One of the best things about living on Bonaire, is the sea. That beautiful azure blue sea that shines towards you in the travel guide, where more lives than you initially suspect. In the Netherlands, I wasn’t much of a sea-goer. I never went to the sea, rarely booked a beach vacation, and am actually not very sun-loving at all. Still, I ended up on Bonaire and said “yes” when my friend asked me if I wanted to live on the island.
We live near Bachelors Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches on the island, in my opinion. It’s not Scheveningen or Venice Beach. We don’t know that crowds here, and it wouldn’t fit here either. It’s a relatively small beach, where you come down to the beach via a staircase.
It is not listed as a diving or snorkeling site, yet you will often encounter divers and snorkelers here. Fish and other underwater wildlife apparently think and swim outside the box. I encountered squid, sea turtles and the biggest moray eel I’ve ever seen, swam here. If you don’t necessarily want or need to cross off a bucket list of fish, Bachelors beach is a great place to bring your scuba gear.
Last Monday, I was there with Patrick to cool off in the water. The place was crowded. It is not high season now, but the school vacations have started and, judging by the number of rental cars, there are quite a few tourists on the island anyway. Bachelors beach, in addition to being a favorite swimming spot for many, is also a place where you can watch the sun set properly. Bonaire’s sunsets can be spectacular; I haven’t seen them anywhere else as beautiful as here. So around sunset, Bachelors beach is usually crowded. Folding chairs are unfolded, flaps of pickups are used as seats, and coolers filled with refreshments, cold beers or other cool drinks are pulled open.
We were accosted by Ron, a man we recently met, an American who also lives near this spot and is often there around the same time as we do. “Hi Helen, are you also here for the òau…str…t?”
For the what? “For the òastraklot” Oastraklot? I asked. “Yeah, the oisterclòud!”
I really had no idea what he was talking about and every time I thought I understood the word correctly, the next time it was pronounced it became different. He began to explain to me what it was, seeming to start from that which in education we call “the initial situation. During his explanation, I understood that he estimated my ‘initial situation’ and language level higher than what I actually mastered. Austracloud (or “oisterkot” as Patrick had overheard it) was a phenomenon and to see it you had to go underwater. What exactly caused it, I could not decipher, but from his enthusiasm, the additions“gorgeous,”“awesome,” “wonderful,” “never seen anything like that,” and all the grand gestures that accompanied it, it had to be something very special.
“Wow Ron, sounds great, never seen yet.” Within an hour we could see it with our own eyes if we wanted and otherwise we had to wait a whole month. We decided we would give it “a try” the next month and wished Ron good luck with the austraklot (or oister kots).
What did he say, I understood oisterkots, did you understand what he was talking about? Patrick asked when we were in the car. I thought he had mentioned austraclouds. Patrick thought of shells and I thought of stars. We had both listened to the same explanation and both had a completely different idea about it.
I had linked what I picked up from Ron in my head with everything I have ever seen and experienced and thought I knew what he was talking about based on that. I thought I knew what austraclouds were. That I thought of stars was probably because the phenomenon was related to the phase of the moon. Stars, moon, that’s almost the same, right? Patrick had also had fill-ins with the story and also thought he knew what Ron was talking about.
The sea is one of the finest things about this island. The multilingualism and the differences in culture, the most instructive. Not for the first time, I drove home feeling that I had been misjudged and misunderstood, that I had no idea what exactly the other person was talking about, and that questions that should have been asked, had not been asked. We all look at a situation through our own lenses and too quickly assume that the other person understands what we are talking about.
I discover on this island, how often something is assumed in communication between people. It’s more visible here because both the different languages and the different cultures mean that we don’t always understand each other. Sometimes because we can’t put the right words to it and sometimes because we deal with things differently from our own background and upbringing. If you don’t know that, fingers are pointed at each other and mud is thrown back and forth. Then I think you’re stupid and you think I’m stupid.
We call ourselves adults, but then act like children when they don’t understand each other. If children don’t ask questions at each other and don’t hear from each other that they actually want the same thing but don’t express it in the same way, arguments ensue and they find each other stupid. The language of arguing and finding each other stupid is apparently not difficult, we usually understand it.
On a small island with significant differences in culture and language, understanding each other is important because the chances of running into each other again are higher. I haven’t changed here I think, I haven’t started to react differently, I’m still curious and short-tempered. I just became more aware here of all the assumptions I make. By immersing myself a bit in the culture and the language, I found out that I was misinterpreting what I was seeing. I looked too much through my own glasses. In my perception, someone is rude for not looking at me while in the other person’s perception it is polite, for example. Between what I interpret and what the other person means, is a big difference. I already have my “hork” label ready and the other decides on the spot to deal with yet another “boorish makamba”.
In fact, everyone should live on an island for at least a year, just to find out what you’re assuming without checking.
When I go swimming again today I will probably run into Ron again. I will ask him if he saw the ostracods and if he enjoyed them. Which it turned out to be, ostracods. Curious what they are? Then watch this video, in it it is explained.
Interesting isn’t it?
Thank you for reading and until another blog.
P.S. Want to check out Bachelor’s beach? Then click here for the beautiful pictures