Educating Rita was written in 1980 by William Russell (Shirley Valentine, Blood Brothers) on a commission from the Royal Shakespeare Company. It has only two principal characters, Frank, an aging alcoholic English poet and professor, and Rita, a lower class hairdresser with an ambition to “know everything.” It was made into a movie with Michael Caine as Frank and Julie Walters as Rita in 1983 and the play has been in production someplace in the world since. I had never seen or read it, and was delighted when Pam and I went to see it last night at the Prospect Theatre.

Frank was played by Anne Frank colleague, Adam Roberts, a veteran of the Cayman Drama Society, and Rita by Soraya Moghadass, another veteran of local theatre, who absolutely nailed the Liverpudilian accent required for her role. She also brought energy, a refreshing sarcastic edginess and a rare degree of touching pathos to her well-rounded character. I always enjoy the experience of being out with my wife to live theatre, and this time I had the rare pleasure of bumping into Anne Frank colleagues Mike (Mr. Kraler), Laura (Mrs. Van Daan) and Sandra (Miep) and reminiscing.  I was not ready for the text of the play itself.

Russell, who in a chequered past had been both a hairdresser and a teacher, explores what happens when students come to grips with the intricacies of literary analysis. The highly structured language and demanding form is one thing. The necessary dependence on a whole history of literary allusion is another. The close attention to the details of the text in an age when the overwhelming majority of people read nothing longer than social media articles is a huge obstacle, as is the virtual abandonment of the formal instruction in grammar, syntax, punctuation, and even simple capitalization so necessary for good writing.

But even after students have plowed their way through all that – with some pretty insistent nagging and cajoling on my part – one huge obstacle remains, and it was the one most poignantly examined in this play. What happens to the student’s own voice in seeking to master analytical writing? Do the requirements of IB Literature mean that students lose their own unique individuality?

This is the dilemma I face every single day in my role as teacher, mentor, and writing tutor. Literary analysis requires that one seeks to know what the writer’s point of view is. One must suspend one’s own moral and personal judgement and enter into the way the writer sees the world and comment on how he or she presents that. Those engaged in critical analysis must be dispassionate and, yes analytical, observing connections between characters and even connecting with them, but still able to maturely critique those connections and behaviours.

Further, the language of analysis must be academic and detached, but not stilted or artificial. It must be sparse and concise, yet remain engaging and erudite. Is it any wonder many 17 and 18 year olds find themselves losing their own voice in the process? Yet this is precisely what they must not let happen, and what I as their teacher must not allow to happen. This new way of thinking and writing about the world has to become part of who they are; it has to be integrated into their own personalities so that it becomes an authentic expression of their understanding of the world. To reduce all those unique and wonderful human beings to mere parroting sycophants merely to pass a set of exams would be a travesty of this profession.

Hence my personal and pensive delight with this wonderful little gem of a play that so wisely and lovingly explores this very personal dilemma and allowed me to reflect on my own professional journey. Thank you to all those connected with this production – Adam, Soraya, Liam, and Laura especially – for a most revealing evening.

We didn’t get home at Christmas and neither did anyone come to visit us over the break. So when we heard that Liz and Greg and Greg’s sister and family were coming by Cayman on a Disney Cruise, we were wildly excited. However, as the day approached, we grew increasingly concerned.

The weather in Cayman was unusually rainy over the break, and there was even a tropical storm, a northwester from Mexico, that slammed into Seven Mile Beach and did a fair bit of damage the week before they arrived. Trusting that the sun would shine on our efforts, we both booked a ‘personal day’ off at work and booked a room at the Westin for a very reasonable resident rate and hoped for the best.

Given that check-in time wasn’t until 4pm, we booked the night before their visit as well so we could have the room for when they arrived. We had a most pleasant evening to ourselves pretending that we could actually afford this kind of life and woke up bright and early to a most pleasant and sunny day.

I went off to work in the morning to help my supply teacher through the intricacies of IB English, but I needn’t have worried. Our friend Tom Hartley came in for me and he had things well in hand before I left. Pam stopped by our condo to pick up a few snacks for the kids and we met up at Margaritaville to wait.

There is a wonderful cruise tracker at http://www.cruisin.me/cruise-ship-tracker/ that we use when people are coming in by boat, so we knew exactly where the ship was and where and when it would dock. I had also brought a pair of binoculars so we could see them coming in on the first tender from the ship.

Finally they walked out through the gate to much hugging and squealing with delight. There were nine of us all together, as Stacy’s husband Mike had taken their eldest son Gavin off to Sting Ray City, so we crammed into our two cars and scooted off to the Westin to get out of the crowds. Our room was on the ground floor, just beside the pool but at the corner, so we were out of view of the curious. We had the fridge well stocked with drinks and snacks, and the glorious Seven Mile Beach was just a few feet away from the back door of our room.

The kids frolicked in the ocean and splashed in the pool the entire day while we adults chatted away. I got a nice visit in with both Holly and Greg, and plenty of Grandkid time. Holly, Stacy and her daughter Georgia left early to get back to the ship with tea with a Disney princess, so we had a great visit with Liz, Greg and the kids by ourselves.

The day was just perfect, and when we took them back to the port we were all most happy and most tired. As a bonus we got a second night at the Westin to ourselves and enjoyed a quiet evening out under the stars on our secluded little patio reflecting on God’s goodness to us. What a wonderful day we had!

We know that our family is not perfect, any more than we are. Our kids have their struggles, as we have, and it is easy in this life to get so caught up in our troubles that we can’t see the blessings. But there are days, and this was one of them, when all the world seems happy and bright and all our troubles are but clouds on a sunny day.

Jan. 8, 2019

It has been exciting for us to be back on this side of the world after so many years in Asia. The most fun of all the activities over the last several years has been to get together with our family at Christmas. For two of the three Christmases we have been in the Caribbean our children have come down here to see us either for the holiday or shortly after.  For one of those years we went up north to see them. There have been other trips as well, like the most recent one to Ontario in October, or Pam’s trips to Orlando, Phoenix and Calgary.

However, this Christmas we neither went north nor did we entertain family. We didn’t travel either, both of us being a little too weary from work to do the necessary planning to get away. Instead we had a quiet Christmas ‘on island’ and it has been very pleasant and relaxing.  After all, if you lived in Canada you would think that three weeks in the Caribbean would be a very nice holiday! We have a little pool on the condo property here, and I made good use of that, finally getting to loosen up some of the bodily tension from this long first semester. We spent a couple of mornings on Seven Mile Beach, and a very pleasant day up at Barker’s Beach on the north shore just watching the kite surfers and horseback riders and reading under the trees. We went out for a few nice meals at Thai Orchard and Tukka.

We had a lovely quiet meal for Christmas. We met with our church in Dart Park by the sea for a Christmas Eve service and met up with friends Jake and Ema afterwards at Sunset House for drinks and curry fries.  We did a little garage sale-ing one day and drove around to see the Christmas lights at Christmas. We took an evening sail to watch the New Year’s Eve fireworks with our friends Tom and Jana and we went dancing at Margaritaville and Peppers. We also watched a lot of movies on Netflix, including E.T., The Sound of Music, and Home Alone. We read and rested and went for a walk downtown. We got both cars safetied for another year and replaced the ceiling fan in the bedroom that just up and died. I got all of the backlog of essays marked so I can start the new semester fresh. Most importantly both of us spent a lot of time on our weblogbook Home Thoughts From Abroad which we publish through Blurb.com every couple of years. The one just finished will be the eighth book in the series of adventures we have been on since we left Canada.

It is most unusual for us to take the time just to relax. Usually we use every free moment of vacation time to travel or visit with our family to the point of physical exhaustion. To take the time just to unwind and have some fun and pretend that we are a retired older couple is odd for us, and kind of nice. They say that being bored is a fundamental component of creativity and productivity: that these periods of doing nothing allow you to reflect on the journey you are on and plan for the next steps to come. If so, we well are well prepared for the year and the challenges to come. Happy New Year to all!

Jan 5, 2019.

 

There are some disadvantages for those who live on a tiny island, but many advantages as well which, fortunately out-weigh the disadvantages.  Within a very short drive of our place we have wonderful, expansive views of the ocean in all directions for as far as the eye can see. Whether it is the early morning glow of a sunrise, a spectacular sunset or the formation and advance of wild storm clouds bringing with them pounding surf and roaring winds; it is just mesmerizing.

In our travels we have a few times stumbled across a rising full moon but we have not yet intentionally gone to the East End to watch the full moon rise over the ocean. Since we are on island and off work, we decided to finally do so. We went to Tukka which is an Aussie owned restaurant with an outdoor dining area on the beach, serving Australian cuisine with a Caribbean fusion.  Although you can try Kangaroo or Green Iguana if you wish, the fresh local catch and seafood of the day are amazing.

We arrived early in time to sip a little wine while we watched the huge frigate birds gather to be fed and swoop down around us to snatch fish from the hands of brave tourists. For a special treat, four pelicans, which are not often seen on the island, came by to spend a little time entertaining us. Two sharks and a number of huge tarpon were there to challenge the frigates and pelicans for any fish parts that hit the water.

The restaurant is not spectacular looking but the staff were friendly, the atmosphere casual and slow paced and the weather absolutely beautiful. As we watched the moon rise out of the ocean we were delighted by the fresh catch of the day; red snapper with shrimp. It was a completely lovely evening and one that we will definitely do again sometime soon.

We kicked off the Christmas music season at the Westin Ballroom, taking in an evening with the Cayman National Choir and Orchestra as they performed a medley of hits at their “Epic Journeys” concert. A packed-out crowd was transported from the Caribbean to Middle Earth via Ancient Greece and space and Back to the Future.

With many of our friends and colleagues involved in music on the island, we took advantage of as many of the concerts and events as we could possibly fit into our schedule. We reflected back on our first Christmas here in 2015 when we attended the lighting of the tree at Camana Bay and several other musical events that ranged from embarrassing to pretty decent. This year every musical presentation was excellent with the National Choir and Orchestra almost doubling in size and the scope of the talent. The addition of Jonathan Taylor as full-time Director has fostered an island-wide coordination of development of programs and growth of talent and caliber of performances. We finished the season at one of our favourite annual events at Elmslie United Church.

The Elmslie Church, is named after Rev. James Elmslie who came to Cayman in 1846 to establish the Presbyterian church here, is built on the site that was the former Anglican Church and was destroyed by a hurricane that struck in 1838. The present building was constructed during the 1920’s by Capt. Rayal Bodden, and has a noteworthy feature. Capt. Rayal being a naval architect designed the roof in the form of a ship’s hull turned upside down, which can be seen in its strength and beauty. The acoustics and atmosphere is the building provide a fabulous venue in which to celebrate the birth of Christ in music.

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.

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.