My quick trip over to St Vincent that week was uneventful, but on return visits I discovered more. On my second trip I was staying in central Kingstown, in the fabulous Cobblestone Inn. Although not a typical tourist hotel , it had such character. Set in a colonnade of old buildings along the front street, you meandered through a darkly lit alleyway to some steep stairs. The hotel reception was open on one side at the top of these stairs. The rooms were off in all directions; this place was an old sugar warehouse and their were no large windows in the room. But there was no need for them. The rooftop café gave a glimpse over the harbour front, and I could watch the ferries coming in and out, a container ship offloading its cargo with its own derricks, and the occasional cruise liner that visited. The town itself was surrounded by wall-like hills, hundreds of houses clinging to every crevice, the little roads winding steeply up and over the edge. Behind the town, a looming forest clad mountain blocked movement that way, only two roads left the town; the Windward and Leeward highways that ran up and down their respective coasts.
I was working in the main government building, a rather out-of-context pink building right on the waterfront. Gleaming and air conditioned on the inside, but also very empty. I taught twice in there and like so many Caribbean workshops I have participated, the best thing is the snacks. West Indians love their stomachs, and every couple of hours, they like to fill them with lovely spicy sandwiches, patties, fruit, sweet fruit drinks, banana bread and fruit cake. I would often keep my breakfast down to a minimum and wait for the mid morning snack.
The fruit juices are wonderful. As well as the usual grapefruits, orange and pineapple, sorrel was often available, which had such a sweet and refreshing effect. Mauby was also often served. It is difficult for me to say that I universally like Mauby as almost every time I have tried it, it has been a different taste. Made from the bark of the Mauby tree, it is mixed to varying degrees in sugar, which I think accounts for my various flavours. It comes over very fresh and sweet at first sip, but has a strong bitter aftertaste that can often ruin the whole experience.
One of the workshops in St Vincent brought together people from SVG itself, British Virgin Islands and a wonderful man from Dominica, Andrew Magloire. We all got on very well, and the sessions were a lot of fun. Andrew was tall and gaunt, tightly curled grey hair and a small grey beard. Guessing his age was difficult, but I narrowed it down to somewhere between 35 and 70. He moved and talked with gravity, and his grey eyes pierced your consciousness every time he engaged in a conversation. And yet he was a marvellously generous man, frugal in his habits, devoutly religious and incredibly accommodating. He twigged what I was trying to teach very quickly and was instrumental in getting me to Dominica the following year to conduct a similar training exercise. He put a lot of thought and effort into every deliberate move, never wasting a single breathe.
The other key person in the group was Margaret. A Nigerian by birth, she had come over to the Caribbean as a United Nations Volunteer and had ended up in Tortola working for the British Virgin Islands’ Conservation and Fisheries Department. Incredibly hard working and enthusiastic, she was the driving force behind the workshop and my most ardent supporter. She also had the knack of acting like a mother to us all, chastising us when we were naughty, keeping us going when we were tired and looking after us at every turn. She was fantastic. She was also incredibly funny. Although she loved her kids dearly in Tortola, she quite relished the chance to be away. On one weekend, she decided to have her hair dressed. I had some work to do in the hotel, so took my laptop up to the rooftop café and tapped away all morning, just opposite where Margaret’s room was. A woman had come in to her room to wash and set her hair and I saw the whole laborious process. First her own hair was washed, dried and combed. Then starting from left ear to right, every piece of hair was taken and woven into a series of extensions, which were afterwards platted. The entire process took nearly six hours, and Margaret kept on making bored, hot and tired faces at me every time I passed the open door. The results were magnificent though, a massive body of neatly placed plat adorned her head. I had to ask her how often she had to go through this to maintain extensions. She told me it was every six weeks and yet most Caribbean women have these.