Lessons in building community that I learned from friends sailing the Caribbean
When I visited college friends Jamie and Niki Elenbaas recently on their sailboat Grateful in the Caribbean, I had no idea how much they would teach me about community building. I learned lessons that are we can apply here in the Wenatchee Valley as easily as on the islands.
They continued to be neighborhood ambassadors hosting events during their working careers. He worked in telecommunications and she was a YMCA executive.
Three years ago, they made the leap to early retirement and have been living full time on their 40-foot catamaran Grateful. When they invited me to join them for some sailing, I jumped at the opportunity to see a unique part of the world. I had no idea that I would learn so much about cultivating meaningful relationships.
While in the Caribbean, they organized an Oil Down, the Grenadian national dish, as a collaboration between cruisers and locals. We chopped vegetables and prepared the meat and dumplings to share a meal on the beach. It was a wonderful community experience.
Their tips for constructively engaging people are simple.
— Be interested in the people that you meet and ask lots of questions. I noticed that they demonstrated a genuine interest in fellow cruisers and more importantly in local individuals as we visited Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, and Martinique. The two of them love to incorporate local ingredients and learn to make local dishes, so you’ll find Jamie and Niki wandering through farmer’s markets asking about how to prepare vegetables.
— Invite people to your place to shares meals or drinks. Sadly, every guidebook recommends that cruisers, as they are called, don’t invite locals onto their boats. The Elenbaas’s think that’s bunk. In St. Lucia, we ran into a fellow who was handling laundry that they had invited for a meal and it was like a family reunion.
— Take time to learn about the politics and history of the places that you visit. “It’s pretty easy to do a little Googling and find out who’s who in the zoo,” Jamie told me. Being curious about food, history, politics and the economy goes a long way toward building meaningful relationships.
Many of us go through life having a more-or-less transactional relationship with people. We don’t take the time to slow down and cultivate relationships that are deeper and more meaningful.
Jamie and Niki Elenbaas are intentional about getting out of their comfort zone, engaging people from different perspectives, different walks of life and of differing ages. They have become unofficial ambassadors to the world around them.
The Elenbaas’s are fans of the Grateful Dead and their Facebook page is “Eyes of the world via s/v Grateful.” The lyrics of that song include these lines:
“Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world
The heart has it’s beaches, it’s homeland and thoughts of it’s own
Wake now, discover that you are the song that the morning brings
But the heart has it’s seasons, it’s evenings and songs of it’s own.”
I am grateful to Jamie and Niki for their hospitality and the wisdom they shared about building community. It was an eye opener.