Though I have lived in the so-called “first world” on and off for too many years to talk about, in the end, I always find myself returning to my little island haven. The general response I get from people when they find out about me returning home always leaves me sitting on the fence, emotionally conflicted, located smack dab in the middle of Throat Punch Town and You Sad Little Person Land.
I find that many of our island folk seem to have an odd way of assuming that everything outside the islands is better. Maybe this is a deeply rooted belief, a carry-over from the colonial days when our ancestors were
taught to believe that this was indeed the case… brainwashed.
For example, I went to the community supermarket one morning and ran into a guy I used to know. He started off by asking me if I’d been away, as he hadn’t seen me in a while. I let him know that I had indeed been off-island, in America for a time. His reaction: “And you come back here??!”, paired with an appalled look on his face. Like, why would I dare leave America, where the roads are paved with gold, and milk and honey flow in the gutters, and manna from the clouds? **SIGH**
I calmly explained that I came back because I’m HAPPY here, that he could pick up and go there if he wishes, but I’m all good, thank you very much. And yet when he left, the cashier continued the conversation, sharing in his shocked perspective that I would dare leave the States for this rock. I asked her if she’d ever visited America herself. She had not, but cited that she has seen people come home for Carnival and at Christmastime, wearing enviable designer clothes. She also was a fan of American television shows. Who was I to talk? Clearly, she was the one in the know. Because ALL the people coming home are definitely in real designer clothing…. not say, knockoffs from Canal Street… And, of course, TV is the true depiction of life. All is wonderful, there is no crime, unemployment, and definitely no racism.
Look – I’m not here to make a case against the United States, but what I do want is for our people to realize that we’re not as badly off in this here “third world” as they might think.
The main thing I love about my island is that, while people might not have a lot, they will often just give you something, for no particular reason at all. It’s usually food related, so I’m always happy.
Continuing from that same example above, upon leaving the community shop that same day, an older gentleman called out to me (no stranger danger) and I went to say hello. All he wanted was to give me some fruit. Which is exactly what I mean – someone will always give you a little of what they have, just because.
I literally can’t pass by a neighbor without being given some sort of fruit, herb, or vegetable from their garden plot. Hell, I’m told to go pick whatever I want, whenever I want – even if they aren’t home.
When I go to the market and buy fresh produce from the local farmers (I’m all about buying everything locally when I can), I have a specific lady I get all of my fresh herbs from, and I can never leave without having her drop a little something extra in my bag. Sometimes the things I’m given aren’t things I even want, but how rude would it be to decline the offering, when it means so much to the person simply to give it. With something edible, I can always pass it on to someone else anyway to make sure it won’t go to waste.
I bought some callaloo while walking through town recently, and when I as leaving, the lady stopped me and dropped some flavour peppers into my bag as well. I thanked her and wished her a nice day. She already had my money, there was no need, but it’s just the way. Not every vendor will do that, but a smile and hello never hurt a soul either, and if you get that instead, maybe you might even need that more.
There’s an organic farmer here who makes deliveries and he always puts a lot in his boxes – a lot, too much for me to use myself, really. Yes, I could freeze the extra and all of that new fangled stuff, but it’s also really easy to pack some things into a bag and take them over to a neighbor. It’s not even something you put thought into. That’s the island spirit.
Is it always like this 24/7? Of course not. But this idea that some of our people have that what we have is less than always infuriates me. In my experience, material possessions are really nice, but peace of mind is way more important. Some people realize this, some don’t, and to some, maybe it isn’t as important or important at all. To each his or her own, I simply suggest that people look at more of the facts before making such assumptions.
Anyone who’s lived in the “first world” has surely experienced the hustle. I don’t mean “hustle” like having to take on 3 jobs to pay $1500 in rent per month. I mean the actual fast, hustling pace in which that world moves. Like ants marching, from the nest to gather and back to the nest, NO stopping, no smelling the low hanging ripe mangos, no stopping to have a small chat with the lady selling roasted corn on the roadside. Roasted corn…mmm… that’s another example too…
I’ve never been a fan of American sweet corn on the cob; it’s well… too sweet and soft. I had been looking for local corn for a while since I’d been back and wasn’t seeing any. One day, I went to the local supermarket and on the way out, saw a roasted corn vendor. I happened to mention to said vendor that I really wanted some corn on the cob. On the spot, she offered to buy extra and bring it next time to resell it to me. Easy as that. No inflated price, just someone saying, Hey, I can help you out there, so let me. Now I go get my roast corn and we have a little chat while she sells. She is a really lovely lady too – regardless of whether or not she brings me corn. That is the island mentality and one of the things that makes these islands so special. It’s the sort of community spirit that is ingrained in us.
I’ve lived in other countries and other continents, went to the “markets” there, walked around, seen familiar faces in the places I shopped, but the spirit of the Caribbean isn’t there – it’s here, on our little islands. I’m not saying you’re not going to encounter good people elsewhere, or that there are no bad people here… I’m just saying, don’t write us off.
In the words of Stephen Marley: “If you come from the rock, please don’t run from the rock.” (from his song, Keeper of the Flame)
Do you find this to be true on your rock? What else do you love that is special about your island home?