So we are now exactly 17 months into our journey and we have most definitely passed into a place where St Helena feels like home, and this feels like normal life. This time last year we had just experienced six months of whale watching, exploring our new home, walking, swimming diving and snorkelling with whale Sharks, in what felt like a working holiday, one of those volunteer type placements that students do in their gap year! But this year things are distinctly different, but no less brilliant. Life is more “normal” this summer. In fact we are still waiting for summer to arrive, it has been a very long and slow burn with St Helena’s wet, misty mild winter clinging on well past Christmas and into the New Year. The odd day of glorious sunshine arrives, heralding the start of months of sun, only to be wiped out by the evening by the next wave of fog rolling in from the Atlantic.
This has had its effect on our leisure activities, the usual snorkelling and sea swimming has been reduced, and I didn’t start diving until well into December this year as sea temperatures have been slow to rise apparently a result of the large El Nino effect this year. This has also had an effect on the Whale Sharks this year as we await our first swim with them. They have been around St Helena for some time, but only recently have they moved to the North Western, leeward side of the Island where swimming is safe.
Despite the weather we did manage a walk to Cox’s Battery under the magnificent gaze of the Barn.
This has all led us to think and appreciate the other elements to our life here, the general day to day living, the friendly meet and greet in the street and work, which, as far as work can ever be, is pretty great.
Bev introduced a new Marine O’level qualification ten months ago, not only was this a first for St Helena, it’s such a new qualification that it’s only the second year it’s been available anywhere in the World. It is great testament to Bev, and the students therefore that the recently released results read 100% pass, with 1 A*, 1B and 4 C’s. Fantastic result and if teachers are to be blamed when things go bad, there should damn well be some credit when things go well. Im so very proud of the positive impact Bev has made and continues to make on the Island and at Prince Andrew School.
As for me, my working days continue to be varied and interesting. Take last Friday, my day started with two hours of preparation for an online Air Traffic Control exam, the first step in a long process of my next potential dream career. My current dream career of professional photographer was next on the list as I spent a very enjoyable few hours at Rosemary Plain Coffee Plantation where one of the World’s rarest, best and most expensive coffees are grown. I have a new job to produce photos that will potentially be used for point of sale imagery in Harrods, London! I then came home and did further work on some tourist interpretive signage that will soon be erected around the Island. This has been a fantastic job incorporating my photography, my design and much of my text and research that will hopefully be enjoyed by tourists long after I have left St Helena.
Next up was domestic duties as I prepared home-made Carrot and Coriander soup for Bev, nothing better than home cooked dinner when you get home from work as I do my best to juggle my almost full time work with being domestic Dad. This was followed by building another den for the boys who were looking forward to having a friend for a sleep over that night. I feel generally quite proud with how I balance things, there is no doubt that since I have picked up more and more work, the house is less and less clean and tidy, and granted I still struggle with the children and finding enough time for them, but overall Im doing ok at it all.
We were very proud of Oliver last weekend as he embarked on his first camping trip with the Local Beavers and Scouts. And what a weekend it was, as we drove to the campsite across the Islands central ridge, the journey to the end of the World sprang to mind as we drive through fog so thick I could barely see the end of the car, never mind the road. As we descended from the ridge the fog thinned and visibility increased to a positively clear 20m or so. We arrived at the camp site, an area called Thompson wood, which, under different circumstances I imagine very beautiful, but today it reminded me of summer holidays in the Lake District. Wet, cold muddy and really not inviting. Oliver was undeterred and although nervous he ran off with his friends, leaving me and Charlie to try and get the car out of the quagmire! Oliver spent two nights on camp, sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor, eating food they had made and cooked on a log fire, running around a muddy field and playing with friends. He came home in the same clothes I left him in, having not changed out of them even once, he smelt bad and his hair was disgusting, but he absolutely loved it! Considering we were over four thousand miles from the UK, this was camping UK style, in a way that only Brits can, or would even consider doing!
This last weekend has seen a return to the life we remembered from last summer on St Helena. On Saturday we celebrated Charlie’s 5th Birthday with a barbeque, swimming and water sports fun in Ruperts Valley. Charlie, having had his first taste on Jet Ski’s a few weeks ago at Lemon Valley was desperate for another go, so we agreed to hire one of the local providers, Oceano Extreme. Jet Ski’s, knee boarding, banana boat rides and speed boats were the order of the day and fun was had by all. Back in the UK I’ve no doubt that Charlies 5th birthday would have been a party at soft play, or maybe at home with a bouncy castle, the fact that we can have a barbeque by the sea, swim and enjoy jet skis is just one of the normalities, and huge bonuses of life here.
Sunday started as a beautiful sunny day, and despite all being tired and feeling rather lazy we decided to clear off the hangover with a swim and snorkel in James Bay. As the waters have now warmed up a bit we plunged in and enjoyed the site of hundreds of butterfly fish, curious puffers and the ever present five fingers!
Despite all the positives, life on St Helena was brought into stark reality last week, as a baby, born prematurely needed to be medevacked off the Island. An incredible joint effort and community driven machine suddenly rolled into action. The RMS, on its way back from Ascension Island was hurried to arrive in port some 12 hours early. Containers were unloaded and loaded through the night, and travellers, due to depart on the 17th January were contacted and rushed to prepare for departure a full 24 hours early. Tourists cut short their holidays, crew cut short their shore leave and volunteers and staff at the hospital worked tirelessly through the night and early morning to ensure that the young child was on board with all the necessary life support equipment for the journey.
It is with huge sadness that I tell you the poor boy did not make the journey and passed away on route to Walvis Bay, Namibia. I cannot begin to imagine the suffering of the poor parents, one of whom travelled whilst the other waited anxiously at home. There are many sides to the airport story on St Helena and whether it will bring improvements, and prosperity to the Island, or destroy a way of life and community, but I feel the community on St Helena is more than strong enough to survive a few more tourists and when events occur as they did last week it highlights the desperate need to be able to get patients to medical care quicker than is currently possible. The hospital here is undergoing a multi-million pound upgrade, the staff are nothing short of incredible, but it is a stark reality that a population of four thousand people can never have all of the specialist care and experience that a medical team in a major city hospital will have, and there will always be a need to get people to that care as quickly as possible. We wait with bated breath to hear when indeed that airport will be open and quicker passage is possible.
I leave today’s blog with the words of Lisa Rhodes, Hospital Senior Nursing Officer, all round incredible woman, and Im proud to say good friend. I recall a message from Lisa before she arrived here, the strictly London City girl incredibly nervous about how she would cope on such a small Island and close community, everyone knowing each other’s business. Lisa travelled with the patient to Walvis bay and was integral in the effort to get him there, she wrote to the local paper whilst on route to Walvis bay and here is what she had to say. For all the ups and downs on St Helena, the problems people face and the wonderful experiences we have had, this is what St Helena is all about, and anyone who has had the privilege of living and working here, experiencing life here will know this all too well.
“ I am sitting on the RMS at a bit of a loss for words with the events of the last week. Everyone involved in this situation is truly devastated and our hearts are breaking for two wonderful parents and their beautiful brave little boy.
In the midst of all this I feel I have a need to say thank you.
Thank you to all of the staff in the hospital, who, when faced with an emergency ensured that everything kept running smoothly. It is a testament to your knowledge and skill. This allowed those who were needed to be able to focus on the job in hand. I am so very proud of the amazing team we have become; Cleaners, Nursing Assistants, Nurses, Doctors, Kitchen staff, Admin staff, Pharmacy, Laboratory,…..the list goes on. We were faced with a situation that no one wanted to be in, but together we dealt with it. In a time of negativity and bad press towards the services, it needed to be highlighted that an outstanding job was done by all.
I need to thank all of those who stayed late and came in early to help organise the medivac effort. We could not have done this without the hard work and support of our Director and Assistant Director. A huge number of hours were put in across SHG to try and get a solution. To the guys who were at the hospital at 5am to help us move the huge amount of equipment needed for our journey, thank you for your patience and care with our equipment and our very precious cargo.
To the RMS and shipping for their help in getting into St Helena early, and allowing us to leave earlier than scheduled. The Captain and crew have been no less than outstanding throughout. To all the passengers who had to leave a day early, thank you. Thank you for accepting this change of plan with such grace and compassion and for being so supportive towards us all on this trip. To the staff on the wharf loading and unloading passengers at unusual hours so we could get away early….thank you.
It is once again a testament to the Island that in times of crisis and need, everyone steps up and stands together regardless of whether they are Saint, British, South African or from elsewhere on the globe. The team work that I witnessed throughout could not be matched anywhere in the World and I am so privileged to be part of this team and this Island.
No number of thank you’s will ever be enough to convey my gratitude”.
Lisa Rhodes. Hospital Nursing Officer.