We were working behind the house, next to a little statue of a lion that proudly protects the back. The wall, which we had mostly replaced in the past 24 hours, was looking much better than it had before we arrived. But one of the men who lived in the house didn’t seem too pleased. He was tall - maybe 6’4” - but built oddly. His arms were extremely muscular but his shoulders weren’t at all. He had a scruffy beard that wasn’t even. In fact, it was downright scraggly. And on his head, above his black-as-night face, was his black-as-night Kangol cap. Meet Robert, the man the rest of the village thinks is crazy.
Robert pulled me into his backyard this morning and talked to me for nearly 90 minutes about an extreme variety of subjects, from Michael Jackson’ charitable works compared to Jay-Z’s, to how he believes Osama Bin Laden was innocent for 9/11, which in fact was apparently the result of a meteorite splitting into three pieces as it fell down onto North America (NYC, Pentagon, Shanksville). But in the midst of all of this, Robert also revealed some pretty interesting insights into Bahamian life.
For one, the islands do have at least a semi-active police force. When Robert got in an argument with a Haitian woman down the street (most of the families in the neighborhood are Haitian), he brandished a machete. She called the police and Robert spent six months in Nassau’s prison for Assault with a Deadly Weapon. Now he claims that she taunts him all the time with her ability to get him sent back.
The scary part about hearing this from Robert is that he said it early on in our conversation. The scarier part is that I didn’t feel threatened by him at all even though he towered over me, was alone with me behind his house, and clearly was not hard to agitate. There was something about him that was oddly intriguing. Imagine a cross between Omar from The Wire with Dave Chappelle. On one end (the Omar), Robert was not afraid to stand up for his beliefs to anyone who challenged them and mentioned a bunch of times that he’d be willing to do so, even if it meant crossing some moral/legal lines. On the other (the Chappelle), he would crack a joke with a huge smile and impersonated a ton of different types of people.
I’m not willing to pass judgment on Robert, but his story, and some of the things he said, are worth noting because I think they help paint a more complex picture of the island and its people. Here’s a selection of what he said:
-He was with a woman for 10 years starting when he was 16. They never had kids (which is odd) and he says they never made much of themselves because they were too comfortable with their laziness. He was clearly jaded by the relationship and hurting from it as well.
-He is illiterate. He first called himself stupid, then quickly clarified. This means most of what he has learned is second hand or from television, which would explain some of his views on the world. When discussing Bin Laden, he questioned the motives of someone with a rich oil family to do such a thing. He clearly hadn’t learned the complex falling out and metaphorical rebirth of an Afghanistani Osama.
-He also supported George Bush and believed the war in Iraq was just. Robert liked that Bush had the go get ‘em attitude to send troops and attack when he felt threatened. This plays into his Omar side perfectly.
-He sells scrap metal for a living. Without the ability to read much, a steady job is incredibly difficult. His house has scrap metal all around it, and he spends time scrounging old neighborhoods for unused metal.
-He thinks the greatest things anyone could give his neighborhood are a local shelter and a playground for the kids. The nearest playground isn’t too far, but it’s enough to be inconvenient. As for the shelter, Robert hopes for a place that would serve meals and also have supplies to sell (he compared his idea to the Salvation Army shops, but instead of local we would just send our old things to Freeport).
As some of the team became concerned for my well-being, Robert started to wrap up his thoughts. “You,” he said while making eye contact (which he barely broke), “could have been on Miami Beach surrounded by hotties. But you’re here. That’s the kind of person I’d want to be around.”
I shook Robert’s hand and went to grab some water. When someone asked me what Robert and I had talked about it took me a second to respond. Eventually, I mustered up a thought. “He was just looking to let some things off his chest,” I said. Hours later it is still hard for me to figure out what happened in those 90 minutes as I locked eyes time and time again with a clearly trouble man. But I do hope Robert sleeps well tonight, with his machete far out of reach.
Programming note: No podcast tonight for multiple reasons, including the fact that it’s been advised that staying up until one or two in the morning to finish uploading content may be taking a toll on my health (I disagree, natch). Also, I wanted to take a chance to address some concerns about how the voices of others on the trip besides myself and Dan aren’t being heard:
For one, it would be a disservice to everyone following this trip to spend every podcast, blog post and webcast listing the names of those on the trips and their exact goings on day in and day out. If we did that, what would they be able to talk about when they got home? It also just sounds like it’d be really boring. The point of the website, blogs, etc. is to give a window into the trip so that those who can’t be here have more context to what’s going on. Consider our comments on the trip to be from 30,000 feet, encapsulating the trip with broader brushstrokes and a peppering of our own experiences.
Second, getting answers to all of your questions from every member of the trip would be a full-time job that would force myself and others to sacrifice their own trip experience. We’ve already put a lot of time and effort into making this trip happen and hope you can respect the sheer impossibility of getting every single person’s perspective on every issue. We are doing our best to relay your messages and also answer as much as we can. Seriously, we are.
Finally, it is extraordinarily important to remember that no content we create can even remotely do this trip justice. No matter how much we explain, break down or plot out, it can never truly be translated by those who haven’t experienced it. If there’s anything I’ve learned the past seven years, it’s that no trip is the same and all of them carry their own special markers and moments in my heart. If you are looking for the true trip experience, then we implore you to come with us next year.
Live webcast tomorrow (now today) Thursday at 9:45 pm. You can leave comments here, on bahamasmission.com or via email.