My wife and I are both from islands within Caricom, but never lived on another one besides our homeland. I nearly went to live in Barbados when I was ready to leave the Bank of England in the late-1980s, but the offer to join the Caribbean Development Bank as an economist didn’t make financial sense. The interview visit had been an eye opener because I had assumed all islands were like Jamaica, not least with significant high points. Barbados is relatively flat, and you can see almost all of the island from its high points. But, some good things hit me on that brief weekend visit. Barbados has monkeys: I saw them on the beach. It’s visually appealling, especially seeing pretty sandy coastlines from almost every high point. I was also struck by the Bajan accent. 🙂 It was ironic that my wife’s job took us there, nearly two decades later. What did living there show me better?
Bus service island-wise: You never really had an excuse for taking a bus in the wrong direction because bus signs were marked ‘Into city’ and ‘Out of city’. Good thing, too, that the island is small enough to make a round trip by mistake no bad thing 🙂
Pudding and souse: I’d never give Bim’s food high marks compared to the rest of Caricom, but pudding and souse is worth the try and has its important place in social activities at weekends, when one could lime happily around eating this cold pickled pork dish, drinking and chatting aimlessly or fulsomely.
History matters: Barbados has a complicated slave history, like all of the Caricom countries, but for me have tried to manage the realities of that by not discarding historic relics. It has many preserved features of slave and plantation life, such as mills and some great houses and enough trappings to let people see how the country once was. You need that to tell the story, properly, in my mind.
Well-run, on the surface: Most things in Barbados appear to work well, and the country’s PR is great at pushing that message. But, it’s got some issues that would make you pull out your hair, in part because despite its progress, it’s still a small island in the Caribbean. It took months to get our new car, which we were told “Is on the water”! Opening a bank account and dealing with public sector agencies is still mired by that Caribbean brand of bureaucracy and redundancy.
Brighton Market: If we were caught in an odd place, it was enjoying going to the farmers’ market at dawn most Saturday mornings. This could have been a trip to an English village field, but it was set in the grounds of a working sugar cane farm. It offered ambience hard to beat and was a safe space for children to roam freely. The best fresh coffee on the island and nice food to go with it, whether fish cutters or occasional yummies of other kinds, and fresh fruit and vegetable to buy, plus some crafts, occasionally. Yes, it was mainly frequented by white Bajans and expats, but it was a great start to any weekend, and we often headed to Lemon Arbor for pudding and souse, after.
‘Little Englanders’: Bajans have a reputation amongst other Caribbean countries for being either ‘Little Englanders’ because of their close historical association with the UK and the constant flow of Brits who decide to take holidays there, bolstered by daily flights provided by British Airways. But, it shows up also in a clear distaste for other black Caricom citizens. We were dissed too many times in favour of British tourists for it not to be noticeable and a chilling ‘welcome’ at the airport was not what we liked.
Bajans love sticking it to Jamaicans how well they’ve done: I think I would have minded less if I had arrived in Barbados at a time when economic signs were pointing in a clearly good direction, in 2007, but I didn’t. Sadly, I pointed out what seemed like a glaring fiscal problem. That came to buck a decade later with (for Bajans, a dreaded IMF program in 2018). But, don’t mention that I told you so. I was not offering popular opinions on the radio call-in programme, ‘Down to brass tacks’. 🙂
Travel: It’s harder to get there than it should from anywhere in the Caribbean. I think that reality might have been worse on another island, but it’s still a major chore to have to duck in and out of a few islands on an air ‘milk bus’.
Polarized politics: I didn’t know it at the time, but living in Barbados was a good primer for life in Jamaica, where many issues are reduced to the colour of the party you’re assumed to support. My points about the economy labelled me as part of the ‘opposition’. What was ridiculous was that my point was valid when Barbados Labour Party (red) were in power and equally valid when they ceded power to the Democratic Labour Party (yellow). So, I was always one of the opposition!
Racial polarization: Black and white people don’t mix that much in Barbados. At a macro level, whites own the economy and blacks own the politics; that’s the ‘devil’s bargain’ that’s been struck. They races sort of co-exists, but the separation is pretty clear, no more so for things like Kadooment, during Crop Over, where there’s a (near) all-white troupe, named ‘Blue Box Cart’, who go out first each year. Nuff said!