Some things I get all excited about little things. I’m checking my blogs irregularly these days, for reasons one day I’ll write about, and came across a comment in the spam filter that I thought I ought to keep. I followed the link that went with it, and I came to the blog dailyplanet.org.uk, and a very cool post which gives a very different, and very deeply considered, tourist view of The Bahamas.
It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here’s some of what Matt Wootton has to say:
There are plenty of examples of the Bahamas not being an empowered nation in control of itself. The brain drain is one sad example. There is one tertiary education institution in the whole of the Bahamas, the College of the Bahamas. Only this year are they starting to offer a Masters program. Many politicians do not even believe that the college is needed at all. They are happy to see the most promising and cultured, intelligent young people go away to the USA, Canada or Europe for their education. Many will not return to their home, where intellectual enquiry is not encouraged or rewarded. Yet then politicians and the media complain of the “Brain Drain”, and criticise individuals for “abandoning” their country. Clearly, their country abandoned them first by failing to have a thorough educational infrastructure. There is still a clear pattern of ex-pats being given work that no Bahamian can be found to do, because no Bahamian has been given the training and opportunity to do it. I met a European who is a new senior civil servant; he has been imported directly into a top job because there is insufficient home-grown talent (a law preferences Bahamian applicants over foreign ones where possible). He told me how he is overseeing major works, carried out by a foreign contractor. Nearby, the Chinese are building a new sports stadium. One of the most important public works at the moment is to dredge the harbour so even bigger cruise ships can be accommodated.
The last post generated some discussion over on Facebook, where I import posts from Blogworld, and where a lot of discussion takes place. Here’s some of what was said:
Dennis Jones: Got to say I am not impressed. Starts with a good false premise about locals and conch fritters, then…’seeks to educate’ those who presumably dont know the island either. Suggestion: why not offer an equally well written view of The Bahamas as seen by Bahamians and see if the FT publish it. I will wager they don’t.
Ishmael Smith: hmmmmmn. creations of alternative authenticies in liminal spaces? chuckle
More was said, but I haven’t got permission yet to quote everybody. The point is that Dennis is on to something, and I think I’m going to have to try and take him up on the challenge. Don’t know if I’ll go as far as sending it to the FT, but who knows?
Off to ponder … and to consider this little morsel:
[Bahamas] Ministry of Tourism denying Bahamian filmmakers opportunity while using Bahamian money to launch the careers of 14 UK filmmakers? Winner gets $20k cash, Red Carpet Premiere at BAFTA (UK Oscars) etc.
That will be the topic of discussion on GEMS tomorrow, so it’s worth listening in. Don’t know the ins, outs, truths, or fictions of it but it’s worth checking.
Ever wonder what tourists think of The Bahamas? have a look at what one had to say.
I like it mostly because of the writing.
I imagine for Bahamians it’s a very different place. In fact, I’d be willing to offer long odds that most locals have never touched a conch fritter. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), the cloistered, painless, waterlogged, rum-addled tourist reality puts the native, presumably “real”, Bahamas largely beyond my comprehension. While I’ve spent what some might consider an eccentric amount of time in the country, I know almost nothing of it outside the half-mile stretch between my father’s timeshare in Cable Beach and the Crystal Palace Casino. Nonetheless, I was curious to see as best I could how the country was faring in this grisly economic climate, so I returned in September for my first “recession vacation”, armed to the teeth with sunscreen and indigestion tablets.
One of the stories on the news last night (that’s right, ZNS news) was a longish feature on the sufferings of Atlantis, Paradise Island, as the result of the recession. I really didn’t write down the figures, but they were enough to elicit weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth — 3% down in occupancy from projections (it’s important to get these titles right) overall this year until May and June, when the occupancy was 20-something % down from projections.
I wept, I tell you. Wept.
What I found fascinating, though, was that the news didn’t go beyond Atlantis and find out what the overall tourism economy was like. Atlantis has always had significantly higher occupancy rates than the national average, for a number of reasons that I’d rather not go into here and now (though one of them is that they don’t promote the fact that they are in The Bahamas all that much, and that they suck tourists right off the face of the rest of New Providence and swallow all their money so that ordinary Bahamians don’t get anything other than crumbs from the master’s table — don’t believe me, go watch After the Sunset, the Big Movie our Ministry of Tourism landed half a decade or so ago to much fanfare and celebration, and tell me if you ever hear either the word “Bahamas” or even a recognizable Bahamian accent in the whole thing. I can tell you now you won’t — the place it’s set in is called “Paradise” and the main location, despite some forays onto the main island of New Providence — was Paradise Island, aka the home of Atlantis. But I digress.) Perhaps, on National Pride Day (the Friday before Bahamian Independence), the news would be too grim.
So anyway. I thought I’d take the liberty to cheer us up by sharing the misery a little, and by sharing maybe too a laugh or two. This is thanks to Nicholas Laughlin, whose tweet directed me to this post. Let’s look beyond our shores and cast our minds upon our sister B’Island (I mean Barbados, in case you didn’t know), where tourists and tourism are addressed by one Ingrid Persaud. There’s unity, after all, in shared suffering.
Times are hard and money is too tight to mention. If you can still afford a vacation we really want you to come to our small rock. Never mind the scandalous treatment of undocumented workers or the huge hike in water rates because the water company failed to put aside funds for depreciation. None of this will perturb your paradise. You must come here for the exquisite beaches, superb restaurants and friendly people.
Well the beaches are fantastic but maybe best to avoid Mullins Beach because the extensive building works in that area have directly caused severe beach erosion. Restaurants are world class but once you are prepared to pay London prices your digestion will be easier. And the friendly people you might meet on the beach are very friendly if you want to buy shells or get your hair braided. The rest of the population will treat you as if you have had a longstanding quarrel or more likely ignore you.
But these are minor matters. I really, really want you to choose Barbados rather than Bali for the summer or winter hols. Maybe you have been put off because there are questions you have but were too afraid to ask. I have gathered a number of such questions that the Tourist Board have neglected to address and provided answers to the best of my ability. These are authentic, hearsay inquiries. If you have others please drop me line.
The story I’m about to share is nothing new. It just happened, but the complaint is an old one round here. I’m going to put it side by side with another one, a different one from a different Caribbean nation. The problem isn’t just with the fact that the incidents happened. The real problem lies in the fact that we not only let them happen, we appear to invite them. And the real problem also lies in the fact that I can guess how the issue will be received by some Bahamians, and what discussion will follow; over the past several months we have appeared to be more than happy to twist history to fit the prejudices of a few white people. Why not twist the future to fit a few more?
It’s the story of a qualified young woman who went for an interview at the biggest plantation of them all, the one that calls itself Atlantis and invents for itself its own history, a history which is not ours, and from which Bahamians are excluded fairly routinely unless we agree to pay for access to it, or unless we can pass for tourists.
Now this young woman had the qualifications to get the job. She went on an interview with the Human Resources Department, and sat before two Bahamians, and impressed them; she was offered the position right there and then. But before she could take up the position, she was contacted by the HR manager — who was not Bahamian, but from the UK, to say that the job was hers — if she would cut her hair.
The young woman, you see, has locks. And locks, apparently, are not respectable enough to be worn by Bahamians who will be in positions where they can be seen by the tourists.
Now I have a feeling that there are some people who will rise to the defence of this position — many, presumably, since this policy has been in place since 2000 and no one has spoken out against it in a strong enough voice to have it reviewed or changed by the resort. (This includes, clearly, five years of government by a political party that purports to champion the welfare of the Bahamian of African descent, as well as by a political party that does not purport to do so.) The fact that we accept, and have accepted, this policy, without much of a murmur, tells us more about ourselves as a people and as a nation than it does about the resort or our governments.
It shouldn’t surprise us that this happened at Atlantis, which has invented for itself its own space that functions, ironically perhaps, or predictably perhaps, rather like the so-called South African “homeland” in which the brand was developed — Bophuthatswana.
And I wouldn’t be so concerned about things that go on over there if the resort weren’t still functioning in many subtle and economic ways the way it did in the place it was invented. Like if, say, the black people that it hired were permitted to express their blackness in ways that they — and not the South Africans who run the resort — deemed appropriate and acceptable. As for the young woman who’s faced with choosing between the way she has decided to express her identity and a middle-management job: this is a young Bahamian who was fortunate enough to travel widely while she was being raised and who came into contact with intellectuals and other successful individuals who were not afraid to embrace their culture by dreading their hair. She is questioning the so-called “dress code” because she’s arguing that the way she wears her hair should really have nothing much to do with the job she is called to perform.
And the situation is as subtle as it is destructive. Her hairstyle didn’t stop her from being offered the position, but is enough to stop her from being permitted to take it. The choice has become hers, not the resort’s. (This is only true, by the way, because she is not a Rastafarian; if she were, she would not have to make the “choice”; the “choice” only comes into play in the case of aesthetics, not in the case of religion.) And in forcing her to make it, the job is forcing her to regard as equal two issues that are not. In a free country, identity and employment should not be linked. One should not be dependent on the other.
But are we really free?
Ian Strachan, like many other intellectuals, regards tourism — or the practice of tourism as it takes place in the Caribbean — as a revival of the plantation system in contemporary times. And indeed, the resort business as practised here shares many similarities with the plantation.
You don’t believe me? I’m going to share another story. This one’s from elsewhere in the Caribbean, and it’s told by a Caribbean woman. This time, I’ll use her own words:
Things that pissed me off recently
1/ the hotel guest who screamed at me three times, each time increasingly louder and slower “More coffee. MORE COFFEE! COULD I HAVE MORE COFFEE!!!” while pointing at cup.
That’s the way it happened… despite the fact that i was sitting at the table waiting for coffee myself as a guest of the hotel just like she was.
When I told her, “I don’t work here,” she said…nothing, no apology nothing. And her husband kept looking back at me as though he was afraid I was going to draw a razor blade from under my tongue.