Being soothed into restful sleep by the sound of the ocean gently lapping a white sand beach on a balmy tropical night is, for many, the Caribbean dream. Such romantic imagery was uppermost in my mind when I arrived in the region to spend my first night with my new Caribbean family.
“Sleep well,” said my mother-in-law, as my wife and I retired to bed with a couple of rum nightcaps under our belts. This is the life, I reflected, slipping beneath the cool cotton sheets and sparing a momentary thought for my friends left behind in cold, dreary England.
The dogs started barking early. Actually, the dogs don’t stop barking in my mother-in-law’s neighbourhood – they’re just occasionally obscured by other noises. A thumping party a mile away continued long into the night, sporadically augmented by a bleating frog symphony, a nearby pygmy owl’s piercing call and countless car alarms. The alarms triggered another domino chain of barking, inciting every dog in a five-mile radius to frenzy. And so the cycle would repeat.
I lay there for an age listening to these noises, my wife’s soft breathing and the whining of ravenous mosquitoes outside the net in which we were encased like a giant teabag. I must’ve finally drifted off in the small hours to the low hum of the fan at the base of our bed, valiantly battling the nighttime stickiness. Not much later, and well before daybreak, came a rhythmical and persistent ‘clack… clack, clack… clack’ from outside.
“You have to be kidding,” I griped – or words to that effect.
A neighbour ‘dong de road’ had decided it was a fine morning for a spot of yard work, and was attacking his section with a traditional brushcutter. West Indians of a certain generation had grown accustomed to rising early to work. The neighbour’s target was grass but, judging by the sound of blade striking stone and metal, the vegetation hid a treasure trove of rubbish.
My mother-in-law’s home was built in the 1980s, in the days before air-conditioning became commonplace, and the top layer of each exterior wall was comprised of air bricks. These brought some comfort from the heat but provided no barrier to noise. The neighbour could have been gardening next to my head. His efforts set off the neighbourhood dogs once more, and by the time the first rays of light began filtering through the old-fashioned net curtains, some cockerels joined the party to crow in the new day.
As I lay there, I became conscious of a straw gardening hat bobbing back and forth past the window. I didn’t know it then, but this too would become a routine disturbance. Every morning my mother-in-law would rise before dawn, don her gardening gear and be picking, plucking, sowing and hoeing by daybreak. The majority of that activity seemed to take place directly outside our ground-floor bedroom, where six half oil drums – upturned, filled with soil and balanced on bricks – were her seedling nursery.
My mother-in-law was happiest when in her garden, a state of bliss evidenced by the near continuous whistling and singing as she tended lovingly to her plants. With the bright morning light now streaming in, the pygmy owl gave one last call and I gave up on sleep.
Sitting on the porch with a foggy head and a cup of tea, I stared zombie-like into middle distance as some young dude with a booming subwoofer drove past and my mother-in-law, resplendent in muddy boots and a floral dress, rounded the corner of the house.
“Yuh sleep well?” she beamed.