Father, Human, Husband

The lives not lived

Our second day of the cruise was spent visiting the island of Antigua, and we had booked quite an eclectic excursion – a bus tour of parts of the island with a trio of planned stops.

The first stop was to visit the farmhouse of a family who had lived on the island for generations. The house itself stood on top of a high mountain with a gorgeous view of that side of the island as well as the grazing areas and farmland surrounding it. Our tour bus chugged along on the steep climb as we drove by cows and (wool-less!) sheep and a rather large pig.

The farmhouse itself was a bizarre collection of kitschy decorations lining every wall and tabletop for visitors to explore. Some books and pictures described the history of the island; others were more personal to the family itself. “That’s our son Bob,” the man would say, gesturing to a jaunty fisherman in a yellow cap. “He died about 10 years ago, when he was in his 50s.” Caged parrots in the slightly overgrown backyard garden squawked and chatted with our sons as the hostess pushed samples of her special island blend of tea on us. Family trees, newspaper clippings of family achievements, paintings by sisters and cousins, and obviously sentimental but otherwise worthless wall hangings gave an ersatz charm to the place. To top it all off, a television permanently tuned to the One America News Network blared on in a back room about how Democrats were driving big cities to ruin because they had defunded all the police and there was no one to enforce the law — making the political leanings (and intellectual rigor) of the couple known to all visitors. It was quite a window into the existence of a small family suspended in island time, happy to parade visitors through their roadside museum and inspire visions of a life none of us would be able to live.

The second stop was at a pineapple farm. The description of the tour was vague enough to let travelers fill in their own grand visions of rows of palm trees sprouting the sweetest island pineapples for everyone to taste. The reality was a little different, with the farm closed for the coming end of year holiday and a pleasant drizzle starting to fall on the tiny, tiny plants hosting their even tinier pineapples. It did make for a cute photo app, even as one wondered — what’s life like for people who work on a pineapple farm?

The final stop was a beach, where we could experience a little more island life again. After feeding us, members of the tour company performed laughable karaoke tunes to their own rather decent steel drum accompaniment while we relaxed on some comfortable chairs on the sand, or dallied in the warm ocean water, or played with some of the wild dogs roaming the shore. It was a different sort of kitsch, but not an unwelcome one. The rain clouds rolled away to give us some sun, but the warmth of the place never departed. We were at peace.

In many ways, the Caribbean is like Las Vegas — a sizable part of it is just scamming tourists with jacked up prices because that’s what the market will bear. And just like Vegas, it’s quite a mental journey to think about what it would be like to live in this place year round, rather than downing a few free cheap drinks while taking in the views before returning back to safety. How do they embrace the cheesiness? How do they survive with such meager investments in infrastructure — we saw shacks that were medical centers, unreplaced roofs torn off from past storms, wrought iron fences that may have been around for centuries, and weary but smiling people living their lives, just putting one foot in front of the other.

These ruminations are not ones encountered in the day to day drudgery of an office job, or while executing parenting responsibilities. There’s joy in experiencing a slice of another people’s lifestyle, especially when their pace is more relaxed than your own.

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