December 2018


Cayman Islands has a boat culture. We see boats go up and down the canal outside our condo everyday. We take the occasional cruise to Rum Point or at sunset ourselves. But we are nowhere near as connected as are most people on the island who have boats or access to boats.

Back in Canada, thirty grand would get you a pretty nice little boat to run around in. That same boat down here would cost three times that amount, and that wouldn’t include maintenance. We don’t have that kind of money. Nevertheless, we do like to see the boats go by, especially at Christmas, when many of them dress up their boats with lights the way that we do back home with our houses.

This has become such a tradition that there is now a Parade of Lights at the nearby Camana Bay, that is regularly attended by hundreds of people. There is music and street food, and a local television now broadcast the event island wide with prizes for the best in the small boat and large boat categories.

We have gone in the past, but this year decided to make it a group event with island friends who like us brought chairs and snacks and drinks. Pam and I got there early to stake out a good place to view, and then settled in for a good old natter while we waited for the parade to start.

There were fourteen boats this year, some of them with over three thousand lights. Each boat adopts a particular theme to promote. Of particular note were “Baby Shark” with its movable jaw and “Water Angel” with its curtain of lights hanging from the fishing rigging. After the parade and the prizes, we were treated to a fireworks show.

Christmas is still not Christmas without the snow, but there are compensations in this part of the world. Gathering with friends for a pleasant evening by the water with the cool Christmas breezes blowing is one of them.

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Our church meets in the Harquail Theatre, not far from where we live. We tried going to larger churches – and there are plenty of those on island – but for us it is the sense of community that binds us to Christ, and that is often missing in larger congregations. Because it is a theatre, we often get to see coming productions in the process of building their sets on stage. We have watched with fascination as the set for Moon on a Rainbow Shawl was taking place. It was a marvel of construction that had room for four families that share a “yard” with another half dozen people walking by on the “road” behind their “houses.”

The play, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, was written in 1957 by Errol John, a Trinidadian, who won a contest to write a culturally relevant play set after the last war. It was first staged in London, England to rave reviews and its storied past includes cast members James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, and Maya Angelou. The play is set in a dirt-poor Trinidadian yard and we get to know the people living in it as if we were their neighbours.

The mother, Sophia, is at the heart of the drama. She is the Caribbean matriarch no one dares to cross with her biting sarcasm and gaze that would freeze hell. She is also exhausted, hard-working and vulnerable with an equally exhausted husband, Charlie, and a young baby to tend. Their only hope is their teenage daughter, Esther, who has just secured a scholarship to high school. Drunk from partying, one night Charlie steals some money from a local restaurant as a prank.

Sharing the yard is Rosa, who works at the restaurant and has seen the theft. She is carrying the child of her lover Ephraim, who also lives in the yard, but she has not told him of her pregnancy. Ephraim, for his part, is planning to leave the island to find a better life in England. Mavis, the town’s prostitute, entertains a revolving door of men in an effort to make ends meet. In short, they are all trapped in the same yard by their poverty.

The cast included seasoned Caribbean professionals, including the set designer and director, Henry Muttoo, MBE, the artistic director of Cayman National Cultural Foundation, but also a number of students from the local John Gray High School who were more than able to hold their own. It was a brilliant production, well-acted and staged, with a tone and resonance that was tender and as far as we could tell, authentic in its depiction of Caribbean life. We get so few chances to see what our fellow residents of this island face on a daily basis as we spend most of our time with expats doing expat things. It was something of reality check to see what resilience, grit, and perseverance are needed to face what for some are lives of overwhelming despair in trying just to survive.