From the Diary of Esther: Blessed Against all Odds
Foreword by Pastor Samuel L. Cornish
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Published by Esther Wheeler
Copyright © 2017 Esther Wheeler
As a child, I would express myself by writing my thoughts and feeling in my black and white notebook. I would write about everything I was going through; the good and the bad. Now as an adult, I’m so happy I kept my diary for all of these years.
I wrote this book, not to put my life story out there for public scrutiny, but to motivate someone. As human beings, we all go through challenging times and sometimes it seems as if the bad days outweigh the good ones. I must say that I felt overwhelmed with depressing feelings at times in my past.
I would refer to myself as an East Street girl. East Street in Nassau, Bahamas is where I grew up and spent 98% of my childhood and teenage life. My foundation was laid from Toote Shop Corner down to Windsor Lane all the way up to Eneas Corner and then Masons Addition. I grew up in a poor single parent family with a mother who was an emigrant. My mother, my four siblings and I lived in a one- bedroom house.
I loved the outdoor life. Staying indoors was not something I liked. I enjoyed playing dollhouse, hopscotch, and skipping rope with my sisters, and shooting marbles and “pocking” (with the tennis ball) with my brothers.
We never had running water in the house while I was growing up, so the Government pump was one of the places I liked to go because it was my playground and means of survival. On a hot summer day, my siblings and I would go to the pump to play. We would splash water all over our bodies and sing and dance around the pump, then sit under it and allow running water to trickle down our faces.
After playing, we would fetch water in big yellow cooking oil jugs to take home. The water would be used for drinking, cooking, bathing, and performing household chores (or cleaning).
When I became an adult, a wife and a mother with my own responsibilities, I looked back at my life and realized that life was hard, but as a young child (up to the age of eleven), I did not realize it. I was never exposed to the finer things in life so I didn’t know what the blessing of God were like until now.
I believe that God allows us to go through our very own difficult times so that when the good times come, we would be grateful, humble and appreciative of the blessings. During my teenage years, I was bitter and depressed at times. I made many mistakes, but God kept me and because of what I went through while growing up, I’m a better person today. I take care of myself, my husband and my children because they are my blessings!
Having lived with “a little” (poor), I learned that the sun always comes out after a storm. Join me as I take a stroll down memory lane, recalling life in inner city New Providence and the days when I experienced many trials and much tribulation. One of my favorite quotes to recite and motivate myself is, “it ain’t over until God say it’s over!”
I want to encourage you through the content of this book. Life may seem hard sometimes, but I hope that you would remain strong and never give up. The story you are about to read is true; it’s my story, but through it all, God was always there. Even when I didn’t feel him there at times; He never left.
Chapter 1 Humble Beginnings
Dear Diary – The year is 1999:
As I walk to the security booth my heart is beating at a speed of 100 beats per second, my hands are sweating profusely, and I’m doubting myself. I’m walking as slow as a snail. I’m scared and nervous, but l have to do this. I need to do this. I need to make a change in my life for the better, and I need to do it quickly.
“Calm down, calm down,” I keep saying to myself, but then a voice starts to talk to me telling me, “Esther you can do this. Remember your baby boy. You want to give him a good life. You want to make a better life, not only for him, but for you as well, so calm yourself and take a breath, ok?” I take a few deep breathes as I approach the security booth.
“Hello,” the lady in the booth says. “How can I help you?”
“Good morning, my name is Esther Vernelus and I’m here for an interview with Mr. Sherman.”
The lady in the booth looks at me and replies, “Let me check his appointment log.”
She starts to look through her appointment book. I can’t keep still, my knees are shaking, and I’m starting to get very nervous.
“I’m sorry, your name is not on the list,” she says.
“Well, he told me to come in today, so can you please call him and let him know that I’m here?” I reply.
“Sure,” she states.
While she is on the phone, I think to myself, I can’t believe I just lied about having an appointment for an interview.
Just a day earlier, I was at my job working at a t-shirt factory in downtown Nassau, Bahamas when two ladies walked in talking with much excitement about job interviews to be held at Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort.
I overheard them mentioning something about the banquet manager conducting interviews the following day, and that they were going to be there.
Wow! I thought. What a great opportunity.
If only I could get a hotel job, I would be able to support my son and myself much better. I’m only making $109 a week now, and it’s nowhere near enough. To add, it isn’t even worth the long hours and hard work I perform there plus I’m frustrated working for pennies at a dead-end job.
You see, I was only seventeen, and since I was still a minor and a high-school dropout, this was the only job I could get, selling t-shirts. I was determined to do better. I was so excited from listening to the two ladies’ conversation that I etched a plan. I had heard all I needed to hear–the time, the hotel and the manager’s name. My plan was to go and lie to get an interview.
The morning of the interviews at Sandals Royal Bahamian Hotel, I called in sick at my job, and showed up at the booth in front of the hotel waiting for the security officer who is now on the phone with Mr. Sherman.
I am terrified so I start to pray,
“Please God let him see me.”
At this moment, I feel as if she has been on the phone for hours, and that I’ve been standing there for even longer. My heart is beating like a drum and my mind is racing like a horse on a racetrack.
I didn’t know what time it was or what time I arrived, but one thing I was sure of is that everything around me felt as if it had slowed down except me.
Then suddenly, she hangs up the phone and stares at me intensely and says,
“Mr. Sherman’s job interviews are tomorrow, so you came a day early! He said that he is in a meeting, and that it’s going to take a while, but if you want to stay, he will see you afterwards.”
A calmness engulfs me like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night. I stop shaking and start to relax. “Yes, it’s ok! I can wait.” I reply with excitement.
“Are you sure you want to wait?” She asks me.
“Yes ma’am. I’m in no rush.”
“Okay then, I will call him and let him know that you will wait,” she tells me before picking up the phone. We don’t have a seat where you can sit out here,” she explains.
“No, no it’s fine I can stand and wait.” I smile at her and turn away. With tears in my eyes, I walk a few feet away from the booth and start to cry. As the tears fall down my cheeks, I start thanking God in silence telling him, “God you have brought me this far so don’t let me go; please don’t.”
As I start to whisper this prayer, my mind went down memory lane. I could remember it like it was yesterday. The year was 1987. I was six years old then. I was an excited and happy child. This particular morning was my first day at school. I could remember my mother putting my socks on my feet and talking to me in her Creole language, “Esther this is your first day at school – now you behave yourself,” she said.
I smiled and replied, “Yes, ma’am.”
My mother emigrated from Haiti to The Bahamas in 1980 while pregnant with my older sister. After only being in The Bahamas for a short period of time, she met my father, who too emigrated to The Bahamas from Haiti. Creole was my first language. My parents never spoke English to me. I learned the English language by being around Bahamians in my community.
When I started school, I soon learned that I was seen as different by other children. At six years old, I learned a very hard lesson; being a child from Haitian parents was not going to be easy in school.
Once my mother walked my sister and me to school, she took each of us to our classes. I was very excited. Sadly, one hour into class, I was teased by the children in the class. The teacher was marking the attendance book, and when she called my last name, the whole class started to laugh. As a six-year-old first grader, I didn’t understand why the children were laughing at me.
Alex, the student seated next to me whispered in my ear, “Estelle, are you Haitian? Your last name is so funny!”
“Estelle, Estelle…,” the teacher repeated.
I was so distracted and angry that I didn’t realize the teacher was calling me. “Estelle!” She shouted.
“Yes, ma’am,” I replied.
“Are you okay.”
“Yes ma’am,” I stated softly.
“Okay,” she said, “can you please pronounce your last name?”
I looked at her and froze in my chair because I didn’t want to. She had already mispronounced my first and last name, and the students were laughing. Hence, I was upset and didn’t want to say my name aloud.
“Estelle, did you hear me?” She said as her loud voice echoed across the room.
“Yes,” I replied, still frozen in my chair with embarrassment and fear. In a shy voice I said, “Teacher my name is not Estelle; it’s Esther Vernelus.”
“Well that is not what I am seeing on your registration form” she exclaimed! “The name on the form is saying Estelle Ve’u lus.”
The children started to laugh even more. I knew right then that school was going to be hard for me. Hence, throughout my entire school years, I was known by this fictitious name and not my birth name.
The secret of how to live without resentment or embarrassment
in a world in which I was different from everyone else.
I was to be indifferent to that difference. (Al Capp)
Life at that young age got worse for me. Not only did I not like school, but my father whom I was close too and loved immensely woke up one day, packed his bags and left. I was heart-broken because I didn’t understand why he left me. His actions left me wondering why he decided to leave my mother with five children to care for on her own. Need-less-to-say, I resented my father for many years.
My older sister, Sherline, is who my mother was pregnant with when she came to The Bahamas in 1980. I’m the second child, and I was born the following year in 1981. In 1982, my mother gave birth to her third child, my brother Luckerson. In 1983, my second brother Ishmael came along, and in January of 1985, two weeks shy of my mom giving birth in 1984, my baby sister Donna was born.
I grew up in Nassau, Bahamas with my mother and siblings. I spent my early childhood years living off East Street through Toote Shop Corner. We lived in a wooden, blue one-bedroom house with an outside toilet. We were not fortunate to have running water at home so every morning my siblings and I would walk down the street from our house with jugs and buckets in our hands to fetch water from the government pump; which was free.
Several times each day, we would fetch water. I remember us having a high, wooden brown table on the outside of the kitchen where my older sister and I would wash the dishes and leave them there to dry in the sun before bringing them inside. We would also hand wash our clothes outside in the big iron tubs and rinse them in buckets before hanging them on the clothesline. This was hard at times, and fun at times.
My family and I had to adjust after my father left so I took the lead to help mommy take care of my siblings. Although I was not the eldest child, my mother and siblings treated me as if I was. I helped my family by babysitting my siblings, supervising homework, helping with house chores, protecting them at school and ensuring that they were well taken care of in the absence of my mother.
Three years had now passed, making me nine years old; when I received more bad news. We were being evicted! The house I grew up in and called my home; I now had to leave. My mother had fallen far behind on rent payments. The house was rented to us for twenty dollars a week, and after my father left us, my mother struggled to keep up with the bills. Once we got evicted, we had to find another place to live. Life became even harder for us. I have always known my mother to be a church-going woman. We would go to church every day, except on Saturdays. Church was not a far walk away from home. It was right across the street from our house.
Our denomination was Pentecostal, and Pentecostal Christians are known for their radical worship. Fridays at church was my favorite time. Mommy would pack a large bag every Friday evening with a huge bowl of food, a jug of water, blankets and pillows, because we knew that Friday service was no ordinary one. It would start with zealot praise and worship. The part of the service included beating of the tambourine and drums, hand clapping, and feet tapping; which was music to my ears. We would worship and praise God for hours, sometimes from 7 p.m. until one- two o’clock the next morning.
We would make our beds on the church floor, and my pastor and all of the members would engage in deep prayer until the sun rose. God was all we knew growing up and mommy would wake us up to pray.
Growing up, attending church six days a week to learn about God, contributed to me growing up to love Him and rely on Him. God and church were where I found my comfort and in some instances my strength. However, the day I heard the bad news that we had to pack up and move out of our home, I was literally sick with fear. My first thought was, where would we go?
Mommy was in the front room area in of our small wooden rented house. My siblings and I had just come inside from a long day of play. My mother was in tears, and Sister Hadassah from the church sat beside her to comfort her.
“Don’t cry sister; it’s going to be ok. I’m going to talk to Pastor for you. Maybe you and the children can stay at the church temporarily until you find a place,” she stated.
While Sister Hadassah continued to talk to my mother, peculiar thoughts started to fill my mind. The church was small, with few rooms. Where would we put our belongings? Where would we sleep? Where would we bathe? The church had two bathrooms, but no tub. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I was so devastated that I cried the whole night. I cried so much, until I became sick. I loved my church, but I didn’t want to live there.
Mommy needed my help, so I had to grow up fast and learn at a young age not to fear my struggles. We lived at the church for a while, and life was still not easy. The first night sleeping at the church was quite awkward knowing that we had to wake up the next morning to get ready for school. Additionally, we were young, so we didn’t understand why we were living in this place.
The church was in a two-story building. The sanctuary was downstairs, and Pastor Francis lived in the upstairs apartment. Inside the church was modest. It could hold approximately 100 members. There were ten to twelve 10-feet long wooden benches inside. They lined off equally on each side of the building.
The pastor’s office was located at the far-left end of the church. His office was tiny, but this was where he conducted his church business, prayed, and counseled members. Next to the pastor’s office was the kitchen. Most Saturdays, the sisters of the church, along with my mother, would gather there to prepare, and cook delicious Haitian dishes for the single men of the church which would be distributed to them for Sunday lunch. Many Saturdays, I would be in the kitchen with the sisters just to watch them cook.
Every Saturday, there would be a different meal. The sweet smell of Bouillon (Haitian soup), Legume (mixed meat: turkey, ribs, crab, pig’s feet and mixed vegetables), Soul Pwa (bean soup), and Poisson blanch (boiled fish) with big pots of red beans ‘n’ rice and white rice would always have my mouth watering. Since the church was small, the sweet aroma of the food would fill the entire sanctuary.
The one male and female bathrooms were on the far-right end of the church. Because neither of the bathrooms had bathtub, my siblings and I would have to bring buckets into the bathroom to bathe. We would always have to take a quick bath before church service started.
Bedtime was tedious because many nights we would have to wait until service was over to make our beds on the church floor. Services at church were unpredictable. Sometimes they would end at 10 p.m., while other nights they would end later. As a result of this, we went to bed late many nights, and we would find ourselves struggling to get up for school in the morning due to bodily fatigue.
Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, entertainment for my siblings and I was watching television, playing doll house or going outside to play games. Hopscotch and ring play were my favorite outdoor games. Church was held most nights, so we had to be inside for service. Consequently, Saturdays were the only times we got to play all day while living at church.
After a fun day of play, we would wash up and have our supper then I would make a big bed on the floor and gather my brothers and sisters around me to tell them old Bahamian stories. Most of the stories would come from a book called An Evening in Guanima. I would read the book in school every day then come back home and tell the stories to my siblings. They loved the stories as they were quite entertaining. The story times brought us closer together and gave us hope that one day our lives would be better.
My pastor would come to visit us children every day and give us a word of encouragement. I can’t remember how long we stayed at the church, but it felt like months. Not having a home was embarrassing for me and it was hardest when among my peers because they had a home, whereas, I had to live in my church. Whenever they left to go home, I would go into the bathroom and weep. I wanted to go home! I wanted a home! I was tired of being there. I realized at that moment that in a blink of an eye, you could lose it all…But God!
When you fear your struggles, your struggles consume you. When you face your struggles, you overcome them. (Deep Life Quotes Author Unknown)