come and go because I want to learn English. I want a good job to feed my family.” Behind these words was a reality that youth of the Sri Lankan tea estates were all too familiar with- a life of plantation work. The tea pluckers were a diligent, yet strong group of people. The women, in particular, worked from the early hours of the morning till late in the evening, handpicking tea leaves that we in the Western world delight to taste. The belief was that plantation work was rooted in their culture, but these young people…the students of Tea Leaf Vision,…they wanted to break the cycle. They dared to want more.
Womanhood Come Undone
My conversations with this young woman got deeper with each moment. I told her of women in America. How bold, zealous, and unfettered we were. She gazed at me excitingly, but her look soon became neutral. She said something that struck me harder than I could have ever imagined. ” Miss, I wish to be like you, but my culture would never allow it. People here are different and behave differently. Just like I know…,” as I watched her agonizingly begin to fight an overwhelming emotion to cry, “I will never be loved; I don’t even believe it exists anymore. Men in my culture look down on women like me. I am not beautiful, and worst, I am a single mother. No one would ever want me.” The words struck me harder and harder as she professed them with little restraint.
I remember thinking at that moment back to what I had been personally facing. I’m usually good at giving advice, but for the very first time, I was out of words. How can a broken person advise anything to another broken person? I know I certainly was in no position to even speak on her situation, but I understood her every pain. She willingly laid it all out in front of me, so I felt like I had a responsibility to her to, at the very least, try to raise her up. I couldn’t let her sink any further. I tried to show her the beauty that existed, from the flowers surrounding us, to her son, and all the way back to herself. She was beautiful, like a perfect wildflower in a glorious field.
A Path to Healing
I wanted her to understand that the power of a woman extends far beyond how we are perceived by the likes of men. The complexities of being a woman are always layered. At some point in her life, they will become entangled and enthralled, almost always at the expense of love lost. Between keeping her head on her shoulders, and persisting despite circumstance, a woman is remarkable in her ability to make a comeback. It’s always painful, but there is power in the pain.
I can’t recall my exact words to this young woman thereafter, however, I knew whatever I had said, had a lasting impact on her. She would go on to pursue higher education and become a teacher herself. It’s amazing how just a bit of encouragement, a little push, could affect the way we perceive ourselves and our circumstances. A changed mind is a powerful thing.
I went back home and faced my reality once again. The mental therapy I received from this trip wasn’t enough. It was a process, just as anything in life is. Yet, it was a stepping stone that would lead me in the direction I needed to be. I wasn’t finished re-claiming my womanhood. I wasn’t finished taking back my name. In due time, it would come.
Yeah, so I’m sure you are already laughing…but it’s true. Your girl was once a “missing person.” Go figure. Barbados, my first and most fabulous adventure for more reasons then you can imagine. I could think of no better way to kick off this blog than sharing this story.
I hate surprises
One cold December in NY (if you live or have ever lived in NY, you know our Winters are BRICK), my boyfriend at the time decided to surprise me at work with this lovely tropical getaway. I know, I know what a sweetheart. He managed to get my boss, manager, and coworkers all in on it. How? Well, I came into work one day, and my boss was all, “So, you don’t need to come in next week. We’re all good.” I thought, was I being fired? My manager was even co-signing him. As they laughed boisterously, I was on the verge of tears. I had never been fired before. I thought, what cruel people to laugh at my misfortune.
All of a sudden, my boyfriend calls my cell to check on me. Mincing my words due to the serious excess of waterworks (that is, my tears), I explain to him that now is not the time for chit chat, cause I’m being fired. This was a crisis for sure. Yet little did I know, all the while my boss and manager were listening in on my conversation with him. He then says “Surprise! I’m taking you to Barbados.” My manager and boss saw my jaw drop and figured my boyfriend just broke the news to me. Everybody then got up and started wishing me well and telling me to enjoy my trip. I didn’t know if I should have been excited or pissed at that moment.
Jetsetting to Barbados
Fast forward to the next week, and we were in beautiful Barbados. We stayed at the Sugarcane Club in Speightstown, Barbados on a Groupon. That’s right- $500 for a five-night stay, for two, that included excursions. The hotel itself was located high up on a hill and a bit far from the main attractions, but it was still lovely. A true gem of a resort, we had our own little apartment with a built-in living room and kitchen. It was our little humble abode.
The hotel itself was really picturesque, with a lovely dining area and live music being played every night. There was also a little pathway that led to a monkey breeding ground. You could enter, free of charge as long as you were a guest at the hotel. I have no clue how they got the monkeys there. As a matter of fact, I didn’t hear or see a single monkey. So…I assume they probably just put up a sign somewhere that said: “MONKEYS OVER HERE,” so the guests would feel as though they were on an exotic monkey safari, for free. Cause you know “free” typically means you’re not getting anything, and as I said…there was nothing there. So you got your money’s worth.
If that wildlife didn’t impress you much, rest assured, the safari adventure wasn’t over yet. You see, we had some unexpected neighbors- roosters and toads. The roasters were a cute little addition to the overall Caribbean vibe of the hotel, but man…the toads! I cannot tell you how many times I kicked these critters and had no idea they were even there. They only came out at night, and were EVERYWHERE! Hey, I wasn’t complaining cause it was sure as hell a break from the rodents I was used to seeing in the NY train stations.
The Budgeting Baecationers
Above all, it was a great time, and the staff loved us. Together, my ex and I were a comedy. We were treated as though we were family. The staff gave us so many tips on where to go and who to speak to while we were out and about on the town. Since we were serious about budgeting, we would often go into the city center and purchase groceries from the local supermarket and just cook at the apartment. We were pretty simple people, so we didn’t mind it. It was nice too, cause we got to spend some quality boo-time in our own space.
Out and about in Barbados
Homage to the Magic School Bus
To navigate around town, we figured we would wing it with public transportation. Now, before you start thinking there was a huge mega bus, with air conditioning, and super-fast transport…slow your rolls. Your go-to method of transportation? ***Drum roll*** THE CHEESE BUS! Yes, for only $1.50 (or at least that was the price in 2012), you could take this bus to any location. There is no air conditioning (although, some buses had fans), and trust me…it will be packed. So throw your desire of comfort and space, out the window. I’m joking. It was by far one of the best ways to truly experience authentic Barbados.
Pack on those vacation calories
When we were out and wanted a quick bite, we’d try to find a Chefette– the equivalent of McDonald’s or Burger King, but Caribbean style. They had everything there, even roti. It had to be the most delectable fast food I had ever had. My friends, any food from the islands will be fantastic. The fact that you are on a beautiful island, with palm trees blowing, and the sun shining, etc., will have you feeling like your juicy hamburger, with the extra cheese and fries, is in fact a heart-healthy, gluten-free, lactose-free, organic medley of deliciousness. Thank you Chefette.
Of course, when we weren’t eating, we were sightseeing. One of our first stops was the beach. We went with the most famous one in town, Rockley Accra beach. It was pure perfection.
Honestly, I’m sure every Bajan will agree that it is arguably the best beach in Barbados. Shallow but calm waters, it was the first beach I went to where I wasn’t afraid to drown. Yes, I can’t swim. I’ve tried to in several beach destinations, and well…I’ve failed to float above water. I’m also convinced attempting to swim only makes me drown faster. However, that didn’t stop my enjoyment of water activities. While there, we took the opportunity to rent some jet skis. It was my first time on one. I should never have been on the jet ski, but I like to live a little on the edge…. Yes, that’s considered living on the edge for me.
Fish, museums, and a whole lot fishy reptiles
Our week-long trip was comprised of many adventures including, visiting Oistins – the famous fish town of Barbados, visiting the Jewish museum, and swimming with turtles in a glass-bottom boat ( this was actually part of our travel package). We made great use of our time in Barbados. If you are looking for the best seafood on the island, Oistins is the place to go to. You can ask any local person in the area for a good restaurant to eat and it’s guaranteed to be stellar. What I think I loved most about this area though, was the view at sunset. It was truly a sight to see and very romantic if I might add.
My boyfriend at the time was Jewish, and it was really important to him that we visit Nidhe, a Jewish museum, and synagogue. To be honest, I had no idea this even existed there. So how this man was able to find a synagogue in Barbados of all places, blew my mind. We arrived pretty late in the evening, so we didn’t really get to go inside. However, the grounds were quiet and peaceful. The time we spent there was heartwarming for both him and me.
On another day, we actually went on the glass-bottom boat ride to swimming with turtles. Now, we’ve already established I don’t swim, but our tour guide really insisted I try…with a life jacket on of course. Well, I was going to, and then I saw the turtles. I don’t just mean one, more like 30. Nope! I stayed on the boat and took pictures.
The day I became a Missing Person
A man with a plan…for disaster
Now, to the good part. So one Sunday morning, my ex decided it was a good idea for us to bike to this abbey situated on top of a hill- known as St. Nicholas Abbey. I’m not a huge fanatic of alcohol, but I figured, what the heck. According to his calculations, it would take us roughly 30 minutes if we rode the bikes there. So 11 am, we borrowed the hotel’s bikes and got on our way.
Here is where it gets interesting. A trip that was supposed to be 30 minutes, somehow turned into 5 hours. That’s right 5 hours! My ex knew I was fuming. We biked through several towns, through the forest, and through the highway. All the while, he kept telling me “We are almost there.” **insert eye roll**
At one point in the forest, he even told me to follow him down a path that was supposed to be a shortcut. This alleged shortcut was filled with mud, and poison ivy. Oh, I forgot to mention that it also leads you to the edge of a cliff. Thank goodness, we didn’t fall right off. We were filthy, covered in mud, and itching from being bitten by mosquitoes. Yet, we continued on this fantastic journey to the abbey. One local man on the highway even got out of his car and started yelling at us calling us crazy tourists for biking on the highway. He wasn’t wrong.
After 5 hours of biking, we finally reached the top of the hill where the abbey was located, only to find…that it was closed. There was literally a sign that said “Closed. Come back another day.” I mean, really? After all, I have been through, I’ve got to come back another day??? We stood there aggravated, dirty, and stinky on the top of this hill. Since he was already on a roll with great ideas, my boyfriend suggested we at least try to make good use of our time, and bike down the other side of this hill to sightsee. We would literally be biking from the West side of Barbados, all the way to the East side.
The discovery of Bathsheba Beach
When we got down, we discovered a beach that had a particularly large rock near the shoreline. We stopped, took some pictures, and then decided to climb up the rock. Correction, my boyfriend decided to climb up the rock. I stayed on the ground…you know, just in case I had to call the ambulance for this man. Little did we know, we were at Bathsheba beach.
Now I won’t lie to you, if you were looking for a spot to surf, Bathsheba, is your best bet. It’s was a surfer’s paradise. For me though, it was like watching the apocalypse. I mean, any non-swimmer would be going into cardiac arrest if they were to set their eyes on that water. I wanted nothing to do with those waves. All in all, Bathsheba is quite a beautiful spot. Lots of great places to eat, and a really chill vibe. It was a hipster’s haven.
Surfshack of endless laughs
As we continued to bike through the town, my boyfriend noticed an old man sitting in front of a shack with some surfboards. He walked up to the house and asked him if we could rent a surfboard. The old man tells us that the waters are too rough since it’s close to sundown, and then proceeded to make us a very nice gesture.
He offered for us to just hang out with him for the rest of the day. This old man (who was an ex- American doctor by the way), called all his neighbors and had them cook us food, make us drinks, and play music for us on pots, pans, and buckets. Like…I can’t make this stuff up. We laughed up a storm until it was dark.
It was about 11 pm at this point, and we knew it was time to say our goodbyes. After doing just that, we made our way to the main road. There we were, looking like a pair of saps, standing in the dark road with our bikes. There was no way we were going to bike back the same route we came. We were hoping a bus would pass by, but some of the locals informed us that the last bus had already passed. We thought we were going to have to sleep on the damn beach in the darkness.
When the monks come marching in
An hour passed, and we were still waiting. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a group of monks approached us and asked where on the beach they could sleep, and find clean water to drink. The waves were crashing really hard, and it really didn’t look like the best place to sleep, as the area at night seemed a bit sketchy. If ever there was an odd situation, this was definitely it. We suggested that they find a hotel, but they insisted on sleeping on the beach and drinking water from the sea. I told them I thought it was a bad idea, but nobody listens to me. ***shrugs***
Bribing bus drivers
They wandered off, and shortly after a bus appeared. We thanked our lucky stars, but then found that the driver almost didn’t let us on with the bikes. We actually had to pay him extra just for the bikes. He let us on and took us to the main transportation hub of Barbados, which is Bridgetown.
From there, we had no choice but to go through the highway with the bikes…again. That was the only way for us to reach Speightstown at that point. Oh and the kicker- the bikes had no lights! I’m telling you, it was brilliant.
At this point, it was about 2 am, and we decided to go to a rest stop to get some water. We had been so dehydrated. December in Barbados is HOT no matter the time of day. As my boyfriend went into a store to get us water, I stood outside guarding the bikes. All of sudden, a man comes up to me and says “Excuse me miss, are you staying at the Sugarcane Club?” Looking at him perplexed, I asked why, and he said he was a cook there, and that there was an APB out for us.
We were on the missing people’s list. Apparently, when the staff at our hotel noticed we had not returned with the bikes since checking out at 11 am, they proceeded to contact everybody including, the police, fire department, ambulance, the press, etc. They even went through their surveillance videos, and our rooms, before contacting my parents in the US (to inform them we were missing) and then, involved the local news. Several people had somehow spotted us traveling that day, and sent tips to either other people or the local police to track us down. The cook, who was so happy to have found us, told us to stay put and that the owner of the hotel would be coming to get us. So there we were, again, looking like a pair of fools, 3 am, at the rest stop on the highway.
The terrible tourists
When we got to the hotel, we found the staff crying and lighting vigils. We asked what was going on, and apparently it was for us. They all thought we were dead. It was funny as heck. Though, their fear was not baseless. You see, the Natalee Holloway situation, in Aruba, had just been declared a homicide in 2012- the same time we were in Barbados. Thus, many of the staff thought what happened in Aruba was happening in Barbados too.
We felt so bad in end. As typical New Yorkers, we are used to being out late hours. However, in the Caribbean, it is sometimes a no, no. It was our first lesson in respecting other cultures. You would think I’d know this, as a Caribbean myself, but nope! I gotta learn the hard way. As crazy as this experience was, I honestly have no regrets. I’d relive every single moment. My memory of Barbados is one that I will forever cherish.
I am not one to believe in tales, but if there is one thing in life that I have learned it is that if many people proclaim some level of truth to a narrative, the odds are that most likely, there is something to it. Doubt it as much as you like, the fact of the matter remains that it becomes all too overwhelming to ignore a story that resurfaces over and over again. It might appear in a different form, a different place, a different moment in time, and yet it captivates you with the same magnitude every recurrence. I experienced this firsthand through the story of the evil eye, in Crete.
A Grecian version of events
Last year, in July of 2017, I decided to spend some time on the island of Crete. I honestly don’t recall how I happened upon the idea of traveling there, but let me tell you, I had no regrets. It was the quintessential European experience. At the time, my soul hungered for something my ordinary life could not satiate. So I went looking for the nourishment it needed. That came in the form of blissful adventure, beaming sunshine, delectable food, crystal clear seas, rich culture; just a few of the simple and yet wonderful things that made Crete phenomenal. I mean, who wouldn’t want that?
Yet, of all this, what enchanted me most, was a deep sense of mystery that laid in the undertone of almost everything there. It wasn’t a bad thing. If anything, I found it intriguing. However, I just couldn’t put my finger on it. The history behind the rise and fall of ancient Greece, the breadth of classical folklore that encompassed you almost in physical form, and a people who represented the exact depiction of all that you had read about. Crete, the fusion of traditions, and the gateway of trade to all of the world. You have to wonder in the distant past, were goods merely all that were traded? Or, could there have been more- like stories that transcended far beyond lands and cultures.
A road less taken
One beautiful day, I decided to visit the lovely Lake Kournas, in Chania, Crete. I had read up on this area, famed for one of it’s most popular excursions, paddle boating. Now I don’t know if its all so necessary to know how to swim in order to risk paddle boating, but I can tell yah…I couldn’t swim to save my life. I never learned, and thus far, considering all the risky water activities I’ve already partaken in, I really question if it would benefit me at all now. Shame on me, but I didn’t care. Come hell or high water, we were paddle boating that day. Solo, I made my way to this location.
I had spent almost 3 hours riding on the local mega bus. Excited by my window seat, I watched eagerly as mountain after mountains engulfed our vehicle. The bus driver was kind enough to remember where I needed to get off, and eventually, he announced my stop. I stepped off the bus, looked straight ahead, and then did a double-take. Turning back around to the open doors of this mega bus, I asked the driver: where is the lake? “Over there!” he yelled and pointed to a deserted road. Despite clearly seeing no lake in sight, I took his word for it and decided to head down this road. All the while, praying in my head that he would not have geared me in the wrong direction. Five minutes into my walk, I wondered, where the heck am I?
Signs of hope
I started walking quickly in hope that the faster I went, the closer I would get to this lake. I had seen a sign that said ” Lake Kournas, 6 Kilometers.” Not that that meant anything to me…cause yeah, I’m American. If it’s not in inches, feet, yards, etc., it means zilch to us. On top of that, I’m a very one-directional person, so my goal was to just hurry and get to the lake- whether that was in 6, 12, or 24 kilometers. Piece of cake, I thought. Pff, boy was I wrong. Fifteen minutes on foot soon turned into an hour and so on. This was not turning out to be the fantastic adventure I had planned out in my head.
Then, something suddenly came over me. I started to actually pay attention to my surroundings. What was presented in front of me was the most beautiful road I had ever seen. A street adorned in bushes of jasmine and lavender flower and speckled with tiny Grecian homes dressed in vines of bougainvillea on both sides of the road. I could hear the cows mooing, and see the butterflies fluttering past me.
With not a soul in sight, it was just me on this open road. I took down my pace, started walking slowly, and absorbed every single moment. The series of events that occurred, was somewhat atypical for a city girl like me. A 1ft nothing stray dog chased me for 30 minutes; although, I suspect he just wanted to play with me. A gigantic cicada harassed me, making relive my very rational fear of all bugs. Yet, it wasn’t all that scary. The sounds of jingled bells on the necks of grazing sheep, the sweet scent of those flowers along the road, and the pleased faces of the few locals passing by, made me realize something. I was meant to have this experience.
It was then that I came up to the road I had been looking for all along. A sharp turn to the right and I would soon reach Lake Kournas. I proceeded even slower, looking straight ahead at the sun-drenched road before me.
There it was- a lake of a mixture of shimmering blue color, protected by some of the most majestic mountains I had ever seen. You would think I had really and truly found…Eden, with just a tad bit more scantily dressed or barely dressed people hanging around. Who would have thought, such beauty could exist in Crete, of all places?
As I walked, taking in the moment, a Greek man, sitting in front of his shop attempted to flirt with me in a rather courteous manner, I should say. I explained to him that I was in a rush to reach the lake, but he insisted I give him a moment. He had something to give me. Thinking he was trying to pester me with a sale, I quickly said I have no money. I was lying of course, but I’m a New Yorker. If there is one thing we are good at, it’s saying “no” to very passionate and eager salespeople.
” Here,” he said. ” I simply want you to take this on your journey.” He placed in the palm of my hand, a small amulet that looked like a blue eye. “I can tell you are already being protected,” he said. “But this will keep all ill-willed people at bay,” he continued. I honestly thought he was a little crazy, but for some reason, I believed him.
You see, legend has it, that this particular talisman was crafted by artisans centuries ago. Adopting a few names including the Grecian, mati, and the Arabic, nazar, terms synonymous for sight, the emblem has manifested itself in several forms throughout history. It has even resurfaced in various religious texts. When an individual seems to be excelling in life and wonderful things are happening for them, other people might not take to well to their good fortune. These people look at them with envy and jealousy. The look is capable of shattering that individual’s entire world. For this reason alone, the evil eye was designed to shield away this force, much to the contrary of its name.
At the time, I didn’t know all of this, but simply accepted this gift, since gentleman insisted. However, that very moment, it dawned on me- this too was meant to happen. I felt like my soul lead me to this road, to this man, to this experience. I was so blind-sighted by my determination to get to the lake, that I didn’t even see the significance of the journey that led me there. This encounter was a wake-up call, and for some bizarre reason, I felt like I could not take this man’s words for granted. As I took the gift, he gently kissed my hand and wished me luck on my journey to the lake.
From that point onward, it was a brief and beautiful walk. With my paddle boat ready to go, I drifted into the dazzling waters of Lake Kournas. Alone, and feeling fearless, I smiled at myself. Maybe I was being protected. Strange, that it took a visit to Crete, for me to come to this realization. Oddly enough, it wouldn’t be the last time I would encounter this evil eye phenomenon. This story would unexpectedly come up again a year later, but this time across the Mediterranean sea, in Turkey. I suppose certain legends just can’t be ignored.