Founder of SXM’s Girls Night Out

Nigeria, New York, Guadeloupe, France, Washington and Sint Maarten – Ogechi Anyanwu has called many places her home. But the latter, our island, holds a special place in her heart.

Ogechi, who founded SXM’s Girls Night Out, realized that women as consumers have a huge influence on our economy. This “power”, Ogechi has dubbed “sheconomy.” SXM’s Girls Night Out is an event that empowers businesses and entrepreneurs to tap into the “sheconomy” on Sint Maarten/Saint Martin while providing female consumers with an all-around perfect night out filled with shopping, cocktails, pampering and entertainment.

On Saturday, June 3, the 5th edition of SXM’s Girls Night Out will be held. Since the first edition in 2012, Ogechi and her team have seen the event grow in exponential numbers with more than 1,500 women in attendance last year. Out N’ About sat down with Ogechi to find out more about her popular event.

How did you become an event organizer?

When I was 19, I moved to France to attend university to study international law. Since I was four, I wanted to become an attorney, with the dream of fighting injustice. Yet in my last year, I realized that my dream wasn’t realistic as one of my teachers said, “Justice isn’t just.” Besides that, most of the attorneys I knew did not live a lifestyle I envisioned myself living. I moved to Washington and started studying entertainment business and management. I loved the idea of being part of creating a product that allowed people to escape the everyday hustle and bustle. During this time, I attended a lot of events and started being inspired by how to go about creating unique events myself; which I did as soon as I got my degree!

What inspired Girls Night Out?

During university, I attended a lot of events, which gave me many ideas. I also have always been a fan of empowering women and was drawn to the idea of creating a unique event that caters to them. I had also noticed that there were few events that took women into account from an economical standpoint. I saw a niche there; women are a HUGE part of our economy and should be recognized as such. Many events, marketing and businesses do not target women and their huge buying power the right way. SXM’s Girls Night Out is a combination of what I aspire to change, have seen, learned and fills that important “sheconomic” gap. It was also important to me that it would be a lot of FUN!

How did you go about creating this new event?

I presented my idea to my mom, Bernadette Davis, who many people know on Sint Maarten/Saint Martin. She has produced many successful events; so I asked her what she thought about my idea. I also asked if I could be on her team should she decide to do it. She loved it and said, “You are going to make this event happen and I will be on your team.” We involved a few more key family members each with their own unique talents and ideas who have made SXM’s Girls Night Out such a success. Jennifer Simmons-Hughes and Ogechi have shared a vision of creating a production company from the age of 11 and 12. After the first SXM’s Girls Night Out event, Jennifer was inspired to open several Yogen Fruz chains in Holland. Linda Cocks is a multi-business owner and a tourism industry expert. Ijeoma Anyanwu is a marketing expert and creative director.

What are some of the difficulties in creating such an event?

It is hard to have to fight for sponsors each year on Sint Maarten/Saint Martin. I think many people face the same issue on the island. Our event has proven successful, yet it is a bit of a struggle every year to get everyone on board. Logistically, if you work with the right people, everything runs smoothly; but there is always a chance that something unintended happens. Of course there are many more upsides, for example, this year a talented entrepreneur will be joining our event as a vendor. She is a designer and hasn’t had an opportunity like this to market herself. I just know we will make a difference to her business, which makes my team and me very happy. When you see and hear these kinds of positive reactions to your event, all the initial struggles are worthwhile!

Why should we women come out to SXM’s Girls Night Out?

You should come to our event because you will have a great time! You will be surrounded by friends, or make some new ones while you shop, sip, savour and pamper yourself. Dozens of vendors will be selling your favourite products and might introduce you to some new ones you will fall in love with. You will be sampling delicious cocktails and snacks while you enjoy an array of entertainment. There will also be mini-massages and mini-makeovers for those who want to relax. There will also be special workshops for those who want to learn and be inspired. It is a perfect night out for women to leave all the stress of the world behind! Oh, and there are many surprises too!

Surprises?! What kind of surprises?

It is our fifth anniversary – quite a milestone – so we will be giving away many prizes throughout the night. Besides all of the swag filled bags given to the first 600 women and the goodies you can win throughout the event; we will also have three GRAND prizes! By buying your ticket to SXM’s Girls Night Out, you will automatically enter a raffle. First prize is a Caribbean Cruise for two; second prize is a stay at a hotel on the island and third is a cash prize. For just $30 admission, you have a chance to win these and more!

If you could have three people over for dinner, dead or alive, who would they be, what would you serve them and what would you discuss with them?

I would have Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama and Beyoncé; I would serve a hot goat cheese salad with baguette and butter on the side as the appetizer, lobster in a cream sauce served with rice pilaf for the entrée and a cup of vanilla ice-cream wrapped in a crepe and topped with a creamy rum sauce and whipped cream. We would discuss being women with a dream, the journey to achieving our dreams and the things we had to give up to accomplish them. I would love to hear their stories on juggling being a woman, a partner/wife, a mother and an entrepreneur.

See you at SXM’s Girls Night Out on Saturday, June 3! Bring your friends, sisters and mom out for a great time. Come shop, sip, savour and be pampered. Contact info: www.sxmgirlsnightout.com, 1 (721) 527-8660 or info@sxmgirlsnightout.com

Fernando Clark will be hosting this year’s Laugh Till Belly Burst Comedy Show which is set for Saturday, June 10, at Princess Port de Plaisance. Clark tells us why he went on board as host again this year, about his life as a comedian and a bit about what fans can expect from him.

Who is Fernando Clark?

That’s a very interesting question. I am the fourth of five children. I have one brother living in St. Maarten and the rest are in the USA (with Donald Trump). As for who I am, I am the person that you hear on the radio in commercials and on talk shows. I am the face you saw as a presenter of the nightly AVS News. I am the person you see as the Master of Ceremonies for various events on the island. I am the guy who makes you laugh. I am no stranger to the St. Maarten community.

How would you describe yourself?

Easy going, like a lot of fun and laughter; but when it comes to my work, that is when I put on my serious hat. There are two sides to me, the fun and laughter side and the serious side. Sometimes I mix the serious and the fun; but when I have to, I keep them separated.

Education?

All my schooling was done in Aruba where I was born and I actually graduated with the subjects biology, chemistry and mathematics. But after school, I went into banking and finance. I worked in banking for 36 years and followed many banking and financial courses, so I always considered myself to be a banker. I also did some courses in communication and marketing. I combined all of them and created a product called Fernando Clark.

When did you discover your love for comedy?

Early in secondary school – I was asked to be the MC for school activities. But even before that, I enjoyed making people laugh. I loved to entertain. Then when I came to St. Maarten, I continued the trend. But it was during my school days that I actually discovered that I had what it takes to make people laugh. In those days, comedy was not as big as it is now, so people referred to a comedian as a payaso, which is Spanish for clown. So to aspire to be a comedian back then was not a big thing. Parents didn’t feel proud to introduce their child as “Meet my son, the clown.”

How did you get into the industry professionally?

There were people who kept telling me that I can do it; and they organised the first stand-up comedy show in St. Maarten. Entrance was free. The hall was packed and thereafter we did more shows. But it was my Fernando Clark RAW CD that got me to the Apollo Theatre in New York, and after that, it was smooth sailing. That was back in 1995. After that, I received invitations to perform in other countries. And that is when I started using my talent professionally.

What do you love about comedy?

Laughter is like a medication. It releases stress. I feel like a doctor when I make people laugh. Sometimes I encounter angry people and after making them laugh, they are a different person. If I can make people happy, release their stress and tension, then I feel that I have in some way contributed to somebody’s wellbeing. Could you imagine how life would be if there was no laughter? No comedy? I also love to hear a good joke. I love to laugh too, so I enjoy being entertained.

Why did you decide to host the LTBB comedy show?

For the opportunity to work with comedians from different countries. Imagine, we have a comedian from Africa. It will be fun working with him. I am sure he will bring a completely different style of comedy to St. Maarten. Each one has different styles and ways of bringing comedy across. So, it will be a mixture of good comedy. I definitely want to be a part of that.

What would you say to encourage others to come out to watch the show?

Miss LTBB? Are you crazy or insane? Be there. Come and release your stress, and actually laugh till your belly burst… Right now, comedy is one of the highest paying professions in the world. In Jamaica for instance, comedy shows outdo dance hall and hip hop parties. Don’t miss LTBB. Release the stress!

What do you think should be done to further promote local comedians in St. Maarten?

Many people think it is easy. Once they start and realise the work involved and the commitment it needs, they drop out. But St. Maarten has many great talented potential comedians. They need to be motivated and eventually compensated for their talent. But it starts with the individual person. We should not rely on others to pave the road for us, we have to make that first step.

What inspires you when it comes to creating your funny material?

Society. I look around, see funny things and write it in such a way to make people laugh and wonder: “How he came up with that?” In my last one-man stand-up comedy, I took the challenge to do a part about funerals. That was a challenge, but it was successful. Can you imagine people laughing about funerals? Those are the kinds of challenges that inspire me.

What, if anything, is off limits when it comes to comedy for you? And what issues would you say generally make the best jokes?

Unlike many other comedians, I don’t curse. Many of them use sexual jokes, I try as much as I can to keep away from that. But there is nothing that I consider off limits. Family matters, politics and relationships make good topics.

What’s next for Fernando Clark the comedian?

On September 30, I will do a long awaited one-man stand-up comedy. You will hear more about that after LTBB.

If you could invite three persons (dead or alive) for dinner, who would they be and what would you serve them?

If I have to invite them one at a time, it would be the late Dr. Claude Wathey, Vance James Jr. and Eldridge Van Putten, separately. That way, I know there would be no fighting. I would serve them KFC. If I had to invite three people together, I would invite The Mighty Sparrow, Paul Keens Douglas and King T-Mo. I know we would have a great conversation and lots of fun. I wouldn’t serve anything. T-Mo is a great chef, he would knock up something for them to eat.

1. What made you first fall in love with Carnival?

I first fell in love with Carnival when I went away to study. Soca music would start to play out of the blue, and it was as if I could smell St. Maarten; it made me feel at home. I visited the Dutch version of Carnival, but it was not the same; so every time I came back home, I would try to get into Carnival again.

2. As the new president of St. Maarten Carnival Development Foundation (SCDF), how do you physically handle the fact that you have to eat sleep and breathe Carnival?

Physically, I have a very strict regimen of vitamins that I take; vitamins like Black Label Whiskey, Dewar’s White Label and all of the other supplements that keep me going.

3. How does being SCDF president differ from being a board member?

There’s a lot more stress. The enormity of it is very distracting to your personal life as well as your professional life, especially if you have your business, which I do. You have to find balance and you have to find it quickly, or else something is going to fail. Some days I knock it out of the park; and other days the position beats me up, but I’m not a quitter, so I took the challenge head on.

4. What are three things you want to achieve during your time in office?

(1) I want to continue to professionalize the Foundation (SCDF) and move toward achieving a fully-staffed office. We’ve had great successes with the implementation of the post of Carnival Director, but we need that director to be supported by staff, i.e., an office manager, people who deal with sponsorship, people who deal with banking as well as full-time press people. We need to be more efficient and modern with what is happening with Carnival this year.

(2) We need to become more open to the international arena. I would really like for St. Maarten to be featured by Uber Soca Cruise, Soul Beach, South by South West in the States, Coachella, and the West Indian Day Parade. I would really like us to get branding and to be featured out there and I’m sure the Tourist Office would be willing to work with us on that.

(3) I would really like us to achieve that status of being one of the best music, food and cultural festivals in the World, or at least in the Caribbean. It would be great even to be ranked under Trinidad and Barbados as one of the best Carnivals.

5. The public has seen a lot of change this year, which one are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of some of the cultural elements we’re adding to Carnival this year. Culture Night is one of them as well as the opening and closing nights of the village; they will be very symbolic and I want everyone to come out to that. Then there’s the drink competition called “Village Cock Up”, which is sure to be exciting. My prouder moments aren’t grand ones, but just the fact that we’re doing Carnival great and it’s all going to get better moving forward.

6. You recently had the opportunity to visit Trinidad for Carnival. What was something you discovered there that you would want to bring to St. Maarten Carnival?

Due to other unforeseen circumstances, I actually wasn’t able to make it to Trinidad for Carnival this year. However, my vice president did go and brought back a lot of tips for how we can improve Parade Day and other logistics that we can use. I think it’s best not to do too much travelling in my first year; otherwise I wouldn’t get anything done here. I was able to visit French side Carnival and I saw some interesting tips about judging points we’ll be using. So expect one judging point with a lot of cameras and drones in the air, confetti and better choreography.

7. I know the One Love Reggae Concert is one of your passion projects; can you tell us a bit about the process?

This was a show that fell into our laps at the last minute during last year’s Carnival and we managed to pull it off successfully. We love the vibe we bring with it. We try to have a proper mixture of roots reggae, plus popular artists, a bit of dancehall and even an oldie-goldie who can take the crowd back, and this year we’ve succeeded again with much thanks to our sponsors.

The process of getting international artists and putting on a show is days and days of non-stop work and all-day manpower especially when they’re here. We have to pick them up at the airport, take them to do radio interviews and promo, then sound check, and get them ready for the concert. We stop for 10 minutes during the concert then it’s back to getting them to the airport for their flights. And this happens for multiple people over consecutive days, because it’s not just one night of shows. It’s a lot of work, but the reward is worth it. People loved the One Love Reggae Concert last year, and it will be the same reaction, if not better this year.

8. When you’re not the centre of the party, how do you unwind?

The easiest way to unwind in a way that changes my mood is to take a drive with my loved ones, my wife and my kids. If some friends want to join, we’ll stop along the way and have some drinks and just enjoy St. Maarten, the Paradise, and the sun going down. I’d say Grand Case is one of my favourite places on the island where I can chill out and let go of all the stress.

In the HOTSEATwith Veraguas

Sailor, Captain, Boat-Bar Owner

“My dad was a boat-builder and he had my brothers and me out in the water from a very young age,” says Stefan Veraguas, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale. Hailing from a family of sailors, it isn’t surprising that Stefan ended up following a career path as captain aboard a variety of boats.

When he first sailed into Caribbean waters 18 years ago, he was blown away by our little rock. Today Stefan, his brother Daniel and girlfriend Kristen have made Sint Maarten their home and hope to be part of the community through their new business and charity work.

JabJabs their bar was officially opened just a few weeks ago. It has been in the Veraguas family for many years, but instead of sailing her like they used to as kids; she is now geared up for more “adult” play with a fully stocked bar, live music and all the right party-vibes.

Why did you decide to move to Sint Maarten?

I loved Sint Maarten from the moment I set foot on it. Besides having all the obvious Caribbean assets – sea, sun, sand – it is a sailing hub and a fun island with a lot of things to do.

How did the idea for JabJabs come about?

My brother Daniel and I actually have wanted to work on a project together for a while. JabJabs has been in our family since I was 13 years old. We lived on her for a bit and used to sail her as a family. Five years ago, my dad told us he was selling her. Right away I called my brother. Willy T’s is a popular floating-boat-bar in the British Virgin Islands, and we thought: “This would be great for Sint Maarten too!” We bought JabJabs and started transforming her.

Tell us more about JabJabs and her transformation.

JabJabs is an 86-foot Sparkman Stevens, built in 1958 for a Duke in Amsterdam. Today she is still sea-worthy. After a few minor repairs, we sailed her down to Sint Maarten. Here we did all the construction to modify her into a bar. A lot of the rebar used for the railings and roof is actually from old causeway construction material! It took us three years to officially open her for business. This could have been done quicker with outside investments, but we wanted the business to stay between my brother and me. Today our hard work has paid off!

Who does what on JabJabs?

My brother is the main guy overseeing the construction; he is the welder, carpenter and all around handyman that made (and is still making) all the improvements to our floating-bar. Kristen is a trained chef and sommelier; she helps me behind the bar and logistics at the moment and will play a big part in getting our restaurant up and running. I am managing director and oversee everything else!

What were some of the reactions of your customers the first time they went on board JabJabs?

They loved it! We have been getting so much positive feedback, which of course makes us feel great and motivated in return. We have a fully-stocked bar, a wide variety of beer, $2 beer and $3 house-liquor happy hour from 5:00 to 7:00pm, free Wi-Fi, 360-degree views, fun vibes and live music events. You should come and check JabJabs out too!

What else are you adding to JabJabs in the coming months?

A few more lights, bar-appliances and we are aiming to open a restaurant aboard by this summer! It’s going to be a simple but mouth-watering menu of healthy, fresh choices. We also want to open for breakfast in high season; so that cruisers can enjoy a cup of coffee, read a paper and surf the web in the morning hours.

You mentioned that community is very important to everyone working on JabJabs?

Yes! We want to be part of the Sint Maarten community. First off, you would not believe how much gorgeous wildlife you can see in Kim Sha Bay; turtles, eagle-rays, tarpon, pelicans and more. So we want to make sure we are an eco-friendly boat that has minimal impact on the surrounding environment. We are adding solar panels as soon as we can, for example, to our boat and will limit (if not ban) the use of plastic.

We also hope to facilitate charity events. If any non-profits would like to hold an event such as a fundraiser aboard JabJabs, please contact us! We would love to be part of giving back to the community.

Do you have any exciting JabJabs events coming up?

YES! “Stell and Snuggs” is playing live aboard on May 21 from 5:00 till 8:00pm. Christel Astin and Jarad Astin use a wide variety of instruments to bring their audience on a musical journey. Their vocals and instrumentals enclose musical elements of Colombian Cumbia, Gypsy, Country, and Brazilian Choro.

How do people board JabJabs?

Of course if you have a dingy, you can easily tie up at our bar. If you don’t, you can swim OR just come to Kim Sha beach, you will see our blue tent and sign on the beach and we will give you a free ride over (and back). You can also call us at +1 (721) 523 8021 for a pickup.

What do you do when you’re not working on JabJabs?

Right now, honestly, almost all of our time is spent working on JabJabs! If I do have some time off, I love taking my dogs to the beach with Kristen.

If you could invite three people (dead or alive) for dinner, who would they be and what would you serve them?

Let’s assume our kitchen is already open on JabJabs, so we would all have dinner there! First would be Johnny Depp, as long as he dresses up as Captain Sparrow. I’d serve him a Dark & Stormy and Fish Tacos. I would also invite Ernest Hemingway and serve him a Whiskey and Smoked Marlin Dish. Last but not least, Bob Marley who would enjoy a glass of our Rum Punch while trying a plate of our Jerk Chicken with rice and peas.

 ~ Lightin’ up the road! ~

Daughter to one of the island’s original Carnival troupe leaders, you can say that Brenda Wathey literally has fete running through her blood! A well-known businesswoman on Sint Maarten, Brenda runs a number of companies year-round, BUT when the Carnival season starts, her focus is on her Carnival foundation – Rio Productions.

Incorporated in 1996, Rio Productions has been a troupe leader for 18 years and has been organizing and hosting its own parade known as “Lightin’ Up de Road” since 2011. Brenda and her team are held in high regard for always delivering quality, organized, safe events that are a ton of fun. On April 1, the Lightin’ Up de Road parade sets off for the sixth time. Expected to join in are some 2,000 revellers, who will be illuminating the roads of Philipsburg, promising participants and onlookers alike a magnificent show!

Tell me about where you grew up?

I was born on Sint Maarten in 1967. I have a lot of fond childhood memories of growing up on Sint Maarten; specifically those that involve Carnival. My mom was very active in the Carnival scene back in those days; the organization at the time was called the “St. Maarten Angler’s Club” and thereafter the “Jolly Jumpers”. It made me fall in love with the music, dancing, food, costumes and culture around Carnival.

How did Rio Productions come about?

I had only been back on the island a few years, when my mom decided to “retire” from her carnival production. I said to her, “No! You can’t do that, I just moved back!” Selfishly, I wanted to enjoy Carnival to the fullest, which I had always done by my mother’s side. So one day, while my mom, my friend Jane and I were swimming off a beach in Anguilla, I said, “You can sit back and relax! Jane and I will start a new group.” She warned me that organizing events, troupes and anything Carnival costs a lot of money, work and stress, but I also knew that most importantly, it was also going to be A LOT of fun!

Why did you start the lighted parade on Sint Maarten?

I had gone to Aruba a few years back where I saw the lighted parade; it was (and still is) huge! It included thousands of people, costumes, road pieces and floats, all decked out with tiny lights that illuminated the roads. I had a blast and thought, “This is interesting; something that could work great on Sint Maarten.” When I got back, I discussed it with the team. We prepared for 300 persons our first year, and it was a huge success. This year, we are expecting over 2,000!

Why do you think the lighted parade is such a success?

I think one of the reasons is that it is at night and many feel more comfortable partying under the cloak of night-time. It is also less hot. Besides that, we are very proud of being known as a safe and mature event. We always have great police and sheriff attendance. This way, our participants can fully enjoy themselves without worrying about any possible negative incidents. The parade is roped off and you do not get in without a T-shirt, which doubles as your ticket. Lastly, our price is only $45 for a T- shirt, entrance, open bar and guaranteed fun. This price is a lot more doable for many comparing the costume prices to jam in the day parade. In short, the lighted parade is well-organized, safe, affordable and FUN. What’s not to love?

How do we participate?

Your ticket is a T-shirt, which costs $45. Remember, you have to wear your T-shirt as your ticket to participate in the lighted parade! Your “ticket” also includes lights and open bar with water, beer, sodas and a selection of premium brand liquors. You can get a T-shirt at the NC Wathey Office, Van Dorp (both locations), Soggy Dollar Bar, UTS and Caribbean Liquors. Check out www.rioproductions.sx for more information.

Do you have any creative advice on personalizing our “lighted parade” costume?

The only rule is that we need to be able to identify our shirt. I always tell people to save their old costume pieces, such as a headpiece from the day-parade. You can easily spruce and light up any piece by replacing feathers and using strings of light. Take out the paint, glue, glitter and lights, and get creative!

Who are you teaming up with this year?

I am excited that Kurt of Soggy Dollar Bar is joining us for the second time this year. Anyone who knows Kurt knows that he brings it every time; he goes overboard on lighting, screens, sound and every bell and whistle he can find. He never disappoints! We also have NBA (Nothing But Alcohol) joining us this year. After a chance meeting, we sat down and planned the broad strokes and now we have an extra truck and a guaranteed 25% increase in amazing revellers!

Who are the entertainers for this year?

Our trucks will feature Small Axe Band, Grand Masters Band, DJ Maestro and DJ Big Boss. It is safe to say that the music for the road will be top-notch!

When and where is the lighted parade?

The parade is on April 1. (No, it is not April Fool’s joke!) We will start on the ring-road across from LB Scott Sports Auditorium. From there, we will get onto the Pondfill and head straight into the heart of Philipsburg. We will come around the roundabout at Sundial and head back up the Pondfill and end where we started off. The parade starts at 8:00pm sharp so make sure you are there on time and IN YOUR SHIRT to find a good parking spot.

When you are not working, what do you enjoy?

Not working?!! It is very rare that I am not working. I would love to get more time off to travel. When I do get the rare week off, I enjoy going to places I have not seen before. I think people can learn a lot from immersing themselves in a new culture. But usually when I am not working, I am at home enjoying some quiet time. This probably won’t happen until after the Carnival season, though. Right now it is time to light up the road!

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