This tale starts with a strawberry daiquiri. Or soon gets to the strawberry daiquiri. I had been working as the National GIS coordinator in the British Virgin Islands (or BVI) for about four months. Apart from a quick trip to the UK for Christmas, and a few promises from people to visit when they had time, I had hardly seen a Britisher since I had arrived. I was not particularly complaining, I was enjoying the weather, the new work, getting to know both the Tortolans and the others who worked with me, and exploring novel new environments. But there is something about your native psyche which is inexplicable to foreign minds, and you crave company from your own native land to share a joke, use idioms and can mention references without explaining them.
An email dropped into my inbox one day regarding a Scottish turtle expert who was visiting the BVI to see if he could start a collaboration with the department I worked in, Conservation and Fisheries. I forwarded it to my boss but replied that I could help out if he wanted.
In the February of that year, this expert turned up at the office. A huge sweaty Scotsman –rugby build, in a hurry, hassled in the way only any consultant on his first trip to a new country can be – entered my office. I was lucky to have a corner office at the front of the block overlooking the busiest roundabout on Tortola. People from the rest of the office would come to me not just to talk to me but to seek sanctuary from the craziness in the open plan office outside.
This expert, Brendan Godley was his name (he would often introduce himself as Godley, next to god, although I doubt he ever saw himself as so), sat in my office and talked about how difficult it was to get anything organised in BVI. Of all the people he had contacted before he set off from Swansea where he was a research fellow, I was the only one to reply positively, and he had arrived on the island for a couple of weeks and had no plan of action. He was staying in a fairly rotten hotel in Road Town (the capital) which had no email facility. I later learnt what an email junky he was (regularly receiving 50 – 300 emails a day), so “no email” was a total unknown.
I listened to him talk and saw how much difficultly he was experiencing to get his project ideas going. It was troubling for me, once a fellow consultant type, to see him floundering when time was limited. I had spent several months making life bearable on the island (the months of trying to get a bank account, electrics set up, equipment, pay, car, understand how expensive food was), so anything I could do to ease a fellow Brit’s problems, I thought was a duty.
The hotel and lack of email were obviously the biggest bottlenecks so I said, well, I have an apartment with a spare room, and would be happy for him to stay there; it has dial up but it’s a strong connection, and as long as you pay for some food up there, I would be happy for him to crash with me.
So started a comradeship which extends to this day. Brendan moved up to my apartment just off Tortola’s Ridge Road, and in amongst trying to make sure he could make progress, we had many a long conversation about our histories to date, our overlapping pasts, and life on small islands. Brendan with his partner, Annette, were turtle freaks. They studied every aspect of every species of turtle, them beaching, laying eggs, the hatchlings, their DNA, their diseases, their many-miled migrations across the Atlantic. Tortola was of particular concern as it had a fragile population of leatherback turtles beaching there, the largest and most enigmatic of the turtle species. I learnt so much from him and trooped the beach at Josiah’ Bay one night to wait for the leatherbacks to arrive. Alas nothing that night but one day later on I was called out from the office in Road Town to Josiah’s to watch a female who was laying eggs in the sand during the daytime; an uncommon occurrence. She was hot and dry as she deposited fifty eggs in the sand, covered them with her huge back flippers and struggled back to the sea. But how majestic it was when she reached the sea and this huge tank like body, so clumsy on land, became the perfect marine vessel and we watched her head out to the surf, come up once for a huge gulp of air then speed off into the Atlantic Ocean.