I hate chaos. A butterfly somewhere in the Pacific probably flapped its wings and we have ended up with annoyingly wet weather for the past week in this, the dry season. And readers in cold climes will not sympathize but the air is a tad chilly at night. That is almost my last complaint about paradise. My very last complaint - well for this week at least – is that a terrible serpent has entered our small rock of Eden. Actually we don’t have nasty snakes in Bim so I’ll re-phrase that: an ugly mongoose has been seen flaunting himself all over town. I feel this acutely because I forgot to have breakfast on Wednesday.
If you skip the most important meal of the day then by 11am, after a morning of running around doing stuff, you are likely to be hungry. I was. Wave after wave of hunger descended as I was about to enter a hardware store. Clearly I could not last through the protracted negotiations of buying a pair of French doors and a sash window without sustenance. But the cosmos was on my side and there, across the road, was a fruit vendor.
All I needed was a banana and I could face the hardware’s Business Prevention Officers employed to stop consumers injecting cash into the economy.
A tall, slim gentleman with dreadlocks and his non-Rasta lady friend offered a perfect banana for 75 cents. As he handed over the fruit, Jah’s son gave me the biggest smile.
“You know Cindy?” he asked.
“No, I don’t think so. Sorry.”
“Man, you look jus like she. She even smile nice jus like you.”
I smiled again. It is rare to get a decent banana and a compliment all for 75 cents. He turned to his lady friend.
“Ent she look jus like Cindy?”
The lady looked me over and sneered.
“All dem Indian does look de same.” she replied and turned away.
I froze for what felt like a long, long, time. In a daze I walked back to the car. French doors and windows would keep for another day.
I am not naïve about racism. Equally it is not something I come across often or simply accommodate and hope it goes away. Hatred of Guyanese, particularly the Indo-Guyanese, with the usual chants that these aliens are in Bim to steal jobs and women, are regularly heard on the radio call-in programmes, blogs and TV. Sadly xenophobia slides off the tongues and pens of big-ups, boys on the block, and lots of people in between. What was appalling about this incident was the casualness of the racism. In her eyes I was so worthless she did not need to hide her contempt. We left London hoping our boys experience less of this. Racism is racism - whether it is white on black, or black on brown, or brown on black, and or any other colour of the rainbow against another. It just hurts more because I claim these Caribbean islands as my home.
So I shall not be trying to get back to wherever it is these racists think my clones and I should go, and nor, I suspect, will Bajans be rushing back to Africa. Is tolerance of difference so difficult? One method of bringing people together is through music. Daniel Barenboim and the late Edward Said have famously brought together young musicians, Jews and Palestinians, in the West-Eastern Divan Workshop and Orchestra, since the late 1990s. Bajans and non-Bajans have demonstrated we can come together to wuk up to soca, sing along under Rihanna’s umbrella and, more recently, shed tears with James Blunt.
Yes, the man with the most popular song to be played at funerals (Goodbye My Lover) performed during the Barbados Jazz Festival. We, the people of Bim, shared his sense of loss as he sang the hit “You’re beautiful”. It’s the one about seeing a face “in a crowded place, And I don’t know what to do, ‘Cause I’ll never be with you”. And there was not a dry eye in the stadium when this former soldier, who has traded a deadly gun for a mighty guitar, sang of atrocities witnessed in Kosovo:
There are children standing here,
Arms outstretched into the sky,
But no one asks the question why,
He has been here.
Old men kneel to accept their fate.
Wives and daughters cut and raped.
A generation drenched in hate.
Says, he has been here.
We say not another Burundi until Rwanda.
And then we say not another Rwanda until Kosovo.
And then we say not another Kosovo until the Congo.
Surely Bajans have no desire to be part of that cycle of hate.