Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Treasure Hunt

I wrote this post at the end of November but didn’t get permission to post the pictures until the day before I left for my trip home, so it just had to wait.

(All photos by Hannah Madden unless otherwise noted.)

I recently became involved in a new youth foundation here on Statia. Mega D, a musician with ties to the island, began the “Successful Minds” program several weeks ago to provide learning opportunities to local children. A handful of university students and I were present for the opening of the clubhouse several weeks ago and we offered to put on a scavenger hunt for the kids. What was supposed to be a fairly straightforward activity turned into weeks of planning, at least five meetings, and hours and hours of work. More than once I felt like the amount of time we’d put into it might not be repaid in appreciation. One student spent days – literally days – individually tea-dying and drying sheets of paper so we could print antique-looking ‘certificates of completion’ to distribute at the end of the hunt. It was a good idea to begin with, but turned into a total nightmare when he began printing the certificates and his machine ate over half of the pages. Then, the night before, we found out that several children from the St Eustatius National Parks Junior Rangers group would be joining the hunt. We were glad to have more kids, but this meant they either wouldn’t receive the antiqued certificates, or Russell would have to stay up almost the entire night tea-dying more sheets of paper. He chose the latter option. Nicest guy ever. He finished printing the last of them just in time to hand them to me at 8:00 AM the day of the hunt. I then handwrote the names of the children, and they were delivered to the governor for signing. Like I said, somewhere in the course of all this (and those certificates were just one example of many headaches), I started to have my doubts.

But I’m a jerk, because the event was yesterday and it was great. Not only did everything go off without a hitch, all the kids were excited to learn and actively involved in the hunt. We’d decided it would be based on “historical treasures” of Statia, and the concept was well-received. The kids were split into a 4:2 youth/chaperone ratio, we all started at different locations, and somehow miraculously all converged at the government building for the finale exactly on time. The kids were surprised by the presence of the island governor, Gerald Berkel, who congratulated them on completing the hunt, reminded them of how blessed they are to live on such a beautiful island, and encouraged them to share everything they’d learned with their friends. Then he pulled out the certificates, which we’d rolled up and tied like scrolls, and called the childrens' names one by one to shake his hand and receive their personalized award.

One little Dutch girl in my group, Hannah, was about the sweetest little thing I’ve ever seen. She’d bounded all over the place during the hunt exclaiming how much she LOVES everything to do with Statia and its history and asking me to please please please tell her what sites we would be visiting next. I was THISCLOSE to stealing her. Anyway, she was one of the late-comers – a member of the Junior Rangers group that was invited at the last minute, and when the governor began calling out names for the children to receive their certificates, her face fell. She turned to me and said quietly, “I’m not getting one, am I?” I told her of course she was!! and when she asked how I knew, I told her that I’d personally written her name on it. Her huge grin was replaced by sudden veneration. She took a nervous breath before furnishing me with her knapsack so she would have her hands free when it was her turn. And as if that wasn’t enough right there to make all the hassle worth it, she was in fits of joy over her certificate when she returned next to me. Exclaiming over the ancient-looking paper and completely delighted with the scripty font I’d picked out (“It looks just like the writing on that old gravestone!!”) When she was done admiring the award, she carefully rolled it back up and re-tied the ribbon. To quote Eric Snider, she couldn’t have been more delightful if she were made out of puppies.

Our group. Me, Hannah, Francisca, Rose (chaperone), Madelon, and Hunter. Great kids – friendly, well-behaved, and excited to learn. Right behind me you can see a girl sneaking a feel of my hair (moments after this picture was taken I felt a slight tug. She pretended like nothing had happened).

At the Statia Museum (once the headquarters of a plantation)

At the Honen Dalin Synagogue ruins. That dog belongs to Hunter and she follows him everywhere. Will not be separated from him. When I asked him why, he responded that she’s his “guardian dog” which sort of gave me chills in a good way. I’ve heard about incredibly loyal dogs in the news and in literature, but had never actually witnessed it in real life until then.

At Jan de Windt’s grave. He was the governor of Statia from 1753 until his death in 1775. His law of quarantining ships at port kept Statia disease-free for two decades. After his death, the quarantine was lifted and a smallpox epidemic quickly swept the island. I totally learned all about it.

The engraving on his marble tombstone is written in old Dutch. Luckily Hannah Madden, who came with our group and took these pictures, was able to translate. We learned that de Windt’s wife died only a couple months after him (maybe from smallpox?) Her remains are buried in the same tomb. How rad is the skull and crossbones??

At the Catholic church, where mass is still held.

At Fort Oranje, searching the plaque for the name of the American ship that offered a 13-cannon salute to the island signifying their independence from England (answer: the ‘Andrew Doria’). Statia then returned the salute, acknowledging their support. St Eustatius celebrates this event annually (Statia Day!) One of the girls asked if America celebrates Statia Day as well. Rose summed it up when she answered, “No, they don’t. It’s a real shame.”

Russell. We couldn’t have done the hunt without him. In addition to dying all those sheets of paper until his fingers bled, he also came up with the locations, clues, and the ‘script’ for the chaperones. The kids adored him. (photo by me)

Governor Berkel (photo by me)

The whole group


  1. "By small and simple things are great things brought to pass." What a great experience for the kids and the leaders. I'm glad you got to be a part of it. Excellent blog!

  2. I'm a HUGE Mega D fan.
    Sad you couldn't get involved earlier.
    Was that our mom?