Bequia, August 1998

NOTE: Last year, after I bought a scanner to digitise my 35mm film negatives and old prints, I discovered a box full of developed Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200 canisters. I was excited when I found a roll containing images from the last time I visited the land of my birth. I quickly sent off the rolls to be scanned by ScanSafe in their Noritsu Koki EZ scanner. I apologise for the quality of the images. I was technologically ignorant of photography then and bought into the hype behind APS (compact and easy) without understanding the downsides (low quality, expensive). The APS canister was in poor condition in my basement and didn't age well. I was also an inexperienced photographer, and whatever point-n-shoot thingy I put these rolls through was cheap. Here are the images and as much as I can remember about our trip.

Decades ago, in August 1998, Bhavna were in Antigua for my younger brother’s wedding. A few days after the wedding, we hopped on a charter flight to visit St. Vincent to visit Dad and then to Bequia to visit my grandmother. Bhavna had her first chance to experience the islands where I was born and raised.

Leaving Kingstown Harbour | 6 August 1998

Dad was still a Kingstown branch manager for Barclays Bank, PLC. Bhavna and I stayed with Dad and Mom at the bunkhouse. Barclays always provided housing for senior staff. My parents had rented out the family home on Dorsetshire Hill. We took a few days to explore St. Vincent, but I was excited to get to Bequia. Bhavna had heard so much about this magical island that was lost in time, and I wanted her to meet Mom’s mother, whom I affectionately called “Mama”.

In the Bequia Channel | 13 August 1998

My cousin, Cashena "Suzie" Wallace and her husband, Elvis Gooding, operate Admiralty Transport Company Ltd, one of two ferry services between St. Vincent and Bequia. Around 9 AM, we took the ferry leaving from Kingstown Harbour. Bequia and St.Vincent's are about nine miles apart; depending on the weather, it takes about one hour from port to port.

Arriving at Admiralty Bay, Port Elizabeth | 5 August 1998 | Noritsu Koki EZ Controller | SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/2 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
Mom, her cousin Emmanuel Corea, and me | 6 August 1998

Admiralty Bay is on the sheltered west side of Bequia and is known locally in Bequia as "de Harbour". The horseshoe bay offers good protection from the weather for visiting yachts and local ferries, which run between the Grenadine islands regularly. The capital village of Port Elizabeth is tucked safely in the heart of Admiralty Bay, with a selection of shops clustered along the front street.

As we arrived at the dock at Port Elizabeth, memories of summers long past flooded my mind. The noise level in the ferry increased with the chatter of passengers readying their belongings for departure. Mom's cousin, Emmanuel Corea, who runs a taxi service around Bequia, greeted us at the dock. In Bequia, a taxi is any vehicle that can seat six or more passengers, typically a Kei sized van or minibus imported from Japan. These vans tend to be smaller than the vans in the USA. In between fares, most taxi drivers sit while cooling under "The Almond Tree" near the dock in Port Elizabeth.

"Mama" Celena | 6 August 1998
The last time we were together | 6 August 1998

After a 20-minute drive, we arrived at my grandmother's home on the hill near Friendship Bay. Friendship Bay is located on the south side of Bequia with a horseshoe of fine white sand. It is suitable for snorkelling, diving and sailing. The gentle trade winds swept over me. It was great to be home.

I spent most of that week hanging out with my grandmother. Bhavna and I took vigorous hikes to the ancestral home near the mid-section of Monkey Hill. I followed my grandmother around as she tended to her chickens and goats. It was like old times. It's always windy at the top of the hill.

The Friendship Bay House | 6 August 1998
The Friendship Bay House | 6 August 1998

I'm not sure if it was the next day or later that week, but two of Mom's cousins had spent several hours crossing the Caribbean Sea in a speed boat from Grenada (or maybe it was Carriacou) to dive for lobster near Petit Nevis. Carriacou is 60 kilometres (37 miles) from Bequia. I think my ass would be in pain. The next day, Mom's cousins took us to Petit Nevis, a private island my Mom and her family own.

Bhavna enjoyed the cool breezes of the Trade Winds while we hiked around Petit Nevis island. I showed Bhavna where the whalers pulled ashore captured whales for slaughter. She didn't like learning about this part of her family history. I explained that all the family whalers had retired and were focused on nature conservation efforts.

The Friendship Bay House | 6 August 1998
The Friendship Bay House | 6 August 1998

Mom's cousins were successful with their lobster dive, and later that night, I dined on fresh lobster meat while Mom's cousins regaled us with tales of their recent adventures.

Later that week, we visited my great uncle, Athneal Ollivierre (my grandfather's brother), at his home, a part of which is a whaling museum. When I was a lad, Athneal was the most heralded of the Yankee-style whalers in Bequia. He died several years ago, and though my family is no longer involved in whaling, the other whalers have continued the tradition.

Sometime during the week, Bhavna and I visited Spring. Spring Bay is on the Eastern side of the island. It is the quieter and more remote Atlantic side of Bequia, where you will find a few rental villas, former sugar plantations and nothing else apart from the spectacular scenery.

The Friendship Bay House | 6 August 1998
The Friendship Bay House | 6 August 1998

When I was a child living a the Bequia bank house (atop the bank), Mom’s brother, Uncle Errol, would go out crabbing near the northern end of Bequia in an area known as Spring Bay. Spring Bay is on the Eastern side of the island. This is the quieter and more remote Atlantic side of Bequia, where one will find former sugar plantations and palm tree-lined scenery. My mom would wake me up just before dusk, make sure I had some breakfast (bakes and saltfish), and get me up into the rear of my uncle’s Land Rover, the back already filled with other people and kids. We would spend the morning chasing crabs in the mangrove at Spring Bay, stuffing them into large "coco sacks" made of coconut coir. Later in the morning, after we returned to the bank house, Mom would spend the morning cooking up crab. I enjoyed those moments, stuffing my face with delicious crab meat.

View of Friendship Bay | 6 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
View of Friendship Bay from Monkey Hill | 6 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
6 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
The old outdoor shower | 6 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
Moving the goat at Monkey Hill | 6 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
Petit Nevis in the distance | 5 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
Getting ready to go lobster diving on Petit Nevis | 6 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
Petit Nevis in the distance | 6 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
Petit Nevis | 5 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
Petit Nevis is a private island | 6 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
Petit Nevis | 6 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
Bhavna enjoyed Petit Nevis | 6 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
Visiting Uncle Athneal | 5 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
Bhavna enjoying the beaches at Spring | 6 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200

Happy Birthday "Papa"!

Louis George Ollivierre passed away on October 8, 1988, in his hometown of LaPompe on the island of Bequia, at the age of 73. My maternal grandfather, my "Papa", passed away while attending University in New Jersey. I was in the middle of mid-exams at the term, and I remember regretting that I would not be able to participate in his funeral. Today would have been his 102nd birthday. To pay tribute to my grandfather and her father, my mother and I collaborated on the following article.

My maternal grandfather Louis George Ollivierre was born in November of 1914 in the Charlotte section of the island of Bequia in the Grenadines. When my grandfather was born, his father, Harold, was 33 and his mother, Heley, was 35. I guess he got a late state with family just like I did. He had one son and four daughters with my grandmother, Mary Marguerite Ollivierre (né McClaren).

man, woman, hat, beard, louis, celena, ollivierre,
My maternal grandparents, Louis and Mary Ollivierre (né McClaren)
people, family, ollivierre
My maternal grandparents with their daughters (back row) and some of their grandchildren (including me).

My mother's younger sister and daughter and I share a birth month with my Papa1. My grandfather's first name is also one of my middle names. I guess my mother loved her dad.

My great-grandfather, Harold Ollivierre, owned sheep farms on upper Monkey Hill. As a help to the family, my grandfather learned to be an accurate gun range shooter to scare off the roaming dogs when they went after the sheep.

When a whale was caught and butchered on Petit Nevis, my grandfather was responsible for distributing the whale meat. But he was not too keen on whaling.

man, hat, boys, people
My maternal grandfather, Louis George Ollivierre (let) sitting with his brother and whaling legend, Athneal Ollivierre on the whaling quay at Petit Nevis.

Papa was a respected and talented entrepreneur who owned rental properties on mainland St. Vincent. From what my mother tells me, up until his passing ran a turtle shell trading business with Japan. Papa owned several boats, including Prodigal, which he built to import items to Bequia for sale and Sea Queen which he used for trading lobster and conch.

While his grandkids called him Papa affectionately, the villagers called him Uncle Louis. According to my mum, Papa sold Sea Queen and settled down from sailing the open sea and set up one of the few local watering holes in La Pompe, a wooden blue rum shop2, which he only called Uncle Louis' Rum Shop. He built the store near the main road along the lower coast of the island.

My grandfather was also a Justice of the Peace, the only one in the area, and chairman of the local Bequia tourist board. Although he was a quiet, humble man, British royalty knew my grandfather to British royalty and local politicians.

Papa was proud to say he attended the Perry School in the Port Elizabeth Church. Circa 1910, Old Mr Perry conducted a Primary School in half of the downstairs during the week, and on Sabbaths, the Seventh-day Adventists held their Sabbath School and church services there.

My grandfather's seafaring took him and his brother Barton, who owned fishing seines3, to Carriacou and Petit Martinique. At times, he always tried to help people in community work whenever asked. Papa was a money lender on the island, but he always sought to give back to the community. In the sixties, he offered his carpentry skills free of charge to help build houses.

My maternal grandfather, Louis George Ollivierre, aka "Papa"

His favourite spot was on the porch, where he could see the ocean and chat with passersby.

  1. For some reason, I grew up calling my grandparent "Papa" and "Mama". My older cousin, Cashena, started it all. 
  2. A rum shop is the typical British West Indies word for a sports bar. Typically, men, not women, go to the bar after work and have a shot (or two or three) of 100 proof white rum chased with a shot of water. Rum shops often serve bar food and other liquors. For some reason, when I searched Wikipedia for the phrase rum shop, one of the results was a link to Carriacou
  3. A seine is a fishing net that hangs vertically in the water with its bottom edge held down by weights and its top corner buoyed by floats. 

Monkey Hill, LaPompe, Bequia

My mother took this photo during one of her recent trips to the LaPompe section of Bequia where her parents lived where I spent the first two years of my life; before there were siblings; I had my grandparents attention all to myself. The house is located at the top middle level of one of the highest hills on the island. The locals have nicknamed the area Monkey Hill. There are no monkeys on the island. I am uncertain as to the origin of the name.

Maternal grandmother, Mary Ollivierre (né McClaren) at Monkey Hill home | August 1998 | Noritsu Koki EZ Controller | APS Film NORITSU KOKI Scan

The house has no sewage, no running water, and no electricity. But it has lots of memories. Memories of a carefree childhood spent under the doting and watchful eye of my grandparents, Louis and "Celina" Ollivierre. Some of the memories are not pleasant to Americans used to municipal running water etc. Still, the experience is no more rustic or strange than living in the bayou of Louisianna.

Left to right: Louis George Ollivierre, Mary Marguerite Ollivierre (né McClaren)

I remember needing to complete a bowel movement while sitting in an outhouse in the high heat of summer. Ugh! Stinky. However, I enjoyed taking outdoor showers after helping my grandfather fill the tank atop the outdoor shower. Outhouse or not, I love my grandparents, and I would not have traded my early childhood with them for anything in the world.

My grandparents kept a few chickens, goats and sheep on the property behind the house. I often helped my grandmother move the sheep and goats, staked to a feeding spot with a long rope and a metal spike. Sometimes I would help her milk a goat or sheep. Have you ever drank fresh goat milk straight from the animal? It's so rich and creamy.

Grand Parents Home, La Pompe, Monkey Hill, Bequia
Helpoing move the goats, Monkey Hill, Bequia | August 1998 | Noritsu Koki EZ Controller | APS Film NORITSU KOKI Scan

The house looks a bit worse for wear in this photo. The wood has probably rotted, and critters have most likely taken up residence. The upstairs area has three bedrooms and a living room. I remember lazy evenings with my grandfather sitting on the steps looking out and over at the Caribbean Sea. The bottom of the house is where my grandparents kept their ground provisions and other foodstuff including cured whale meat, fish, farine etc.

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents during the summer days of my youth. My father once held a position as branch manager at Barclays Bank in the Port Elizabeth area on Bequia. We lived on the building's top floor for a few years when I was about five years old. Every weekend was an opportunity to hang out with my grandparents.

Me, Monkey Hill, Bequia | August 1998 | Noritsu Koki EZ Controller | APS Film NORITSU KOKI Scan
The house looks a lot smaller than I remember, but it has three bedrooms and a living room. The home is cooled by the constant but gentle Windward Caribbean breezes that blow salty-sweet air over the hills.

The building to the left in the photo is the original kitchen. It had no gas and no electricity. It had a coal-fired stove and oven. Yes, coal-fired. My grandmother cooked fish and fungi for breakfast and sometimes "bakes". Sometimes she would bake bread. This was my treat—freshly baked bread with generous amounts of salted butter. And to wash it all down, a large white enamel mug filled with coffee and mostly milk or maybe a mug of bush tea. I guess my grandmother impressed me early in childhood with the delicious flavours of a homemade cafe-au-lait.

My grandparent passed away decades ago. I miss them.

Image from Kevin Downes on Facebook.