Friday, February 9, 2018

Heroes Among Us

Photo taken from Fort Delgres, Guadeloupe, the city of Basse Terre below.
I’ve known a hero or two in my lifetime.  I’m sure you have too—someone who went above and beyond what was expected…who gave more than they were paid to give.  
Basse Terre today

Their actions were driven by reasons that were selfless and noble and required great courage; most likely went beyond what I would have done in that same situation, but of course, I don’t know that for certain until I’ve been put to that test. Maybe after such a test, I would not be around to be congratulated afterward, as is true of so many heroes.
Fort Delgres, PKA Fort Charles in 1802

This is a story of a true hero.  He was bold. Daring. Doggedly determined. And ultimately willing to sacrifice himself for the larger good. A man to be remembered over the centuries.

Fort Delgres is an enormous fort with many levels
His name was Louis Delgres and the year was 1802.  He was biracial, or mulatto as he would have been called in those days; his father a white Frenchman and his mother, a black woman on the French island of Martinique where he was born in 1766.  He was born a free man, was well educated and chose a military life.  
Entrance into Fort Delgres

When the French National Assembly abolished slavery on the French Caribbean islands in 1794, he was fully supportive of that action.  In his capacity within the military he was instrumental in dismissing the white French civil servants thereby allowing the free blacks to govern themselves. 

The fort encompasses the entire peak of the mountain
A few years later, during the French Revolution, Napolean came into power and decided it would be more advantageous for his coffers to reinstate slavery in the French islands.  Thus, he sent his army to the French island of Guadeloupe for that purpose.  In spite of having become an officer of high rank in the French army, Delgres then led a force of black troops (men and women) of Guadeloupe to fight against Napolean’s strong forces. Remarkably, he and his poorly armed followers held off the French army for 18 days at Fort Charles, in Basse Terre, on Guadeloupe.  

A bombed fort
He must have known they would not/could not possibly prevail.  Not against the might of Napolean’s army.  When he was wounded, he devised a plan that would hasten his own demise but with the intent of furthering the cause for which he fought. He had his followers set charges leading from the remaining munitions stocks to his injured body where he alone controlled the detonation. 
One of the levels of Fort Delgres

As he lay dying, he allowed time for the attempted escape of 400 of his troops through a hidden underground tunnel.  As Napolean’s troops stormed into the fort, he blew himself up along with as many of those French soldiers as possible. Not a happy ending to a story, clearly.
A secret tunnel exited the fort toward the river below.

Delgres’ choices were not based upon a paycheck, nor the temptation of elevated social status, but rather upon what he knew to be right and true. Although his actions did not prevent the reinstatement of slavery, that fact does not detract from his legacy and the respect his memory is due.

Louis Delgres, military hero.  The people's hero
Perhaps we tend to believe that heroes are few and far between.  I like to think that they walk among us—they are right in front of our noses.  We meet them on the street and cannot see anything remarkable on their faces.  They go about their days without calling attention to themselves.  They wake up, put their pants on one leg at a time just like everybody else and go off to work or to whatever tasks that are before them every day.
A Lutheran congregation with new organ, southeastern MN.  Note: Baptismal gown on the right.

There are heroes of all kinds, I think.  They are in our families. For example, a great grandmother who went out to draw water from the well while preparing dinner to feed the threshing crew. 
Great grandmother

While at the well, she went into labor. She delivered the healthy baby by herself, tucked the baby under one arm and picked up the water bucket with the other and returned to the cabin to finish making the dinner.  Sometimes just to survive is heroic. Remember all the heroes that came before you in your families.
Grandpa and my teenaged mother plowing with two single plows

There was my grandfather whose barn and team of horses were destroyed in a fire started by two of his children playing with matches in the barn.  The confirmed story is that he neither chastised his two young sons, nor looked at them in anger or treated them any differently after what was surely an overwhelming devastation in the 1940’s.  

Was such behavior not heroism just as much as going off to war?  I think so.  No one would have begrudged my grandfather some anger, some bitterness and yet…..he remained kind and loving to all of his children, and to everyone he met throughout his lifetime. A gem of a man and quiet hero.
My nephew and his daughter, painted by an Afghani

Then there is my nephew who was sent off to fight in the war in Afghanistan and in Iraq.  Four times he was ripped away from his family. He completed a total of 27 months living in danger every single day.  He became a strong leader for his men to rely upon.  Someone that could shore up the 18 and 19 year olds when days and nights became long and terrifying.  Someone who fought to pull young people back from self-destruction when the anxiety and horror of living in a place where any day may be the last became too much to bear.  
Corey Kampschroer, quiet hero

And then, and then, as if war was not enough to survive, he was sent to New Orleans to recover the bloated bodies from the floodwaters after Katrina.  

How do our men and women recover from such traumas? How do we thank them enough for doing the things that no one wants to do?  Could we possibly pay them enough for these sacrifices? No. Nor do we even attempt to do so, for which I should hang my head in sorrow when I look squarely at my life of relative safety.  Heroes.  They live among us.  They are everywhere around us. 

My brother on left
Police men and women, firefighters, Coast Guard, soldiers, people who dive into the water to rescue someone they don’t even know; not performers because they’re glamorous, nor football players because they’re “stars,” not wealthy people because they’re powerful and not politicians unless they go out on a limb to do what's right for you and me.  Today and everyday I want to live a life that honors those who sacrifice for us.  All of our heroes. 
A service to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Day We Became French

Sunrise at anchor

We accidentally became French the other day. 

It all started like any regular day (for us) in Guadeloupe.  Well, maybe not just any day because the day before, we had learned about the “Breakfast Boat.”  So, on that day in question, we would be receiving fresh croissants and pain chocolate (chocolate bread) delivered to us on our boat. To have them delivered right to us…….is as they say, priceless! So you can see the day was actually getting off to a better than usual start. 
The Breakfast Boat Lady handing us

In that particular harbor, the Breakfast Boat lady also does laundry for cruisers.  She had picked ours up the day before, while her husband drove the boat and the both of them were corralling two toddlers in diapers at the same time as they were coming alongside.  I was impressed by how far their arms reached, although neither of the little tikes were wearing life jackets which frankly made me cringe, but hey, this is not my country.  At least it wasn't yet. 
Washing clothes on deck

But I digress..….so, the Breakfast Boat lady had taken our laundry!  And we were going to be getting it back from her that afternoon.  Now, before you get to thinking that we are just lying around living a life of leisure on our boat, having people wait on us hand and foot, allow me to disabuse you of that notion.  
My Clothes Washing Plunger

First off, having someone else do our laundry for us is a new thing, but we have discovered that there are a few anchorages in the Caribbean where there are no laundry facilities.  In those cases, the only option is to pay someone to do it for us. Secondly, when there are no laundry facilities available and we really need some things laundered, I do it by hand. 

Not exactly like a plunger on the bottom
I go up on deck with a pile of laundry that I figure will dry fairly well on our lifelines.  (Lifelines = built in clotheslines on a sailboat).  On my second trip up on deck I carry up several things—a big blue bucket which will be my washing bin, a large orange bucket from Home Depot which also happens to be our “look bucket”.*  That will be my rinse bucket.  And my “clothes washing plunger.” 
Room for lots of items hanging on lifelines

On my third and fourth trips up on deck, I will schlep along pails of hot water that I heated on the stove, along with the laundry detergent, bleach, etc. The advantage of the plunger thingy is that I don’t have to pound the clothes on a rock or scrub them up and down over a washboard to get them clean.  Plus, I can wash several items at the same time.  
Sometimes clothes get rained on a
few times before they get dry.

Now if I only had some way to wring out the wet clothes; some method that works better than squeezing them with my hands, which is really hard work.  I am not pointing out this last fact in order to engender pity.  I expect none.  We have been told frequently that we are “living the life.”
Overlooking harbor in Deshaies

Okay, so what I really want to explain is how we inadvertently became French which is the only reason anyone is reading this post, am I right?

So, on that particular day, another flat-bottom motorboat with four official-looking people in it was also circulating in the harbor.  In fact, we’d overheard a brief conversation on the VHF radio about this boat before we even noticed it.  One cruiser was telling another cruiser about how this French boat wanted him to fill out some paperwork; to tell them who was onboard and all kinds of other personal information.  He said to the other guy,  “I just told them I was leaving in the morning and they went away.” “Oh, that’s what I’ll do, too” said the other guy. 
Garbage burning day?

How odd we thought.  Why was the French boat visiting all the boats in the harbor? We would find out soon enough. The French motorboat pulled alongside—three men and a woman.  One of them put a line onto our midship cleat.  They were friendly looking people.  One was driving the boat, two of them were clutching sheafs of papers and the woman, who appeared to be running the show was writing on a clipboard.  A clipboard. Clearly a serious matter.

Four census takers
All four of them spoke French.  Well, duh. But have no fear, we were armed with our trusty Google Translate app on both phones.  The youngest man knew a little English.  Clearly they wanted us to take these papers and fill them out and when someone hands you a paper, it’s an automatic reflex to take it.  (Except in shopping malls where I never take a paper that’s shoved at me).  

Using Google Translate to complete census
So, now Carl had assumed ownership of the papers and he slid his phone with the Google Translate app over the words on the form.  We each had a set to complete. French words magically became English. Our full names, citizenship, mailing address, place of abode, whether we worked or were on any government assistance, square footage of our domicile (love that question—there are not many square feet of walkable space on a sailboat.) Pfft…they’re just census takers, for goodness sakes.  
Census question- "How many iguanas do you have?" 
Just kidding. No iguana questions on census.

We mumbled a little to each other — should we be filling out a census form in a French country?  While Carl was using his phone for the form, I tried the tactic of the gentleman we’d heard on the radio.  I texted, “We are leaving in the morning.”  The young guy knit his brows together and read my Google translate screen .  He straightened up and smiled,  “Oh, no, is okay, is okay.”  And we figured, it really was okay.  
The driver was shy

The purpose of a census is to have a snapshot in time of who is in the country, right?  No reason NOT to fill it out.  Good grief.  By that time, Carl was filling out a second set of papers.  Hmmm…  When we were all done with the papers, I google translated, “May I take your photograph?”  They cheerfully obliged and cast off from our boat. 
"Can I take your photo?"  sounds like -
Poozhah prah footah footah

I mean, it’s not like we were giving up our U.S. citizenship, right?  As we were waving and saying “Au revoir” I wondered, Wait….what was that last question again?  Carl looked hard at me.  “I think we’re French now.”

*For non-cruisers, a look bucket is one that has had a large hole cut out of the bottom which is then replaced with a plexiglass disk, set in with an amazingly sturdy adhesive.  A look bucket allows one to see into the water by holding the bucket onto the water’s surface.  Good for looking at the bottom from a dinghy.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Great Expectations: Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve

Bluehead with mustard hill coral, Bahamas
Purple sea fan, Bahamas
Admittedly, we came with great expectations.  After all, we had snorkeled on several reefs in the Bahamas and were astonished by their colorful beauty and diversity.  The reefs went on for miles and one could even swim out to them from the beach in many locations.  All the purples, lavenders, brilliant greens, yellow, shades of red and pink, and the electric blues….it was breathtaking!  
Coral, unknown species, Bahamas

Flower coral, Bahamaas
Here in the Caribbean, on the west coast of Guadeloupe in the municipality of Bouillante (which means “boiling” —thermal springs provide energy for a town of the same name) is a place that cruisers refer to as Pigeon Point.  The reason is because the “real” name is “Ilets a’ Goyaves ou de Pigeon.” (I rest my case). Pigeon Point is the location of the Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve!  Or should I say, a “formerly protected marine area.” On our nautical charts, on land is simply printed “Parc National” and over the water is printed “Reserve Naturelle.”  
Fairy bassslet with Fragile saucer corals? 

We were very excited to stop here and snorkel for a few days.  After all, it bears the name of Jacques-Yves Cousteau. People in my age group grew up watching “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” on TV, which ran from 1966 - 1976.  
Foureye butterflyfish and Giant brain coral,

The thrilling world of Jacques Cousteau and sharks, manta rays, colorful jellyfish, giant brain coral and deep sea fish of the most unexpected kind….fish with little lightbulbs suspended out before their eyes, and fish with too many colors to count, fish with enormous underbites and sharp teeth, critters that lie on the bottom camouflaged by sand just waiting to scarf up some unsuspecting fish merrily swimming by.  
In the dinghy

Now, since we are not divers, we knew that we would not be seeing any deep sea fish, hopefully not sharks and most likely not the jellyfish either, so close to land, but we knew what to expect for a variety of corals, fans, and schools of reef fish.
Our dinghy sharing a mooring ball close to snorkeling

We rigged up our dinghy with a little 3 step ladder to hang over the side, attached to hardware on the bow and on the stern.  (The bottom two steps are superfluous since they float to the surface anyhow, and are of no help to me whatsoever, in this instance.)  With that we were ready.  We didn't even need to wear wetsuits here; the water is warmer than in the Bahamas.  
Carl snorkeling

I donned the little neon green inflatable vest which keeps Carl satisfied that his wife won’t sink, nor disappear from his sight.  I quite concur with his thinking on this point). I strapped the little waterproof camera onto my right wrist and off we went. 
Underwater self-portrait

On our first day, we took our dinghy out to the two tiny, unpopulated islands just 1/4 to 1/2 mile off the shore….Grand Ilet and Petit Ilet.  They are quite close together and it is very shallow between them as well as on the windward side. We tied our dinghy onto a mooring ball placed there expressly for the use of divers and snorkelers and in we went. 
Foureye Butterflyfish, Jacques Cousteau Reserve,

Immediately I saw a flounder hunkering down onto the sand, both eyes looking up at me and then with great enthusiasm swam off to find more cool fish and corals.  “Where is the color?” I wondered.  Here was a parrot fish; there an 4 eye angelfish, some wrasse, grunts, snappers, but there were no schools of fish.  And again, where was all the color?  Below water was oddly monochromatic…..just shades of green.  No lavender, nor pinks, certainly no purple fans.  The brain coral appeared sickly, and there were stubs remaining of the stag corals.  
A type of Trunkfish? Jacques Cousteau Reserve,

Carl and I popped our heads up out of the water and consulted in what felt like conspiratorial tones, “It’s all dead!” we voiced at the same time.  We looked around at all the other snorkelers.  Did they realize that this wasn’t what reefs were supposed to look like?  Did they know all the coral was dead?  The people diving were on the opposite side of the island where the land descended into a deep pit.  Maybe they were seeing more life down there? We don’t know.  We had no divers in our group.

Unnamed species; let's call her Dottie.
Jacque Cousteau Reserve, Guadeloupe
The next day, we went by ourselves to a mooring ball that was placed close to the cliff face of the mainland.  There were some living corals there, and fans and sponges and fish, of course. I did see a long brown and white spotted snake/eel which was a new find for me (the jury is out on what it was) and all in all, it was at least 50% better, maybe just 30% better snorkeling than the day before.
Unnamed snake species; we'll call him Spot.
Jacque Cousteau Reserve, Guadeloupe

We wanted to give snorkeling another try before moving on. We swam from the back of our boat toward shore.  The word was that there were turtles near shore—that a snorkeler could spy a turtle coming up for air and then follow it to wherever it was munching on turtle grass below.  Unfortunately, the only way we would have spied a turtle would have been if we’d accidentally bumped into one. Visibility was terrible.  The water become increasingly turbid as we snorkeled until we finally gave up.
Unnamed snake/eel species; perhaps Lilith?
Jacque Cousteau Reserve, Guadeloupe

So sad.  We were so sad to see what remains of the reefs of the Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve. Perhaps the diving reveals more living coral, but the point remains that so much is gone, forever, I suppose.  Monsieur Cousteau died in 1997. He would have been so devastated, n’est-ce pas?
A few species of coral, not very robust in appearance. 
Jacque Cousteau Reserve, Guadeloupe