We have recently celebrated the first anniversary of Persaud Arrival Day. Over the years we have visited Bim many times. But in January 07 it was different. We had arrived with excess baggage and the express intent of making this rock our home. So one year on it seems a good time to chat with my boys to ascertain if they are happy with our move from a small island to a little rock.
First Born says Barbados is okay but he misses Freddie, Frank, Johnny and Luca. Second Born (by three minutes) is happy. He does use the opportunity of our cozy chat to gently remind me that we had promised a puppy and a pool in Barbados. They have Jack. “But mummy, we really need a very big pool. Like so big.” (He runs down the corridor and back). “It’s too hot. And, Mummy, I love you most in the whole wide world.” And he’s off. And two minutes later - he’s back. “Mummy, why don’t we go to a nice sushi place here in Barbados like we used to in London? Can we have sushi today best mummy?” I explain only a few grown up restaurants serve sushi and it is really expensive so we can’t have it as often as we did in London. But the kids and I are in agreement. I too want bento boxes for lunch; my close friends are far away, and well, a pool would be fun.
The Husband loves living here and has thrown himself into every opportunity to integrate. But he is also the one who travels back and forth the most and sees friends and family. The other day he came home with a ridiculous grin on his face. While Jack was taking him for his daily walk around the neighbourhood, a sexy young thing had propositioned The Husband. Without bothering to look up I asked if she was after Jack. Yes, he had to admit she might have mentioned how much she wanted a Jack Russell; how difficult it was to get one on the island and would he be interested in “lending” her the cute puppy. I looked him in the eye. I can live with almost anything. If he played only Abba on the ipod continuously, or lectured the plants or even, even, if he started wearing Hawaiian shirts – I would be okay. But if he ever, ever, gave away our little Jack to some brazen hussy I would have to “make ah jail” for murder. From the way he tiptoed backwards to his office I think the dog is safely ours for life.
Then he came home a few days ago with the same ridiculous grin on his face. I panicked. Phew, Jack was safely on his lead. On this walk he had overheard two old ladies chatting on the verandah of a house. One was pointing in his direction and nudging the other, “Who he? He nah Indian. He Bajan.” The Husband is finally home.
He may be home but I am not. As I go through my day, positioned somewhere between detached observer and daughter of the soil, I am forced to look beyond the beaches and tourist offerings of “authentic” local culture. It is not that we lack culture in Bim. There was the terrific Jazz Festival last week featuring the likes of Bob James and Eryka Badu. And soon there will be the Holders Season - our version of Glyndebourne - but with a variety of music and theatre. Even the late Pavarotti performed at Holders. So there are pockets of culture at certain times of the year but there are no venues offering consistently interesting theatre or art or music or dance.
Life is less hectic. It’s a small place with less queuing and waiting so things get done faster. Shops close earlier and on Sundays. Back in London going to restaurants, visiting friends, doing the shopping or going to a cultural event is more problematic. It involves coordinating diaries and making bookings, often months in advance. Then to get to the event you have to bundle up in coats for long journeys. If going by car you also need to pay and pray lots for parking. Bim has no noteworthy shopping malls to walk through chasing bargains. We make up for this by driving through the countryside chasing royal palms. Our best count was 45 of these majestic trees in one hour.
Visiting friends agree Barbados is perfect. Perfect for a holiday. Yet, inevitably someone will take me aside, hold my hand and look into my eyes. How are you doing? No, really Ingrid, how are you coping out here? After all I am bereft of a variety of museums, art galleries, theatres, orchestras and movies. There is no Gap store, no Starbucks and no Marks and Spencer food hall. There is “goin’ fuh ah sea barth” in warm, blue waters. Cool breezes keep the sun from being overbearing. Flip-flops are my main footwear. This can't be serious living.
Is this a real and meaningful life? Are we no longer serious people? The implicit suggestion of those who fly in from Europe and the States is that seriousness is what they left behind. Seriousness demands grey skies, tall buildings, high heels, suits in muted tones of blue and beeping Blackberries. I think I understand. The contrast of there and here is partly this cacophony of colour - very stark and very vivid. A Hindu bride will wear a red sari on her wedding day and be garlanded with yellow or red flowers. If the sad day comes that she must bury her husband, she will don white.
It is Sunday today. Most of the population is “hymning” (a word coined by First Born). The four of us are huddled in one big bed each with our own laptop writing, surfing or reading newspapers online. The internet radio is tuned to Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio 4. Second Born proudly shows off his creative efforts of the morning. It is a concise work. In six sentences we learn about a boy who repeatedly won at Monopoly until his dad hid the game in the laundry room. First Born, not to be outdone, entertains us with his fiction of a footballer called Frank Beckham, who is taken to the pinnacle of the sport by his coach, David Thompson.
In London I would have been anxious to entertain them, make play dates and ensure they got to the park for some fresh air. Barbados weekends find them half naked in our garden building obstacle courses for Jack, playing on the swings or kicking a ball and squabbling over absolutely everything. Unfortunately sibling rivalry does not decrease with exposure to average year round temperatures of 25 degrees Celsius.
Bim arguably offers the possibility of a more thoughtful existence. And we make a lot more out of the little we have. This tiny region has produced three Nobel laureates. I do read more of the books piled up on the bedside table. Maybe in London I was too easily satisfied with mediocrity because of the sheer pace of life and the quantity of activities on offer. Here I do all the routine stuff of life but I cannot substitute the doing for thinking. You are stuck with yourself and your imagination. No wonder most people find a fortnight every winter more than adequate.
Of course there are all the clichéd reasons to prefer island life, like the friendliness of the natives. I don’t buy that. I find Bim a very conservative, reserved, often racially divided society. Although we have been welcomed, Bajans are generally wary of newcomers. And you can be regarded as a new arrival for a long time. Admittedly in daily life people make an effort to be pleasant. Take buying the newspaper. In London this can be done in silence and without eye contact. On the rock that is impossible. Our local newspaper vendor is a gentleman in his 80s who sells from a roadside stall. His broad smile shows off his one remaining tooth to perfection. I say good morning and hand over my money. In return I get The Nation, The Advocate and “Darling, yuh lookin’ sweet sweet today. Have a blessed day yuh hear.” If I have missed a day he will ask, “Sweetness, where yuh been hiding yuhself? Yuh good? How dem lovely boys of yours?” You won’t get better bang for your bucks else where.
Maybe the kids will get that pool. I might even make use of the Japanese cooking course I took and start making sushi. And next year I hope we celebrate another anniversary of Persaud Arrival Day under an impossibly blue sky.