The western side of the island of Bonaire is actually one large bay, which reaches from Punt Vierkant in the south to the northern tip of the island, and encompasses a small uninhabited island, Klein Bonaire. People coming to Kralendijk from the north can take a beautiful route along the sea. One reaches Kaya Playa Lechi over a narrow road immediately after the Harbour Village marina . It is a seaside boulevard which was constructed a few years ago with financial support from Holland. What was once an unassuming but pleasant narrow street along the sea, with lots of divi-divi trees and palu di batatas, was miraculously turned into a luxurious promenade reaching as far as the south pier at Kralendijk. Many a tree, the silhouette of which could have added some romance to a photo of the setting sun, has now been replaced by street lamps, modern, cosmopolitan paving stones, and steps reaching to the sea.
The boulevard follows the coastline in an almost straight line, except at the beginning. There, the boulevard makes a beautiful curve around a big, martial-looking divi-divi tree. We owe this situation to Inez Martis, who fought for this tree right in front of her house when bulldozers, power shovels, and steel benders threatened to do their destructive work.
"This is my tree, we used to sit under it with the whole family, we held parties, we sat gazing at the stars, contemplating life, my children slept under it. Therefore, the tree just cannot go, not for as long as I live. When we moved here 40 years ago, it was already there. If they were threatening to cut it down, I would go and sleep under the tree to prevent it. We can do quite well without a boulevard!"
She is proud of her modest act of protest and its outcome. People who stop in front of her house to enjoy the beautiful view of the bay, with sailing yachts, fishing boats, Sunfishes, and surfboards coming by, will be grateful. And when you pass by in the evening, you stand a good chance of meeting Inez herself, chatting with friends, children, and grandchildren, sitting at the table made of the spindle around which the power cable was wound - the same cable now lying under the pavement.
Inez Martis was born in Bonaire. Her mother was a direct descendant of an Indian tribe, her father came from Curaçao. When she was 21, she married Piet, a full-blooded Bonairean, whom she saw for the first time when he was playing soccer with his friends. 'Piet Left,' he was called by one of the Franciscan friars, because he was left-handed. On a hand-colored wedding photo in the living room they look handsome, proud, and happy: Piet with a neatly trimmed moustache and parted hair, Inez with a red wedding dress and a coiffeur fresh from the hairdresser.
Piet died a long time ago; Inez now lives on Kaya Playa Lechi with her daughter Elsa. Grandma Inez is proud of her eight children, one of whom is a foster child, 17 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
"I never lived alone after Piet's death, except for the time two years ago, when my son 'Yellowman' left for Holland. I was alone for a while then; he had lived with me all those years and suddenly things were awfully quiet. His friends did not come by any more, I no longer saw all these boys who came sailing their Sunfishes past the house, and he no longer caught fish for me. It was suddenly very cheerless and empty."
I can picture it. 'Yellowman,' real name Alfred Martis, was one of the most remarkable men of the island. He often came first in Sunfish races during the Regatta of Bonaire, and was chosen for many Olympic tournaments in his class. He taught innumerable little sailors the basics of sailing a Sunfish.
He had thought up the name 'Yellowman' for himself because with his beautiful head of dreadlocks, he looked like the Jamaican albino reggae artist of the same name. Beyond Klein Bonaire, one of the dive moorings is also named 'Yellowman,' because Alfred Martis used to spend every Friday and Saturday, against all rules and regulations, in a little hut he had made for himself on Klein Bonaire. Thanks to this regular infringement, the island still honors Alfred by having this mooring named after him.
"He liked to have fun and always had people around him. Our house sometimes looked like the clubhouse of a sailing club. He used to give people nicknames, as he did with a friend of his who stayed the night at one time. From the next morning on, his name was 'Puyachi' (Little Fart). The little boy farted under the sheets during the night, and so 'Yellowman' immediately gave him this fitting nickname."
I realize all too well, Inez. Some people are in a position to give other people nicknames. Yellowman was one of them. From the moment he first saw me, he called me 'Papa Bubi,' because my boat was called Bubi. Now everybody even calls my wife 'Mama Bubi.' May I call you 'Mama Yellow' now? She nods, it's OK.
We are sitting under the watapana tree and look at the sea. 'Mama Yellow' talks about her children and grandchildren far away in Holland, about her moments of loneliness, and of pleasant outings with her friends.
"Last year we went on a cruise, with eight friends of mine, and one man. It was great fun. We danced a lot and we dined deliciously, and made all sorts of interesting trips ashore. I love dancing and music, especially Mariachi music. I know almost all songs by heart, I have a lyrics book. When you see these men with their enormous hats..."
She gives me a mischievous look, and I think I know why. Attention from the other sex is still appreciated. It keeps her young.
"I often sit here, looking out over the sea. I'm afraid to go in, I'm scared of the fish, the notion they could slip by just below you. The other day I was paddling, when all of a sudden a sea snake curled around my arm. I screamed and ran into the house. I have been to Klein Bonaire on the glass-bottom boat tour, I liked that very much, it was beautiful. We saw turtles, barracudas, and a big school of parrot fish. But I don't want to swim among them. It's too scary!"
Inez looks up. In the sky a narrow sliver of the new moon is already visible, and the starry sky is immensely large and clear.