A Groundation Grenada art residency account by Rosabelle Illes
No, it’s not fake tan, It’s natural sulfur from the ‘Cha cha’ Sulfur Spring in Hermitage, St.Patrick’s
There is one main road and the bus stops wherever you need it to – on that main road. There are no bus stops because the bus stops wherever you need it to. Oh you come from a place where there are fixed bus stops? Me too. But it took me about two seconds to adjust to the Grenadian method. All I had to do was recall the moments when I wanted to politely ask the driver back home to pullover as I saw my house pass me by while the bus came to a halt a few blocks further at the official bus-stop, where I would have to walk all the way back. I thought about the moments when I had to decide between a bus-stop prior to- and a bus-stop anterior to my most convenient stop. After getting off at the former a couple of times and counting the amount of steps it took to reach my desired stop, I would get off at the latter a couple of times and do the same. The anterior stop was closer but I was never satisfied with either. All I ever wanted was to be dropped off at my own desired location. Is that too much to ask? Not in Grenada.
During my residency at Groundation Grenada in the month of august 2014, I met extraordinary people and I engaged in inspiring events at the historic Priory on Church St. and Clark’s Court Cave at Ft. Matthew. These were all part of Forgetting is Not An Option Phase N°1 a collaboration with Arc Magazine. A Yoga class from Groundation Grenada director Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe challenged my self-imposed physical limitations. Visual artist Robin de Vogel’s workshop on reinventing mementos increased my awareness about the souvenir industry. My own creative writing workshop on dismantling the Caribbean cliché allowed me to experience ‘on the spot’ fearless writing by Grenada’s emerging and established authors. The Caribbean film night and the Take Tellings Jam session reinforced my belief in the talent our region cultivates. And the hike to the sulphur spring brought me into a state of automatic moving mediation. It was evident, I was a visitor in Grenada but I was home. Not that Grenada closely resembles my native island of Aruba or my current home The Netherlands. To the contrary, Grenada is a lot different, inside and out. It was these differences that sparked a notion of home, but home in terms of origin, home in the sense of the source, if you will.
The ‘Dismantling the Caribbean Cliche’ Creative Writing Workshop at the historic Priory, Church St.
I did most of my thinking while using the island’s public transportation system. In fact, I felt most at ease when I was packed in these mini-vans with about 15 passengers while loud reggae music distracted us from the heat. These buses describe so much of what I have come to experience as the island of Grenada. The driver honks at people on the street to check whether they need a ride. I wondered if these pedestrians ever got annoyed at all the honking or appreciated the gesture. Analyzing it in my fixed-bus-stop perspective I would suggest constructing official bus-stops, as it would rid the driver of looking for passengers while pedestrians would no longer need to let every driver know they will continue on foot. People would simply wait at the bus-stop which would automatically indicate that they wish to make use of public transportation. Then came more flashbacks. I recalled the moments in fixed-bus-stop land, when I would run to the bus-stop in the rain or snow waving frantically to bus drivers while being seconds late, only to have them look me in the eye as they proudly continue their route perfectly on time. I already know that the next time this happens to me, I will hear the Grenada bus honk resound gently from my left ear to my right.
So what does all this public transportation have to do with my residency? Everything, you see. On one of my last days on the island I took a bus that was in very good shape compared to the others I had been traveling in. The seats had nice new covers free of holes and what surprised me most were the bells above each window. You see when you wish to let the driver know where you prefer to stop, you must knock on the sides of the bus and the driver will let you out. Up to that day, that was the only way I saw everyone declare their desired stop. In this new van however, passengers were to make use of the bell when they wanted the driver to pull over. I was not the only one unaware that some busses made use of bells. When one local passenger gave the usual knock, the driver did not stop. After two louder bangs and her desired stop moving further out of sight, the passenger yelled “STOP!” And the driver pulled over. The passenger asked the driver whether he did not hear her knocks and the driver, in an angry tone, instructed her to ring the bell next time.
After this lady was dropped off I told the driver where I would like to stop since it was dark and I could not recognize the area. He then let me know that I was on the wrong bus because he does not go as far as my destination. He told me I had to go back to town to get another bus. The other passengers told the driver to just take me the extra five-minute ride as it was already late. The driver did not appreciate the behavior his passengers were expecting from him. Although I of course wanted to reach my destination as soon as possible and despite my biased interests, I could also understand the reason the passengers expected this gesture from the driver. After spending some time with the locals last year when I visited Grenada, this trip reaffirmed the existence of some sort of powerful trusted karma on the island. I say trusted because I noticed that the Grenadians I encountered tend to give with confidence. It seems the full circle is so automatic, so imminent, so imbedded that spending time recollecting favors takes away from time best used to continue giving. Despite the passengers’ peer pressure, the driver pulled over to let me out so that I could take a bus back to town to subsequently take a bus back up. Once I stepped out of the van I began walking to my destination instead of trying to get a bus back to town. As the driver slowly began to move his vehicle, the other passengers kept telling him that he cannot let me walk in the dark and that he must do me a favor. After a few back and forth’s between the driver and the passengers, the driver told me to step back into the bus. Once I arrived my destination I paid the driver double the price of the ride but it did not seem like he considered the payment a display of the trusted karma in action.
Rosabelle on a hike with Syisha Williams from Mango Bay Cottages
That night, after the experience in the new van with the perfectly covered comfortable cushioned seats and fancy bells, I kept thinking. Up to that point, my bus rides in run down vans with friendly people, nice music, seats where the filling was coming out and no bells, were one of the highlights of my days. Sure I questioned development as I looked inside the busses and wished for the island to have newer vehicles and yes I questioned development as I looked outside the bus and wished for the island to renovate buildings and possess newer technology and resources. Yet as soon as I experienced a developed bus-ride I wished to go back to the good old days when we knocked instead of ring bells.
So I contemplated development. Must it have a negative correlation with humanity, with that warmth, kindness, with that trusted karma? I began working on a piece that has a few phrases such as
“Develop me gently,
I want to keep my humanity
I want to recognize when to say it’s okay
leave that payment for another day,
next week or you know what don’t worry about it
I want to give with confidence
knowing you won’t exploit it
you won’t destroy it
you’ll manifest it
share it with someone else
so someone else can be kind to someone else
so when I need someone else they too shall say it’s okay
leave that payment for another day,
next week or you know what don’t worry about it
Develop me gently for I give with expectation
I refuse to let kindness cease with you
I will follow you around
I will tumble you down
until you release kindness to someone else
so someone else can be kind to someone else
so when I need someone else…”
There’s this small phrase I kept hearing from many Grenadians, it still resounds gently from my left ear to my right: “it’s okay”. On my second day in Grenada, I entered a store in town to purchase a bottle of soap. I did not have enough coins to pay for it so I asked the gentleman where I can find an ATM machine. He told me where the closest ATM machine was but he said he wants to make a deal with me. For now, he’ll let me take the soap for the coins I had, “it’s okay” and next time when I come back to shop there I can give him the remaining coins. At this point I thought great, I do not look like a tourist because who would make such a deal with a visitor who’s stay is temporary and is less likely to return to the same store?
By my fourth day in Grenada, I was already getting used to how “okay” many things are: cars are left unlocked while parked in public places, home doors and windows left open at night. So on that fourth day when I was looking for some breakfast, I entered a small diner in town and asked a young lady whether she had any fruits. She said “just two bananas will that do?” “How much?”, I asked. She said “it’s okay”. It’s okay? I felt an internal rant coming up so I took out my cellular phone to set it free:
“How can it be okay if you’re in your store, not just at home where you offer visitors refreshments and snacks at no cost? How can it be okay if it’s during opening hours? How can it be okay if you do not know me, clearly I am a tourist why are you not trying to screw me… over? I gave her less than it was worth where I come from and she gave me change HOW IS THIS OKAY?!”
A Grenadian bus. Image Source: www.sailneytiri.com
Yes, during my residency in Grenada I heard about the problems, the issues, the history, the revolution and the challenges the island faces. It is not my wish to ignore parts of Grenada while magnifying others. However, despite its difficulties, I feel Grenada is in a fortunate position. It is on the verge of increased development while it is populated by heart. What I am trying to convey is that the people have heart, the people are hearts. Yes, all islands and all countries have their troubles but to me, Grenada — as a state of mind — is where I wish to stop. It is my desired stop. It is where I would knock on the side of whatever I am being transported in and get off. It is from where I wish to cultivate wisdom to render myself capable of moving forward. So that when I develop, I can trust with ultimate confidence that it’s all okay.
“Trust the wall” with Groundation Co-Founder Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe
During my residency I realized that Grenada is an island I wish to visit more often and I would like to continue working with Grenadian artists. For this reason, I am ending this account with a call to current airline companies operating in the Caribbean region or those looking to engage in a new business endeavor and start a Caribbean airline company: It should be easier, quicker and cheaper to travel between the islands in the Caribbean region. A direct flight from Aruba to Grenada would take approximately 3.5 hours. It took me 9 hours to reach my neighboring island. Yes we have been colonized, yes our past lurks and yes we are limited as small entities, but we have all of that in common. So let’s grow closer as a region and continue to inspire each other while developing ourselves gently.
Groundation Grenada you have been most kind, see you soon.
Rosabelle Illes (1987), is an Aruban writer and artist. She is the author of two collections of poetry “Beyond Insanity” (2005) and “Spiel di mi Alma” (Mirror of my Soul, 2010) and the creator of an art calendar entitled “Wholism” (2012). Her short story “Stars for sale: a buck each” (2013), about a woman who becomes mentally ill after the baristas at her favorite coffee shop repeatedly misspell her name on her coffee cup, is published in the 11th issue of Gone Lawn Journal. Her experimental piece “The invisible short-story” (2013) features in theNewerYork Press and her poem “True Friendship” (2014) can be found in the 13th volume of My Favorite Bullet. Her most recent work “Species” is published in the Spring 2014 anthology by Crack the Spine Press. Presently, Rosabelle is working on a children’s book in collaboration with Curaçaoan singer-songwriter Levi Silvanie.
Next to producing works of art, Rosabelle also dedicates her time to teaching the craft. In the summers of 2013 and 2014, Rosabelle led a two-week workshop on creative writing as part of the Pancake Gallery’s global educational arts program “Art Rules Aruba.” She has also taught creative writing and held lectures at Webster University Leiden, the University of Aruba and The Pedagogy Institute of Aruba. She holds a BA in Psychology (Hons) with a minor in English from Webster University and an MSc. in Social and Organizational Psychology from Leiden University, where she is currently a doctoral candidate in psychology. @rosabelleilles www.rosabelleilles.com