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Lift up your head to the rising sun, Bahamaland.
The sweat beading up at the top of my head is making my forehead stick to the window. I sit up and look around. The pizza shack on the beach we just had lunch can still be seen getting smaller and smaller. I jerk my head so that my sunglasses fall over my eyes. The sun is different in the Bahamas than it is in Florida; it seems closer and more oppressive.
There are about a dozen teenagers on the bus including myself, but there is not a lot of chatter today, maybe just a little chitchat here and there. Most of us are just watching the scenery of downtown Nassau pass. The straw market up ahead is bustling with people, and I can just barely hear a steel band playing 'One Love' to entertain tourists as the shop. In a few minutes we start to roll by stunning hotels and casinos as well as busy shops and strip malls. Eventually, we reach some residential areas and keep going still. At first, all I see are colossal luxurious homes. However, the houses gradually begin to get smaller, the cars start getting older and the grass changes from Barbie-mansion green to a keep-the-water-bill low brown. Without warning, the previously smooth pavement turns into a bumpy dirt road, jerking my head into the seat in front of me. I regain composure and continue to stare out the window. My best friend Lea sitting in the seat behind me leans over an whispers, "Weird, being in this part of the island isn't it? It's so much nicer downtown…". Suddenly, the bus comes to a halt. Relieved that I don't have to answer Lea, I scramble outside to stretch out my sweaty legs.
My friends and I, reenergized by the fresh air, make our way towards a dingy white -or at least once white- building with a big banner reading All Saints Camp on it. Inside we meet a stocky Bahamian with gray hair and a big goofy smile plastered on his face. He introduces himself as Nathan in a slow, warm voice. He said, "Thank you all so much for coming. Here at the All Saints Camp we provide a home for many folks with diseases, mainly HIV and AIDS, who have nowhere else to go. We also provide care and treatments, but unfortunately we lack support from the government, so therefore, money. It will be a nice treat for them to talk to you guys, most of them have family, but no one visits them. That is why they are here in the first place… because nobody wants them. If nothing else, just keep them company, I'm sure you'll bring them much joy. Good luck, and thanks again." He looked us all over once more and directed us to the cabins.
I swing open the wooden back door and stepped onto a sidewalk, that is, if what I was standing on could even be classified as a sidewalk. It was a white slab of concrete that stretched out for as far as I could see. It looked as if this slab of rock had been through an earthquake, fire, and possibly a tornado. It was bumpy and pieces stuck out in weird angles. I had to watch my step carefully to keep from tripping. Fifty meters ahead I spot the little cabins the residents live in. I quicken my pace after I see a rat the size of my dog scamper out of a rotting bathhouse to my left.
The cabins are tiny and in decay, most likely because of termite infestation. The roofs are made of tin with gutters barely attached to them, threateningly suspended at an angle. Each has a door and a small porch area. The porches are made of wooden planks, but many planks have come loose and have been piled up in a corner. Trash and weeds are everywhere. Close by, much too close by, is a large graveyard. Trash and weeds cover that too.
Before long, I’m told that I have been assigned to the closest cabin to my right. Because there are no steps, I leap up onto the porch and hear a crack as I land. The plaque besides the door says Arthur. Slowly, I reach out my hand and knock softly. "Hello Arthur, I’d like to introduce myself. May I come in?" I hear movement inside and then the doors open to reveal a tall scrawny man with glasses, a full head of curly hair and an arched back. "Well hello there miss. Come is, come in." The entire inside of the cabin was about the size of my kitchen and only contained a bed, one nightstand, and one ancient ten-inch television. Arthur sat down on the creaky bed.
"You don't look like you’re from around here,” he said. He didn't say it meanly, he was just curious. His smile made my tense shoulders ease up a little as I began to speak.
"No, I'm not. I'm from the sates. Florida actually. I've only been here for a few weeks with a few of my friends."
"Well then what the heck are you doing here? I'm sure you young people have better places to be."
"Not really, we love to perform, so we though maybe this time we would do it here.”
"Perform huh? What can you do?"
"So you say…sing somethin' then."
I sing a few lines of Amazing grace and look at Arthur for his opinion. "Go on," he says. He is as still as a statue as I pour out the rest of the lyrics. After I'm done, he does something that surprises me. He opens his mouth an starts singing the Bahamian national anthem in a booming voice.
“Lift up your head to the rising sun, Bahamaland; March on to glory, your bright banners waving high. See how the world marks the manner of your bearing…Steady sunward, though the weather hide the wide and treach'rous shoal. Lift up your head to the rising sun, Bahamaland."
At this, I clap and laugh, not because it was funny but because he was so passionate and full of zeal. It put my performance to shame. Arthur does a little bow and laughs along.
Its funny supposed to be here to make Arthur happy and joyful, and yet until this moment I didn't even know what Joy was. Joy is being able to laugh when you have nothing, and it only took me five minutes with this man to learn that. Arthur starts to sing again. I don't know the words, so I just hum along, wondering if Arthur has always been a joyful person, or if its something that came with the numeral trials he must have faced in his lifetime.