Bahamian writer Ethan Knowles shares his final blog post about his Fresh Milk residency. Written a week after his return to the Bahamas, Ethan looks back on his month in Barbados, particularly the building crescendo of his last few days which culminated in the event FRESH MILK XXII: Residency Readings on his last night. A visit to the East Coast was the catalyst he needed to solidify his ideas for the short story he presented at the event, adding a twist to the interpretations and expectations of the frequently asked, loaded question islanders get – what is it like to live here? Read more below:
East Coast antics
It’s been a week since I left Barbados. Since I’ve sat under a zinc roof, surrounded by good souls and the slow billowing serenade of idle cows. It’s been a week since four weeks of reading, writing and fish cake crawling. It’s been a week, and what a few weeks it’s been.
Week four came right after the Barbados Pride parade, an endlessly inspiring event that brought water to my eyes and liquified my thighs. I walked and wined and smiled and sung and all the while felt welcomed in space I had only known a few weeks. What struck me especially about the parade (my first of the kind) was, frankly, how well it all worked out. It brought together people from separate walks on the same walk: a walk through Bridgetown meant to bring together what, for so long in our region, has not been allowed to be.
Love in all its forms filtered through the streets of Barbados and for making it happen leading organizer RoAnn Mohammed of Equals Barbados must be applauded.
In the days that followed, the whole cohort got to work preparing for FRESH MILK XXII: Residency Readings. Kia, Ark and I gathered our wits and began crafting a range of stories to read and perform on what would be my last night on the island. All the while I began to wonder. Who would my story follow? What would happen? And how would it all intersect with my month of study? These questions hovered around my head like hummingbirds as I went through the week in search of the right words and who would say them.
In the meantime, the whole Fresh Milk team had the opportunity to tour the wonderful work-in-progress multi-use creative ecosystem that is Union Collaborative, an ongoing project spearheaded by designer Israel Mapp. The soon-to-be urban hub for arts and design sat two stories high on a city block in Bridgetown, and hidden away at its core was a beautiful sunbaked courtyard. After moving around its eccentric rooms, we made our way over to Norman Centre to chat with Kraig Yearwood about his forthcoming exhibition “Retro-Future Landscapes” and eventually share a vegan meal with a side of mafia stories.
East Coast antics
Later in the week I took a trip to the east coast.
It felt like the edge of the world. Long sweeping breaks of surf faded away at the foot of steep slopes and a haze like held breath hung around the edges. It was mythic, haunting even.
It was just what I needed.
And with that I began to write My First Vacation, a story which draws from Isaac Babel’s My First Fee but reads unmistakably Caribbean. It deals with topics of class, grief and space on a small island. There are more than a few touches of humor written into it, but they slip and slide between deeply somber and even morbid moments. In writing it I was thinking a lot about the question of “What’s it like to live here?”– a question I get fairly often at home in New Providence. What is it like to live on a small island? Does the here of the visitor translate to the here of the local? And, if there is a disconnect, who is allowed to cross that divide? Is the question a rhetorical one? Does it beg for an answer, or require a confirmation? What might it miss?
Writing the story was for me an attempt to think through, if not answer, these questions. I feel we tend to believe that you think and then you write. That you have this thing you want to express and that all you need to do is find the words that fit. For me, it was quite a different experience altogether. I didn’t know what I thought. I had no answers. But I did want to make my way toward finding them, to stumble upon something. And so, I set about writing. And that’s how I found my way.
Many thanks to Annalee, Katherine, Ark, and Kia for all the love and support they’ve shown me since I arrived at Grantley Adams International Airport.
Fresh Milk Family. Photo by Dondré Trotman