If it wasn’t for the volcano, it might almost be safe to say that things are looking better than they have for a long time on both sides of the Atlantic, and even the growling, ash-spewing monster across the water seems to have lost some of its fury for the time being at least.
Covid restrictions are being lifted here in Barbados and in the UK. Our social media feeds are crammed with beaming faces and images of enticing alcoholic beverages sitting on pub tables ready to be imbibed, as people back home meet up with friends and family for the first time in months (and in some cases years), and enjoy an outdoor drink or two. It’s a happy time!
Here, we now have no curfew on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and an 11pm one on Thursdays and over the weekends. Bars are allowed to open, albeit at 50% of capacity (although I’ve not seen anyone counting), and indoor dining is permitted (not that you’d want to eat indoors here if outdoors is an option!) But, most important of all, the beaches are open all day again!
As far as we are concerned, it doesn’t feel as if we have any restrictions being placed on us at all anymore. We can pretty much do everything we were doing before Christmas, apart from go to the Drive-In Cinema and stay out after 11pm at the weekend – but I can’t recall many days when we weren’t long tucked up in bed by then!
But we don’t want to get carried away! We’re not out of the woods yet by any stretch of the imagination. The steady decline in the UK has slowed, and it has just added India to it’s “red list” of countries due to concerns about highly transmissible and virulent new variant. Barbados has seen a recent new cluster based around a church in the north of the island, and this has been linked to an outbreak in the island’s main hospital. The US, one of the remaining sources of visitors to the island, has now banned travel to Barbados, deeming it a high risk destination (a tad ironic if you ask me).
Further afield the virus is still raging across the world with a total of almost 150 million cases and over 3 million deaths. India is experiencing a horrific surge of infections at the moment, with hundreds of thousands of new cases every day – and those are just the ones that are being tested!
As far as La Soufriere is concerned, she finally slowed down about six days after the first eruption. It’s not over though, as we are repeatedly being told. It’s just that she’s lost some of her energy and her eruptions are not reaching the high-level air streams that carry the ash east over to Barbados. Instead, it is being blown west into the Caribbean Sea by the surface winds that travel from east to west.
The long dark weekend is now well behind us, but it is one I will never forget! Life now is gradually getting back to normal apart from the endless sweeping, washing, and mopping required to sustain a modicum of comfort in our living space. The problem with the ash is that it doesn’t actually go away, it just blows around from one place to another. You can sweep your balcony one day and the next day it’s back again.
People are hoping for rain that might wash it away and into the soil, but rain will potentially bring its own issues. When ash is wet it clumps together in a thick black sludge that blocks gutters and drains. If it’s still hanging around when the rainy season starts in a few weeks’ time, there is a serious risk that this could lead to significant flooding. For this reason, we have been asked to gather the ash up in sacks and not to wash it down the drains.
Last Sunday (the last Easter stay-at-home Sunday) was declared a national clean-up day and everyone in the country was asked to clear the roads around their properties of ash. M worked with another local man to clear our area, and together, after several hours of hard labour, gathered well over 100 kg. of the stuff.
I’ve been working inside the house. Ash gets everywhere. It blows off roofs and trees, and plumes up in clouds as vehicles drive through it. It settles on all surfaces; the floor, the kitchen counter, the dishes drying on the drainer, food and drink left uncovered, toilet seats, computers, books, and bedding. It’s even in the fridge! It sticks to your feet when you walk from the car to the house leaving black footprints on your freshly mopped floor. We keep a basin of water at the top of the stairs and a path of damp towels leading to the front door of the apartment. More towels strategically placed inside help prevent it being transported into the bedroom and bathroom.
It’s tough stuff to shift. The best way is to sweep and gather the worst of it then hose or jet wash the rest. But this is a problem in itself as water is a scarce and precious resource in Barbados. With every resident in the country hosing down their properties and cars, and businesses jet washing building and car parks, water supplies soon became depleted. Residents in St Lucy were without water for the entire week following the eruption weekend. I can’t imagine how awful that must have been for them. We’ve been having two or three showers day just to feel human! We’ve filled a number of containers with clean water for washing and the fridge is stacked with bottles of filtered water for drinking, just in case we too are affected.
Until a couple of days ago opening the windows was still impossible due to the amount of ash blowing around. Believe me, the nights in Barbados are very hot and sticky with all the windows closed and no air con. The fan gives some respite, but M finds that the noise disturbs his sleep. But, even as the amount of ash in the air lessened, it became apparent that we still couldn’t open the windows due the piles of ash on the windowsills, and caught in every nook and cranny of the shutters. As soon as we opened them it would all blow inside.
So, I spent an entire morning painstakingly cleaning the shutters so that we could once again enjoy the heavenly feel of the Atlantic breeze blowing through the house. It’s still bringing in a little ash and everything is covered in a film of it, but it’s worth it just to feel cool again. Besides, we’re kind of getting used to feeling a bit “dusty” all the time.
We’ve started to get out and about again too. My first excursion was to the supermarket on the Tuesday after the eruption. As we had no warning or time to prepare, we hadn’t stocked up with food etc. and were badly in need of supplies. We were completely out of fresh vegetables and the contents of the freezer were rapidly depleting.
Driving is another new challenge. The car always is like a furnace in the Barbados heat but now you can’t use the aircon or open the windows due to the ash billowing around. So, you just have to sweat it out under your protective mask, hat and glasses. It’s a mind over matter thing! The supermarket was incredibly busy with long lines and crowded aisles, but it was gloriously cool and clean. I would happily have waited in line there all day, browsing on my phone and humming along to the latest tunes being played over the tannoy system, rather than face the sweat and grime outside!
On the Saturday – a week after the eruption – we took a break from cleaning and went out for drinks with some friends to a somewhat dusty beach bar. It was crowded with people “letting off steam” and discussing their various ash cleaning experiences. Every few minutes a gust of ash from the beach would blow over us, causing us to cover our faces and don our masks until it passed and we resumed our conversations. We went home filthy but happier and more relaxed than we had been all week.
The beautiful beaches have been a sorry sight. The once golden sand, dark and dirty with a mixture of ash and the rotting remnants of the sargassum that hit in the week or two before the eruption. The normally crystal clear, turquoise blue water, grey and murky. But, once it became clear that the ash had stopped falling and the high priority locations like the airport and the highway had been cleared, the government soon focused on clearing the beaches.
And now things are getting better every day. Every day there is less ash to sweep up on the balcony and stairs. Every day we feel confident enough to open more windows wider and for longer. The roads are better, and we can now drive with the car windows open. The beaches are looking better. The sea and sky are blue again. Yesterday we went for our first swim since the eruption.
Through it all the people of Barbados have been amazing! Smiling, cheerful and unfailingly resilient, they just “get on with it”. Farmer’s crops have been wiped out, animals have died, business have lost yet more trading days and revenue, people are exhausted and aching all over. But people get back to work and their daily business as soon as they can. They don’t moan or complain. They help each other. They continue to be thankful for what they have and enjoy life on their beautiful island whatever she throws at them!
Last night we were kindly invited to the birthday celebration of Julian Armfield, a local author (The Aintree Legend, You Win Some You Lose Some and Absolutely Barbados) and retired BBC racing correspondent. It took place at a little local place on the far south-east tip of the island called Chicken Rita’s. It’s basically a rum shack where “Rita” serves arguably the best fried chicken on the island, with chips with salad which you eat outside on plastic tables and chairs alongside scrap-hopeful cats and chickens. There was no salad due to the ash, but nobody gave a damn, and a great time was had by all, including the cats who managed to get into the box containing the leftover coffee and walnut birthday cake for a moment before they were spotted, and the cake was rescued!
This weekend, to celebrate M’s birthday, we were due to spend the weekend in a little luxury at The Beach Houses on a mini staycation. Sadly, it was cancelled due to the ash but we have re-booked for a couple of weeks’ time – fingers crossed. Instead, we have booked a late lunch at Tapas, a highly recommended south coast Mediterranean restaurant with beautiful views of the sea and hopefully a spectacular sunset! Again, fingers crossed and third time lucky and all that! We have booked this twice before. The first was cancelled due to the infamous “bus crawl” outbreak and the second due to the eruption! Let’s hope it’s not us that’s jinxing it!
I’m not getting much writing done what with all the cleaning, and resting and recovering after cleaning, and comfort drinking in between cleaning and resting and recovering! But I am cracking on with the sequel to Wait for Me. I’ve had such great feedback and reviews that it feels really easy and actually quite exciting to write the sequel. I can barely contain myself when I think about where I am going to take Lisa and Anita this time and what I have in store for them! When I do manage to take the time out to write, I can’t get it down quick enough. It’s only when my neck and shoulders are aching from sitting at my laptop for too long, that I am forced to stop or pay for it later! I’ve already written over 20,000 words and five chapters.
Sales for Wait for Me have been good but do seem to be tailing off, particularly for the paperback. By the end of March, I had sold 78 copies and 44,000 Kindle pages had been read under the Kindle Unlimited scheme. My first month’s royalties came in from January’s sales at £128.21. They will be considerably less for February and March. I need to think about doing some more promotion. I did a Face Book ad in March which might or might not have paid for itself in sales, or “washed its own face” as our son the aspiring property mogul would say about one of his well-performing rentals. I’ve experimented with an Amazon ad campaign for April but have yet to see any real results from that. I’m going to wait until that is over before I try anything else.
It’s lunchtime, a cold beer is calling me from the fridge and my neck is starting to ache. Fingers crossed, between now and my next post, things continue to improve for everyone both here and at home.