The past week has been a whirlwind! The owner of Small Hope, Jeff, connected me with a local solar photovoltaic (pv) installer and set up a meeting for us on Abaco Island last Thursday. The idea was to meet up to discuss the future pv opportunity for Small Hope and to have a second opinion on the solar hot water system we are designing for the resort. It was just an added bonus that I would be able to check out Abaco! Oh, did I mention, I also got to fly a plane for the first time?
In my short month here at Small Hope, I have heard nothing but great things about Abaco. The island is a blend between the beautiful wilderness of Andros and the developments of Nassau. Abaco has enough stores to easily purchase necessities but there are still enough preserved areas to go off the beaten track. I have been eager to see Abaco after seeing and hearing about the place from visiting divers. I was fortunate enough to meet Brian Kakuk, a world-renowned cave diver and an expert in the famous Blue Holes of the Bahamas. He was a former US Navy diver, holds some of the most impressive cave diving records, and has a truly interdisciplinary understanding in a wide breath of areas including geochemistry, archaeology, and geology as it relates to diving. He works with historical groups, geologists, and even climate scientists to explore and collect data from previously unexplored areas. In the caves and blue holes around Abaco, he has found Lucayan Indian skulls, fascinating geological structures, and layers of lithified dust from the Sahara desert! Many of his breathtaking and surreal photographs have been published in National Geographic! Anyway, after hearing so much about Abaco I was thrilled for the opportunity to go.
Arriving in Marsh Bay, Abaco, I felt like I was a country bumpkin seeing the city for the first time! I haven’t seen so many people, stores, and cars since arriving in the Bahamas. The two-lane road ran past a bakery, a restaurant, a gas station, and a woman selling land crabs before arriving at our meeting destination. The meeting went well and all left for lunch at a local restaurant Mango’s, feeling confident in our approach to the solar water system.
Halfway through lunch, we hear our waitress on the phone about an accident. We soon learn that a small passenger plane came in during a storm we just missed. The plane was going too fast and force-landed on the runway. The plane lost control as its nose broke off, followed by one of its wings, and slid into the tree line by the runway. Luckily there were no casualties, but the tarmac was severely damaged and the airport shut until further notice. Unable to return to Small Hope, we spent the night on Abaco with a friend of Jeff’s. He lived on a beautiful property completely off the Bahamas Electricity Company grid and powered by solar. His batteries were enough to provide up to 3 days worth of electricity. It was a very impressive system. I also found a Maxwell’s, the Bahamian equivalent to a Publix or Kroger’s. I won’t deny my enthusiasm as I ran into the first store with more than 3 rows of merchandise. I loaded up on toiletries, medicine, sunblock, and even splurged to get a pair of replacement sunglasses. We passed by local bakeries, crab stands and road side food stands along the road. Unfortunately, none of us brought cash since no one had anticipated staying in Abaco for more than a few hours.
We explored some of the local neighborhoods and wandered into a Haitian neighborhood known as “The Mud.” Going through the neighborhood, it was easy to see where the name came from. Many of the homes were inundated or surrounded by water. Children were playing in puddles and fields of mud. It was concerning to see, especially in a temperate area already prone to mosquitoes. A local explained that the Haitian community is isolated from the mainstream Bahamian society. The local said that many of the Haitians view the Bahamas not as home but as just another place to earn a better wage to send to their families in Haiti. He pointed to the tendency to stay in insular groups as a perpetuation of discrimination among Bahamians for Haitian immigrants. Like many new immigrant groups, the Haitians are also often limited to lower-paying jobs. Seeing these immigration issues within the Bahamas reminded me of the immigration issues we are facing in America. It is interesting to see the parallels and similarities in immigration issues whether in the United States, European Union, or Bahamas.