We met Sejah Joseph the day we arrived in St Kitts. He and a bunch of other local kids came to the pier near the boatyard at Sandy Point to check out the boat and the newcomers. We spent that first day with our new friends doing crazy jumps in the water, playing at the beach, rolling in the sand, and stuffing ourselves with mangos from a tree across the road while waiting to be hauled out for a bottom job.
The next day Sejah, the guy I started telling you about, a tall boy the same age as Viktor, almost 17, with a deep subdued voice and tender melancholy eyes, brings us a bag of skinups, small sweet green fruits that are a lot of fun to eat trying to separate the mushy pulp from the big round seed rolling it inside your mouth with teeth and tongue. And from then on, for the next week and a half, Sejah became a part of our family.
Because Sejah had to stay home and take care of his little brother while his mom is at work, Viktor, sometimes together with Maya, would go to his place in the morning bringing his X-box and they would play video games for hours, until Sejah’s mom returns from work, at noon.
Then, in the afternoons, while Evo is sanding and painting the hulls of the boat, Sejah would come to the boatyard and we would go for walks to the hills, or to the village, or at the beach, or in the forest, or to town in Basseterre.
And in the evenings, Sejah would help us wash the boat from the boatyard dust and then join us for diner and a movie.
Thus, little by little, we got to know and love Sejah Joseph, and we couldn’t imagine a day in St Kitts without him.
Sejah lives with his mom and two of his eight siblings in a house not far from the boatyard up in the New Project, a small unpaved area at the foot of the hills in the outskirts of the village where the government has recently built a few rows of similar houses all painted in bright colors for people with limited means. It is a nice comfortable house, big enough for the four of them.
– You want to see where we used to live before?, Sejah asks me one day and I detect a sort of enthusiasm in his voice as we walk down the road to his old place.
He brings me to a small ruined shack a few minutes away from his new home, on a ridge overlooking the sea. The place is completely abandoned, the wood rotten and moldy, all covered with weeds, reclaimed by nature.
– The kitchen was outside, under this tree. We had running water and the stove was there. The toilet was further that way but it is not there anymore.
Inside, two tiny rooms, one for Sejah and his brothers, and one for his mother and sisters. He shows me where his mom used to hang things on the walls, where he signed his name Sejah above his bed, and his brother’s posters and drawings still glued to the planks on the wall.
– My father got shot and died many years ago, when I was little.
Sejah’s mother, Ayutee, a Rastafarian, brought up her nine children, seven boys and two girls, alone, knitting hats and bags for a living. She would sell the hats and bags in town to the tourists from the cruise ships coming to visit the island. Only recently she started working for a regular salary through a government program cleaning and maintaing the local football field and thus could afford the new house. Her children, except Sejah and his 5-years-old brother from another father who lives in another village somewhere on the island, are grown up now and have their own homes. Some of her older sons have families and kids and her two daughters are studying abroad one to become a lawyer the other a doctor.
– I never left the country, never traveled anywhere, Ayutee tells me one day as I go to finally meet her. Because of the children, I had to take care of them. Only once I went to Nevis by boat (2 miles from St Kitts) to sell hats and bags there during a cultural festival. I was planing to go again the next year, but the boat sank a few weeks before I was supposed to go, and I got scared and did’t go. So, I never left the country. I am 52. I would love to travel some day, to go somewhere on a vacation, but I still have to take care of the little one and to pay for the house.
Ayutee loves her country St Kitts and Nevis, an independent twin-island federation with British tradition, the smallest sovereign state in the Americas in both area and population, today populated by descendants of African slaves brought to the island during the sugarcane and slave trade period in the 17th century. She says life now is much better than it was before, in the years after the independence (1983) and even before that, thanks to the many housing, employment, and other social programs implemented by the government, although there is still poverty and lots of crime especially in St Kitts, and the cost of living is very high while people don’t make a lot of money. But she wouldn’t live anywhere else. She still knits hats and bags and sells them to tourists in town on the weekends. She made one bag for me, the colors and size I chose, and one for Maya too. She finished our two bags in just a few hours. Now Maya goes everywhere with her new bag.
Sejah, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to leave St Kitts and travel, like us. Despite everything that happened to him in his life so far, his poor childhood, the death of his father and older brother, and some other unfortunate events, he has preserved his optimism and his ability to enjoy life and to dream.
– In my mind, I can do anything.
We spend hours talking with Sejah about life in other countries, about sailing and traveling, about the world. He knows much about world history and geography thanks to Discovery Chanel and one day, we promised each other, we will meet again.
Some other time, some other place.