538: “RELAX, YOU ARE IN BARBADOS!”

“A tropically warm welcome to Zingcreed which this week is being written from the West Indies. My title is part of the self-branding that goes on in those Caribbean nations that are dependent on the tourist dollar for their very survival. Just think of the very first word that comes to mind when you hear these “brands”. It might be Jamaica: “reggae”, Barbados: “white beaches”. Trinidad: “calypso”, Haiti” “voodoo”, Cuba” “cigars.” All these are important assets when it comes to attracting overseas visitors, and the tourist rarely gets beyond them. In this brief essay I want to try and break through these commercial clichés. This is my favourite part of the world, a continent in its own right, and a place where I lived and worked for many years, and I would like to help others to see through the stereotypes that are thrown in their faces.

I hope you find this personal account of interest.

Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.”

“Relax, you are in Barbados!” The slogan repeats itself on every wall of Grantly Adams airport in Bridgetown, and is echoed on the bus shelter across the road where Coca Cola sponsor a mural proclaiming “You are in paradise!” It’s a slightly desperate attempt to keep the illusion up as the passing tourists move through to their hotel buses or to the cruise liner waiting down the road.

Sadly, although the satisfaction rate among visitors is high, this coral island is not so idyllic when you live here. Job prospects for school leavers are limited. There are the hotels and bars which will always need low-paid pool boys, waiters and cleaners, and there are a few unskilled jobs in American owned factories. Two jobs I heard of were assembling base balls for an American sports goods firm, and and a job that involved sorting thousands of cut out coupons (“Ten cents off Colgate” sort of thing) that US supermarkets send down to this low wage area by the sackful.

The schools are good here and the island has a high level of literacy, so it’s not surprising that a lot of people have emigrated to Britain and the US.

Jamaica is a different kettle of fish altogether. Despite having a murder rate ten times higher than America’s, they still manage to maintain a thriving tourist industry. Probably because visitors keep their noses out of the urban slums where most of the drug-related killing seems to go on. Last week a homophobic Seventh Day Adventist was elected as Prime Minister. One in eight of the population belong to this American sect, and that includes the Governor General. Don’t expect any liberalisation of social laws soon – they’re more likely to bring in the death penalty for homosexuality!

I’ve written about Trinidad and Tobago before because I know the twin island state quite well, and I visit my family there at least once a year. The local press, which I consume avidly, has a new scare story every time I come. This time it was crime in the country’s state run secondary schools. The reporters’ main sources of information seemed to be (a) the minister of education, who didn’t have a clue what was going on, and (b) kids stopped in the street who came up with the most hair-raising stories. But were they making it all up? One girl claimed she had had sex with 15 boys in  school. One boy who was a gang member took a gun to school to shoot a teacher. Drugs were openly on sale and in use, and older bullies ‘taxed’ younger kids, e.g. forcing them to pay to use the toilets. How much of this was true and what was fantasy we’ll probably never know. Whatever’s going on it hardly qualifies as “paradise”!

A Christian commentator said “This would never happen in a church school.”

Oh no? I can see it is time to reveal what I found  when I worked as a supply teacher in some of London’s faith schools! Watch this space.

 

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