Canada-based couple Saada Branker and Powys Dewhurst, a writer and filmmaker respectively, share their first blog post about their Fresh Milk residency. Both having strong ties to Barbados, Saada and Powys are in the island embarking on a project very close to their hearts and heritage: a documentary memory project commemorating the 60th anniversary of Hurricane Janet. Read more below about their first week of collecting data and interviews, and how physically being in the space has brought home the reality of Janet’s impact on the island and its people:
It was perhaps not by accident but by divine design that we arrived in Barbados on June 1st, the official start of the 2015 Hurricane season. Quite simply, Powys and I are hunting Hurricane Janet, although she is long gone. We resurrect her memory with each question posed to Bajans as they go about their daily business.
We got straight to it as we exited Grantley Adams International Airport. Our baggage handler told us she was born in 1956, one year after Hurricane Janet hit the island, but she grew up hearing of it from people every hurricane season. Edwin Edey from Top Car Rentals Barbados awaited us with a pristine vehicle, courtesy of this efficient family-run business. After a conscientious explanation of our contract, rules of the road and features of the van, Edwin described his memories of the terrain being levelled by Janet’s violent winds.
At that moment, I was hit by the realness of what Powys and I are setting out to achieve. Why it was sobering, I’m not sure. Barbados is not new to either of us. Powys grew from a precocious child into a curious teen here. I visited my parents’ birthplace for my third birthday, and I returned as an adult a few times. This media project offers us a new discovery of Barbados, guided from our elders’ lips to our ears. As in all oral traditions, there’s no greater honour than to receive such memories and hold them for sharing. Maybe that moment of truth is what I tapped into.
Edwin graciously offered to drive ahead to show us the way to Fresh Milk. Thankful, we followed his car and looked about at our surroundings with new eyes. Where we saw foliage, infrastructure, industry and farmland, we tried to imagine 60 years earlier with bent trees, debris swirling overhead and houses battered by winds travelling upwards of 111mph. I must say, it wasn’t easy. I was distracted. St. George was my parents’ stomping grounds when they were children. Because I’m a sit-put condo dweller, I was struck by the steady movement of people by foot and car, the expanse of farmland and just how picturesque the Fresh Milk Art Platform really is. My inspiration to write took over.
On our third day here, with the help of Annalee Davis, Fresh Milk’s director and founder, we met with Charles Phillips, a talented photographer and entrepreneur behind Barbados-based Monochrome Media. He’s now our assistant director and 2nd camera for our film shoots. The next day, with Charles, we were able to drive to the Barbados Museum & Historical Society located in the area of Bridgetown & its Garrison. Off camera, Assistant Curator Miguel Pena told us about the founding of the Society in 1933 as he led us to their library. There we read about the history of hurricanes in Barbados. Day 5 took us to the island’s south coast for a crucial interview in Oistins. What we learned grounded us. On Sunday, day 6, we travelled with our flatmate Thais Francis to Bathsheba on the eastern side of the country in St. Joseph. I’m thrilled because we’re seeing context; spaces in towns and villages where people on the move spill onto roads or simply catch a cool breeze on a corner and smart conversation with friends—many of them waving as we passed. Their gestures confirming, “I’m here and I see you.”
In no other country have I felt so welcomed by people who don’t know me. Indeed, 60 years ago Hurricane Janet killed Barbadians, Grenadians and days later Mexicans, carving a path of extensive environmental devastation. Remarkably, that same disaster speaks volumes about the people who lived through it and how they’re ready and willing to tell us about this defining moment.