Category Archives: Turks and Caicos National Museum

A Part of Something Bigger

Today I left Grand Turk.

As the plane taxied out onto the runway I caught a last glimpse of the Friendship 7 capsule that guards the airport entrance. It triggered a wave of homesickness. All the things I’d learned. All the people. The places. The sights. The sounds…. I was leaving the Turks and Caicos Islands for good. It had finally sunk in.

Family obligations called me away a week early and so I didn’t have time to think of all the “lasts” I was missing. Last swim, last band night, last goodbye. It’s the people that are missed the most, as it always is.

I’ve only spent a year of my life invested in the happenings of the TCI and Grand Turk, but it was an intense year, a year in which the museum community became my community. The past few months have seen a lot of hard work and a lot of successes. We’ve averaged completing one big project per month while I was on-island. And, of course, there is the constant mentoring that happens when the kids know your name.

Grand Turk is a wonderful place, but I know it’s not a place to stay forever. Still, I wish I could roll it all into a handkerchief and take it with me. I should be satisfied that the projects we’ve completed have established the Museum as an integral part of the TCI community and set the stage for the next growth spurt. I wasn’t just part of the process, I was part of the vision.

British Library Grant Awarded

One of the big projects I worked on all those months ago has born fruit: the Museum was awarded the grant from the British Library’s Endangered Archives Project.

They have accepted our detailed proposal and the next archivist on board will be adding to our collections by collecting pre-1900 governmental and family records. The rest of my job on Grand Turk entails making sure that the records that do exist, and the systems I’ve put in place, are clear and easy to replicate. Nothing more insidious in an archive than re-inventing the wheel. The next week will be spent making sure that everything will run smoothly for the next in command (with some swimming squeezed in).

More about the Endangered Archives Project:

Last Visitors

My parents have been to visit the island and found that it was good.

We took them to all the usual spots:

They stayed at the Bohio,

which they really got to enjoy since I worked more than I thought I would.

We experienced the Cruise Center and Jack’s Shack. We ate at the Sand Bar, the best beach bar in the Caribbean, we went to the Salt House

and Xheng’s Palace with Mel (my new museum partner in crime, who arrived mid-visit)

and Joan’s Deli

and enjoyed music at the Salt Raker (with Wes on sax – a real treat!).

We went to pet the sting rays at Gibbs Cay

and went to the Lighthouse

and ate at the Bohio on Thursday night with Keith and Val and Neal and Tuvol

and watched the sun set with Bion and Colleen over pretzels and beer.

There isn’t an island beat that we missed. They even volunteered at the Museum.

They snorkeled every day (even when dad got really lobster red) and mom said she felt like she was in a fish bowl. We saw cow fish and trunk fish and parrot fish and baby needle fish feeding on the schools of baby minnow fish. Dad “battled” a 5 ft Barracuda all by himself, and I accidentally read Don’t Stop the Carnival instead of The Carnival Never Got Started. It was a great trip for all of us.

A Grand Turk Birthday

Grand Turk is a great place to have a birthday. Getting older doesn’t hurt one bit when you are surrounded by clear blue waters.

On Grand Turk you too can be a tourist. All you have to do is disconnect from the work side of things – put aside your computer, your cell phone, next week’s work load. Suddenly – poof! – you’re a tourist.

Well this Saturday May 22nd I was a great tourist. Lazy morning, followed by a 2 hour swim, and then drinks with friends. My exact favorite day. Everything cooperated. The weather was hot. The sky was a deep deep blue. The ocean was crystal clear. The west side waters were as flat as a lake and so inviting.

I’d never swam off the Bohio before. Not like yesterday. It was hot and all the fish were lazy and slow. I followed 10 color changing squid for a long time. We went deeper into cooler waters and snorkeled over this coral head then that one, slowly heading into deeper waters. It was so calm. It was a perfect day to do crazy things without them being crazy. Like swimming really far out.

Sometimes I don’t like knowing things. Ignorance is bliss. Not knowing that you are approaching a 1,000 foot drop into the dark abyss is probably a much better way to go through life. BUT it was also a goal of mine to make it out to the wall again. I only went once on my last visit and it’s like seeing the edge of the world. I couldn’t spend 6 months here without experiencing that again.

As we moseyed our way out, Neal noticed how far we’d gone. He kindly announced that we were nearly at a dive site. Well, once you hit that buoy you are maybe 15 ft to the wall. I freaked out. Then sucked it up and announced back that we were going for it. Then I freaked out again. But we saw it. That and the squid were good enough. Happy Birthday Jessica from Grand Turk.

wall image from:

New Puppy

Neal rescued a puppy that got stuck in the cow grate entrance to the neighborhood. He’s really little, but he’s eating soggy adult dog food so maybe that’s a good sign. I don’t know anything about pets. I do know, after some research, that he’ll have a bad immune system if he doesn’t get mother’s milk. So, I informed him (or her) that he doesn’t get a name until he lives old enough to earn one. He still has to meet the neighborhood dogs. Reading the Troost book will remind you that island dogs live out the mantra “dog eat dog world”. We’ll see how it goes. Until then, I’m calling him (or her) Little Bear.

Museum at Work!

My pile of papers keeps getting bigger. This is distressing since time is growing shorter.

The list goes something like this:

  • Write final report for After School Program
  • Finalize archives survey and write report
  • Develop temporary installation highlighting all the cool stuff we’ve accessioned this year.
  • Send report of why the Stubbs family papers fit into our collection to the National Library of Jamaica.
  • Write article on this summer’s Children Club events
  • Write next Article for Astrolab
  • Organize and catalog artifacts in fire proof cabinet
  • Clean library after tarp, employed for protection after a air conditioner leak in the roof dripped into the office, left bits of blue plastic every where
  • Write preliminary notes on pros and cons of applying for a UNESCO Heritage Site designation for Salt cay
  • other _____________________________ (TBD, but certainly forth coming)

New projects pop up at every turn. Sometimes because I’m working for an E (entrepreneur = idea person) and sometimes because projects just pop up. A couple weeks ago a member came to inquire about the maps he’d loaned a number of years ago.

Did we know where they were? Yes, we did, but they were in the flat file under that last pile in the office I hadn’t gotten to yet. So then all plans changed to sort through that last pile. Which put the archives survey on hold, which led to my pile of papers not decreasing. We did, by organizing the flat files, show the member how his maps fit into our collections. One of his maps is the oldest in the collection: 1690. Without a word of encouragement, he gift them to the Museum right there.

I really enjoyed this project because those 1700 maps were truly works of art. Look at this one of the “Isles Turques” (Turkish Islands). Can you see the bright turquoise around the islands? On a clear day, with visibility to 100 feet, our islands really do look that brilliant. Turquoise Islands indeed.

What else are we working on? See here: A Day at the National Museum

Rights to map images held by the Turks and Caicos National Museum.

Snorkeling and a Cook-out

This weekend we had a Children Club program at the museum. There aren’t many organized events on the island so the kids get really excited when we do things – especially swimming things. We were expecting 15 kids or so, and we got 30. Invigorating chaos ensued.

Swimming sprinkled with maritime history was a lot of fun. Keeping the kids in check was a bit of a challenge, but they were so infectiously excited it turned out to be one of my best days here.

I spent a lot of time having young girls hanging off of me pretending to learn how to swim. Mostly they were just enjoying the attention. I managed to squeeze in a few swimming tips, but there were 15 of them. The diving staff, once they had finished their portion of the day (during which they preformed wonderfully), just laughed and encouraged the mayhem. I guess it was kind of comical – 2 kids hanging off each arm and 3 others swimming – which looked a lot like walking and arm splashing – in circles around me shouting “I’m doing it! I’m doing it!”

Next year there needs to be more than one of these trips. One for beginners and one for more advanced swimmers. As this weekend indicated, the beginner/advanced line is almost neatly a gender line. I spent a lot of time explaining to the girls that some of the boys were putting their masks on crooked too. Some of the boys were nervous too. Some of the boys weren’t good swimmers either. etc. etc. At a glance, it seemed like the boys were better at everything and like they were getting more attention. It was just a product of the strains on the program. 30 kids, not enough equipment, and not enough time. The girls had the second chance with the equipment so when time ran short they were still trying to get their masks on straight. Thankfully the girls didn’t notice this. They were having too much fun enjoying being in the water. I, however, was on my soap box for the rest of the day. Poor Neal had to listen as I railed against the automatic assumption that the girls couldn’t swim – some of the boys weren’t doing so well either. Why was it the girls had the second turn? Doesn’t everyone know that we’ve quantified the results of teaching a young girl?! Teach a woman, teach a community….

… and on and on it went.

But the truth of the day is that it was excellent. The Red Cross was still hosting their car wash when we finished, which was brilliant! At home a car wash is cute: “Aw, look at the high school students scrubbing cars.” Here it’s not only a fruitful character building activity for the junior high cricket team, but it’s a chore you don’t have to do!

Unseasonably Hot, or the Sex Lives of Cannibals, in which the author recounts what the author recounts

The weather has been alternating between the pleasant 90 degrees with a breeze of spring and the roasting 90 degrees without a breeze – the type of weather when you can feel the sun maliciously willing your skin to boil off your bones.

The plants need more water these days and so do I. The last few days I’ve realized that I need to start filling my never-ending coffee cup with water in between trips to the coffee pot. The heat, when it’s this fierce, is really draining.

Sunday was one of those days when everything outside looks brighter than normal. Those are the days I don’t leave the shade of the porch for fear of melting. Those are the days you remember the real reason we invented sunglasses.

These “stay in the shade” days have led me back to a habit I’d lost over while going through my Master’s program double quick: reading. Not just reading, but fun reading. I haven’t had a craving for fun reading since I learned that I wasn’t an expert in everything. This was a very disappointing revelation. And unacceptable. I have been reading historical accounts ever since. At least until I started at Simmons College in Boston which put an end to anything that might be considered “superficial” or “fun”.

So on the crispy baked shores of Grand Turk I’m returning to the pleasures of my youth…

…by reading about an island nation even more remote than the Turks and Caicos. I’ve finally gotten around to reading the Sex Lives of Cannibals. It’s a novel based on the experience of an adventurous American just out of a graduate program in International Relations. He ended up on Kiribati by searching for a meaningful and exciting existence resulting in a career of over qualified positions and near poverty. As you might imagine, I’m thoroughly enjoying his story.

Kiribati (Kir-ee-bas) is stranded in the Middle of the Pacific Ocean. I’ve become exceedingly appreciative of our proximity to Haiti and the Dominican Republic and their refreshing supply of mangoes. The island the author lives on on is 12 square miles spread out in a narrow crescent. There is not much else.

Fortunately for my guilt complex the author provides a history of the area and its politics – so: not entirely frivolous. My guilt assuaged, I sit back and enjoy the author’s delightful writing style.

p. 70 had me cracking up as my new friend Mr. Troost encountered a measly 3 ft reef shark. His reaction – or I should say OVER reaction – reminds me exactly of how I respond when circled by 3.5 ft barracudas (ha! that’s right – 3 point 5: a much more respectable size! thank you very much.) The author sputters and flails and “otherwise behave as weak and injured fish fodder” (p. 104).

I can relate to this (as readers might know) because I do the same when a barracuda sneaks up and is suddenly 3 ft off my starboard side. In my defense however, I’d like to say that I’m sensibly un-phased by by reef and nurse sharks. I am also, on the other hand, inexcusably irrational when it comes to the harmless barracuda. The difference, I believe is in the behavior. Sharks smaller than me have the good sense to swim away imbuing me with a sense of superiority. That’s right fearsome shark: tremble before my raw power! or I’ll punch you in the gills.

Knowing how to deal with sharks, should they get rambunctious, is calming; despite the simultaneous knowledge that if one of them wants to try something resistance is futile. A barracuda, by comparison, has the gall to ignore my intimidating bigger-than-you-ness. They follow you. A lot.

This is perhaps the only time I have not indulged a fellow creature’s curiosity. Empathizing with Troost’s response (and his sarcasm) had tears rolling down my cheeks. I feel you man. I feel you. This one is going into my permanent library.

And so reading and blogging was my Sunday. And recovering from my Saturday, which I have outlined but have yet to put to paper. All in good time.

Immigration in the TCI

Today there was an huge check of immigration papers. A boat escaping Haiti landed on Grand Turk some time in the night. This morning at the Museum we were greeted with stories from some of the staff of being woken up at 5am by immigration officers asking to see papers. Someone else had their door broken in while they were at work.

In an ironic twist one of our staff members had an appointment at the Governor’s office a few hours later to pick up her naturalization papers.

Later in the day concerned workers asked to use the computers to send emails. The hospital on Grand Turk has recently changed from Government-run administration to a Canadian company. The paperwork converting the employee Visas to the new company haven’t been completed yet. I edited one email to add a bit so the Provo office would know that this was not a normal request and paying attention to it might become very important in the near future.

There was a strange contrast in providing an engaging experience for the tourists at the front of the museum and dealing with the real-life worries of the island’s residence in the back. Everyone we know is here legally so the worst the day brought was a feeling of harassment. That’s a blog for another day though, so let’s end with a brighter note:

The last tour of the day was later in the afternoon so Tuvol was around to help out. I was in the back office dealing with other things and he came bounding back to tell me that he sold 4 coffees, 6 postcards, and a mural mug. In a week when sales off the ships have dropped, this was very good news. Earlier in the day he helped me placate a pouting child while I helped her older sister with homework. She just wanted attention and since I couldn’t be two places at once Tuvol stepped in nicely and showed her the Where is Simon, Sandy? book and showed her how to facebook. She was a much happier child then, and Tuvol got to exercise his big brother tendencies, which I think he enjoys.

There will be plenty of time for that tomorrow. We are learning about the Bio Rock down at the cruise center with the Museum’s Children Club. I’m looking forward to a fun day of swimming, oohing over fish, and instilling an appreciation and understanding of reef conservation.

Architecture Lesson II

Today we staged a “everything we do in one day” day for the architects of the new museum building on Provo. The idea was to show them the type of events we do and how we use our current space and the pros and cons of each. The result was a day of changing and touring spaces and – very important – explaining why the kitchen should not be near the humidity controlled storage area.

The architects seemed to enjoy our program. There was plenty of work going on – talks of room measurements and space usage and needs – but there was also a lunch with the staff and our latest volunteers and a special show of the archives (that’s my part!). Certainly it was a day worth the 170$ x 2 airplane tickets to making the new museum design the best that it can be.