This week my reflections are somewhat of a pot-pourri of this and that. I start at Bridgetown, go all the way to Africa and come back to our region via Venezuela. I think if there is a singular theme that binds the ideas together it would be broadly an examination of our ability to manage self-determination – who we are, why we are and who we will become.
I’ve been traversing Bridgetown by foot recently in a way that perhaps I have never done. As I walk and observe Bridgetown being different things to different people, I could not help but come to the overarching conclusion that Bridgetown is not enough of anything it really should be.
The first day I traversed Bridgetown it was for a 4 o’clock bus that finally came at seven. I was not so much annoyed by the fact that there was no bus; if there is a shortage and an economic challenge then that is where we are.
What I was frustrated at was the inability of the managers of the bus system to be upfront about what was going on and offer real time information. Had I known beforehand, I could have done something else with my time and go back when a bus would have been available. If Bridgetown is a transport hub, then there is some rethinking to do. Related to this point would be providing kiosks and options for waiting commuters.
I suppose that there are minimum standards for food entities providing services but many of the options are not places that would encourage patronage just from their looks. Added to that is something I noticed on my second walk through of Bridgetown – the distinctive smell of urine and human faeces on sidewalks and pavements. I am not sure if it is only because of the seeming rise of homeless individuals and street lovers who appear to be in Bridgetown or if it is also people doing business in Bridgetown and not finding facilities. Whatever it is, the collective result is the same. Bridgetown does not smell and look like a properly kept and properly maintained heritage site.
This left me to consider how I feel about other cities I visit and what I can glean about the people who live there. These perceptions may only be that, but I am still clouded by them. I am a bit uncomfortable with how I think cruise tourists may be viewing Barbados. I don’t think we are investing enough into the impression of Barbados that is Bridgetown. Most critically, though, Bridgetown is no longer a place that would make a child’s eyes gleam. So when we think of how we are instilling intrinsic pride and industry in future Barbadians, this to me is the greatest travesty in what we have allowed our capital city to become.
This thought segues well into the one on Africa. Although we are not doing a good job with elements of creating national identity, we are making significant strides in filling gaps in our racial and cultural identity. Barbados has embraced the celebration of February as Black History month. I know that there are some with issues about the choice of month and the celebration of it but I choose to acknowledge the views and highlight the benefits that have come from the celebrations.
When I finished school at the end of the 1990s we were not dressing for African Day. We also did not have lectures on Africa, the Diaspora or other features of our heritage. Fast forward to 2019 and we have an explosion of interest and activity around our African heritage spurred by the celebration of Black History month and African Day. The wearing of African inspired prints has spilled into workplaces and other spaces.
I think we can celebrate the additional attention and interest in things African, historical and cultural. As we continue to define ourselves, information about our genesis is important. I can’t help but feel that our children will be more centered and possessing of self-esteem by knowing and understanding their heritage as well as seeing an embrace and importance attached to it.
Getting to know ourselves at the national level should continue to place us in a stronger position for us to know ourselves in other spheres. One of the benefits of studying Africa and our history as a part of understanding our current position is how our position in the world has been set and is, in many ways, unchanging. Not only do we share a past as the African Diaspora in Barbados, but we share the ravages of colonialization and re-colonialization as a part of the ‘third world’ with places like Venezuela.
I trust that that position and those similarities are not lost on anyone watching the Venezuela situation currently playing out. I hope that we further are able to identify that Venezuela is a new age Haiti, and that, based on the reserves of oil being discovered in Guyana, we could see other interference in our region.
Since the CARICOM response to the Haiti catastrophe in 2010, I have been making the point that we need to become more effective at responding to humanitarian crises; that we could no longer be happy running cap in hand to the colonial masters to coordinate our relief. The Venezuelan crisis has again drilled this home.
It also should make us question our ability to insulate ourselves from overseas manipulation and reveal to us what sovereignty really is and how volatile it is for us as colonies. Knowing self is a continuous process, and as I reflected on these perspectives here, I was at the same time hopeful and despondent.
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: [email protected])