When I met Anguilla

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Every now and then I try to go back and recall what Anguilla looked like to me the first time I saw it, in 1996. I have to strip away all the intimate visual knowingness that I now have and summon up that taxi ride on rutted roads from airport to Rendezvous, past nothing but dry scrub and abandoned projects and squat living quarters, with rusted iron pipes reaching to the sky like sunflowers whose petals and heads had blown away. It was parched, beige, blazing hot.

Ann, Michael and Bankie meeting at the Dune Preserve, photo by Devin Archibald of KSharp Media.

My husband was silent. He later told me his heart sank with each mile, because he had been wanting to bring the right woman to Anguilla long before he met me. Our driver was silent, too. Luis had roared through six months before, and I ventured timidly that we had seen widespread devastation in St. Maarten.

Was what I was seeing here from the hurricane, too, I asked? Whereupon I got my first schooling. ‘We do not build houses like they do in St. Maarten,’ he said, sharply. ‘We build with concrete block, and we put that vertical rebar in there for when we get enough money to build the second floor, and we work on it after we come home from the job. We are living in there fine, we don’t take the loan, and Anguillan houses do – not – blow – down.’ I mumbled something about making a stupid American assumption, in apology, and then he grinned broadly.

Photo of Ann Gerhart and Michael Sokolove on Rendezvous Bay by KSharp Media..

As we turned into the old Sonesta, he gave a theatrical wave toward open and spacious Rendezvous Bay. Its plush white sand and unbelievable turquoise water sparkled in the late-afternoon sun. ‘Now you know,’ he said. Which I always have taken to mean: Now you know our fierce pride in what we have, and in our own worth, and if you respect that, we will share our wisdom with you, in time. And take pride in having you as our guest. And your delight in what we have built in our country, this scruffy rock with all those spectacular, expansive beaches and gentle warm waters.

Cheers to long friendships, photo by Devin Archibald of KSharp Media.

Later, we went for a walk along the beach, lighted only by the moon, following the music from a ramshackle joint. We were completely alone. ‘Should we be doing this?’ asked my husband as I turned to climb the wooden steps. ‘We absolutely should be doing this,’ I said. And there was the proprietor, of course, a Mr. Clement Banks, whose musicianship made my jaw drop, and who some years later told me he learnt his craft partly from an AM station in Detroit, on the clear nights he could tune it in on the radio.

And the Dune Preserve was not ramshackle at all, but intricately and artistically composed from what he’d found and what he built. And that was pretty much that. Bankie would go on to tell me more stories each decade. And I would go on to hear him wrest new meaning from his same songs.

The man himself, Mr. Bankie Banx, photo by Devin Archibald of KSharp Media.

Irma came along, and I saw Bankie reshape the Dune again. One afternoon, my grandson played soccer with his granddaughter on the beach. Anguilla has kept her grip tight on me throughout, over some two dozen visits, teaching me a little more each time. She and her people are sturdy and beguiling and beautiful and complicated and endlessly intriguing, at once unknowable and utterly expansive.

Ann Gerhart

Ann Gerhart

Ann Gerhart is the deputy managing editor of The Washington Post.
Ann Gerhart

Ann Gerhart

Ann Gerhart is the deputy managing editor of The Washington Post.

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