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I’ve been thinking a lot about communities lately. How they form, what they mean, and how they fit into our lives.
We’ve been lucky enough to be welcomed into two communities so far in Bequia, both very different. This is a little exploration of what that might mean for us.
Communities through my life
In my former life as a researcher, I kicked off some work around communities and how they impacted wellbeing. I didn’t think much about what it meant to me at the time though.
I’ve often felt on the outside, and come from a family that would probably say the same. Community wasn’t something that meant much to me as a child. And it may not have always meant something positive. When we moved from England to Scotland when I was six, we didn’t really assimilate. A lot of the Kelso community then was very focused on round table clubs. Networking dinners. Balls. The annual Civic Week events. Social climbing towards the bungalows on the poshest residential estate.
My parents didn’t really subscribe to that. They had bought a partially derelict villa to restore. They were business owners, but in a creative industry, so people didn’t connect. As publishers, their connections lay in other cities, not locally. As atheists, we didn’t go to church. My parents didn’t know my friends’ parents or my teachers. So we just sat, on the periphery.
We weren’t ‘club’ people. I’m still not. No football teams to support, no sports or instruments played. There was very little forming, storming, conforming, or norming for me. And I think I conflated the concept of community with clubs and tribalism, things I still dislike to this day. Being ‘rejected’ by a community made me see only the negative. I didn’t realise that the elderly neighbours who half raised me were our little community.
Finding my people
Then at college, I found people I connected with, and the internet happened, and I found more. Goths and weirdos. My people. Online communities were where I felt at home and met people “like me”, and I started to think that community meant just that. People who totally understood you. Some of those people are still in my life, 23 years later. The same happened at University. I never made large groups of friends or wanted to, but I found small collections of people I couldn’t live without.
Colin’s dad was a church minister, so he saw the church communities his parents and relatives found joy in. He was welcomed into a fraternity when he spent time at Valparaiso University in Indiana, and will for life be a Sig Tau. Ultimately though, he’s like me – not involved in much, with just a few close friends.
We did get a taste of a community feeling though. In my last year of university, we lived in the same suburb of Cambridge as a few friends. We had a community of sorts – a weekly pub quiz, summer BBQs, parties. Or was it a family? It is now.
And at workplaces, I found communities. Not always the teams I was in, but groups that formed independently of the work structure. My “Clerkeoke” friends, the people I worked with on sustainability for years, the LGBTQ network I marched at Pride with. And of course, the random bampots who I’d always end up talking to on a night out.
I should say as well that my Dad found his community in Kelso too. He started a folk club, which is still going strong over 25 years later. The way I’m welcomed on a night out by his friends tells me how strong that community is.
Communities in neighbourhoods
When we moved into our first flat, an Edinburgh tenement, there was virtually no community. A couple of meals with some nice neighbours who then moved away. Helping the woman downstairs with a broken doorbell. The guy in the corner shop knowing us. But ultimately, nothing tangible. Our next home, a new build, was even worse. It was unusual if people would even greet each other in the lift.
Maybe that was why we didn’t want to stay in those places. Both were great homes, but ultimately we didn’t feel rooted there.
We finally got a taste of what community felt like when we moved to the New Town in Edinburgh. This wasn’t like Cambridge, where we were with people we knew already. This was going along to a summer garden party and chatting to total strangers. Joining a local tennis club for a season and being welcomed despite being awful at it. Getting to know our neighbours well enough to have drinks together. Lending each other tools. As well as the social aspect, there was a place aspect. We kept our neighbourhood looking nice together. On the rare winters where we had snow, we’d clear the pavement in front of our house. We’d take in each other’s recycling bins.
We loved the communities within the community. I got more out of my years visiting Ivy for salon treatments or my time visiting East Side Yoga daily than I ever have from therapy. By going to classes alone, I learned how to make new friends and be braver, and look inside myself. I felt more valued as a person because I felt valuable to the community I was a part of. And I felt independent, with life beyond Colin, and work.
That may be one of the reasons why we took so long to decide to sell. We felt so settled in that area, in that community.
Finding new communities
I think, when you’ve had that sense of community – be it from neighbourhood, a club, a group of friends, or a workplace, losing it becomes scary.
We didn’t really notice leaving our Edinburgh community when we left. We went back to Kelso so it was familiar, we were very busy, and it was lockdown. But it’s a place where people will always nod and say hello when out for a walk. And it remains a town where, even after years away, we can walk into Rendezvous chippie and Enzo will greet us like we were there last week.
When we first moved out to Bequia, we didn’t really think about communities and contacts. We were very focused on maintaining contact with friends in the UK and US. On the whole though, we kind of thought it might be mostly just us. We didn’t know any better. We didn’t realise we’d miss being part of a community so much, or place so much importance on it. But it turns out that I in particular really did, especially the independence I felt in a community.
My homesickness absolutely comes in part from feeling disconnected. Adrift. And alone.
That’s why I think I felt so much guilt when I started to struggle the other week because Bequia has been so welcoming.
Even before we came out of quarantine, we had a community on Bequia. We owe so much to Chris and Louise, our quarantine hosts, for making us feel at home and like we had connections here. During the volcanic eruption, our neighbour Cathy checked in that we were okay, and that was our first hint of how kind and considerate this community is.
By the time we had been out of quarantine for three days, we bumped into people we knew every time we went to town. Every time we would go to a bar or restaurant, someone new would introduce themselves. And so many already knew who we were – word had spread so fast about the “young couple” from Scotland buying Richard’s boat. New friends invited us for drinks, and we got to know much of the Bequia scene. We even bumped into an acquaintance we met in the vaccine queue while we were on the mainland buying wine!
This is, it should be noted, the Bequia immigrant scene, of Brits, Americans, and Canadians for the most part. There is no animosity that we’ve felt between the local population and incomers here, but we also haven’t seen a lot of social interaction either. We’ve been made to feel just as welcome by locals though, and are now well known in a few businesses, enough so to make a visit compelling as it just feels nice to catch up. And of course, the beach dogs of Bequia are always welcoming.
Like Kelso, people say hello when you pass in the street, but unlike Kelso, we’ve had a genuine interest from people in our presence. It should be noted that both places have a similar population, though the incomer population we’ve been adopted by is much smaller.
As welcome as we’ve been made to feel here, there has been a slight “new kid at school” feel. That high level of curiosity. The insecure teenager inside me wonders if we’re just being asked to sit with the cool kids so they can suss us out. And there’s a clear desire to make sure we love Bequia and tell our friends that. But maybe there is just a level of pragmatism – the island desperately needs its tourist and cruising industry to return, and we won’t be here forever.
Therein lies the problem, and the source of a lot of my anxiety. It’s all very well making links here, but what happens when we leave?
The cruising community
Thankfully, the last week has more than reassured me.
We had been deliberately hanging out at the Marina bar, hoping to meet other cruisers. But in all honesty, whenever we saw other cruisers, we were too shy to introduce ourselves. They all seemed to know one another. We’d frustratingly missed a cruisers pot-luck and rum shop tour last weekend when we were in Mayreau, so missed the mingling opportunity.
I’d also been making an effort to be active on Instagram and Facebook forums. I’m so grateful for the support we’ve had from other cruisers, but, just like my friends, they’re generally a long way away.
Then we decided to have a quiet sunset dinner at Jacks on Tuesday. For a welcome change, the bar was jumping. A large group were gathered, tow-headed boat children running around spreading laughter. This was a cruising community we hadn’t yet encountered, a group of yachts anchored by Princess Margaret beach.
Within minutes, Oda came over to introduce herself and invite us over. The group was international but more Dutch than not. We didn’t chat for too long, with the childrens’ bedtime looming, but I was invited to join in yoga on the beach the next morning.
A confession. I love yoga. I’ve practiced for around 20 years on and off. My favourite disciplines are Vinyasa, Hatha, and Yin. I miss East Side Yoga dearly. But I hate to practice alone. Even over Zoom with my favourite instructors, I lack the discipline to show up to my mat. I just need to feel the energy of others nearby. I haven’t practiced much since pre-lockdown, in October, as a result.
So, despite my nerves around doing something alone, the next morning I drove the dinghy to the beach. This was my first ever time taking Dog out alone – I was that keen to practice. The dinghy ride went fine, and the yoga went even better. Lizzy, from SV Samadhi, teaches Rocket Yoga (a more accessible Ashtanga) and led a tough but wonderful class. With the beach dogs lying between us, the sun peeking through the almond tree overhead, and the waves crashing nearby, it was bliss.
Everything hurt afterward, but I went back the next day, and we meditated. For 25 minutes we all sat perfectly still. I’ve never done that successfully before.
And then the next day, we worked through 90-minutes of Rocket – twisting, balancing, hopping, and bending. I loved it. Bending my Anglo-Scottish body alongside my Dutch, German, Swiss, Canadian, and Austrian fellow-cruisers seemed to melt all of my worries away. Yoga gives me time with other people, and away from Mirounga and Colin. It gives me my own thing, and some much-needed independence.
Lizzy, with her husband Steef, and their young son Jack, has left for the ABCs now, but it looks like Quebecois Lou from SV Lupine will take over. I’ll be back.
A floating community
Last night, we went back to Jacks for drinks to send SV Samadhi’s crew on their way. There was a party atmosphere, and from the outside, you would think these people had known each other for years, instead of having met only days, weeks, or months ago. We finally spent some time just chatting to fellow cruisers. What we had done with our boats, where we had been, how long we might keep sailing…
We’re in a strange niche in sailing. Other cruisers our age often have children. Years of careers, mortgages, and savings mean we may be able to do this for longer than our younger friends. And we’re not as fancy-free as some of the older “second-youth” cruisers.
But that doesn’t matter. As we shared a meal with Antonia and Daniel from SV Porqueno, and Vera and Jeroen (and their dog Bruno) from SV Philos, I was reminded of three things. We didn’t buy a boat to stay in one place – we can and will move. One of the reasons we did this was to meet people, and we can and will do that too. And the cruising community is small – we already have people in common on Instagram.
We all have varying plans. We will move in time. Porqueno is leaving Bequia today, but we’ll probably see them in the Tobago Cays next week. I’ll keep going to yoga on the beach as long as it happens here. We may plan to go south later than others, in 4-5 weeks, but we will undoubtedly see many of these people again. My anxiety about spending the hurricane season in Grenada, without the Bequia community for company, has eased. We know we’ll either settle into a community or choose to anchor where friends are.
It might be in Grenada or Guadeloupe. It might be in the ABCs or San Blas. Or it might even be in French Polynesia or the Whitsundays. It could be a week, a month, or years. But we will continue to make connections, and see familiar hulls, and find ourselves stretching out on the sand with people who understand exactly what our life is like because they’re living it too.