Going Aloft, Chapter 13

So we’ve finally made it. We’ve crossed an ocean, and now we’re in foreign territory, far from where we began. Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore. Our paradigm has shifted.

Now we must learn a city. Now we must start a business. Now we must work and improve the boat as best as we can, so that when the phone call comes we are ready to charter. But first, we have to clear customs. I give you: Chapter 13.

When writing dialogue in creative nonfiction in a dialect that is not your own, there is always a hazard of slipping into stereotype, of the flesh-and-blood person you are trying to describe becoming nothing more than a slightly racist caricature. I have tried to avoid this at all costs when giving voices to the Bahamians we met along the way. As with all my characters, I have tried to make them accurate representations of the human beings they stand in for, and to have the speech patterns form only the external layer of themselves. We are not how we talk; how we talk is only a part of who we are. Sure, the people I met really did say “mon” and “da Bahamas,” but what were they saying of substance? What did they want; as my theatre teachers used to say, what was their motivation? What individual variations in the language were there? I talked and listened to everybody, from customs officials to little boys to drug dealers to tour guides. What was the slang, what were the little local forms of language indigenous to Nassau that most outsiders would miss?

Bahamian English is a beautiful, melodic speech, rhythmic and full of life, that carries skeletons of the island’s imperial history hidden in every turn of phrase. I have tried to capture that here in this chapter, and will strive to do so for the rest of the book until we finally weigh anchor and turn our bow towards home.

Read it here.

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