There is certainly something to be said for living on a Caribbean Island. The weather is always glorious, well; rainy season has begun so it is a tad cool for me. I’m actually wearing long pants instead of shorts, and a t-shirt instead of a tank top. However, back in Canada where I’m originally from they are breaking out the scarves and mittens now, so I really can’t complain about rainy season.
I am writing this story from my porch, watching hummingbirds vie for the sweetest nectar from the hibiscus flowers, against a backdrop of cashew and almond trees, and other tropical foliage. Back in Canada I was lucky if I could convince these same species to survive indoors, using massive doses of plant food and artificial light to entice them.
The soft, white sand beach is just a few steps from my home, where it then slips into the Caribbean Sea—teeming with marine life: coral formations, starfish, seahorses, dolphins and more.
Yes, I am very fortunate to live where I am, surrounded by such beauty and pleasures. I also have the pleasure of experiences that come from life on the tropical Island of Roatan, Honduras, that don’t appear in glossy travel magazines. On Roatan I get to connect with people and cultures far removed from anything I was ever previously exposed too.
Meet a local
One of these people, who I now call my good friend, is Joan.
Joan was born and raised on the Island of Roatan. Although Roatan belongs to Honduras, her ancestry is decidedly not Spanish. When I asked of her heritage, beyond the fact that she comes from a family of nine siblings, who were all born and raised on Roatan, she really isn’t sure.
Joan is fluent in speaking and writing Spanish. She had no choice; when she was attending grade school Spanish was mandatory. She is also fluent in speaking regular English and island English, which is an interesting dialect of its own. She can write in English too, but admits that her spelling is far from accurate. I’m amazed that she has mastered English spelling as well as she has—considering she taught herself.
A library in French Harbour
Joan is the Librarian at the Public Library in French Harbour, which is toward the east end of this small (37 miles x 5 miles) island. French Harbour is a fishing and shipping-port community inhabited mostly by locals. In recent years there has been an influx of foreign investment and development. Leading into French harbour you will now also find a shopping mall, a Wendy’s, and an Applebee’s. And there is a grocery store that carries a large (by Roatan standards) selection of North American food and household items.
I got to meet Joan and her three lovely daughters when she posted a request on one of our Roatan chat-groups, asking for volunteers to help with the relocation of the library from an upper floor to the main level of the community building. Intrigued to find out that there was a library on Roatan, I went to check it out.
Our first meeting, Joan was sitting at the entrance to the library, fanning herself with a book. The air conditioner hadn’t been working for some time and the temperature was well over 90F (32C). In between taking breaks from the sweltering heat, she would go back to organizing books (that some of the local children delivered from upstairs, either balanced on their heads or cradled in their arms) on the shelves.
She showed me around, both embarrassed and proud of her library, determined to get it ready for the local children to have a place to visit. I decided to lend a hand and two or three days a week would cart my paint supplies to the library where I worked on adding some colourful touches to the walls and windows. While I painted, Joan sorted books, and we chatted.
A Roatan home
Curious about her life, I asked about her home. While she never hesitated to answer, I could tell, just as with the library, she was both embarrassed and proud. Joan’s home consists of two rooms. The kitchen (with no running water) and sitting area is one of them. The other, a bedroom shared by Joan, her three teenage daughters, and her mother (who sleeps in a reclining chair—since her health dictates she not lay flat). Joan knows she doesn’t have much, but considers herself lucky to have what she does.
In turn, (barely above a whisper) Joan asked me if everyone in North America has a home like she saw on the TV show “Extreme Makeover.” I quickly replied, “no of course not.” But as I continued to paint, in my mind’s-eye, I revisited my home in Canada. While it wasn’t grand (by some standards) by Joan’s it would be.
Joan went on to say, that if she could, she would love to be able to provide each of her daughters a bedroom of their own, “That would make them very happy.” She never once hinted at what she would like for herself.
Most days, Joan would leave the library at noon to tend to her mother and prepare lunch for her family. She would also bring a dish back to the library for me. I kept telling her that wasn’t necessary (I knew she really didn’t have enough to share), but she insisted, and then would apologize for the simplicity of the meal. Perfectly seasoned rice and beans, melt in your mouth stewed beef or chicken, a crisp cabbage or potato salad. Each offering—delectable! I also noticed she brought extra, in case any of the local children came by.
There recently was a fire in the village of French Harbour, the wooden homes no match for the ensuing flames. Five families lost everything in that blaze. The word went out, asking to please donate household items, furniture, clothes, or anything extra you may have to help these poor families.
I was anxious to go see Joan, to ensure she and her daughters were not one of the families involved. Before I rushed out the door, I glanced around my home to see what I could donate. I decided that since moving to Roatan, I don’t have “extra” anything. When I got to the Library, I was relieved to find out that the fire had not been anywhere near Joan’s home.
Joan did know the families affected, and commented how heartbroken she was for them. She had gone through her (far less than me) belongings and found items to donate to the families. “I have so much compared to them,” she said.
Thank you Joan for helping me appreciate that no matter how much I possess, or where I live, my greatest pleasure will come from being as pure of heart as you.
The Grand Re-opening of the French Harbour Public Library was a huge success.
About the authorGenevieve