This post started percolating last week when I met with Sherisse, her husband Leandro, and their newborn daughter, Thaïs. She had fed and was sleepy, dozing off. Apparently, her eyes are wide-open most of the time and very little sleep has been had at their house!
While admiring the baby, the three adults pondered life and culture on the island, as we always do in our visits. Leandro commented that he was surprised that so many expats were deciding to come to Barbados permanently. I was surprised that he was surprised. He said that many locals feel like there is nothing to do on the island. My response was OMG, there is surfing and scuba and so much to do in the ocean. He said, but none of these things were available to us growing up here.
Meaning, only those with the means to buy expensive equipment surfed. Most of the population does not. Some Black local kids do, but they are the ones that are extraordinarily good at it.
This comment really hit me. Does this mean that I am having an expat experience and not a Bajan experience? I asked.
I like to think that when I live in a place, I am having an authentic experience. In some ways, settling into my new place, I am having a Bajan experience for sure. I spent more than ten hours the last couple of weeks setting up a bank account and transferring the internet and light and power into my name. This is after letters went out from the vendor’s lawyer and I had amazing property managers guiding me.
But in the bigger picture, I am having a privileged Bajan experience.
I bought my surfboards second-hand, but they were still expensive. Many kids here cannot afford a board. This also happens in North America when families cannot afford hockey equipment, or they can’t get the pads and helmets for American football, so they are directed towards real football (soccer).
Sunday, I went out on a boat for the day. A fast boat meant for fishing and partying. We left the yacht club on the South Coast and cruised up the West coast. It was an experience that you can only have in the Caribbean. It is also one that you have if you are well-off or invited by someone who is.
Sunday night I was excited to be invited to a friend’s place for homemade pho soup. After eating, the five of us had such an interesting discussion about being women in this world. Our ages ranged over two decades and we represented Asian, Latino, Caribbean, and North American cultures. Through conversation, I realized that I was not having the same experience in life as any of these women.
At one point talking about safety, I said, “Am I shocked because I am Canadian or because I am white?” “Both,” they said in unison.
Despite having traveled the world, I can be quite naïve. I think that it is my sheltered upbringing that exposed me to only a certain subset of the population. It hasn’t been until I lived overseas, and more so now in Barbados that I realize that I am not experiencing a place the same as others. I am also realizing that it has always been this way, even when I lived in Canada.
Have you ever had a moment when you understand that you do not experience the world the same as others?
I am grateful to have this life here and I love it! Yet, I am kidding myself if I believe that I am having the same experience that most Bajans on this island are having. There is no sense in feeling shame for the life that I live here. Yet, I think a little empathy and awareness that my life here is not the same as others, goes a long way in understanding how this island really works. In appreciating the reality of how this world works.