By Diane Phillips
On Tuesday, my personal trainer, a man named Robert Hamilton, and I were walking. It’s what we do when I am too lazy to work out after a gruelling 12-hour day when I could think of at least a dozen things more preferable to push-ups and crunches.
It’s hard not to smile around Hamilton. He has the most wonderful sense of reality and humour along with a knack of just saying whatever comes to his mind, which is never mean and rarely filtered.
So here we were on one our half-power one-hour walks in the Eastern District once again revelling in the beauty of the area, the giant Kamalame trees, the golden bark, the mature landscape that has taken a hundred years to come into its own, cascading bougainvillea in colours so brilliant you almost need sunglasses.
On every walk, we discover something new, but Hamilton gets spooked easily. I once photographed him inside Blackbeard’s Tower and he couldn’t get out of there fast enough in case there were pirates still hanging around who had discovered the secret to living 200 years or more in a dark place.
Anyhow, this week we are in the area south of Camperdown where a few days before we had discovered a whole secret street neither of us had ever seen before where 15-foot tall, once proud metal gates opened on to a narrow paved road with homes nearly hidden by naturally wild and beautiful growth.
We both live in the East and yet this was brand new to us. Fascinated by the discovery, we keep walking and week after week, we find something else to marvel at ‘Up East’ as we call it. We pass the horse stables of Camperdown and the fields where crops once grew. We comment on window design and doors and the positioning of the structure on the property. We make up stories about families who live there. Most homes have dogs in the yard, they bark as we pass but never attack. They must know we are both dog lovers.
So back to this past Tuesday, two days ago. We discover yet another street we had not explored before – all this in the name of exercise, mind you – and the small street of three houses, two on one side, one on the other, that ends in a cul de sac is eerily quiet. I almost think I hear a rush of water as if there is a waterfall in a pond somewhere we can’t see. And then we notice the birds. More accurately, Hamilton notices the birds.
I’m doing what I often do, waver between thinking how lovely it is and how fast I could escape if some crazy who lived in one of these older houses we had never seen before suddenly came out shouting and pointing something that looked like a sawn off shotgun at us.
Hamilton, I knew, would high tail it because he is, after all, a trainer, and I would be left to talk my way out of why I was there. But he noticed the birds and once he pointed them out, they were everywhere, not just way high up like in normal places but low down as if they had no fear just flying around as if they owned the place. “Isn’t it nice that birds can just be…” he hesitated, “birds.”
I laughed so hard I nearly cried. He was so right. We were in a place where birds could just be birds and we were in New Providence. The eastern area of this island will come back because of that. I am convinced.
There is a raw beauty about this area that the most sophisticated and finest condominium in the west or south or the island to the north cannot match simply because these older homes of the East were like fine wine, allowed to age without a whole lot of interference. Many of the rich left the East, leaving these places behind. Because they were not for the most part now in the hands of the super wealthy, they were not torn down and replaced with mini McMansions or replicas of real mansions. They are estates in their own right with large properties and perhaps aging inhabitants or younger couples who plan to renovate one step at a time.
Some of the streets are surprisingly wide and well paved. There are natural rock walls and a bit of elevation. No two houses look alike though there are many you can’t fully see because they are set back behind the bush but it is a pretty good bet that individuality reigns.
If it were only about character, that would be enough for me. Actually, getting out of push-ups and crunches is enough, but there is more than character that lives in this older district of New Providence where some of the earliest residents settled. There is relative security from natural disasters.
We probably do not stop to think about it, but natural disasters are the single most costly expense The Bahamas endures. Between 1980 and 2010, according to one source, natural disasters cost The Bahamas $2.5 billion. And it is only going to get worse. Estimates place future costs at $.5 billion a year over the next 10 years.
We have been listed as among the first to be impacted by sea level rise and one study places us number one out of 84 countries, predicting that as much as 80 percent of our land could be underwater. The US spent $306 billion in recovery efforts from natural disasters last year. There are islands in the Caribbean that suffered more damage from a single hurricane than their entire annual GDP.
Thank you for your words, Hamilton, about birds just being, well, birds. Maybe it happens on a quiet street in western New Providence, too, maybe along the old properties of Prospect Ridge and Sandford Drive, but give me the East, traffic and all, and the beauty of a place where around every corner there is a new gem to discover, even if it is very old and needs a bit of care.