Thursday, 24 November 2011

A Bit of Montserrat (and Marmite) Makes a Visit

My Farewell Rum Shop Tour in Montserrat - Red Theme

As much as I am loving the African experience, I do miss living in the Caribbean and Canada (except bloody Arctic-type winters in Ottawa).  In particular, I miss being on The Big Smoke - Montserrat - the tiny British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean with 4,600 inhabitants, an active volcano, 10 days of celebrations for St. Patrick’s Day, and a crime rate so low, that the Her Majesty’s Prison is commonly referred to as the “Three Seasons Hotel”.  I spent 5 of the last 6 years of life there painting the town red (black and white) every weekend and sometimes during the week; organising rambunctious Rum Shop bus tours for charity; playing Sparrow's (and sometimes even singing) music in every bar; most importantly supporting the beer economy by keeping the price of Amstel and Heineken up.  By the way, Montserratians are apparently per capita, the highest consumers of Heineken in the world.  The flour boat may not come for weeks and thus no bread, and the volcano might be erupting for 6 months in a row covering the island in grey snow, and these cause far less panic and frenzy than when the boat loaded with the Heineken from St. Maarten cannot dock at the port because of rough seas.

My Montserrat/UK Care Package Arrives
I was also gainfully employed while there, being responsible for marketing the island overseas, or as one of my friends in the business termed it, the most difficult job in the world. I had to grapple with very limited room stock and infrastructure; a tiny airport with a 600 metre runway (think 9-seater planes with one pilot); an intermittent ferry service from Antigua which usually had more buckets of KFC than it had passengers; frequent volcanic explosions; and constantly having to battle with the colonialist mentality of a plethora of bureaucrats and consultants from the “mother country” that did not know their ass from their elbows as we say in Trinidad. That being said, I really loved the people, and working and living there.  I am especially proud of being one of the founders of the Montserrat Running Club, which organises an annual Volcano Half Marathon ( in support of various charities on the island.  Now in its 3rd year, the next half marathon actually takes place this Saturday November 26th, and I won't be there to help manage or run the race (or drink the cold Guinness).  Last year I famously collapsed over the finish line and had to use the cold Guinness that was waiting there for me to ice my legs, rather than drink it.  I eventually got into the ambulance that nearly collided with a water truck on the way to the hospital, where I ended up being treated by Dr. Bootun.  She is a lovable, well spoken certifiably mad woman on the island, who occasionally dons a stethoscope, sneaks into the wards, and dishes out diagnoses to unsuspecting patients.  She once broke into the Montserrat Cultural Centre, built by former Beatles producer Sir George Martin, and threw her own one-woman concert, and then chopped and made off the bottom of part of the velvet stage curtains.  The manager of the Centre was confused as to how part of the curtain went missing, until someone pointed out that  Dr. Bootun was wearing a beautiful velvet dress on the streets that week.

With Jean-Jacque and Pat at Zanzibar Coffee House
Anyway I am digressing about the main point of this story.  Last week a bit of Montserrat came to Zanzibar via none other than the king of liming himself, Dave Campbell.  Dave and his lovely Montserratian wife Trish were living in Montserrat for a couple years while I was there and moved back to the UK just before I had left.  Both of them were in Montserrat for a wedding last month (the former manager of the Cultural Centre was tying the knot…hopefully not in a velvet dress) and Dave was given a 2011 Montserrat Volcano Half Marathon t-shirt by my friend Henry to bring for me, since he mentioned that he would be coming my way in November.  Dave was going to be in Botswana for a few weeks, and decided to do a side trip with one of his best friends (another Dave who is a Judge in Botswana) to Zanzibar.  A few days before he arrived, I hurriedly sent him an email asking if he could also bring me some good dark chocolate (a rarity here) and of all things, a bottle of Marmite!  Not sure how many of you have experienced the "pleasures" of eating this pungent, salty, yeast-extract, that looks like Nutella but is a far cry from it.

Modeling my Montserrat Shirt with Dave in Front my House
I got introduced to Marmite while at University in the UK - served on crackers with crisps at 4 am after a night out.  You either love it or hate it. And I happen to love it. But then again I also love salted cod, smoked herring, pickled herring, Solomon Gundy (smoked herring pate from Jamaica and sometimes referred to as West Indian caviar) and canned sardines, so that would kinda explain the fixation with Marmite.  When Botswana Dave met me for the first time he said "so you're the Marmite guy" - in other words, so you’re the nutter with the Marmite festish. For those of you who are not au fait with Marmite, it is vegetarian, a by-product from making beer (and as you know I am a big supporter of the beer economy), is loaded with B vitamins, and importantly, can be applied to skin to prevent malaria mosquitoes from coming near you...mind you no one else might come near you but that’s another story.  Aside from a few rainy days and the fact that hot water from a running tap and air conditioning seems to have eluded them for most of their stay, Dave and Dave had a really good trip.  I got them addicted to Zanzibar Coffee House, and I got my Montserrat fix and caught up on all the Jus Wonderins’ (news) from Montserrat from Dave, so much so that the other Dave pleaded at dinner one night for us to declare a moratorium on mentioning the word Montserrat. We honestly tried....but that would only last a few minutes and somehow we would manage to weave something about Montserrat back into the conversation.  I guess at the end of the trip Botswana Dave realised that Montserrat is a really special place and when it gets under your skin it is hard to shed and get rid of....kinda like me and Marmite during mosquito season.


  1. I love this post Ish... but which part of you was being responsible in Monty?

    - David

  2. Interesting pace for working and living. It looks like real and honest inspiring account of what it is really like to make the move.