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I grew up in Parkway West, an idyllic little enclave nestled between Don Mills and Scarborough in the northeast corner of Toronto. Walking to Don Mills Collegiate meant a very pleasant two kilometre hike skirting the Donalda Golf course, across a little wooden bridge over the Don River and up a few residential streets to the school. I loved the walk through the trees and watching the seasons change. By the time I was ready to teach, Toronto had grown too big for my liking, so I took a job in St. Thomas, in part because I could walk to work.

We always seemed to live two or three kilometres from where I worked. When we lived on Hammond, I taught at Scott Street School. When we lived on Metcalf, I taught at Elgin Court. When we moved to Myrtle and later on Trevithick, I taught at Locke’s. Given that it was St. Thomas there were always railway tracks to hike along or over. I used to love the smell of honeysuckle that would often grow wild besides the abandoned rail lines.

I continued to walk to work until we moved to London in 2001, and then I traded in my walk for a very pleasant country drive. In Malaysia I would hike up Wangsa Baiduri the two kilometres or so to Taylor’s College.  Once again I appreciated the opportunity to wake up and get a little exercise before I had to start my day, though you had to watch for the cavernous and uncovered storm drains. And walking home in KL’s blistering heat was no fun at all.

The Cayman Islands is much better. There is a pretty steady breeze most months of the year and you are never far from the sea no matter which side of the island you are on. I hike to the end of the street and past the ruins of what used to be the Hilton, damaged beyond repair by Hurricane Ivan. Then I skirt the Britannia Golf Course, closed now for rezoning, and up a new sidewalk to Camana Bay on the North Sound, taking in the sunrise in the winter. From there it is just a few steps to the school. It takes me about half an hour without breaking a sweat.

My body is slowing down considerably as I approach 70. If I don’t keep walking, I soon won’t be able to stand in front of a class all day. My mind is still sharp, and I am still learning, so to quit before I am ready would be a disappointment hard to bear. So I walk to work. It will be my great loss when I no longer have to. Or can.

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I cannot remember when I first read The Diary of Anne Frank. I was young, too young to understand all that was said, alluded to, or implied. I know I was struck by Anne’s honesty, more so when I came to grips with what the Nazis did to her and millions of Jews like her. It is not easy to wrap your head and heart around that level of demonic evil when you are young. I toured the Annex when I was in Amsterdam, as a mature adult. We shuffled from room to room, dumbstruck by the banality of the horror that was written on every wall.

So when the Cayman Drama Society opened auditions for the play, I knew I had to try out. I wasn’t looking for a major role, just something to get my feet wet on stage after more than a dozen years coaching students from the sidelines. I tried out for Dussel, the fussy dentist that comes in halfway through the first act. I practiced a passable German accent and committed a few passages to memory. I was little taken aback when the director, Kirsty Halliday, said, “Very nice, now drop the accent and try it again.” I did, and got cast in the role.

This summer I used every available minute to commit the script to memory. Then I worked on all the cues surrounding my part. Rehearsals went on while I was away in Canada, but that couldn’t be helped. As soon as I got back I jumped back into all the blocking that I had missed and introduced myself to the cast. Fortunately, drama folks are a pretty accepting sort, and I soon felt comfortable and found their company pleasant. The schedule itself was tiring on top of teaching all day: two late nights a week and four to six hours on the weekends. But slowly the bits and pieces came together and we began to jell as a cast.

Kirsty had three primary ideas she wanted to embed in her production. She wanted to put the entire audience, all 80 of them, on the stage with us so there would be no escape, no turning away. The auditorium would become the warehouse through the audience would walk, behind the bookcase and up the stairs into the Annex. Then she wanted to visualize Anne’s nightmare scene, bringing the three Nazis on stage to terrorize her as she slept. Then in the final scene she wanted us all to march, zombie like, onto the stage and fall into a heap of bodies, eyes open and gazes blank staring out at the audience. The effect was devastating. Many sat in tearful silence for minutes after the show was over, unable to compose themselves enough to leave. The nine shows were sold out to the last seat for every show, and the reviews and comments have been overwhelmingly positive, many saying it was the best show that the Cayman Drama Society has ever done, and the strongest cast.

It has been so rewarding for me to have even a small part in such an important play. The cast, especially 15 year old Jasmine Line, who played Anne, the music, the set design, and the staging were all impressively professional. I enjoyed the camaraderie of our cast and the nightly challenge of bringing my character to life. I will likely do another show, now that I am back into the groove, but I can’t think that anything else will ever come close to the impact of this show. It is difficult even after a week away just thinking about what we had to go through each show. 

One night I spoke to the only Jewish rabbi on Cayman who had come to the show. After he had complemented me on my Hebrew during the Sim Shalom prayer that I offer, I asked him about his reaction. He said he found it moving and authentic. He also shared that he had lost two of his great grandparents in the Holocaust. I asked if he minded us, an entirely Gentile cast, presenting this work. Oh no, he said, very firmly. The truth must continue to be told so that this never happens again. Never again.

Pam and I thought long and hard about buying a boat when we arrived in the Cayman. It seemed a natural: we lived right on the longest canal on the island, the waters were crystal clear, and the breezes were mild. All our neighbours seemed to have boats, and we had visions of taking our grandchildren out across the North Sound when they came to visit.

Sadly, that dream had to die. The cost for even a small runabout was exorbitant, and apparently the boat maintenance here is astronomical.  Then too we noticed that our neighbours never actually seemed to use their boats. The workdays are long here, so there is only the weekend. Besides, snorkeling had taken over our interest in the water and we were developing a nice group of older people who like to snorkel and were good company at the pub afterwards.

So we moderated our passion for boating and took whatever opportunities availed themselves to us to get out on the water through staff cruises or trips across the North Sound to the restaurant at Rum Point. However, there was one cruise that we had not taken in our three years on the island, and that was the Sunset Cruise off Seven Mile Beach. The reason was obvious, it cost more than we felt comfortable paying to see a sunset we could sit on the beach to see for nothing.

But for our anniversary, a young couple in our community group gave us the gift of a Sunset Cruise. We tried in vain to fit it in before the summer break, but the weather refused to cooperate. Finally, once we returned to Cayman, we got a chance to go sailing, and it turned out to be well worth the wait. Since we moved to the Caribbean, we have become sunset connoisseurs. There are sunsets too dull to even matter, sunsets that promise much, then just peter out, and sunsets that go out in a brief blaze of glory. However, our favourites are the ones that linger in the clouds for nearly two hours. We had one of those on the night of our cruise.  

The breezes were delicious, warm and fragrant. There was no sound but the gentle muted conversations on the deck and the flutter of the sails in the breeze. As the glow from the sunset faded, the stars came out as clear as diamonds on black felt. We had Cayman lemonade, and some chicken wings and just soaked up the great privilege of being allowed to be here at this point in our lives. It was a beautiful evening.

Cayman is remarkably rich in musical and dramatic talent for such a small island. There are only 60,000 of us tops, yet there are dozens of shows, dances, and musical events each week. Far too many for us to go to everything. So we typically tend to prioritize those events that involve friends, colleagues and students.

A few weeks back we saw a production of Annie put on by the middle and elementary students of Cayman International and several other schools on the island. At the best of times the musical is a silly little bit of fluff that glamourizes the hard-luck life of an orphan that is adopted by a billionaire. Tell that story to any one of the 30 million refugee children in the world and see what kind of reaction you get. Swimming upstream against that improbable script is a tough slog at best, but the kids did a wonderful job, and we had a very pleasant evening, despite the first-world/third-world disconnect.

The following weekend we went to see Grease, which despite its enduring popularity neither of had ever seen. This was an older group of students, high school and some recent graduates, and the song and dance routines had considerably better polish. Again, the score doesn’t rise to the level of Richard Rogers or Leonard Bernstein, but it was a fun evening, and the players’ spunky enthusiasm compensated for the limitations of the production.

Grease

We topped that off with an evening at the Westin Hotel on Seven Mile Beach that hosted the local orchestra and choir doing an evening of Broadway musicals. There was no shortage of excellent music at this event, and the choir was in excellent voice going through a repertoire of songs from West Side Story, Phantom of the Opera, South Pacific and The Wizard of Oz. They sang and played for over two hours and the quality, especially in the solo performances, was most impressive for an assembly of volunteers, some of who were friends and colleagues from CIS.

With just a few weeks left before the end of the year, there are still a number of events coming up that look to be equally enjoyable, if somewhat tiring. Island life has its limitations, but a lack of music and drama is not one of them.

Last evening we had the great joy of attending the Golden Apple Awards to see our dear Ms. Nimmi Sekhar accept her Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Education. A gala, black tie event, it was held at the Ritz Carlton and Nimmi was supported by about forty or so family and friends from CIS. At the ceremony, Nimmi was honoured for her contributions to education over her thirty three years as a teacher, tutor, and administrator.

Nimmi began her teaching career in India, following her graduation with a Master’s degree in English Literature. Nimmi and her husband then moved to Jamaica, where Dr. Sekhar set up his practice. After a two year stint in academic support in Jamaica, she and her husband moved to Cayman Brac, where Nimmi began volunteering in a government school which led quickly to a full time teaching position in the Brac. When she and her husband moved to Grand Cayman, Nimmi supported the existing government schools by tutoring students with moderate to profound special educational needs.

In April of 1990, Nimmi teamed up with Dr Elizabeth Faulkner, a child psychologist working with special needs children and adults. Sensing a need that was not being met in the government school, Nimmi and Dr. Faulkner borrowed $60,000 to set up a school to meet the needs of these special kids. In 1994 Nimmi became the first Administrator of the newly founded Faulkner Academy. International School Services bought the school when Dr. Faulkner wished to retire, but Nimmi stayed on as an administrator of the renamed Cayman International School where she has served up until the present as our Vice-Principal and facilities manager.

Nimmi’s love of teaching and educating others is renowned here in Cayman and her commitment to excellence in education has impacted the lives of many students and the community as a whole, including Daniel Nicholson-Gardner, one of my many favourites. All who have been through CIS know her as an understanding, kind-hearted and selfless leader and friend and are constantly in awe of her determination and persistence.

It was wonderful to spend an evening with colleagues and friends all dressed in their finest for an evening that began with a reception prior to the awards ceremony. In fine Indian tradition, following the ceremony, Dr Sekhar hosted the entire group of Nimmi’s friends, family, and colleagues to a dinner in Camana Bay. We loved the opportunity to celebrate not only Nimmi but educators in general and we look forward to even more events next month to mark the end of an era at CIS.

Referred to by the Incas as the “The Navel of the World,” Cusco, the Imperial city of the Incas was developed as a complex urban center and served as the capital of the vast Incan Empire. The historic religious and government buildings were surrounded by the exclusive homes for royal families, centers for favoured artisans, numerous and spacious plazas and graceful fountains.

The capital of the Incas astonished the Spanish invaders by the beauty of its buidings and the length and regularity of its streets. The great square, now the Plaza d’Armas, was surrounded by several palaces, since each Incan king built a new palace for himself. However, their admiration did not keep the Spanish from sacking much of the Inca city in 1535. Pizarro’s troops lost no time in plundering the Incan palaces of their contents, as well as destroying the religious artifacts. That turmoil is ancient history now, and Cusco became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, its remaining historic buildings now designated as having enduring architectural value.

On our return from Machu Picchu, we had a leisurely two days in Cusco just enjoying the sights, sounds and foods of Peru and even did a bit of shopping in the bright, colourful San Pedro market. We stayed at a little hotel on Calle Neuva Alta in the historic district, and were able to walk everywhere we wanted to with little trouble. The streets were lined with little shops with quaint cul-de-sacs leading to market squares lining both sides of the streets.

Declared by the constitution as the historical capital of Peru, Cusco has become a major tourist destination in its own right, hosting nearly 2 million visitors a year. Coffee shops, many with balconies overlooking the squares or plazas were everywhere, and the vibe was pleasant and friendly with none of the frantic aggression that you sometimes encounter in the East. The air was cool and required a jacket, but that just seemed to make the city more cosy. It was the perfect place to finish our first trip to South America. We promised ourselves that this would not be the last.

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