One and the Same

Ever took a statistics class, gamble, handled dice, or even played the classic game of “Go Fish”? If yes, then you’ve dealt with probability to say the least. I mean, let’s be real here. Probability is everywhere so it’s basically unavoidable. Although you could predict the outcome of a certain event, there is always that little chance of making an error.  Last month my father decided to take that chance of encountering an error. A big error. An error that could have cost him his life. Thankfully, the error never took place. He tossed the dice and the odds were in his favor. Just another day in the life of a terminally ill man.
*See “Matters of the Heart” post for background info*

Since we had to cancel our Carnival cruise this past New Years Eve, my father pushed to book another one. His doctors were divided: half thought it was a great idea to go and live life while the opposing half was hesitant due to his growing blend of health concerns (it never seems to end…). My father’s fun-loving attitude decided to spin the wheel in the Game of Life and cruise for a week in May. He psyched himself up

 

saying how we all deserved this and how he didn’t want to deprive my sister and I of a good time. To be honest, we were skeptical, but our excitement grew with each approaching day from sailing off. We knew there would be difficulties, but we tried to remind ourselves that we all needed this break.

My father being helped by the Carnival staff despite the line of impatient people waiting.With a bounty of obstacles and worrisome glances cast our way with every fellow cruiser passing by, we made it. The Carnival Cruise staff was AMAZING. They were accommodating, accepting, and truly went above and beyond to make sure Dad was stable. For example, our steward made sure to bring extra jackets and ensure that his wheelchair would always be there so we can take him to the islands and around the ship (FYI: Carnival wheelchairs are heavy to push, but the staff helps if you get stuck and helps move people out of the way so you can wheel around the ship with ease). The waiters would help us get him out of the wheelchair and into the dining room seat and didn’t make us feel awkward when Dad ordered his dinner and barely touched it more often than not. Some staff members even took notice of how gray my father was at times coughing so they would run up to us with concern and offer their aid.

 

The Islands: Nassau, Bahamas

When I was in the 4th or 5th grade, my father won a Disney Cruise for our family from WCBS FM 101.1 (New York City’s Oldies Station) which made this cruise our second. Since I didn’t recall much of Nassau from when I was younger, I packed both my Polaroid and dinosaur digital camera so I can try to capture every bit of sight I encountered. Each moment I had, I would label the polaroid photos so they would serve as quick reference for when I wrote in my journal the experiences that went along with that area (even though it rained and we wore baggy ponchos while taking turns pushing the wheelchair in the busy streets of the port city). As one who is always curious and up for exploration, I was expecting to enjoy the island sites most of all; however, it didn’t turn out that way. I was truly astonished with the people.

While dodging cars with other tourists in order to cross the streets in the swell of an always consistent traffic jam, I noticed that the island drives on the left side of the road. I don’t ever recall seeing that with my own eyes so it took me a good part of the day to adjust seeing that as the norm. Startled by this discovery, I observed the islander’s driving mannerisms. i felt like I was back in Manhattan with the heavy flow of cars and blends of noises full of shouts, music, and car horns. After politely declining to have our hair braided once again by another native, we removed our ponchos and headed into the crammed Straw Market. Filled with tourists items galore and local island items, we were immediatly greeted by the first vendor in the corridor like entrance way. I spotted a shirt I liked which didn’t go unnoticed by a young woman eagerly trying to get customers and an elderly woman making an item in tattered clothing within the vendor. After insisting I buy the shirt now for a discount price, I explained how I want to check out the vendors and will be back. Visibly disappointed, the young woman wished us a good day.

For the next hour, we went through the hot and bustling market dodging arms and greetings to come into the specific person’s vendor space. We stopped at a few vendors and made small talk discussing where we’re from, etc. While checking out at a vendor, the woman suddenly was overcome with emotion thanking us for being “so kind, so nice, such good people” to her. Bewildered, my mother asked why were we (my mother, sister, and I as my father wanted to stay in a corner to people watch and rest) being thanked. The humble woman told us how tourists come in here as rude and demanding as a person could be. She explained how she and the other locals work so hard to make a living, etc. We told her that we understand and could only imagine the hard work they put in everyday. The least we could do is buy something…it got to the point where I avoided eye contact with vendors because I felt guilty saying, “No, thank you” walking away because I couldn’t afford to buy something from each passing vendor.  The woman went on to explain how some people would spend a half hour of her time at a vendor only not to buy anything! The poor woman would miss several potential customers because of them. We were shocked. She hugged my mother as we parted ways. It wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops (thanks 60’s musical icon, Lesley Gore, for that expression) though. For example, were right near a mishap and witnessed a person getting caught stealing. There was almost a fight until the vendor’s owner and local who got caught trying to steal was separated.

On our way out of the market, we stopped back at the first vendor where I told the woman I would be back after browsing the other vendors. She saw me, jumped up, and exclaimed “You came back! You didn’t forget about me! I can’t believe you came back!” I quickly explained how I said I would be back and didn’t forget about her. She gave me a few big hugs and told me how I’m a good friend. After the market, we went to a handbag store on a side street up a hill on a bumpy road. The women of the little shop helped us with the wheelchair. Once inside from the rain, a woman put one of the working fans by my father so he would get some air in hopes of making him comfortable while he chatted with the other two or three in the store. They talked about the governing way of life and other daily topics. When we were done picking out some bags (the young lady was patient with us as there was just SO.MANY.CHOICES) and having a good time with the women discussing brands, styles, and what’s trendy in each of our country’s, we all joined our father at the front of the store all joining in on a conversation watching a video on one person’s phone. You don’t realize it, but people have a lot more in common than you might think.

At another store (we didn’t book any excursions so we stayed in the first couple of blocks right near the port area), the outgoing young woman helped my mother in getting my father to try on some shirts. My sister and I stood in the front of the store watching the locals live. At one point, the young woman came to us with tears in her eyes. She hugged us and said how our mother raised us right. She went on to say how wonderful our family is and that we’re the nicest of Americans. I explained how not all Americans are rude like some tourists make us out to be and she laughed. She was tearing up because our mother told her a brief synopsis of our father and she was in awe of how we’re making the best of it (as she saw with our father) on our getaway. When she left, my sister and I were speechless. Little did we know, our getaway was only going to have more speechless moments like this one.

The Islands: Freeport, Bahamas

Day four and the sun finally decided to grace us with its hot island rays when we arrived in this industrial port of call: The Grand Bahama island of Freeport. Under the sun’s glorious trance, we ventured through some local vendors in the small enclosed port area before you go past some gates and structures leading to the rest of the island. My mother booked an excursion to a Port Lucaya beach getting there by a double-decker bus that took us and a bunch of other cruisers. Of course, the staff with the excursion was helpful and accommodating making sure my father had room on the first floor of the bus. My sister and I rode front row on the top which felt like a motion ride. Driving on the left side of the road with roads full of turns and only yield intersections, I multitasked taking tons of photos, writing some of the tour guide’s island stories, and gripping the handlebars.

The tour guide expressed his gratitude for life and put a focus on how we shouldn’t complain when we get back to America. Did you know that milk there is almost $10 per gallon or that the price of gas is almost $6 per gallon? He pointed out a small mall (about the size of one Super Wal-Mart in the states) informing us that it isn’t what we would expect. The mall has a few local shops at most. We passed several abandoned shopping complexes and businesses. The man explained that Hurricane Matthew’s effects were still being felt today with a bleak outlook towards the future. Being on the top of the bus, I saw several homes with tattered sidings and roofs. People can’t afford to fix it. I overheard people around me say how tourism is a big industry that keeps them going.

Once at the beach, we helped my father sit in a beach chair under an umbrella and ordered lunch (which was average prices for a burger, pickles, fries, and the island fave of fried conch). There was tons of free stuff included (water trampolines, a mini pool for kids with supervision via the staff, a volleyball net, etc.). These waiters and waitresses worked hard. Our friendly waitress was shocked when my parents tipped her after we paid for our meal. She was overwhelmed with emotion and hugged my mother. We were surprised at how often the staff doesn’t get tipped.

Maybe it’s just my family, but if I was on vacation and I was ordering food on a hot beach getting it delivered to me in the hot island sun…I would give the person at least $10. If I wasn’t in the position where I could give out tips then I wouldn’t be on vacation in the first place. That’s just me though…

“Back to life, back to reality”

When we arrived back to the states, I couldn’t stop thinking about the people of Nassau and Freeport. If I won the lottery, I would help the people in America first and then go back to the Bahamas and do what I could there (especially to those who showed much gratitude and was helpful with my father). Hearing about another way of life and actually seeing it is two different things. I remember watching the weather stations and news when they covered Hurricane Matthew in the islands this past Fall. I knew they got hit, but l wasn’t expecting to still hear and witness the effects so openly there. At least the damage I saw still provided shelter. Many other places don’t even have that luxury. I still think about the islands and would like to go back in the future. I’ll just have to keep looking at my photos until then. ~

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