When a Bajan Child Goes Home
I spent the first ten years of my life on Bajan soil. I chased chickens and was chased by cows. I wore neatly pressed blue overalls and crisp white shirts to school every day. My black school shoes were always polished to a high shine and the sea breeze would ruffle the blue ribbons in my hair. I ate fried fish for breakfast and coucou for dinner. I watched Sesame Street at 4 o’ clock every evening and Days of Our Lives at 6 o’ clock because we only had one channel. My granny jumped rope with me and took me to the beach to sit in shallow sea water and collect shells. I’ve had Joseph’s Coat stain my clothes and ate my fill of Shirley Biscuits, mangos and sugar cane. I am a Bajan child.
Bajan girls in school uniform.
I moved to Florida when I was ten and to Canada a year later. I dropped my accent because the kids teased me. I didn’t really listen to calypso or soca music, and I learned to love lasagna way more than I ever liked coucou and flying fish. I suppose you can say I became Americanized, a “photocopy Bajan” as my boyfriend so lovingly calls me. But still, I clung to my status as a Bajan. I was as proud of the blue and yellow flag with the broken trident as anyone born on the island. Ask me if we’re better than Jamaicans and you might have a real argument on your hands. I am a Bajan child.
Back where it all started. My childhood neighbourhood and playground.
Last week, for the first time in 12 years, this Bajan child returned to Barbados. It was a very emotional experience. As the pilot began the descent over my island home, tears sprung to my eyes. Despite spending more than a decade away from my homeland, the sight of her shores, the brightly coloured houses and the coconut trees swaying in the breeze – even the clouds, Bajan clouds!—brought tears to my eyes. I was home.
I stepped off the plane into the hot fresh air. The sun shone and the rain drizzled in union. In Barbados, we usually say that means the Devil is fighting with his wife, but on that particular day, I’d say it was pathetic fallacy. The sun shower was a perfect reflection of my smiling, tear-streaked face.
As my uncle drove me along the tree-lined two-lane highway, I was overwhelmed by a flood of memories. I passed landmarks that I doubt I’ll ever forget, like the statue of Bussa, our national hero, and TNT my favourite barbecue chicken place. Of course, there was a lot that I didn’t recognize, a lot changes in 12 years, but not once did I feel out of place. Barbados fit me like a glove.
As I travelled about the island, I noticed that there had been a lot of modernization. More roads, more malls, and more fancy modern houses were on the island than when I left, but some things, the things I really love about my island, hadn’t changed at all. We were still an incredibly friendly and free-spirited people. Men aren’t afraid to approach women and no one is afraid to wine to de ground in the club. People still greet each other with “good morning” or “good evening.” You can still buy mangos and bananas and plums from the stalls in Bridgetown, or pick them off the trees behind your house. Chickens still wander in the gap I grew up in and the roosters still crow in the morning (and at all other hours of the day). The sand is still white, and the water is still blue and warm.
One experience that reminded me of how much I love my people is when I went to see Iron Man 3 in theatres while in Barbados. When there were jokes we laughed – the kind of laughter that starts in your gut and comes bubbling out of your mouth even if you try to hold it in. When something bad happened, the “boos” and catcalls rose from the audience and when there was cause for celebration, we clapped, cheered and made all manners of noise. Those are the kinds of things that wouldn’t fly in a North American theatre, but to me, it was beautiful. It reminded me of how passionate we Bajans are. I didn’t mind that I couldn’t hear some of Tony Stark’s lines over the uproarious laughter of the audience. That laughter was too joyful to be upset about.
Of course, my week in Barbados went by way too quickly. Before I knew it, I was packing away all my clothes, as well as mauby, sorrel bark, Plus, New Zealand cheese, tamarind balls, sugar cake and gooseberry preserves (all well tucked away to avoid issues with customs – would I be a Bajan if I wasn’t smuggling cheese back to Canada?). But I left Barbados with more than I came with, and I’m not talking about my grocery store purchases. When I got on my flight back to Canada, I carried with me the deep satisfaction of knowing, that no matter where I travelled, what accent I spoke with, the deepness of my tan or my culinary preferences, I am and will always be a Bajan. I left knowing that Barbados would always be home and that I would always be welcomed back. Why? Because I am a Bajan child.
Beaches and best friends and beautiful Barbados.