New Year’s Day, 2017 was a day of unexpected discoveries! That morning, my mom and I were trying not to step on any snails living in the tidepools of the rocky shoreline by our adorable pink house in Exuma, when we saw a backpack full of clothes. Shrugging it off as nothing interesting, we kept walking. But then we found another backpack. And another! Up farther we could see a deflated grey dinghy with yet more clothes and backpacks strewn around it. There were lifejackets, some of them ripped and stuck in the branches of little shrubs, as wells as dozens of packages of crackers. We realized we had stumbled upon a shipwreck! At this point we were looking for people, or bodies even, thinking that if the people in the wreck were alive they would’ve collected their stuff, not left it for some tourist to find on a morning beach walk.
We continued to explore the shoreline, and found a total of around 10 backpacks! One of the backpacks was full of a young girl’s clothing, with jeans in a size much smaller than my own. There were packages of crackers, packets of water, toothbrushes and other toiletries, and the thing that really helped us piece things together—a book called “Parle Anglais Rapidement,” or “Learn English Fast.” We already suspected this wreck was from either Haitian or Cuban refugees, going off the contents of their packs and the small size of their boat, but this little book showed us that whoever was on this boat spoke French, meaning we were probably looking at a Haitian shipwreck! Inside the soggy book there was a picture of three women that had been transferred like a temporary tattoo onto one of the pages. The whole thing then became kind of eerie to look at, as we wondered if they had died at sea or if they made it to shore and their stuff washed up later.
The next thing we found confirmed it all. After searching each pack for some sort of identification, Aunt Liz was the one to finally find a wallet inside one of the backpacks! Just as we thought, it contained a couple of ID’s proving that they were Haitian. There were some other papers in the wallet as well, but even with our limited knowledge of French, we couldn’t quite tell what they said. So we rushed back to the house to tell the others and get out Google Translate. We determined one document was a “declaration of loss,” which we weren’t sure was a death certificate, a missing persons document, or what. My dad and Aunt Carol wanted to see the wreck too, so I went back with them to look at it again. This time I walked a little farther from shore and found a second wallet! Again containing a Haitian ID, as well as Haitian, Bahamian, and American money. I yelled to my dad to come look, and together we walked farther from shore and found a little road. Along the dirt road my dad found another backpack and a Bible (written in French), and I found a big plastic cooler with silverware, twine, tape, and other supplies in it. On the beach in the other direction from our house, there sat small sailboat that was also full of clothes. We found that a couple days ago, but simply thought it had wrecked in the hurricane that came through a couple months ago. We weren’t sure if the Haitians had come in the dinghy or the sailboat, but either way, the boats were far too small to fit 10 people comfortably. The more we found the sadder it became, trying to imagine how desperate these Haitians must have been to risk their lives trying to make it to another country in a boat suited for only about 4 people!
Back at the house, we called the police, but since it was New Year’s Day, they didn’t answer. Onike (the house rental lady) said they were probably recovering from a hangover from the previous night! The next day, after still not hearing from the police, we met our neighbors, who had just moved in to a different rental house down the beach (in the other direction). We mentioned finding the wreck, and told them how the police never did come. But they did…or tried to. And they scared the bejesus out of our neighbors! Our new neighbors told us how men in military uniforms, with army boots and guns over their shoulders came to their house the previous night—yes, at night, in the dark! The family asked if they could help them with something, and in all serious tones, the men replied that they were looking for a cottage called Sophia’s Rest. Of course, since that is our cottage, our neighbors replied they didn’t know of a Sophia’s Rest, and the men went away. The road between our cottage and our neighbors’ had been washed out in the hurricane, so that made it slightly harder to get there, accounting in part for the police’s mishap.
After meeting our neighbors that morning, we went to the police station to drop off the wallets and give them directions to the right house. They must have come to our house when we weren’t there, because after that we didn’t hear any more about the investigation. We did find a business card for a Haitian minister, and we are thinking about emailing him. We take for granted the freedoms we have and the comfortable lives we live, and often forget how lucky we are in comparison to people like those Haitians that risked their lives to get out of their country.