Abaco Islands

We remember islands by memories and photographs.  After a lifetime of driving by car on the Abaco Islands in the Northern Bahamas, I have begun to erase old memories and photographs of beaches and water, for stories of dusty roads and lonely towns.  Today, I remember the Abaco Islands by their interiors.

Abaco Islands.

The narrative is interesting though not wholly accurate (i.e. children of illegal Haitian immigrants are not Bahamian citizens, as one of the meditations suggests) but the images and the perspective are worth checking out. Found the essay via StumbleUpon, a webresource I don't use nearly enough, but which I plan to use more often.

On the mis-education of the Bahamian citizen

One of the reasons I am unmoved by either any of the current political parties' manifesti, plans or proposals, is that I have the pleasure of teaching new groups of young Bahamians every year. This is a pleasure, because they are far more open and interested than they have any right to be, given the abysmal neglect of their generation and those immediately preceding them by the governments of our nation; but it is also a scandal. They know so very little about their country, themselves, and the world they are expected to navigate.We came into our own as a nation in 1973, almost 40 years ago. The generations that straddled that watershed were erudite, educated, aware of the world and our place in it, bent on changing the world they had grown up in, and educated to do so. The generations that they produced, by contrast, are none of those things. There are of course pockets of erudition, handfuls of individuals who can be considered "educated" in the democratic sense of the term, but these are not common. They are usually the products of families for whom The Bahamas matters, who may have earned a critical place in Bahamian history, who invest in education for themselves and their children, not because of what they perceive that education might earn them but for its own sake. More damningly, they are all too often also the graduates of private schools, hailing from the middle class or the upper middle class, children of privilege. Ironically, our self-rule and our independence, bought at some cost by people for whom education was by no means a given, to whom education was prohibited, has created a society in which the so-called "universal" education has bred a population whose ignorance is legion.As I tell my students, I don't blame them for reaching voting age without knowing anything important about themselves or their country. I can't; the fault is not theirs. But as I also tell them, I will blame them henceforth (to invoke the one-word motto of my alma mater) if they maintain that ignorance now that they know they possess it. That it should proliferate after a generation of Bahamian scholars, all of them investing their time, money, and energy into writing our stories, in penning our histories, in telling tales about us, is an indictment on every single government of The Bahamas since independence.But even that indictment cannot be evenly spread. Different administrations bear different kinds of guilt. The first Progressive Liberal Party administrations must shoulder the responsibility for skewing our history, for telling only part of it, for erasing whole chunks of Bahamian life and experience from the spoken record. Even given the fact that there is something understandable in the fact that the first decade of community building in the wake of majority rule was given over to the Black Bahamian experience, the continuation of that bias into the third decade after Majority Rule is unconscionable, given the fact that The Bahamas was the site of not one but two important republics in the New World, and a site of a very ancient, if politically skewed, democracy. The myth created out of the PLP rhetoric of the 1970s and 1980s was that Black Bahamians had no vote and no voice in the pre-PLP era. The result of this half-truth is that young Black Bahamians were never made aware of the role of free African settlers in the Eleutherian Republic—the second republic in the new world—or of the Pirates' Republic of the end of the seventeenth century, which, though branded as lawless and rebellious by a Britain intent on global conquest, was also multi-racial and strangely democratic. The other result of this half-truth is that successive generations of Black Bahamians were created who had, and have, no comprehension of the actual composition of the Bahamian population, who take fair-skinned Bahamians of colour for the "whites" who controlled the nation in the past, and who take actual white Bahamians of ancient pedigree for tourists; and this serves to disenfranchise otherwise productive Bahamian citizens, to render them invisible, to remove from them a real stake in the fortunes of the nation.The first Free National Movement administrations, on the other hand, must bear a different responsibility. Perhaps coincidentally, the change of government from PLP to FNM occurred in the same year as the complete phasing-out of General Certificate of Education, the international school-leaving qualification previously earned by Bahamian students. The creation of the BGCSE was not the doing of the FNM, but the way in which it was administered must be. It is on the doorstep of the FNM that we must lay the blame for the continued miseducation of Bahamians. The miseducation of Bahamians with regard to the Bahamian citizenry and the place of whites within the Bahamas was addressed, but was done so as destructively as the miseducation of Bahamians under the PLP had been done. Instead of increasing the knowledge of young Bahamians about their nation and the world within which it existed, a choice was made to decrease that knowledge. History was not only made an optional subject, but even the origins of the Bahamian nation itself were concealed. It is impossible to recount the story of the rise of universal democracy in The Bahamas without privileging the role of the PLP; and so the history of the post-independence Bahamas was not taught at all. It is impossible to talk about slavery without acknowledging the oppression of Africans by Europeans; and so the history of Bahamian enslavement was not taught at all. By erasing critical eras of Bahamian history, by valourizing pre-1967 heroes such as Stafford Sands and Roland Symonette, or by recognizing (belatedly) other pre-independence heroes such as Cecil Wallace-Whitfield,  the first two FNM administrations effectively blotted out the story of the Bahamas that obtained between 1967/73 and 1992.I am told—I wasn't there, but have no reason to doubt the source—that during the 1990s, attempts to address living Bahamian history were actively discouraged by serving educators. I am thinking about an incident recounted by a colleague of mine, who told of a time when he stood up to make some reference to the days of Black Bahamian oppression at a school assembly where he was a guest speaker, only to be rebuked by the head teacher, who told him that teaching young Bahamians about the past would encourage racism against white people. That helps to explain the huge gaps in the knowledge of the students I teach today, some twenty years after that most recent active erasure of our selves. These are students who have heard of Martin Luther King, of Malcolm X, of Barack Obama, but who have no idea of who Lynden Pindling and Milo Butler and Cecil Wallace-Whitfield were, much less having even heard of other great Bahamians like Randol Fawkes, Etienne Dupuch, or Roland Symonette. They do not know what was suffered to give them free access to education, or what it means to be able to earn a college degree. They have barely heard of apartheid, the Holocaust, or colonialism. They do not know that the red, white and blue they associate with the Stars and Stripes were also once the colours of the Bahamian colony, not because of our American proximity, but because of our annexure to Britain. They have never heard of the Haitian Revolution, or know that Haiti was the first and the only successful ex-slave republic anywhere in the world. They do not know that, when he was released from prison and knew that victory for native South Africans was assured, Nelson Mandela came to The Bahamas to study the way in which we had achieved majority rule without bloodshed and created a successful society in its wake. They do not know who Nelson Mandela is. They do not know, and yet they are expected to become full citizens of this African-influenced, slave-shaped, postcolonial nation. The idea is absurd.And so I regard the incoherencies that pass for election rhetoric with a sense of disgust. These people who are now on their game, who are engaged in the grotesque performance that passes for "democracy" in the voting nations of the late capitalist era, are either complicit in the creation of the mass ignorance of the voters, or they are the products of the skew-eyed histories that have shaped our existence since independence. How can anyone who believes in democracy as the expression of the will of a people, support any set of politicians who have so completely seen to the erasure of the kind of knowledge that best informs that will? How can one, with good conscience, cast a vote in this climate? Why should I care about the leaders of the parties, when I know that they will all come out the same in the wash—blustery, misinformed/misinforming, irresponsible?Somebody tell me why.

Gilbert Morris on Blackness & The Presumptions of Ultimate Power

This is an interesting thesis, to say the least. I want to reject it outright, but I am not sure I can. I can certainly see evidence of what Morris is talking about in the case of our own turn-of-the-century leaders; there is a core lack of confidence in the ability—or is it the right?—of Bahamians to take control of our own destiny. It's something I run up against in my students again and again—as one young man told me, "white man always on top". It's a myth, sure, but it's a myth whose psychic power, especially, apparently, among men, hinders us from taking advantage of the authority that independence and nationhood confers.I had a conversation last night with someone who compared the confidence (might we call it the arrogance) of someone like Stafford Sands, the architect and mover of the Bahamian economy to this day, who pretty well invented, or refined the invention of, the successful service economy in the immediate post-war era, when the majority of nations were seeking to develop along the Euroamerican "proper" path, which meant building agriculture, developing industry, and becoming a player on the global market through exports. Thanks to Sands, The Bahamas ignored that trajectory and built up tourism and financial services, starting in the 1950s, several decades before this was acceptable on the global economic scene, and we were unable to explain the success of that model until the whole world had adopted it. Now, we find ourselves unable to imagine something equally brilliant and equally radical to maintain what we have achieved.I'm really concerned to reject Morris's argument in the case of Obama, who as a truly African-American man seemed to have a fairly rounded concept of the world and of the need for power. For me the jury may still be out here. But as a general rule, I have long felt something along the lines of what Morris writes about. It lies at the core of what I have already termed the insufficient consideration given to the meaning and structure of democracy in the Bahamian setting; it explains why our leaders are so anxious to sell the country they are supposed to be managing for future generations, and why roads that take tourists to the harbour and Paradise Island, or the selling of crown land for a temporary handful of house-slave jobs seem to be the best ideas that our leaders can offer to us.Morris's article is worth the read, believe me. It's not the most cheerful thesis to engage with, and it's certainly not wholly politically correct, but I'm not sure it is entirely wrong. My only criticism is that Morris presents it as a fait accompli rather than as a malaise that can be cured.Read it, and let me know what you think. A taste:

Blacks have never had a "concept of the world" sufficient to drive foreign policy. This has been the prerogative of the 'dominant culture'.... given the legacy of slavery, “white supremacy” and racial discrimination in the United States, when a moment [of] racial fairness or ethnic equality (say in Iraq) collides with a moment of racial tension or Machiavellian exploitation of ethnic differences that advances American policy objectives, how can a person whose very being and cultural primacy is structured to protest unfairness and inequality opt for the Machiavellian strategy?via Gyroscopia: Blacks & The Presumptions of Ultimate Power - Caribbean Basin Review.

And more importantly, consider Morris's conclusions -- which I, for one, question on certain fundamental grounds, not least of which is that leaders who are women, and therefore similarly disenfranchised, have demonstrated that they are not affected by these "rules", but which hold enough water to warrant some deep thought:

  • it is inconceivable that a Black or minority person can exercise power with an instinct of belongingness, since, nothing will have prepared him or her to deal with the interstices and immediacy of superpower politics.
  • Social protest movements ... do not prepare their beneficiaries for and they move “against the grain” of superpower imperatives, which aim at serving its power first, and principles second, if at all.
  • In the foreign policy superstructure, there are few Blacks, working on technical questions aimed at securing power for and maintaining the dominance of the United States beyond being part of the apparatus. Yet, this is the heart of American influence, and its perch from which, beyond imposing its will, it can be a force for good in the world.

via Gyroscopia: Blacks & The Presumptions of Ultimate Power - Caribbean Basin Review.

A ‘recession vacation’ in The Bahamas

Ever wonder what tourists think of The Bahamas? have a look at what one had to say.I like it mostly because of the writing.

I imagine for Bahamians it’s a very different place. In fact, I’d be willing to offer long odds that most locals have never touched a conch fritter. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), the cloistered, painless, waterlogged, rum-addled tourist reality puts the native, presumably “real”, Bahamas largely beyond my comprehension. While I’ve spent what some might consider an eccentric amount of time in the country, I know almost nothing of it outside the half-mile stretch between my father’s timeshare in Cable Beach and the Crystal Palace Casino. Nonetheless, I was curious to see as best I could how the country was faring in this grisly economic climate, so I returned in September for my first “recession vacation”, armed to the teeth with sunscreen and indigestion tablets.

FT.com / Reportage - A ‘recession vacation’ in The Bahamas

Caribbean Tourism: it's the same everywhere

One of the stories on the news last night (that's right, ZNS news) was a longish feature on the sufferings of Atlantis, Paradise Island, as the result of the recession. I really didn't write down the figures, but they were enough to elicit weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth -- 3% down in occupancy from projections (it's important to get these titles right) overall this year until May and June, when the occupancy was 20-something % down from projections.I wept, I tell you. Wept.What I found fascinating, though, was that the news didn't go beyond Atlantis and find out what the overall tourism economy was like. Atlantis has always had significantly higher occupancy rates than the national average, for a number of reasons that I'd rather not go into here and now (though one of them is that they don't promote the fact that they are in The Bahamas all that much, and that they suck tourists right off the face of the rest of New Providence and swallow all their money so that ordinary Bahamians don't get anything other than crumbs from the master's table -- don't believe me, go watch After the Sunset, the Big Movie our Ministry of Tourism landed half a decade or so ago to much fanfare and celebration, and tell me if you ever hear either the word "Bahamas" or even a recognizable Bahamian accent in the whole thing. I can tell you now you won't -- the place it's set in is called "Paradise" and the main location, despite some forays onto the main island of New Providence -- was Paradise Island, aka the home of Atlantis. But I digress.) Perhaps, on National Pride Day (the Friday before Bahamian Independence), the news would be too grim.So anyway. I thought I'd take the liberty to cheer us up by sharing the misery a little, and by sharing maybe too a laugh or two. This is thanks to Nicholas Laughlin, whose tweet directed me to this post. Let's look beyond our shores and cast our minds upon our sister B'Island (I mean Barbados, in case you didn't know), where tourists and tourism are addressed by one Ingrid Persaud. There's unity, after all, in shared suffering.

Times are hard and money is too tight to mention. If you can still afford a vacation we really want you to come to our small rock. Never mind the scandalous treatment of undocumented workers or the huge hike in water rates because the water company failed to put aside funds for depreciation. None of this will perturb your paradise. You must come here for the exquisite beaches, superb restaurants and friendly people.Well the beaches are fantastic but maybe best to avoid Mullins Beach because the extensive building works in that area have directly caused severe beach erosion. Restaurants are world class but once you are prepared to pay London prices your digestion will be easier. And the friendly people you might meet on the beach are very friendly if you want to buy shells or get your hair braided. The rest of the population will treat you as if you have had a longstanding quarrel or more likely ignore you.But these are minor matters. I really, really want you to choose Barbados rather than Bali for the summer or winter hols. Maybe you have been put off because there are questions you have but were too afraid to ask. I have gathered a number of such questions that the Tourist Board have neglected to address and provided answers to the best of my ability. These are authentic, hearsay inquiries. If you have others please drop me line.

--Notes From A Small Rock: WE PROMISE YOU PARADISE

On Recreating the Plantation (in a "Free" Society)

The story I'm about to share is nothing new. It just happened, but the complaint is an old one round here. I'm going to put it side by side with another one, a different one from a different Caribbean nation. The problem isn't just with the fact that the incidents happened. The real problem lies in the fact that we not only let them happen, we appear to invite them. And the real problem also lies in the fact that I can guess how the issue will be received by some Bahamians, and what discussion will follow; over the past several months we have appeared to be more than happy to twist history to fit the prejudices of a few white people. Why not twist the future to fit a few more?It's the story of a qualified young woman who went for an interview at the biggest plantation of them all, the one that calls itself Atlantis and invents for itself its own history, a history which is not ours, and from which Bahamians are excluded fairly routinely unless we agree to pay for access to it, or unless we can pass for tourists.Now this young woman had the qualifications to get the job. She went on an interview with the Human Resources Department, and sat before two Bahamians, and impressed them; she was offered the position right there and then. But before she could take up the position, she was contacted by the HR manager -- who was not Bahamian, but from the UK, to say that the job was hers -- if she would cut her hair.The young woman, you see, has locks. And locks, apparently, are not respectable enough to be worn by Bahamians who will be in positions where they can be seen by the tourists.Now I have a feeling that there are some people who will rise to the defence of this position -- many, presumably, since this policy has been in place since 2000 and no one has spoken out against it in a strong enough voice to have it reviewed or changed by the resort.  (This includes, clearly, five years of government by a political party that purports to champion the welfare of the Bahamian of African descent, as well as by a political party that does not purport to do so.) The fact that we accept, and have accepted, this policy, without much of a murmur, tells us more about ourselves as a people and as a nation than it does about the resort or our governments.It shouldn't surprise us that this happened at Atlantis, which has invented for itself its own space that functions, ironically perhaps, or predictably perhaps, rather like the so-called South African "homeland" in which the brand was developed -- Bophuthatswana.[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjWENNe29qc&w=425&h=344](For more on Sun City, go here. Or go here.)OK, so you may be thinking, what's the relevance of that twenty-year-old video to The Bahamas today? Well, nothing really, except that the brand that is Atlantis was invented there and transplanted, with some adjustments, here nine years or so after the above video was made. And because of that transplantation, Kerzner was able to remake its image and to whitewash (pun intended) its name.And I wouldn't be so concerned about things that go on over there if the resort weren't still functioning in many subtle and economic ways the way it did in the place it was invented. Like if, say, the black people that it hired were permitted to express their blackness in ways that they -- and not the South Africans who run the resort -- deemed appropriate and acceptable.  As for the young woman who's faced with choosing between the way she has decided to express her identity and a middle-management job: this is a young Bahamian who was fortunate enough to travel widely while she was being raised and who came into contact with intellectuals and other successful individuals who were not afraid to embrace their culture by dreading their hair. She is questioning the so-called "dress code" because she's arguing that the way she wears her hair should really have nothing much to do with the job she is called to perform.And the situation is as subtle as it is destructive. Her hairstyle didn't stop her from being offered the position, but is enough to stop her from being permitted to take it. The choice has become hers, not the resort's. (This is only true, by the way, because she is not a Rastafarian; if she were, she would not have to make the "choice"; the "choice" only comes into play in the case of aesthetics, not in the case of religion.)  And in forcing her to make it, the job is forcing her to regard as equal two issues that are not. In a free country, identity and employment should not be linked. One should not be dependent on the other.But are we really free?Ian Strachan, like many other intellectuals, regards tourism -- or the practice of tourism as it takes place in the Caribbean -- as a revival of the plantation system in contemporary times. And indeed, the resort business as practised here shares many similarities with the plantation.You don't believe me? I'm going to share another story. This one's from elsewhere in the Caribbean, and it's told by a Caribbean woman. This time, I'll use her own words:

Things that pissed me off recently1/ the hotel guest who screamed at me three times, each time increasingly louder and slower “More coffee. MORE COFFEE! COULD I HAVE MORE COFFEE!!!” while pointing at cup.That’s the way it happened… despite the fact that i was sitting at the table waiting for coffee myself as a guest of the hotel just like she was.When I told her, “I don’t work here,” she said…nothing, no apology nothing. And her husband kept looking back at me as though he was afraid I was going to draw a razor blade from under my tongue.

And if this were not enough, it's spreading. Here's what BBC Caribbean has to report about The Bahamas Department of Customs:

in the Bahamas, two customs employees are facing the threat of dismissal because of their hairstyle.

Their dreadlocks have been deemed "unacceptable" by Customs authorities, who insist that the rules and regulations as they apply back that position.

Welcome (back) to the plantation, my friends.

On the Recession, the Humanities, and the 21st Century

But I'm going to make a prediction now. It's not an awfully fun one, either. The Bahamian economy is very likely to crash, and hard. And soon. Why? Well, it has occurred to me (why I was so silly I don't know) that our extended period of prosperity has lasted pretty well as long as the Cuban Revolution has lasted -- the revolution and the attendant embargo. Quite simply, because Americans couldn't go to Cuba, they came here.That time is conceivably going to end in the foreseeable future. If you were paying attention to Obama's state of the union address, you might be like me, and seeing it coming sooner or later.

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Another Reason Why We Need our Artists

Bahamas Suffers While Jamaica RocksPosted by sally 1 day 23 hours ago (http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com)Category: travelJamaican Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett has announced a 3.4 per cent increase in visitor arrivals for the month of January, compared with the same period last year.Bartlett said the 138,000 tourists who visited the island last month were the largest number of visitors to vacation in Jamaica in the month of January... in any year.The minister was addressing journalists during a press conference at the Ministry of Tourism on Knutsford Boulevard in New Kingston on Wednesday.Bartlett credited the growth to the staging of the annual JAMAICA Jazz and Blues Festival held last month, as well as the intense advertising, marketing and promotion campaign that the ministry had embarked on in recent months, especially for the start of the winter tourist season.Bahamas News Center, my emphasis

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CARIFESTA and Tourism Potential

There's a tendency for Bahamians and other "sensible people" to express scepticism regarding the value of the arts.  Word has it that there's a fairly widespread consensus that the hosting and/or attendance at CARIFESTA is a waste of money and time.

However, there's no similar consensus that direct expenditure on the hiring of international (read Madison Avenue) advertising firms is a similar waste.  And yet such expenditure has not borne dividends in the refocussing or development of our tourism industry.

Look at what the arts, on the other hand, is doing for Guyana, traditionally not a tourist destination:

Canadian based Guyanese and other theatre enthusiasts from the Caribbean Diaspora and Canada are receiving a sample of CARIFESTA and at the same time contributing to the Canadian contingent's participation in CARIFESTA X with the premiere of "Sweet, Sweet Karaila."

Entertainment News - IslandEvents.com - CARIFESTA X Play "Sweet" In Canada - Jul 31, 2008

It's an entirely different demographic from the one we generally target.  Is our expenditure on CARIFESTA ($0.5 million to attend this year, and $15-$20 million over three years to host) really any more wasteful than the $12 million we found to engage the new advertising firm this past January?


In one week's time, the Opening Ceremony of CARIFESTA X will be over.  We'll be in Guyana, the place CARIFESTA originated, celebrating the festival's return to its birthplace.  Guyana stepped in when we in The Bahamas relinquished our commitment to host, and, despite having had only one year to plan the festival in, took the plunge anyway.There's a lot of discussion in cyberspace about whether or not it'll be a success.  There's debate, particularly in the Guyanese global community, about whether it's even a good idea to "invite people to Guyana", given all the social and economic difficulties in the country.  There's criticism of the CARIFESTA Secretariat in Guyana, there's criticism of the organizers, and it's true that on some levels and in some ways the way in which CARIFESTA has always been conducted continues -- in particular the way in which the festival is promoted globally.  On the other hand, though, there's a current of excitement out there that indicates that there's a change in the way this festival is held and perceived.  The very fact that there's independent discussion about CARIFESTA, whether the discussion is critical or supportive, indicates that it's no longer the best-kept secret in the Caribbean -- last time, when I began to blog from Trinidad and Tobago, people I knew in the artistic cyber-world had never heard of the festival, which has been in existence since 1972.  This time, Guyanese from the diaspora all over the world are at least contemplating attending the festival!  This in itself is a step in the right direction.  And this time, too, the Bahamian delegation is going to CARIFESTA accompanied by observers, well-wishers and people who are paying their own way to get a chance to see what's happening on the ground, or just to have a slightly different kind of vacation.  We're going to be accompanied by officials from the Ministry of Tourism so they can get an idea of what the whole thing is about, and also by some other advisors who can get a sense of what it is we've committed to hosting in 2010.I have no idea what the Festival's going to be like, but the buzz is growing.  We'll need to ride it if we want CARIFESTA XI Bahamas 2010 to be a success.  I'll blog from there and keep people posted.

Microwave not recommended to bake a quality bread product

I'm baking a frozen roll of French bread for breakfast.  That's what it said on the package.Know this.  As long as I'm awake, little things run through my head, rather like the ticker tape display you see at stock markets.  Little communications from my subconscious flash across my conscious mind and distract me from what I'm doing.  And unfortunately for me and those around me, those communications have emotional reactions.  Recently, I've been operating in a state of low-grade anger.  It's a bit like a low-grade fever; it makes me irritable some of the time, snappish and sarcastic (which has its humourous moments).  Most of the time, though, it just makes me depressed.  It's like being locked in a tiny room with no windows and a nagging relative.The thing that makes me angriest these days is the fundamental disrespect that we offer ourselves as Bahamians, our country, and (yes) our culture.  The three are inseparable, and the disrespect is pervasive.  I'm not talking about crime or politics here, although both are symptoms.  I'm talking about the conviction that far too many of our leaders seem to have that we are really second-rate people. Our country can't compete.  We are incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial.  We can't develop ourselves, so we have to find foreigners to invest their money in our economy to develop us for us. Etc. (Shut up, Nico).The disrespect comes out when we see what we invest in ourselves, in our society, in the formation, cementing, and celebration of our identity as a sovereign nation.  I keep raising the point that we are the third richest independent country in the western hemisphere.  So forget the fact that Bermuda and Cayman are richer than we are; they're still colonies/dependencies of Britain.  The Bahamas is richer than every other country in the Americas than the USA and Canada.And what do we have to show for it?  What monuments, institutions, works of art, buildings, public spaces, have we provided for ourselves (and only ourselves) over the course of thirty-five years?  What we did have we have also destroyed -- Jumbey Village comes to mind, along with Goombay Summer, the National Dance School home (the institution still exists, limping along in near-oblivion, but its building was demolished for no reason anyone can give me, whose land still stands empty next to Oakes Field Primary School, and its rent now costs the government a goodly and unnecessary packet), the Dundas Repertory Season, the Government High School.Great nations invest in symbols.  They understand the need to spend hard money on creating objects and institutions that mean -- or can mean -- something to the people who belong to the nation, and they create a sense of belonging.  Washington D. C. is an example of the kind of grandness that preceded the greatness of a nation; the American founding fathers imagined a great nation, built the symbols, and let the country catch up to their vision.  In Britain, squares and statues and public places and institutions and buildings are created for every great moment in their history, and you can see those great moments literally laid out on the ground.  In the capitals of our Caribbean neighbours, public and private funds are invested in monuments -- statues, institutions, promenades, parks -- so that even the most humble of their nationals, and the most arrogant of their visitors, can get some idea of who they are.But here in The Bahamas of the twenty-first century, we put up our parks and our monuments and our et ceterae only when we beg the help of our foreign investors.  Meanwhile, we take the taxpayers' money and pour it into failed institutions or foreign pockets and cry poor-mouth when asked to help artists explore our identity though self-expression.  The people who get our money do not know or care who we are, except that we are whores who will let them wipe their feet on us when they are finished with us.  And without them our governments (no matter what initials they wear), who are stewards of the third richest independent government in the New World, choose again and again not invest a penny in the development of the Bahamian person, the Bahamian soul.So how did I get here from what's written on a packet of frozen French bread?Simply this.  The French, who have invested millions in their people and their symbols (some of which, like the Eiffel Tower, could be regarded as a horrendous waste of time, aesthetics and money) and who hold in their greatest art museum not only the great art of the French but the great art of the world (the Mona Lisa, after all, rests in the Louvre) have an unassailable sense of themselves.  People who know claim that the French are arrogant.  But after all, they have things to be arrogant about; their governments' investment in culture has made even the most ordinary and semi-educated Frenchman proud to be French. And that pride leads to quality -- a quality that is recognized world-wide, and that turns, in the end, into money again.Hence the message on the bread package.  Microwave not recommended.In this microwave land our politicians and administrators have created for us -- that we have allowed to be created for ourselves -- it's the kind of thing that nags me, and threatens to drive me mad.

Changing Pace

Underwater Sculpture Park in Grenada, West Indies by Jason de Caires Taylor [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X33698McQ7g&w=425&h=373]I came across this gem while surfing poets' websites. It took my breath away.Go have a look.  Let's tip our hats to the dream that became amazingly, hauntingly, real.VicissitudesGrace Reef 


For people who haven't been paying attention, it turns out that The Bahamas is going to host CARIFESTA after all, earlier than originally announced.

Trinidad and Tobago has agreed to let The Bahamas host the Caribbean Festival of Creative Arts (CARIFESTA) in 2010, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham announced Saturday.

He made the disclosure during a press conference at the conclusion of the Caricom conference, held in Nassau last week. The Bahamas was supposed to host the festival in 2012, but Trinidad and The Bahamas have swapped places. This will be the first time the country has hosted the festival.

Source: The Nassau Guardian Online

African Diaspora Heritage Trail

t-100logo2.jpgFor those who aren't aware of the fact, this October holiday (what should we call it? Not Discovery Day, please, but equally not Heroes Day either, for two reasons -- one, that it suggests/implies/opens the door to the idea that Columbus was a hero, and two, that Columbus didn't discover anything beyond the fact (ultimately) that he was pretty hopelessly lost) plays host to the African Diaspora Heritage Trail Conference.It's a pretty interesting conference. Most interesting about it are the people it brings together -- scholars and businessmen from the African diaspora, particularly the USA. Well. The ownership of the conference is pretty interesting. Bermuda owns the title/brand/idea, but the whole thing is managed by the Henderson Group, the African American travel company that links Africans in the Americas with Africans in Africa and elsewhere.The sessions are stimulating, and the keynote speakers remarkable -- from Shirley Franklin to Andrew Young to PJ Patterson to Jerry Rawlings. But what difference will it really make to us, here in The Bahamas, in the long run? Who have been converted, besides the converted?I suppose we shall have to see.

"Authentic" tourism

Titilayo over at gallimaufry has an interesting post on the edgy side of tourism.

A few weeks ago I was chatting with a guy from Argentina and he mentioned staying at a hotel in Brazil and seeing that their lists of activities for guests included a “ghetto tour”, a guided trip through one of the nearby favelas. Apparently slum tours of that sort are moving from being a novelty and becoming a recognised niche product: poverty tourism, also dubbed “poorism”, is growing in popularity amongst visitors to developing countries like Brazil, India and South Africa (although the South Africa tour doesn’t seem to be actively exploiting the poverty aspect as much as the others).

What's interesting to me about this is that this is the dark side of what I've often been preaching here at home, where tourism is controlled by huge conglomerates that cluster along the best beaches and block our view of the ocean God gave us, and where relatively little of the tourist revenue makes its way into people's pockets. I've been talking about the demand for "authenticity" in the tourist product, which is a rising demand, and one that certainly occupies much of the mainstream of the wealthier tourists, so much so that the Ministry of Tourism has begun to notice. I have long criticized our tourist product for being exclusively outwardly-focussed, for misunderstanding and misrepresenting what makes us us, seeking instead safe ways of packaging ersatz bits and pieces of performative culture (Junkanoo in the summer, hello) for "the tourists", and have suggested that what "the tourists" really want is the illusion that they have touched the real life that can be called Bahamian.There's a thin, thin line between "authenticity" and "poorism", though; and the arguments are not easy to resolve. They are uncomfortable -- the whole idea is uncomfortable -- but there's a little more to it; this is a Dalmatian of a problem, not something that's either black or white. You see, "poorism" does for the inner cities of many so-called developing countries what tourism has not yet done -- it puts tourist dollars directly into the pockets of the people who well may need them the most.But you decide.Here's an account from the Globe and MailHere's the comment that titilayo's riffing off ofHere's a completely different point of viewHere's how it's done in the StatesTownship tourism in South Africa

Lynn on being an artist on the plantation

Lynn Sweeting writes a wonderful post on art and the artist in a tourist economy.Some of you may be wondering why I called it the plantation. If you have, you're new to this blog, and you certainly haven't heard of Ian Strachan's book, Paradise and Plantation: Tourism and Culture in the Anglophone Caribbean. It's worth a look if you haven't.Here's what Lynn has to say:

It so happens that for ten or fifteen years I was a house slave on the tourist plantation, I was a Maryann sifting sand in a comfortable place. I wrote and published many stories for the tourism masters. Some said I was good at it. I was rewarded with a little public acclaim, and a trophy. I quite forgot I was a slave. I remembered again (or realized for the first time) when a story I wrote for the masters turned out to be a complete lie, and was causing outrage in Exuma. Obediently I had written that this community was happy that a huge influx of foreign yachts was coming through their harbor, thanks to a new marketing campagne. The truth was that these enormous boats were causing an environmental disaster, pollution was threatening to ruin a pristine ecology, and for added outrage, the people aboard these floating hotels never had to set foot in town, they spent not a penny. The islanders were in an uproar to see a story in the paper that erased them so effectively and so cruelly. I was horrified, and ashamed. That was the last story I ever wrote as a house slave on the tourist plantation.

Now, from one point of view, it's important that we tell good tales to our visitors, that we describe the happiness that comes from the five million-plus tourists who come to our shores. The trouble is, as Lynn describes above, we run the risk of obscuring the truth by telling these tales. Worse, the message we give ourselves is that our experience is worthless, our experience doesn't count; what matters is the packaging, and nothing more.I could write about how the Ministry of Tourism often falls into the trap of selling packaging and nothing else, but I've bashed that venerable institution quite enough on this blog. You only have to go back a few months to see the last discussion, and since we haven't moved much further from that point, I'll leave it alone (if you want to find the discussion, just put "tourism" into the search box up there and browse on your own time). This time I'll just let Lynn speak for herself.