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The Bahamas – Paradise Snippets From A Rookie Pirate

The true pirates of the Caribbean.

Nena Nikolic
November 16,  2019

International education is a two-way process: we, as teachers, educate our students and, in return, receive a wealth of knowledge that our international student body brings to the classroom. Another wonderful benefit of being an international educator is that we also get to visit and explore amazing places that most people know only via artistic photographs, travel magazines, and TV programmes. Some of those places we are lucky enough to get to call our home, and this Serbian has so far had the privilege of calling Vietnam, Colombia and, especially, Panama, her homes away from home. 

However, regardless of how much you love the place you live in, sometimes you need to leave your home and look for challenges, both personal and professional, and continue your growth. So, one of the places I had my heart set on was the Bahamas and after years of listening to my god-daughter and her parents talk about what their life was like when they lived there, I decided to send in my CV and let the chips fall where they may. It worked!

Andros sunrise.

So, long story short, I packed my belongings and, in early August 2019, moved to the tropical paradise I knew little of, apart from having binge-watched all four seasons of the “Black Sails” on Netflix, my brief visit almost a year before and a huge desire to learn; and learned I have!

One of the first lessons I learned was geographical. Namely, I had known that the Bahamas are comprised of several islands. Still, the only ones I was familiar with were New Providence and Grand Bahama, which meant that I needed to become an instant expert when responding to the frantic messages from concerned family and friends about hurricane Dorian. Kudos to the Aliv mobile operator for the perfect service during the time of need. I was able to communicate with everyone even when there was no electricity, and calm them down with jokes about changing my name to Dorothy or Scarlett (English teacher humour – feel free not to laugh). Dorian turned out not to be interested in my island and it focused its full strength on Grand Bahama, and especially Abaco, with an unbelievable level of destruction in every sense of the word. As I write these lines, people are still struggling to rebuild their lives, with the rest of the islands doing what they can to help.

Grand Bahama has had its fair share of hurricanes in the past, which has not diminished the beauty of its sandy beaches that stretch as far as your eyes can behold. If you are in desperate need of peace and quiet, you could end up having your own private people-free paradise, with only the local conch shell salesman acknowledging your presence with a friendly nod. If you are lucky, like I was, you might even run into a hermit crab moving house (video available on demand), or you could decide to witness the shark feeding time from the veranda of the “Pier One” restaurant while having your meal; one of the most mesmerizing sights I have ever witnessed and lived to tell the tale.

Pompey Museum of Slavery and Emancipation.

My next geographical lesson was in the form of a field trip to the neighboring island of Andros, and what an authentic experience that was! This was no ordinary field trip, but a curriculum embedded research that involved my grade seven students. We looked at the corals, snorkeled above blue holes and coral reefs while learning about how the ocean and the wind contribute to the island formation, or how to stop ocean fish depletion and pollution. Talk about hands-on learning! We were the guests at the Forfar Field Station, experiencing nature at its most beautiful and authentic form, and I dare you to sleep in once you realize that here you can witness some of the most magnificent sunrises. 

Oh, and speaking of corals, did you know that here, in the Bahamas, they grow them in underwater nurseries in an attempt to rebuild the coral reefs? Similar projects exist in Colombia, Florida, and several other countries. Fingers crossed it works!

Other islands still await my full attention. San Salvador is where the Lucayan people rescued Christopher Columbus after being lost at sea for weeks in his attempt to find an alternative ocean route to India; a perfect example of how no good deed goes unpunished, but that’s a different story. Then you have the beautiful Eleuthera, with its coral reef and turquoise waters, which is also known as the birthplace of the Bahamas. Exuma, where you can swim with the nurse sharks, consists of over 365 small islands, one of which was used for filming “The Pirates of the Caribbean”. Other islands include Inagua, Mayaguana, Bimini, Cat Island, Long Island, etc. Stay tuned!

A conch shell posing for photos in Andros.

Now we go back to Nassau, aka the capital of the Pirate Republic. The three carefully located fortresses attest to its turbulent past: Fort Montague (the oldest), Fort Fincastle, and, my personal favourite, Fort Charlotte, which, in the past, was pretty much the Nassau version of “speak softly and carry a big stick”, as it kept most of invaders at bay. Fort Montague is the only one with original cannons displayed on the ramparts: the left one would be fired as a heads-up and if you did not heed the warning, then the right one would most likely sink your ship. I know what you’re thinking and I agree with you; why waste the gunstones and not just sink a ship as a warning to the others? I mean, that message cannot get lost in translation. Just sayin’.

Once you are done with the tour of the Pirate Museum, don’t forget to have lunch at the neighbouring “Smuggler’s” restaurant and visit the John Wattling’s Distillery for some rum tasting, like a real pirate. If you crave a truly authentic pirate experience, sailing onboard the “Blackbeard’s Revenge” is a must. I was lucky enough to take the afternoon tour and end up being the only passenger, which enabled me to infiltrate the crew and, after a successful mutiny, become their captain; one of my more productive days.

The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas and the “Graycliff” chocolate factory and cigar company are also a must-see. Right next to them is the Heritage Museum of the Bahamas, where you will learn so much about the history of this place in a nutshell, including why the Duke of Windsor, Queen Elizabeth II’s uncle who abdicated the throne, was appointed governor of this beautiful island. Juicy!

If you are not a history buff, there are an immense number of beaches you could visit, one of them being the Jaws Beach. Yes, that is the place where the great white shark became a victim of the propaganda book and movie “Jaws.” Poor baby-shark, doo do doo do… Most public beaches are within walking or a bus ride distance, and it is entirely up to you which one you would like to spend your days on: Love beach, Cable beach, Jaws beach, or, if you prefer staying close to downtown Nassau, Junkanoo beach, with food and drink at your arms’ reach.

Blackbeard’s Revenge.

If you crave something more exclusive and luxurious, then Paradise Island is your cup of tea. Over the Sidney Poitier Bridge lies the lost city of Atlantis! Well, not really, but the hotel complex and “one of the world’s largest and most amazing water parks”, as the brochure says, will dazzle you with the aquariums full of various inhabitants of the sea world, Mayan Temple and Power Tower water slides, dolphin encounters at the Dolphin Cay, Paradise Lagoon kayaking, and so much more. A perfect place to charge your batteries between two work weeks while you silently hum the tune of “Under the Sea”.

So, what does a typical day look like for this hard-working pirate? After I get ready and leave my house, I usually spend a few minutes standing on the parking-lot staring at the clouds and sky above. Why? I am so glad you asked. People, no matter where you look or what time of day it is, the way that the light breaks through the clouds, be it sunrise or sunset, is breathtaking. It is like a permanent, yet changeable, art exhibit, and no photo will do it justice. Luckily, my neighbours have still not expressed any concerns in regards to my morning routine.

Depending which part of the island you live on, you will either enjoy the view of the ocean while driving along the West Bay Street or a short, oceanless one, if you live closer like me. Either way, you will soon reach the destination comprised of flamingo-colored campus buildings of the Lyford Cay International School. There, you are greeted by, “Hello, darling,” from our receptionist (well, maybe not you, but I am one of her favourite people), and then, the smiles and good mornings from everyone else you meet; a perfect way to start a successful day. Oh, and here the steering wheel is on the right-hand side and you drive on the left side of the road; so, unless you are from the UK or Malta, proceed with extreme caution when entering those roundabouts.

So, how best to immerse yourself in the local culture? First, you try through food and drink by tasting the conch salad, conch fritters, or any other way that this delicacy is prepared, all while drinking a Kalik, the local beer named after the sound produced by cowbells during the Junkanoo festival. Finally, this brings me to the third most accessible way of becoming Bahamian: dancing and music.

One of the most famous cultural events is the annual Junkanoo festival taking place on December 26 and January 1. It is a carnival with a street parade, colorful costumes and dance, and, in order to learn more about it, I opted for supervising the Junkanoo co-curricular activity at the school, supporting students while at the same time, getting the best of both worlds. Every Wednesday, our Junior Junkanoo dancers rehearse the choreography to prepare for the big parade in the annual competition of all schools in Nassau, taking place in January and organized by the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture. It is amazing just how much effort goes into the rehearsals of the band and making the elaborate costumes that are assembled manually out of cardboard and crepe paper.

Sunset at the Cable beach.

You need to meet and befriend the Bahamians and realize how welcoming and forthcoming they are. Complete strangers will smile and say hello and make you feel like you belong here and that there is no other place you would rather be. My personal favourites are the jitney bus drivers; several bus lines will help you find your way around the island, and the gentlemen behind the steering wheel are one of the best sources of information. Just tell them where you would like to go, and they will tell you which bus number to take, what is significant about each part of the island, and will even go so far as to take a detour and leave you much closer to your destination – personalized service that makes you feel special. Just be kind, and they will match your kindness. As Julian Believe’s song says, “It’s Better in The Bahamas.”

Nena has been teaching for the past 13 years, spending the early part of her teaching career in Serbia before initiating her international adventure that took her to Vietnam, Panama, Colombia, and the Bahamas. She is also a professional floral designer and a self-proclaimed lifelong learner, always on the lookout for new and interesting skills to acquire, places to see, and people to meet.

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