(A Barbadian living in Toronto, Canada)
I’ve often wondered what my mother said to me on November 30, 1966 as this land erupted in Independence fervour and celebration. You see, I was but seven months in the womb, rapidly growing and expanding, struggling for space, and positioning myself, head down, in preparation for birth a mere eight weeks later on January 26, 1967.
My mother oft said that I was born an old soul. Was that because I was hearing and sensing this Independence movement in utero? Was it because my mother knew that this one, this ninth child just might be different in many ways, including Queer? Could it be my mother somehow knew opportunities that were not afforded to many of the first eight children might be mine? And that the world of this child might be expansive and expressive?
Because, especially because “Our brave forefathers sowed the seeds from which our pride is sprung” The seed of universal education and access to books that provided me indelible experiences of wonder. Waiting for the bi-weekly mobile library to pull up outside of St. Margaret’s Primary School, and then following a single-file line up the narrow steps into this bewitching kingdom of books piled high with small ladders and step stools, shaping me into a voracious reader by class one.
That library on wheels could not keep up with me—and my teachers: Mrs. Haynes, Mrs. Hunt and Mrs. Harewood (rest in peace!) threw everything they had at me in an attempt to satiate my hunger for the discoveries within those pages, for the chance to escape and traverse far and wide and high, and for the safety those books provided me.
The seed of universal health care whereby I was introduced to dental checks from as early as I can recall—even though the fear of the dentist’s drill or the sight of the hygienist’s curved sickle has still not left me—checks we would never have had been able to afford, and immunization against that which was not likely to come, and access to all other primary health care.
The seed of good governance and democratic institutions including free and fair elections—which unconsciously I’ve come to expect in any country I am in—and a smooth transition to the new government.
I trust all this won’t be taken as gloating or as self-indulgence; but rather as “A pride that makes no wanton boast,” and, as gratitude for gifts received, many of them because of my position in my family’s birth order; and as a result of our collective commitment to build a just and equitable society. So my heartfelt response is “To do credit to my nation, wherever I go.”
Well, for the past twenty-four years, I’ve lived in Toronto and—even in the darkness of the bone-chilling Canadian winters—I’m deeply grateful for this second home that provides great opportunities, and to which I contribute in wonderful ways (so I must give a shout-out to my other home for which deep wells of affection gush forth).
Now, I could easily imagine this beautiful independent nation-island of Barbados into perfection—and many a-time I’ve done just that—but it would not be the whole story, so some cautionary notes: Barbados, home of Indigenous peoples: Arawaks and Caribs, most of whom did not survive; Barbados, the land where my ancestors, enslaved, were freighted across the depths of the ocean AND survived; Barbados, a place that can be provincial and parochial, where politics can sometimes tilt towards divisiveness and get bogged down in mundanity; Barbados, a beautiful little isle where there is a formality that can be stifling and that borders on arrogance; Barbados, a country where too often it is who one knows that ensures timely access to services; and where there’s sometimes an intolerance for the other; Barbados, also a place from which I carry deep wounded-ness and pain-filled memories. Barbados, not perfect—especially since there is no such thing—yet we move forward “With expectations great.”
Fifty years ago in the organized chaos of the birth day of Independence, I was there. I still wish I had been cognizant so that I may cease wondering what my mother actually said to me. But, I am here. Now. Taking in as much of the festivities as I can. Recently I reveled in a showcase of all things Bajan at ‘Barbados on the Water’ in Toronto, and ‘Q In The Community’ in Markham, Ontario; and just a few days ago I touched down at Grantley Adams; and it seems that I’ll never be able to get enough of this land!
And of course, I’m reminded that mine’s next—my fiftieth—and not being much of a birthday boy, I’m surprised at the ways I’m inspired to celebrate when my turn comes. So I think I’ll throw me a fiftieth party—not quite like Barbados’—but rather one that includes my family: those from whom I’ve experienced love in such wantonness that I’m giddied, and those who love me deepest and truest and most unconditionally and whom I love. It also needs to include a few friends: those who have been reaching out to me for the past decade, and who have not given up on me but continue to send love notes and messages.
Just as I’m sending this love note to my beloved first home.
Happy 50th Barbados!
Basil E. Coward