The Early Days of Amy Roberts Primary School

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Amy Roberts Primary School, circa 2006

If you’re at all interested in Abaco or Bahamian history, you should check out my cousin Evan Lowe’s blog, Out Island Boy. Evan is the grandson of Bessie Curry Lowe, sister to my great-grandfather, Herman Curry. We connected online several years back and since then, we’ve shared the fun (and, occasionally, the frustration…) of tracing our common island roots.

In his latest blog post, School Days, Evan writes about Green Turtle Cay’s tiny Amy Roberts Primary School (originally known as the All Age School.) He draws on accounts from his late father’s journals, as well as interviews with Bahamians who either attended the school or who knew its earliest teachers and schoolmasters.

Pupils of the Green Turtle Cay All Age School, circa 1933. Photo courtesy of the Albert Lowe Museum.

My own grandmother, Lurey Curry Albury (1919-2010), attended the All Age School from the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s. That’s her, second from left in the back row of the above photo. Her teacher, Amy Roberts, for whom the school would later be renamed, is at the far right of the picture.

“Before 1932,” my grandmother told me, “we had a big school. There was an upstairs and it had porches. We did regular school work and singing and prayers. And Amy Roberts would teach crochet work and sewing to the older girls.”

Bahamian artist and historian (and my cousin) Alton Lowe, says the original All Age School was in fact very large, able to accommodate up to 400 students. Plays were often staged at the school, he says, for the enjoyment of the entire settlement.

But on September 5, 1932 — what was to be the first day of school after summer vacation — a category 5 hurricane took direct aim at Green Turtle Cay. During the storm, which battered the cay for three long days, people with houses on low-lying land took refuge on the school steps when their homes flooded.

“They said they could feel those steps shaking,” my grandmother told me. “Later on, people whose houses had been destroyed tried to get up to the schoolhouse for shelter,” she said. “But the school was gone.


Nassau’s Jack Mertland Malone stands in the ruins of Green Turtle Cay’s All Age School shortly after the 1932 hurricane. Photo courtesy of Marysa Malone/Wayne Neely.

Sadly, when the hurricane moved on, all that remained of the big, beautiful All Age School was its Abaco pine floor.

With lumber and building materials difficult to come by, and with the local population dwindling as families moved away in search of work, the people of New Plymouth built a smaller, more modest school — the building we see today.

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To learn more about the early years of the Amy Roberts Primary School, see Evan’s terrific blog post.

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An encouraging message etched into the concrete steps of the Amy Roberts Primary School.

Further Clarification of Changes to Bahamas Import/Export Rules for Dogs

Following yesterday’s post about changes to the procedures for importing/exporting dogs to/from the Bahamas, I received several emails from readers who had further questions. Since I, too, wanted more information, I contacted Dr. Godfrey Springer, Head Veterinarian for the Bahamas Ministry of Agriculture. Dr. Springer was extremely helpful in providing context for, and further details about, the new measures.bahamas, abaco, green turtle cay, nassau, dog, travel, distemper

First, the good news is that these new procedures are temporary, and will be in effect only until the current distemper outbreak in Nassau has been controlled. Dr. Springer says these sorts of outbreaks happen every so often and though it’s impossible to predict how long the current one will last, I get the sense that we’re looking at months, as opposed to years.

According to Dr. Springer, the new measures are intended to prevent further spread of the deadly disease and to protect dog owners returning home from the Bahamas.

Foreign officials are aware of the current distemper outbreak in the country, he says, as well as the fact that several dogs recently transported from the Bahamas to the U.S. and Canada later developed — and died from — distemper.

Although officially, the distemper outbreak is confined to Nassau, the fact that you are arriving from anywhere in the Bahamas is a huge red flag for foreign customs and immigration officials. Without a current health certificate, your dog may be denied entry at your final destination.

Dr. Springer says he’s willing to work with travelers visiting Bahamian islands on which there is no veterinarian to ensure they can obtain the necessary documentation.  Dog owners may want to get together and split the cost of flying him in from Nassau for the day to examine their pets and provide health certificates. (For your reference, round-trip tickets from Nassau to the out islands cost roughly $100-$140.)

Or, depending on the circumstances, you may be able to send Dr. Springer a video of your dog, along with your original health certificate from your home vet. Based on this information, plus a discussion with you about the dog’s activities while in the Bahamas, he may, at his discretion, provide a health certificate without a face-to-face meeting.

Ultimately, it sounds like obtaining a Bahamian health certificate for your dog before leaving the Bahamas is voluntary. Dr. Springer says you can certainly leave the country without one, but he stresses that he has no control or influence over the actions of foreign officials, and that there’s a chance your dog will not be granted entry into your destination country.

Also, knowing the Bahamas as I do, it’s entirely possible that, upon departure, you’ll encounter local airline or airport employees who believe that having a Bahamian health certificate is mandatory and may refuse you boarding without one. (I don’t know about you, but I think travel is plenty stressful enough without all this added worry.)

According to Dr. Springer, these measures will be in effect for at least the next few months. If you’re not scheduled to travel to the Bahamas until the end of 2014 or beginning of 2015, it may be worth checking with him closer to your travel date to find out whether the new procedures are still in place.

For more information, contact Dr. Springer’s office at (242) 397-7450.

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New Bahamas Import/Export Procedures for Dogs

bahamas, abaco, green turtle cay, coco bay, travel with dogs, distemper, regulationsCiting the recent canine distemper outbreak in Nassau and changes to USDA regulations, the Bahamas Ministry of Agriculture has revised its requirements for bringing dogs into or out of the country.

Though the following changes are not (yet?) reflected in the dog import/export procedures posted on the ministry’s website, the USDA’s website or any of the airline websites I checked, I’ve spoken with the Island Veterinary Clinic in Marsh Harbour and the Bahamas Ministry of Agriculture’s Marsh Harbour office, and a fellow dog owner spoke directly with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Head Veterinarian in Nassau. All confirm the following information.

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Bringing Dogs INTO the Bahamas…

Not much has changed here. You complete the import permit application and send it to the Bahamas Ministry of Agriculture with a $10 money order ($15 if you want them to fax the permit to you.)

If you’re using the postal service to send your application and receive your permit, allow at least six weeks. If time is short, courier the application and request fax service. We used this option once and received our permit within two days.

Applications can be sent to either the main ministry office in Nassau or any of its out island branches. There’s a Ministry of Agriculture office in Marsh Harbour, Abaco, although it don’t offer a fax service. And, for reasons I don’t understand, the Marsh Harbour branch requires that you also submit a health certificate with the application. I’ve never had to do this in dealing with the Nassau office, so my advice is to avoid the extra step and get your permit through Nassau.

Upon arriving in the Bahamas with your dog, you’ll need to present your import permit, a health certificate and a completed Form AGR/VS/1 (you’ll receive a blank copy with your import permit.) The health certificate and AGR/VS/1 form must be completed by your hometown vet no longer than 48 hours prior to your travel to the Bahamas, certifying that your dog is healthy and has received all vaccines listed on the import permit.

Technically, according to the import permit, you’re required to have your pet examined by a Bahamian veterinarian with 48 hours of arrival into the country.

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Taking Dogs OUT of the Bahamas…

Here’s where you’ll notice a major change. Regardless of their final destination, all dogs leaving the Bahamas must now be accompanied by a health certificate prepared by a Bahamian veterinarian and approved by a Ministry of Agriculture vet.

If you’re on one of the Bahamian out islands, such as Abaco, there are no local Ministry of Agriculture veterinarians, so your health certificate will need to be sent to Nassau for approval. According to the Agriculture Ministry’s Marsh Harbour office, this process should take about 3 days.

However, local sources say it can take longer than a week to receive the paperwork back from Nassau. So you may want to visit a local vet a couple of weeks before your scheduled departure date, or at least call to find out the current wait time for processing.

If you’re bringing your dog into the Bahamas for just a short period of time, you may be exempt from the above requirement. I’m told that the Ministry of Agriculture’s Head Veterinarian may, at his discretion, simply endorse the original health certificate you submitted when entering the country. I have yet to confirm this, however, so best to check with ministry officials to be sure.

For more information, contact the Bahamas Ministry of Agriculture.

Will it be more complicated and costly to bring Wrigley with us to the Bahamas? Yes. But you see that smiling face? Totally worth it!

UPDATE (8/26/14) I had a long conversation with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Head Veterinarian today, and he provided additional information about the above procedures. To learn more, see Further Clarification About Changes to Bahamas Import/Export Rules for Dogs.

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Fire Engine: Bahamian Comfort Food

Among my favourite Bahamian comfort foods is a dish called Fire Engine, also known as the Stede Bonnet breakfast.

Abaco Bahamas Mailboat Stede Bonnet

M/V Stede Bonnet
Photo credit:

The Stede Bonnet was a freight boat that transported mail, cargo and passengers between Nassau and Abaco for nearly 30 years. It’s said that this dish was prepared each morning to feed passengers on the vessel.

When it comes to the origin of the name Fire Engine, I’ve yet to receive a definitive explanation. The most commonly cited theory is that some Bahamian cooks add so much pepper to the dish that it feels like your mouth is on fire. If anyone knows for sure, please drop me a note.

However it got its name, I’ve been looking for a Fire Engine recipe for ages, so I was happy to find one in Healthier Bahamian Cuisine. Thanks to the book’s authors, Marguerite Sawyer Mendelson and Marie Sawyer Ochs for allowing me to share it with you.

Stede Bonnet Breakfast (Fire Engine)

1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cans (12 ounces each) corned beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/4 teaspoon thyme
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
salt to taste

Place all ingredients in a large frying pan and cook over medium-low heat 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently. Yield: 6 servings.

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Stede Bonnet Breakfast (aka Fire Engine)

Though traditionally served over grits, Fire Engine can also be served over white or brown rice.

The above recipe yields a milder-flavoured dish, which I prefer. If, on the other hand, you like more heat, add diced hot pepper or hot sauce to taste while cooking. And if you’re trying to limit your salt intake, it’s worth checking labels, since sodium levels vary between corned beef brands.

The Other Life of Pirate Michelle

If you’ve attended the Island Roots Heritage Festival in recent years, you’ll no doubt recognize the woman in the photo below.

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Pirate Michelle at the 2011 Island Roots Heritage Festival

Though Green Turtle Cay folks and festival regulars know her as Pirate Michelle, in truth, she has a whole other identity — as news reporter Michelle Murillo at WTOP radio in Washington, D.C.

Recently, Michelle wrote this piece for WTOP’s website about her life as a pirate.

Eleven years ago, as a reporter in Florida, she covered a pirate festival and was immediately hooked. Over time, her casual interest blossomed into a second career as a living historian.

Pirate Michelle performs at museums and festivals throughout the U.S. east coast and the Caribbean, re-enacting history and teaching kids about life aboard pirate ships.

Having developed a special interest in Mary Read, Michelle has written and performed shows about the legendary female swashbuckler and traveled throughout the Caribbean, retracing Read’s footsteps.

After the 2014 Island Roots Festival, Michelle wrote a great four-part blog series about her festival weekend experience. It’s a fun read, and gives you a little taste of what festival weekend’s all about — at least from a pirate’s perspective.

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