Oneness Awareness: Barbados
Bus from airport to Oistens—Barbados; Thursday, April 8, 2010
After snaking in the customs line for an hour, I retrieve my backpack from the baggage claim, reconfigure my load, and make my way outside the Barbados airport terminal, across a parking lot, to the bus stop 400 yards away.
Lumbering with a full 40-pound pack on my back and another 20-pound daypack covering my chest, I rise through the narrow bus door and up three steep steps to the interior. A glance tells me that my laden body won’t fit in the aisles. Nor is there a decent place to remove and set my pack in the small space behind the driver.
Before I can decide where to stand amid the dozen or so passengers who already fill the bus seats, a handsome young man in the front gets up and moves toward the middle of the bus. He stands there, holding the security bar, as I drop into the space he vacated, a single seat by the door. Then the impact hits me.
I turn toward him. He is neatly dressed in a crisply ironed sky-blue dress shirt, probably a uniform that marks his position as an office or service person for an airline or terminal service company. As I look at him, I am aware that I am the only pale-skinned person on the bus, a lone grain of salt in a shaker of dark pepper on an island that is almost exclusively of African descent.
Fortunately, they speak English, and I mouth, “I didn’t intend to take your seat.” I wonder, considering how quickly I had done exactly that, if my words come across as anything but a lie. He raises his hand in a friendly gesture and mouths, “It’s okay.” Still, I can’t help feeling like I am the lead culprit in a throwback scene of the U.S. South during The American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s.
As the bus moves forward, its door still open and directing a warm, refreshing breeze flush against my face and sweaty neck, I consider the man’s immediate decision, his quick action, and my instantaneous response. And the correctness of it all: This is exactly the best place for me to sit, the only place where I am not a cumbersome burden to these passengers and all who will follow and crowd the aisles, the only place where I am not a bull in a china shop of fellow humans.
How many times have I heard ministers and spiritual leaders speak of acting “for the highest good of all”? How many times have I repeated that concept to others? Now, I know the experience—thanks to this young Barbadian professional.
Making our way toward the City of Bridgetown, the dichotomy of paradise and apparent poverty is profound: The beautiful blue Caribbean is on our left, and crowded concrete-block houses with corrugated steel roofs are on our right. Voices chatter pleasantly behind me, accompanied by music from invisible speakers playing at a comfortable volume.
Then, comes a song: “He’s So Fine.” And the thought: Where am I? This is one of the great U.S. doo-lang-lang numbers, but the female vocalist has a Caribbean accent. Definitely not The Chiffons.
I smile. I am connected. I feel at home.
Barbados: Bus from Bridgetown to Holetown—Thursday, April 8, 2010, 4:20 pm
The driver of this second bus knows two speeds: accelerate and brake.
I am still standing when the bus lurches forward. I drop into a sideways-facing seat with my packs still draping my back and chest. With my butt on the edge, I cling with my cheeks and brace my feet. Rapid acceleration slides my body toward the back of the bus. Frantic braking scoots me forward. I smile apologetically to the dark-skinned man to my right. He nods acceptance.
We are following the coastline through Bridgetown. The bus stops, named after women, are wooden canopies with a wooden bench along the sidewalk. Passengers wanting to board walk toward the curb and signal with an extended hand. Then comes the sudden braking. The door snaps open for a moment. The new arrivals drop 1.50 Caribbean dollars into the toll bin, and the coins are still clattering down the glass and metal chute when the acceleration begins again.
Soon, the bus is crowded. Young men in laborers’ clothing. Women of all ages in professional dress of knee-length skirts, blouses, and jackets, some embroidered with logos of international banking institutions. The colors are inches from my eyes. The sleeve of a woman holding the security bar in front of me brushes my cheek. The colors are bright: red, fuchsia, orange, green, blue—the colors of Caribbean tropics and island flora, which I now glimpse out the opposite window only once in a while. Those standing move toward the rear as passengers exit and replacements enter. The kaleidoscope shifts.
At one stop, a woman and a girl of about eight, wearing a white dress appropriate for a flower girl in a wedding, get off. They talk with the driver. He gives the girl a hug. She is his daughter; the woman is his wife.
The passengers are friendly people. I listen to their conversation in dialectic English that is barely understandable and I am aware that, again, I am the only paleface aboard. I ask, now and then, if Holetown is still ahead. They say it is; they promise to tell me when we are close.
Then, we are. The woman to my left asks if I know where I want to get off in Holetown. I don’t. I have an address, that of Wayne, a couchsurfer host who has offered me a cot in his movie production studio for two nights. I have his address but was unable to reach him by pay telephone at the airport—after discovering that my cell phone doesn’t work even though it has an international SIM card.
I talk to the driver. Holetown has four stops. I choose the second.
At the bus stop, a young woman lets me use her cell phone. Wayne answers this time. I tell him where I am, and he tells me to cross the street and wait inside a mall of about a dozen shops. He arrives within ten minutes. It turns out that I am only four blocks from his studio. Somehow, I made the right choice.
Holetown, Barbados: Wayne and his studio—Thursday, April 8, 2010, 5:30 pm
It’s raining now. Unusual for this time of year, people are saying. But it has been raining for four consecutive days—even more unusual. The rain is warm, the kind that we, in Michigan, wait for 11 months, until August, so we can go out and play in it.
Wayne comes to drive me to his studio. I walk toward the right side of the car, to get in, before I remember that I am on a European-influenced island and passengers get in on the left. Wayne’s car is typically small; the streets are narrow. Horn beeps are courteous reminders of proximity and permission to override right-of-way and enter the main street from a cross street.
His filming studio is a loft above a now-vacant bar, once named First Street Limers. A Heineken sign hangs out front, and another offers either a lease or business partnership. We park and ascend an outside stairway to a front-side balcony. Wayne produces a key to a large Master padlock on the door hasp, and we enter.
He apologizes for the dust on the floor, a mis-array of items—playing cards, beer or soda bottles, newspaper comic strips, a few pieces to a jigsaw puzzle—that sit atop what might have once been a bar for serving patrons.
Behind that is the center room where an unmade cot, my bed for the next two nights, has a folded blanket and fresh sheet atop one that has seen better days. There are two bathrooms. The shower is in a separate room. There is mud on the shower floor. “That’s part of the movie set, and we wanted it dirty,” Wayne says as he turns on the water and uses a flexible shower head to spray away dirt. A small counter holds an array of travel-size bottles of shampoo and lotions. Above them is a mirror with a corner missing that might have come from a vanity cabinet. These are also part of the movie set—the bottles intentionally transient and the mirror intentionally broken.
Wayne shows me the room at the rear. “This is where we did most of the filming,” he explains, flipping a switch that turns on a red bulb hanging from an overhead wire. Under the light is a round café table with a music keyboard, a computer keyboard, a sound mixer, and headphones; a microphone on a stand is nearby. On the wall are painted large abstract images in blue, yellow, black, and red: human figures, a palm tree (or maybe it’s a fish standing on its fin); but most attractive is an eye in stark blue and yellow that measures more than four feet across. A single mattress lies on the floor beneath the eye.
Wayne hands me the key and leaves. I roam the neighborhood. A Thai restaurant is across the street. Next to that is the Oasis bar with palm trees growing in the entryway. A rib place is next door to Wayne’s studio. A tiny beer joint with only a serving area and three tables in an open-air canopy is filled with local patrons. The words “Jesus Saves” mark the lintel of a nearly invisible building between the bar and Wayne’s studio. The next street features two more nightspots, three restaurants, an apparel shop, and a hardware store.
After checking menu prices, I head back toward the studio and meet the owner of another restaurant I had missed before. With a cockney accent, he says he came from England for a two-week visit 25 years ago. When I decline his invitation to patronize his restaurant, he changes the subject and directs my attention to the host of egrets sitting in the top half of a tall tree. “They come there to roost every night and create quite a squabble,” he says.
That night, I go to sleep to the sound of music from the Oasis, frogs that reside within the palms, and more rain.
Barbados: Caribbean movies at University of West Indies—Thursday, April 8, 2010, 7:00 to 10:00 pm
Wayne picks me up at 7:00 and we drive to the Errol Barro Centre for Creative Imagination at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus. The first of two movies is already in progress when we take our seats in the second row. The writer/producer is professor Patricia Mohammed who has crafted a series of short films on Caribbean culture. The two shown tonight are Coolie Pink and Green, which is about the influence of Indian music and culture in Trinidad, and The Sign of the Loa, which is on creativity and energy of African Haitians.
Afterward, Wayne and I drink Heinekens in his studio. He teaches filmmaking and says his primary love is to read and write scripts. He has written several and edited those of other produces, but only recently has he begun to produce his own work. He talks of small-scale innovation. “In Barbados, we make do with what we have. If we don’t have it, we make it.” And he has little regard for mainstream Hollywood movies. “We can’t afford spectacles, so we write good, solid stories,” he says.
He describes the plot of the movie he scripted and shot in this studio and on nearby beaches and streets. It involves a young Chinese woman who speaks no English, a Barbadian man who speaks no Chinese, and his adopted son, affected by psychological trauma, who does not speak at all. The three live together under strained conditions. The storyline is fascinating, although I’ll not elaborate here out of respect for Wayne’s creative work in process.
The conversation switches to world politics. Wayne says he and many Barbadians do not understand the illogic of Americans who castigate men, such as Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton, for sexual indiscretion or, as he says, “just for being men,” while condoning government leaders, such as George Bush, who create wars that kill thousands.
Barbados: Saltwater swim and freshwater rinse—Friday, April 9, 2010, morning
I awaken at what feels like late morning, and, according to the sun—more than two fists above the horizon—it is. But my watch reads 7:30. How can that be? Then, the light dawns. Barbados is on the eastern fringe of the Eastern Time Zone. My home in Kalamazoo, Michigan, is near the west edge of the same time zone. And there is no daylight savings time on this island. My feeling that I have wasted the morning slips away.
I walk two blocks to the beach. A young man asks if I want to snorkel: $25 U.S. for an hour; I decline.
I wade into the water. It’s lovely warm. The first few inches of water are shallow, then the bottom quickly falls away and I am in the Caribbean up to my waste. A man in a powerboat trolls toward me until I can touch the fiberglass bow of his vessel. He asks if I want to ski: $30 U.S. for 15 minutes; I decline. He asks if I want to go for a boat ride: $300 U.S. for an hour; I decline. He puts the motor in reverse and backs away from the shore.
I swim, drifting on gentle waves.
A native comes from deep water on a blue paddleboard. He’s carrying a spear gun and balancing a white bucket. Ashore, he walks to a makeshift table, fabricated from old plywood, painted, and nailed into the crotch of two palm trees. He upturns his bucket and a dozen or more colorful fish, the size of small trout, tumble out and begin to flop on the table. He picks up a knife and begins to scale away their beauty. “Parrot fish,” he says. “Pirate fish?” I attempt to confirm. “Parrot, like the bird.” Then I understand.
I go back into the water, swimming, floating, taking in the saltwater and salt air.
The travel nurse back in Kalamazoo had given me literature that warns against going barefoot on foreign beaches, so I am wearing aqua sox. My feet encounter submerged rocks, and I am glad that I followed that advice. But, standing ashore again, I am aware that these mesh-net shoes are filled with sand. My feet are beginning to hurt. In the flow and ebb of waves at my feet, a piece of something flip-flops a little too lightly to be a stone; I pick it up. It’s coral.
I sit and remove my shoes and see cuts on my soles and toes. From my torn skin, I pick bits of sharp objects. Coral. A brassy teen with a tanned and trimmed body and low-riding swimsuit saunters by. “Why do you wear shoes, old man? It is better to feel the sand between your toes.” I suspect that he is right.
Rain begins to fall. A beautiful, warm, misty rain. It feels good, rinsing the saltwater from my skin. I walk back to the studio in pouring rain, deciding that I don’t need to take a shower when I get there.
Barbados: Movie on the beach—Friday, April 9, 2010, 7:00 to 10:00 pm
It’s dark, and Wayne and I are traveling on what seems like at least 100 different roads to travel 25 miles across the island. He says he is Trinidadian but lived in Canada for 20 years. He had come to Barbados and explored the island, including driving on every road he could find, when he and his companion in Canada, a German woman, had planned to move to the tropics. “It was neither Germany nor Trinidad. We didn’t know anyone here. So it was a neutral place,” he explains. But just as they were about to leave Canada in 1989, the Berlin Wall tumbled, and she chose to live in united Germany rather than paradise. So, he came here alone.
We arrive on Barbados’ south beach where he has taken me to see a movie: Johnny Depp in Dead Man, a bizarre flick that contraindicates this idyllic setting.
This is the island’s windward side, and waves are caressing the rocks in a manner that seems too soft for the amount of wind I feel coming ashore. The 24-foot movie screen is set up outside, and I can’t help but think that this combination of beach breeze and early sunset sure beats the dusty inland environs of U.S. drive-in theatres that are now mostly defunct due to artificially legislated daylight savings time.
The temp is in the 70s. Wayne has a heavy denim jacket and wishes he had brought a blanket to wrap around his body. I’m in short sleeves and would have been comfortable in shorts, but then the daytime high temperature in Michigan was in the 30s when I left there two days earlier, and I am now basking in delicious tropical air.
We dine on fish and salad, cooked in a nearby outdoor kitchen. He has a Heineken and I a Chardonnay, served from a kiosk.
The movie proves to be a little too weird for my taste, so I go for a walk when the DVD begins to jump through a series of images characterized by gigantic bit-mapped pixels until finally freezing in a discombobulated still-frame.
Gazing out at the gentle surf and feeling the warm salt air against my face and arms, I realize I cannot possibly capture the spirit of Barbados in a couple of days—no one can—and I wonder if I will come back here at some future time to try.
Inside the main building, I strike up a conversation with Lisbeth who had earlier taken payment for Wayne’s and my dinner and drinks. She is Venezuelan and pronounces her name with a silent h. She has lived in Barbados for 19 years and says she still cannot distinguish between some island dialects. So how much could I learn about a single small island in a lifetime, I wonder.
The answer comes from a roundabout direction as our conversation switches to humanity and spirituality. We agree that, at a level above the Earth plane, all creation shares Divine connection. Maybe that is all I need to know about Barbados and Barbadians.
Yet, I have gained practical information here also. This place, Ocean Spray Apartments, is not an “apartment” in the American sense of that word. It’s really a small hotel, with rooms on two levels. Most have a view of the Caribbean Sea, the upper rooms have total privacy, and the rates are very, very reasonable.
So, further exploration is tempting and my desire percolates: to travel these narrow island roads, walk the surf-caressed rocks and coral sands, watch movies on the beach, and talking with locals like Wayne and Lisbeth, even if they are transplanted Barbadians.
Barbados: David, the necklace vendor—Saturday, April 10, 2010, morning
I take my breakfast, a banana and a bottle of orange juice, and carry it to the beach as a gentle rain begins to fall. I spot a bench under a tree and make my way there. But another man arrives first. He takes the seat, and I alight in another, previously unseen, on the other side of the tree.
He asks me if I am alone. I say yes, and he replies, “Like me.” He asks if I am a professor. “You look like one,” he says and seems surprised when I tell him no. “I thought you work at the institute,” he adds, then seems more surprised when I don’t know of the institute. “It is just down the beach,” he says, pointing north. “There. They study water and fish.” And I make a point of walking there later.
I ask his name and he replies, “David.”
“David, is that a gold tooth with a diamond in it?”
“Yes.” His smile broadens. “I found it on the beach.” He points south. “By the shipwreck. I have my dentist put it in.”
He unfolds a colorful towel lying on the sand at his feet, picks up four choker necklaces made of coral, and hands them to me. “Which one you want? $20 Barbados.”
One, with a nice balance of white white, dark brown, and tan catches my eye, but I have become accustomed declining beach offers.
“My children make them. I have more.”
My hands are busy with the banana and juice, and I see ants roaming around me on the seat. “Not now.”
“If you don’t have Barbados dollars, you can buy for $10 U.S.”
I finish my banana and cap my juice. Then I move in front of him, squatting in the sand. Most of his wares are longer, necklaces for women. He has already shown me the best four for men. My hand reaches toward the one I had admired earlier, and I decide that I want it. A souvenir, I justify, but one I can wear and don’t have to dust. I hand him 10 Barbadian dollars and 5 U.S. dollars. I could have haggled, I suppose, but the purchase seems purer this way.
Barbados: Susie, the bus steward—Saturday, April 10, 2010, 4:15 pm
Wayne has told me that I can ride either a blue bus or a yellow bus from Holetown to Bridgetown’s deepwater port. I had ridden a blue bus to Holetown, so I’m glad when the first bus to approach the bus stop is yellow—for variety.
I board with my packs over my shoulders—the 40-pounder on my back and the 20-pounder on my chest—and hand the $1.50 Barbadian fare to a beautiful dark-skinned woman with a rich smile that exudes from deep within her eyes. The woman puts my fare in a worn leather purse that hangs from one shoulder and around her neck, the strap crossing her torso.
She helps me remove my packs, which I set on the floor in front of the first passenger seats. I stand there, too, in the minimal space, close to the feet of two seated passengers. Standing in the aisle on the other side of them, the steward says this bus is privately operated, in competition with the blue municipal busses, and does not have a coin repository; thus, her employment.
Her English is exquisite, clearly understandable, and her voice is dulcet. But, soon, our conversation is interrupted by many others who board, including five white-skinned persons who are readily recognizable as international travelers. One couple from Cleveland explains they have been exploring the island for the day and are on their way to the harbor, intent on reboarding their cruise ship by 5:00. The bus steward listens, nods, and smiles from across the aisle. As passengers exit from the rear, this couple moves to fill vacant space.
The two people sitting in the front seats leave, and I sit down. The bus steward sits beside me.
Her name is Susie, and her home is in London. She had returned to Barbados for the passing of her mother a year ago, and is now—“Finally,” she says—nearly completed with the family estate work and is ready to return to England. There, she will go back to work as a nurse, but in the meantime, she has enjoyed her temporary role as a Barbadian bus steward. “When you are a sensitive person,” she says, “it’s good to take time away from caring for others; otherwise, you get burned out.”
Stories within this chapter:
From the air, the charm of the Caribbean draws travelers to its slender islands
with long beaches,
few roads, topographical elevations, and blue waters that range from royal to teal, depending on the depth.
A fleet of Barbadian fishing vessels rides at anchor in a wide bay on the island's southern coast between the airport and the City of Bridgeport. The boat in the foreground is aptly named "SEALOVER."
A fleet of buses transport natives and some visitors between the Barbados airport and its major city, Bridgeport.
St. James Church, built in 1629 on "God's Acre," is Barbados' first place of worship.
David, a vendor on the beach in Holetown from whom I bought a coral necklace, allowed me to take a
close-up photo of his gold tooth with diamond inset.
He said he found the tooth
on the beach near a shipwreck and had his dentist insert it into his upper gum. The necklaces, he said, were made by his four children.