Posted by clubsodaandsalt on June 6, 2009
Americans tend to think that all Caribbean islands are pretty much the same – some mix of beaches, cane fields, and money laundering (and associated problems). And while it’s true that there are more similarities than differences, this is a pretty mistaken impression. Despite being from the region, I sometimes slip into the same laziness, but nothing will snap a Trini out of that quicker than a visit to Barbados – and I just got back from a week there, so the differences are at the forefront of my mind right now.
Among West Indians, or at least among Trinis, Barbados has the reputation of being like an anal-retentive roommate. Trinidadians seem to revel in the low-level chaos that characterizes daily life there, but not so in Bimshire. It’s reflected in the uproar over documenting illegal immigrants on the island, which I’ve spoken about before. It’s my understanding that this policy is *very* popular there, even among other (legal) immigrants. Part of it is a desire for documentation, but the more common point made to me during my stay was that Barbados is, frankly, full. Admittedly, Barbados is densely populated, but people there seem convinced that there is just physically no more room at ALL for all these new residents and their “stuff”. Who will keep the schools good and the roads clear and the place clean with all these folks running around? See? It’s like that neat freak college roomie.
The love of order there was also brought home by a minor scandal that erupted during my stay. You probably don’t find Robert’s Rules very exciting reading, so I will be brief – the basic outline is that a former Prime Minister was seen as being slighted by his Opposition party colleagues, and as a result, the Opposition members staged a parliamentary walkout (which is exactly what it sounds like). This walkout was basically treated by the Barbadian media like the nuclear option. Every call-in show* was dominated by the topic for the rest of the week, with people hotly debating the ethics of the walkout, and the potential medium and long-term effects on parliamentary tradition on the island, and would the BLP (the opposition) recover from this kind of behaviour? Meanwhile, in Trinidad, opposition walkouts happen pretty much every other week. I’m not sure they even make the news at this point.
But there are benefits to the anal-retention, and you have to wonder why Trinidad hasn’t followed some of the Barbadian example. The beaches are pristine. Crime has increased on the island, but it’s nothing compared to the gory spectacle that Trinidad’s become. Every student – every single one!! – is entitled to a free university education. And once they decide that they need one, I suspect that they will be able to build a flyover in less than a decade, and won’t act like they launched a space shuttle when it’s done. If I had to choose, I think I still prefer the more bouncy Trini life, but you can’t say a life in Barbados wouldn’t be easier in many ways.
* The radio in Barbados is atrociously bad, unless you love really bad Bajan soca. Hence, I did a lot of listening to call-in shows. If you are fortunate enough to visit the Caribbean, please do listen to a local call-in radio show. It turns out that small island life produces a truly unique breed of call-in show crank. It’s a delight.