Category Archives: Island Life

Chronicles of an Island Girl’s First European Adventure: Paris Part 2

20130825-170656.jpg

The Day of Awe
We had three big locations planned for our second day in Paris. It was Saturday and we decided to plan our stops more carefully as to not tire ourselves as we had done the day before. We planned on heading out around noon. But no one woke up until about 1:30 pm. We met up at 3 p.m. to head out. The first stop was Notre Dame. We had been using the Metro for getting around – a system I have yet to figure out. Living on a small island with no metros, it’s hard enough trying to figure out the system in New York or DC, but Paris was a whole other beast. Not to mention, I’m “directionally challenged,” as my boyfriend says. Praise God for the Metro riders in our group who took the lead.
I immediately liked Ile De La Cite, where the Notre Dame is located. There was something about the area that felt familiar and welcoming.

We stopped for lunch at an open air outdoor restaurant before making our way to the cathedral. I was in awe upon seeing the Notre Dame. It looked so huge and powerful. The architecture and attention to detail were magnificent. Within the walls of the Notre Dame were hundreds of intricately carved faces. The inside of the Notre Dame was dark and a live mass was in session when we entered. As we walked deeper into the building there were dozens and dozens of small lit candles. Along the walls were spaces dedicated to saints. As we passed to the far right of the pulpit, the scent of Frankincense and myrrh was overwhelming. I felt like I was transported to a few centuries in the past. My boyfriend was creeped out by the Notre Dame. While I reveled in the history, he wanted to leave. We left the inside of the Cathedral and headed to the side so that we could go to the top of the massive church, but the line was too long.

We headed for the next stop on our list – the Luxembourg Garden and Palace. I am used to seeing street performers in train stations. In Paris we saw a whole band! In one metro car there was a violinist with a moveable amplifier and taped accompaniment. We got up, started dancing and began a cha-cha line on the train! Before I knew it, strangers had taken out their cell phones to capture us. I just hope we don’t end up somewhere on the internet!

The Luxembourg Garden was beautiful. I immediately envisioned lavish outdoor weddings being held there. When we reached the middle of the garden, a few people in our group stopped for crepes. We saw the wrap for the crepes made to perfection right in front our faces. We rested for a bit while our friends enjoyed their warm snack. For the entire day we were careful to take our time. We wanted to be fresh for our most anticipated stop.

A good friend suggested that we visit the Eiffel Tower later in the day so that we could have the experience of seeing it in the day and the night. That was the best advice.
As we headed toward the revered monument our pace picked up the closer we got. We had a new sense of urgency and a new burst of energy. Then there we were, a few hundred feet away from the Eiffel Tower. It was surreal. And like all good tourists, we stopped to take pictures. When we reached to the bottom of the tower, all heads pointed to the sky staring at the structure. It was gigantic. I gained a new respect for 19th century engineers. As with all other structures in Paris, it was intricately artistic. I just kept staring at it. We soon got in line to go into the tower. It was a long line and the estimated wait time was two hours. Honestly, I wanted to wait to go inside of the tower. The group decided to head to the Seine River for a river cruise. The sun was setting and the Eiffel Tower was lit. It was beautiful. It was dark by the time we got on the boat. And without warning, the Eiffel Tower started to dazzle with sparkling white lights. It was magnificent! Us on the water and a dazzling Eiffel Tower! The night had cooled down considerably and I was chilly. Our boat trip was romantic. I was intrigued with the detailed carvings on the bottom of the bridges and the rich history of the city.

When we got off the river cruise everyone was hungry. Or group had various diets. I am vegetarian. Three of the group were pescetarian (they eat fish but no meat or poultry). Two in the group ate anything. It was almost midnight and we needed a restaurant that could satisfy everyone. After reading the menus from a few restaurants, we settled on this one spot not far from the Eiffel Tower. I wish I could remember the name, because there I had the best meal of my entire trip – a goat cheese ravioli. The server was friendly and worked hard to meet the needs of my pescetarian friends – who insisted that their “smoked salmon” be cooked. By this time, the men in our group were hungry and borderline “angry.” They knew what they wanted and they wanted it done correctly. Most of us had not been impressed with the food in Paris so far. But tonight everyone enjoyed their meals. It was the bill that surprised us after we had filled our bellies. A glass of Coke was €9. That’s almost $12 for something we easily buy back home for $2 at the maximum. The guys also decided to get extra plates to go, since it was their best meal so far. I won’t tell you about the rest of the bill. Let’s just say the owner of the restaurant would be happy.

We left the restaurant in a walk/run mode to catch the train back to La Defense. We were told that the last train left at 1 a.m.

Last Day in Paris
On our last day in Paris we decided to head out to the Lafayette Mall, buy souvenirs and explore the surrounding La Defense. It was Sunday an I was totally disappointed that the Lafayette Mall was closed. I was so disappointed that I wanted to go down to see for myself. Instead we headed to the nearby Les Quartes Temps Mall. It was there, in the food court that I had the best drink ever – the Josephine Baker. It was a frozen smoothie-like drink made from passion fruit, coconut and mango. The drink surely did justice to our ultra sexy icon.

Later we hit the Charles De Gulle Place for souvenirs. That evening we had some packing to do. Our next stop was London!

Stay tuned for more on my European adventure.

20130825-170331.jpg

20130825-170507.jpg

20130825-170531.jpg

Advertisements

Chronicles of an Island Girl’s First European Adventure: Paris Part 1

20130823-123251.jpg

Too Much to Do; Too Tired to Do It

When we landed in Paris it was dawn. It was about 8:30 am when we got to the Renaissance Hotel in La Defense. My body was on the 2:30 am time that it was back home. I was tired. The first thing I was interested in doing was sleeping.

I got about 4 hours of sleep. The group decided to meet at 1:15 pm to set out. We left from La Defense and headed out by foot, not quite sure where we were going. Right outside of our hotel was the Grande Arche De La Defense, that we decided to bypass since it was so easily accessible. The day was hot. But a cool breeze made it nice. Our first stop was Arc de Triomphe – a huge arch of whom history I still don’t know.

From there we did plenty walking downtown at Charles de Gaulle. High-end stores, open air baristas and souvenir shops lined the streets. We spotted some Ferraris and Maserati’s cruising down the street. Then we noticed some parked at the side of the road, offering anyone with a driver’s license a 20-minute drive for a fee. It was €89 to drive the Ferrari. The men in my group were tempted, but reasoned that they’d like to blow out a Ferrari on the open road, not creep on crowded city streets.

We stopped for lunch at Leon de Bruxelles, whose specialty is mussels. The place wasn’t too vegetarian friendly – I made do with a small salad and cheese croquette – but those in the group who had mussels said it was the best. Service was a bit slow. But in the end when we tabulated our bill we included a 15 percent tip. One guy in the group gave an extra €10 for good measure. Needless to say, we got the most enthusiastic farewell from a waitress ever. Later a waiter at another restaurant told us that tipping is not mandatory in France and there is no pressure on customers to tip unless they had excellent service.

On the walk from the Arch downward, the further away we walked from Charles de Gaulle Place, the more we noticed Paris’ amazing structures and landmarks. There were lots of intricately carved structures and monuments. Unfortunately the city was not as tourist friendly as expected. While everything was written in French, we had hoped to meet some informational guides who could explain some of the awesome things we were seeing. Trust me, we were armed with maps and guides, but they were not enough. The language barrier didn’t help. Most Parisians didn’t seem approachable.

We kept walking in search of the Louvre Museum, then low and behold, shooting up to the sky from behind a canal, we saw the Eiffel Tower in the background. Cameras came out in an instant. We posed and posed some more. This was the epiphany of Paris. It was the ultimate must-see thing for the group – we were so excited. The day was really hot. So we stopped by a mobile vendor, at first to buy some water, but ended up buying homemade ice cream too. “Not that powered Haagen Das they try to fool you with,” the owner told us. He “used the real vanilla beans” in his product, he said. His gelatos were perfected over four generations of gelato making, he said. And he was right. They were excellent. He had a mango gelato that tasted like the freshly picked fruit. By far the friendliest Parisian we had met, he went on to tell us he grew up with black people and had black friends. He even gave us a raised closed fist salute while saying “fight the power.” We all looked at each other and smiled. He was the first person in Paris to make us feel genuinely welcomed. The sighting of the Eiffel Tower and our new-found friend really made me feel good as we headed to the Louvre Gardens and Museum.

By the time we reached to Louvre Gardens we were all tired. We rested for a bit under some trees and had to really convince ourselves to continue the journey, for after the Louvre, we planned on going to the Eiffel Tower. We reached the Louvre hoping for some cold A/C to revive us. The air conditioner could barely be felt. I had observed a pattern in Paris. The A/C in the hotel was at a minimum, the air on the metro was almost non-existent, now here in this museum we were sweating. Is this Paris’ way of saving energy and lowering its carbon footprint? We didn’t get the reprieve we had hoped for and were too tired to even walk around. It was a long day. We plotted out way back to the hotel, and saved the Eiffel tower for a next day. When we got back to the hotel it was around 8 pm. I needed to sleep badly. By 1 am I was wide awake. Go figure. My body was still on Atlantic Standard Time.

Stay tuned for more on my European adventure.

If you missed the first episode, read it here: Chronicles of an Island Girl’s First European Adventure: Getting There

20130823-123335.jpg

Chronicles of an Island Girl’s First European Adventure: Getting There

20130821-154946.jpg

If six months ago someone had told me that I would be traveling to another continent, on a “buddy pass,” by myself I would have called them crazy. As a matter of fact, in retrospect, I am crazy, sort of. When my boyfriend invited me to go to Europe on a three-country tour with him and some friends, I told him that I would think about it. I pondered on it for a while, thinking that I won’t be able to find a sitter for my children and that my best option would be to pass up the offer. That was until I told a couple colleagues. One flat out said to me, “I didn’t know you were on drugs,” when I told her that I didn’t think I could make it. One coworker was especially optimistic. She kept telling me “you deserve it Nanyamka, and you’re going to go.” Every time she saw me she asked about how the planning was coming along. Every time I came up with an excuse, she found a solution. When she asked her regular questions “have you packed yet” and “so what sites do you want to see,” I dare not told her that I wasn’t sure if I was going, unless I wanted a scolding. Truth be told, it was because of this dear colleague that I made up my mind to go.

Eventually my boyfriend explained that he had secured buddy passes for the group, which meant we would travel for a fraction of the price – if we actually got on the plane. Buddy passes work on a stand-by method. If there are empty seats on the flight, pass holders get to fly, in order of priority. This was NOT what I had in mind for international travel. I mean, what would happen if all the flights were all full? But my boyfriend assured me that he would check the flights regularly and arrange my tickets through the airports where it was more likely that I get a seat.

Because of all this and the fact that I had so much going on at home and at work, I wasn’t excited about the trip. Actually, my friends and family were more excited than I was. That was until my boyfriend called from Paris. He went up two days before we did. At that moment I realized that this was a great opportunity and we would have a blast! And on that day, my ticket was purchased – two days before my departure.

The first leg of my flight was St. Thomas to Puerto Rico, but it was a regular ticket, not a buddy pass. In Puerto Rico, the agent told me, “just wait for me to call your name,” which gave me hope that I would get on my PR-ATL leg. In that flight I had the good fortune of sitting with a Virgin Islands couple who were heading back to Illinois where they live. We had an engaging, eye-opening, spiritual conversation. You know the feeling when God put you in a certain place at a certain time for a reason? Yep, I was meant to meet that couple.

The ATL-Paris leg didn’t seem too promising – I was number 12 on the stand by list – but I kept the faith. It just so happened that I met two of the other people in the group at the airport. We were the last three people called to board the flight. Whew, that was close. I had been mentally preparing myself for the eight-hours and 24 minutes flight. I don’t enjoy flying: sitting in a cramped seat for so long, the cold recycled air, being thousands of miles in the air with no control – I can go on and on. I respect airplanes and pilots. No matter how many flights I’ve taken, I still count it a miracle to be in a gravity-defying air-suspended machine. I pray hard every time I get on an airplane – whether it’s a 20 minute flight on the tiny Seaplane in the Virgin Islands or on a jumbo trans-atlantic flight. Because I had only slept for 90 minutes the night before, I hoped to catch up on my rest. Getting ready for international travel within two days was, well tiring.

I did rest a bit, but I had great entertainment. The Delta seat back multi media screens are awesome! I’m not much of a movies person. I prefer to read on flights. So before this eight-hour flight, I had never paid much attention to it. I had watched a movie or two on it, but never explored it further. This thing is amazing. Tabs features up-to-date movies, HBO, tv, music, games, sky kids and my flight. I watched “The Hangover II” and “This is 40.” For me, my flight is the coolest thing. There is a moving map that let’s you know, in real time, how many minutes you have to reach your destination and an map that shows the plane’s actual location. Channel 13, the R&B station was the bomb. Ok forgive me if I am going overboard with this, but all this time, I had no idea how cool it was.

The flight attendants are preparing for our second meal and we are scheduled to land in Paris in about an hour.

Stay tuned for more on my European adventure.

20130821-155045.jpg

Are Virgin Islanders Rude?

Do we have a culture of rudeness in the Virgin islands? I ask this in the most serious way. Over the past few weeks I’ve been hearing complaints about our customer service – or rather lack-there-of – from all segments of our community. I’ve been fielding so many complaints recently that I’m wondering if somehow I’ve become a defacto complaint box. Perhaps the rudeness has gotten to a point where people are just venting to the closest listening ear.

A friend who lives in the states recently told me that I don’t have a “VI mentality.” A VI mentality? What is that, I asked him. “You are not rude and closed minded,” was his reply. Hold up. Wait a minute. So the definition of a VI mentality is being rude and close minded? As a Virgin Islander I was offended an expressed that to him. His reply that was I should be glad that I don’t have a VI mentality. He had missed my point altogether. If the the label of “VI mentality” means being rude, unreasonable and close minded, all of us in the VI should be concerned. The irony of that particular situation was that this friend is one of the proudest Virgin Islanders I know. He always proclaims to “carry the Virgin Islands on my back.” And although I explained that he was unfair to negatively characterize a “VI mentality,” I couldn’t get him to back down. I pointed to all the wonderful people who exuded good customer service, positivity, etc. He replied that they were all exceptions to the rule. Perhaps he was right. Perhaps I didn’t want to accept what I know is true.

Another friend of mine who relocated from the states to St. Thomas for a position at a private company was so happy when he was able to start a small business on the side. Small business are the backbone of the economy, right? He was even happier when he got a small contract from a local public utility. After completing the work for the utility, he got the run-around regarding his payment. After months of being told that someone was working on processing his payment, he decided to visit the office. What he soon learned was that in fact, no one was “working on it.” But it wasn’t that he had gotten the run-around for months that made him vent to me. It was what the employee said to him the minute he walked into her office: “Meen feeling good today you know. Wha you wan?” He was speechless. He couldn’t believe that a public employee would greet anyone in such a manner. Having lived here for a few years he has learned to turn the other cheek and navigate situations to get what he needs. But he was still in disbelief when he shared the story with me.

His story reminded me of another friend – a Virgin Islander living in the states – who had come home for vacation. Needing to send a money transfer he went to one of our department stores. The lady serving him was so rude that he simply refused to deal with her and asked for a supervisor. What made him vent to me was the attitude of the supervisor. “She was even more rude than her employee,” he exclaimed to me.

I can go on an on with the scenarios. Each of us can probably write a book about the poor customer service in the Virgin Islands. The sad thing is that things seem to be getting worse.

Recently on a flight out of the Virgin Islands I had the pleasure of sitting next to newlyweds from South Dakota who had spent their honeymoon on St. Thomas. When I asked them about their stay they raved about the island’s beauty and all the fun they had. But…they also mentioned the poor customer service and lack of courtesy during their stay, especially by employees at the hotel where they stayed. I apologized. I had to. I assured them that the situation they described was one we were actively working to correct. No guest, honeymooners at that, should leave our territory with negative memories of our people.

Unfortunately many people in the Virgin Island think that because they say “good morning,” “good afternoon,” or “good night,” that they are not rude; that those greetings are a free pass to, well, be rude.

As I type this, I am on a plane back from a business trip where over a few days I had the honor of unofficially being a VI ambassador. Because, the fact is, most people I met wanted to know more about where I’m from. I spent a lot of time inviting people to the territory. And I am concerned. I’m concerned about the name we are making for ourselves by the way we treat our guests. But I’m even more concerned about the way we treat each other. Has rudeness become part of our culture? But more importantly what are we doing about it?

Yesterday I Had a Shower in the Street

I live on St. Thomas, Virgin Islands where public transportation is unreliable, taxi service is expensive and the most dependent form of mass transportation is unregulated. Still, I felt it was time to teach my 12-year-old how to navigate the island without depending solely on me and my trusty 10-year-old Toyota. When I gave her instructions for catching the “safari” – the open air, unregulated form of mass transportation most popular on the island – she told me she was scared. “Yeah right,” I thought to myself. She had caught the safari dozens of times with her grandmother. But as her mom, it’s my duty to remove her fears, right? So it was her first day of summer vacation when I decided to take her to work with me. I would park my car downtown and we would take the safari to work. Rain was forecasted for the day, but it was only overcast when I was lucky enough to find a parking space. So I took my chances. My first pointer to her: when depending on the safaris take an umbrella – you never know when it may rain.

The ride to work was great, as I continued to give her pointers. She confided that riding the safari with me was embarrassing. Why, I inquired. “If you ride the safari by yourself that means that you’re independent. If you ride the safari with your mom it probably means that she doesn’t have a good job, so she can’t afford a car.” I was surprised at the junior high logic. When I asked her “where does that leave us?” she couldn’t answer. “You should never make assumptions,” I told her, “cause we can never really know.”

I counted the walk up the hill to my office a good early morning activity. By lunchtime it was pouring and VI Alert messages to my phone confirmed that we were under flood watch. My plan of walking to and from the cafeteria had to be reworked. Umbrella in hand, we caught the campus shuttle to the cafeteria. An hour later, it was still pouring – hard. We had missed the shuttle back to the office. Luckily we were able to catch a ride with a colleague in a company vehicle. There were only two seats in the vehicle, so my 5’7” daughter had to sit on my lap.

The rain continued.

By 4:50 p.m. I got concerned. I started to feel that I had made a mistake in choosing this day for our safari ride. It was raining harder and harder. And it was flooding. We walked from my office down to the bus stop sharing our sole umbrella. I was thankful though – it was a covered bus stop. Well all of a sudden gusty winds began blowing the rain directly under the bus stop. I screamed out as the cold water wet me from waist down. And with everyone one else, I jumped on the benches. By this time, it made no sense wondering if I had made a right or wrong decision – I accepted that this was going to be a learning experience different than I had planned. Standing together on the bench with my daughter, cold wind and rain blowing up against us, I began laughing. Burst out laughing! She was pissed. We were drenched. She found nothing funny to laugh at. One by one everyone under the bus stop had gotten rides. That left the two of us. Then she began: “Mommy my shoes are soaked. Now I know what my friends were talking about….” “Mommy this safari is taking too long…” “Mommy do you realize that this was the worst day for us to catch the safari…” The most impactful: “Mommy, I can’t wait to get into our Toyota, without the rims…” I assume that she added “without the rims” because she had desperately missed the vehicle that, at this time may not look the best, but served a good purpose.

On the safari ride back to town I realized that my daughter had learned more than I ever expected. “It feels so good to sit in a moving vehicle,” she said. “I don’t know how anyone could not learn to drive, like my grandmother. I must get a car,” she continued. “Mommy imagine that some people have to do this every day…”

When we made it into the car she shouted out: “Yes! Yes! Yes! I missed my car!” The look of relief on her face was priceless. She took off her shoes and showed me her feet. They were wrinkled as though she had been swimming. I must admit, this whole thing was likewise an experience for me. It reminded me that I have so much to be grateful for.

As the rain continues to pour outside, I’m now safely at home, wondering how the homeless are making out. I wish that there was no homelessness and that safe, reliable transportation was available for everyone. I can’t change everything in the world. But right now I’m grateful for everything I have been blessed with. I can guarantee you that my daughter is too. She learned a much greater lesson than I even imagined.

Living the Sweet Life…

Ah… the joys of sitting on a low step, feet spread far apart, leaning forward slight, ravenously peeling the skin off of a mango, then sinking my teeth into its juicy flesh – the yellow nectar of this wonderful fruit spilling around the sides of my mouth and running down my hands, sometimes to my elbow. It’s mango season! Time to eat my belly full of one my favorite fruits. Mangoes for breakfast. Mangoes for snack after lunch. Mangoes for appetizer before dinner. Can anyone ever get enough of mangoes? Growing up we had several mango trees in our yard on St. Thomas. The Julie mango tree was right at my door step. I could never get enough of that one. And as plentiful as that tree was, we always watched the fruit waiting for just the right time to pick them. We hardly allowed the fruit of this particular tree to fall to the ground – they were too precious. Every year during mango season, family from near and far would come for their pick off the tree.  Strangers, even, would come to our yard to get their pick when we weren’t there.

On the other hand at my grandparents home in St. Croix there were so many mangoes that I didn’t know what to do. The sheer size of their property allowed them to grow more trees, and their trees seemed to grow much taller and wider than those at our home on St. Thomas, producing so much of the treasured fruit. A tree that produced a purple mango with thick skin was near the entrance of their yard. That tree produced an enormous amount of mangoes! No matter how many people came by for their share, the supply never seemed to dwindle.  But those purple mangoes were not my favorite. I liked the small round ones at the tree further up. I also liked the ones from the tree all the way on to the back of the property. But even having so many mangoes at my disposal, I still looked forward to the days when we would drive to other parts of the island picking different types of mangoes that didn’t grown on my grandparents’ property. Not only did we get to eat our heart’s desire of any type of mango we wanted, there were so many that I could be picky. Yep, I only ate the ripe-but-firm ones, the ones that had little or no bruises on the skin. Anything else wasn’t good enough. But I would eat a mango until there was no yellow left. My Grandma Madge would say to me in her heavy Antiguan accent, “yuh gyal, nuh badder eat deh sudden dung to the seed bare so… me hab one pail ah mango here fuh yuh.”

But if you really want to know what mango heaven looks like, you must go to Dominica during the summer. I remember the countryside of LaPlaine, where my mother was born, being loaded with tropical fruits – every tropical fruit you could think of. We would wake up to a bucket of varieties of mangoes freshly picked mostly by our cousin Handel. And the coconuts, another of my favorite fruits, were also picked and lined up waiting for us to choose which ones we wanted to consume first. Handel treated us like royalty! (Sadly we lost Handel on a New Years day many years ago – a casualty of a drunken driver. The family has never gotten justice for his death.)

As a child I never remember anyone having to pay for mangoes. Maybe that was because children don’t have to pay for anything anyway. For the most part mangoes were shared freely. They were in such abundance! What else would people do with all those mangoes? Has anyone noticed that mangoes are not as abundant as they used to be? Not only mangoes. I’m observing a decline in other local fruits. I’m can’t name a single place on St. Thomas where someone can find a cherry (gooseberry) tree.  A couple of years ago when I was pregnant and couldn’t wait for my usual supply of mangoes, I decided to buy some mangoes from a fruit stand. I asked the lady where the mangoes were from. I looked at her in disbelief when she told me Puerto Rico. What! It was bad enough that I had to actually BUY mangoes, and the mangoes were not even locally grown! It’s not that I have anything against fruits from Puerto Rico. It just seemed strange to me that before, mangoes were so plentiful that someone could make a good hustle from selling the mangoes that they collected for free out of their or someone else’s yard. Now we had to import them.

 For me, because mangoes are seasonal I try to eat as many as I can when locally grown ones are available. Luckily for me, my daughter’s grandmother also shares a love for mangoes and supplies us with bags full at a time. But still, this delectable fruit doesn’t seem to be as plentiful as it once was. So if you happen to catch me eating one, or see me admiring your tree, or see me stop my car to pick up a freshly fallen fruit – bear with me. It’s mango season!

Aren’t You Happy that Life Goes On

 A Saturday morning not too long ago I opened my porch door to find a bird’s nest built between my window sill and hurricane shutters. I was excited! That was the first time in a long time that I was experiencing a bird’s nest up close. The mother bird had flown away when I opened the door. And there, left behind in a small pile of brown twigs, were two small bird eggs. Not able to contain my excitement I called my daughters to witness this miracle. What miracle you may ask? The miracle of life! I was excited about the possibility of two new baby birds entering the world. Now I don’t know anything about the life cycle of birds. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t even tell you what type of bird it was. I wasn’t sure if the eggs would even hatch – and if they did, if those little birds would have any chance of survival. What I was reminded of is that life goes on… no matter what.

Although we may be going through a tough time, life goes on.

Although we may be unable to pay our bills, life goes on.

Although we may have just ended a relationship and it seems like the end of the world, life goes on. Although we may have lost our jobs, life goes on.

Although we may have been wronged by the very people who were supposed to make things right, life goes on.

Although we may be holding on to anger and waiting for someone else to apologize, life goes on.

Although we may have just lost a loved one, once we are in the land of the living, life goes on.

 No matter what we may have said, done or experienced, this world is not going to come to a screeching halt for us. And that should serve as a comfort to us all. Because no matter how good or bad we’ve been we have an opportunity to try again…when life goes on.

There’s Hope: the Digna Wheatley Impact

There’s hope.

Tired of their needs being ignored, in 1988 the students at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School (IEKHS) led a march to Government House and the VI Legislature demanding better conditions at the school. The students were fed up with one particular condition– there was no gymnasium. Back then students ate meals and took physical education classes in the same room. This one large room functioned as a cafeteria, gymnasium and auditorium – the cafegymtorium as it was called. Seventeen-year-old Digna Wheatley, the newly elected Student Council president, was approached by two students asking the council to organize a student protest. “Ms. Digna Wheatley saw we had a problem and did something about it,” said former IEKHS faculty member Dagmar Greenaway. Digna lead the student body in what was called “the most well-organized and respectful marches for educational equality” in the Virgin Islands. Less than a year later $600,000 was appropriated to build the schools’ first gymnasium. On Feb. 18, 2012, in an emotional and motivational ceremony, the gymnasium at the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School (IEKHS) was named in honor of Digna Marie Wheatley.

“I can still see her standing up in front of us with her feet planted firmly in the ground and her hand in the air saying ‘we are going to march,’” recalled her classmate Lisa Williams. “She declared we were going to march. The response she always got was ‘yes,’” Lisa said. “We always wanted to join her. It was necessary. We felt like we were being ignored by the leadership of this community.”

There’s hope.

When Digna was approached by the two students to lead a march Digna thought, “why me, why now,” she said.  Digna had decided to run for Student Council president just two days before the election, at the urging of a teacher. Now she was being asked to do something that had not been done before. Before agreeing to that significant request, Digna prayed and God responded with a ‘yes.’ Digna made it clear to the students that they had to represent the school and themselves with the utmost dignity. In the following weeks Digna organized the march, secured the necessary permits and rallied the student body, all unbeknown to the school’s administration and faculty. When the leaders at the school found out, they decided to join the effort. “She had not only the vision to see what needed to be done,” said former Kean High faculty member James Kerr, “but to motivate others to do the same.” He noted how ironic it is that elected officials say that they work in the interest of the children, but it this case it was a child who had to take lead to advocate for a gymnasium for her schoolmates and other students to come. “It’s ironic. It’s amazing. It’s wonderful,” Kerr said.

There’s hope.

Digna led more than 1,200 IEKHS students to the Legislature and Government House in a march that has been sealed in Virgin Islands history. They were joined by IEKHS administration and faculty, and members of the community. While elected officials tried to placate the teenager, she held fast to her goal. Passionately and respectfully Digna told the Virgin Islands of the conditions at Kean High and demanded better. And for the first time they listened. “We demanded respect as students from an educational system that was unjust,” Digna said. “It was that vision that burned in us, a fire that couldn’t be extinguished,” she said. “I’m very grateful that God decided to use me many years ago.”

There’s hope.

The IEKHS’ gymnasium was built in the early 1990s. In 2004 the VI Legislature passed a bill to name the gym in Digna’s honor. As a Virgin Islander I am so proud of what Digna Wheatley represents for all of us. As an alumna of Kean High I am even more proud.

“It is so fitting that we are doing this in the morning,” IEKHS principal Dr. Sharon McCollum said at the renaming ceremony. “Morning signals a new beginning. Digna represented a new beginning. Today we celebrate you and how far we have come,” she said. “Digna you have been a blessing to Ivanna Eudora Kean High School. It is with a great sense of pride and honor that we will name this building after you.”

 There is hope.

Today Digna, a nurse and public health administrator, works at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The students at IEKHS have a gym.  After many years of requests, construction of the school’s first track has begun. “Everything we’ve ever wanted, every accomplishment we’ve ever made, we’ve had to fight for,” said Tulip Fleming, former IEKHS faculty member and one of Digna’s teachers.

As long as there are other Digna Wheatleys in community who have the courage and vision to organize, strategize and lead – there’s hope!