This article is based on one of Trustee Remar
Sutton's columns in The Washington Post."
five of us keeping on-line logs about our lives and training efforts
live here, in the mountainous, affable, lightly peopled world of the
British Virgin Islands. About 17,000 residents live here spread over
19 populated islands.
Perched on a rock outcropping 90 feet above the ocean,
my house overlooks eight other islands, a lush mountain-rimmed coastline
that curves like a cup handle for miles, and, most importantly, the
palm-fringed village of Little Apple Bay, population 125. Village
life unfolds below my home with a regularity and gentility that is
at times quite moving, at times a little unnerving, very often funny,
but always instructive.
years ago, half a mile away at the edge of a grove of palm trees,
I watched a stooped old fisherman stand before a cross-topped white
mausoleum in our village cemetery. To get there, the old man hobbled
along a narrow path through the lively Lenora Delville Primary School
yard, past the new water plant, past the community vegetable garden
and the charcoal pit where fine charcoal is made from hard kasha wood.
A tough walk for rickety legs.
The fisherman came to pay respect to this territory's
first elected chief minister, H. Lavity Stoutt, who died on May 14.
These islands have dealt with visionaries (as the vast majority consider
Mr. Stoutt), political fools, pirates, thieves, and many men of honor
for at least 450 years. In a tiny world, residents feel the unbuffered
impact of good and bad people very quickly in everyday life.
That's why even now, seven years after his death,
a few islanders each day, many bringing their small children, pay
respect at Lavity Stoutt's handsome tomb. A mother said quietly to
her children one day, "You must remember this man."
Over the centuries the influences of multiple rulers,
religious ideologies and tragedies have washed over these islands
-- indelible experiences that to this day seem to have given the survivors
an inbred sense of practicality, tolerance (if not acceptance) and
In our little village, within walking distance of
a small, fancy hotel, one friend makes do on the sale of a few island
limes and sweet potatoes each day. Close by, another sells homemade
bread and the occasional adult men's magazine. Next door an important
church leader greets a passerby as her ax takes off the head of a
goat -- the beginning of a favorite soup and fine curried stew.
The locals also define ingenuity. It's normal here
to see old metal wheel rims used as sturdy charcoal grills, a stray
piece of chicken wire turned into a fish trap, old juice bottles filled
with "atomic" pepper sauces and spices, small cottages built from
scrap and lumber washed up on the beach, plastic milk cartons hoarded
to store precious rainwater. On islands, necessity seems to be the
mother of recycling.
This sense of using up everything efficiently applies
to the roadside trimming crews, too, or rather to the lack of them.
Drive along most any tortuously winding but stunning road on this
island and you'll meet donkeys and goats and cows busily trimming
up the roadside. At times they roam free. At times, a donkey is tied
to a tree perhaps 20 feet farther along than the day before. One howling,
rainy night I encountered a donkey, fed up with it all, lumbering
down the steep road dragging his palm tree behind him.
is all a very handsome, oddball, history-steeped and interesting world
-- aside from being lots of fun. Life in the British Virgin Islands
is a microcosm of life back there in the "real" world. We have AIDS
problems. Crime is on the rise, though it is sufficiently rare that
some time ago a newspaper still considered the theft of two dozen
diapers from Kelly's Bar, Snackette and Superette a feature item.
We've even have traffic jams : seven years ago, I
wrote about the bollix caused by a dozen cows ambling through downtown
Road Town (the capital) taking a break in front of the Chase Manhattan
Bank. One cow even settled down for a snooze with her back against
the bank door, imprisoning all inside. The bank patrons took this
In the B.V.I. there's controversy about growth and
too many "off-islanders," and there's fear that the village family
structure is falling apart. The drug problem, which hasn't hit yet,
is on everyone's mind.
There's great discussion, too, on the quality of
life in general here. In the midst of spectacular beauty, and in the
midst of carefree vacationers who spend money with abandon, most islanders
struggle with great dignity to make their lives work. In 1995 I wrote
about an 80-year-old, elegantly dressed woman hitching to church.
She has hitched "everywhere" her entire life, and took a folding chair
with her to make the hitches easier, she said.
Last year, I saw an equally elegant older woman settled
in her chair by the road, waiting for a ride. She was talking on a
In 1995, I picked up an immaculate young woman hitching
to town with a small baby. The child, she told me, would play in a
large cardboard box in the shade of a flamboyant tree "just by the
kitchen where I work."
During a particularly dry spell, I picked up a young
boy hauling a five-gallon barrel of water up a lonely road. His family's
rain cistern was empty.
reality of island life for most people here is hard work at home and
hard work for modest pay on the job. Improving individual livelihoods
without harming a delicately balanced and fragile world will be a
Herculean chore. These are smart people, however, and they will probably
find a way.
Their inventiveness and determination rubs off on
everyone. Take the young surfer couple who spent the winter just down
the hill from me in a perfect little ocean-front cottage. Trouble
was, their bedroom window was less than a foot from three energetic
roosters' favorite perch -- and around here, the incessant crowing
starts at 3 a.m.
But in small villages, strangers don't complain much;
they, too, become inventive. The couple bought the roosters from their
neighbors for a premium price ($5 each) and in the dead of night transplanted
them into a neighboring village. In the yard of a competing surfer.
Island ingenuity. No problem.
Here are some other sites about our little
world you might enjoy
here to learn more about Lexi's school, The New England
Culinary Institute at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College.
is one of our great local newspapers.
is another really good paper.
This site gives you great information about our parks, despite
the fact its still under construction. Did we tell you you can
learn to scuba dive while you're down here for the Conathon?
is the official web site of the British Virgin Islands
If you really want to be mean, click
here and send free postcards of the BVI to your friends
and enemies. Recommended text: “Oh, I’m training for an international
athletic event here.”
Speaking of athletic events, click
here to read about trustee Remar Sutton's Conchathon --
a fitness event held in Tortola.