I met Thursday with a plan. Matt, the other Bahamas Habitat pilot, would arrive in Nashville in our Cherokee 6 at 6 a.m. sharp. We would fly to Albany, GA and meet Mark Grimaldi to pick up Abe’s bike, fly to Ft. Pierce, FL to refuel and complete the last bit of paperwork before leaving the country, cross the water and arrive on Eleuthera before Customs closes at 5 pm. There were major issues with this plan. I arrived at 6 am sharp at the airport, as did Matt. Two problems: bad weather and a failed audio panel. A full day of problem solving left with us staying over for the night and tracking down a new audio panel from Georgia. It was installed the next morning and we were on our way to Albany where we met Mark.
Mark is by far one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. His connection to Bahamas Methodist Habitat (BMH) is he helps the family serving here with me as their transportation back to the States when they need to go. A rough childhood brought him to the day after graduating high school when he sent his bicycle from Pennsylvania to California and rode it to Canada to get in touch with some of his family. Then he rode it back to Pennsylvania. In 26 days. He has done this twice. The second time was after defeating a struggle with cancer from working with a chemical engineering company. As a result of the cancer, the company moved him to NYC for 2 years, all expenses paid. He was then transferred to Albany, GA continuing with this company and bought a chemistry set on ebay. The chemistry set grew to the company he now owns and operates and is doing very well.
Mark met Matt and I at Albany’s airport and after looking at the weather, we decided that it was best to wait until the following day because of storms in Albany and all of Florida. This weather stayed until Saturday night, so we stayed until Sunday morning with the Grimaldis. Mark took us to his office. I was excited, no doubt, and he gave us a tour. It was like a Willy Wonka factory! Mark’s company produces artificial pineapple flavoring and that’s the smell through the whole factory. Huge vats of gases and water and condensation are producing the flavoring. This company also produces mint flavoring in toothpaste, chemical to detect explosive elements on people’s hands, a dry cleaning chemical so safe you can practically drink it and the whole state of California is required to use it, and more things! We also got some dry ice from a huge container to help preserve the 120 lbs. of ham and turkey that we have on board for KP’s wedding on the 19th. That was fun too.
Then we went to their house! The property is 10 acres of pecan trees and a swamp with a walkway leading to a gazebo in the middle and a beautiful house. Mark’s wife and two girls were great and they took care of us completely. We spent Saturday at the Riverquarium and couldn’t miss the amazing display of 3000 Santa Clauses. It was ridiculous and, the Santas were a little overrated. They were just someone’s giant collection of Santa dolls and figurines all in one small room. It was a lot of Santa.
Sunday we were finally able to leave without the worry of icing. We made it to Ft. Pierce where our path intersected with Paul Zdybel (pronounced Zy-bell) on his way back from Eleuthera to Myrtle Beach. Paul came down the first time for the Fly-In and Help Out event in October. We are thankful for the time and service he donated when he came back down last week to provide transportation services for BMH. They flew to 4 different islands in a week to finish a roof and see other projects that we will be working on this summer. We finally got to Eleuthera at 3 p.m. after 4 days of traveling.
We didn’t stay down long as Abe was in Nassau and Manex was still on Andros where Paul took them and the roof project was. We left with KP and LaDonna on Monday morning and went to Nassau. We exchanged KP for Abe and continued to Andros, about 25 miles southwest of Nassau. Andros is the largest and least populated island in the Bahamas and where Manex is from originally. Here we planned to meet a group who flew in Christmas presents to the community who they met when they came to serve through BMH last summer. It was exciting to see the long-term commitment of the church to the community. I got to ride around town with Manex and LaDonna seeing what he calls home. His family is incredibly warm and loving.
Later that afternoon we flew back to Nassau where we stayed for the night. As we were getting in line to land, another pilot declared an emergency that one of the engines was overheating. We literally got directed out into the wild blue yonder until the plane landed safely. Everything turned out fine and we got to land.
The evening was spent at KFC and slight culture shock as we went to see Atlantis on Paradise Island. One of my favorite parts was seeing a shop at the resort who sells hand woven baskets made by women on Current Island, the island with the future children’s home. We stayed the night with a large happy family. It was incredibly fun meeting them, especially having a special place in my heart for Liberia. This family includes 9 children (I think) and 3 of them are adopted from Liberia. The husband/wife lived in Liberia for a handful of years and adopted the kids during their time there. They still travel back fairly regularly. The environment at this house is calm, organized chaos. One of the kids was 4 years old, biologically their son, named Tymen. I met him as he literally jumped on a mattress nonstop for a whole conversation. He really wants to be a dad and asked if I was a mom. Midsentence he does a flip in the air. My head bobbed to keep up with the conversation with every up and down he went. Tymen said good morning to me this morning wearing a lion costume.
We flew back this morning to Eleuthera and are home for the week until we go pick Abe and KP up in Nassau on Friday. The airplane is here and is wasting no time at all. We stopped at Mrs. Lee’s café on the way back to camp for some lunch at the same time as lunch break for the school, which is just across the street. It didn’t take 5 minutes after getting out of the car to have kids running up and hugging everyone as they go get food from Mrs. Lee, a baby’s in my arms and Charlie is being sweet 70-year-old Charlie saying hello.
We have a team of about 15 college students coming on Sunday.