One of the starkest pictures that will remain with me after we leave the island is the gulf that still exists between the rich and poor on this small slice of sun drenched delight.
Of course we would expect that to be the case several hundred years ago when the wealth of the island came from the sugar plantations. Sunbury House was just one of those in the rural parish of St Joseph and was relatively modest with just 200 slaves working in the fields and in the house.
In fact it is still privately owned but is open to visitors through the Barbados National Trust, and gives you a tiny insight into just how privileged even relatively minor plantation owners lives could be. If you ever do come to Barbados then it is a place that is really worth your while going to see.
If you don’t feel up to driving on the somewhat scary roads here then you can always get taken there on a Safari Tour. Actually it isn’t the roads that are scary, but the completely mad bus drivers in the rural areas. How on earth they don’t crash several times every trip escapes me. They barrel along at fifty or sixty miles an hour on roads that are small even by English country standards. I know that the Americans and Canadians who drive here find it incredibly intimidating and quite a number of them choose not to get a car, or restrict the amount of driving they do!
The sheer opulence of the local flora is in stark contrast to the conditions that slaves lived in – and this is those who were on relatively enlightened plantation owners. If you want to get just a small glimpse of the living conditions then do visit Tyrol Cott Heritage Village which is in the outskirts of Bridgetown. But enough of this tourist trail information, it is the people who hold the greatest fascination.
Even today when talking to one or two of the older hands here it is clear that the Bajan males are not held in much regard at all by people who have chosen to live here or who have holiday homes here. The extremely laid back approach becomes a source of frustration. When the phrase “I’ll get it done tomorrow” becomes a sure sign that you have months of waiting, then you can understand why you hear the word “Lazy” so often. Having said that, the Bajan females also tend to be quite dismissive of their menfolk – certainly those who are closer to the bottom of the social tree.
These men seem to have taken on the West African tradition and rely on the women to keep the family together, whilst they drift from one job to another, always with an eye on how soon they can head off to have a drink at the local rum-shop with their buddies.
Now I know that this is one of those sweeping generalisations that are easily dismissed as bias or prejudice, but when you keep hearing various versions of the same tale from quite disparate quarters then you do wonder just how much truth there might be in it. Certainly the street vendors are almost exclusively women and there are quite a few even more enterprising ones who have developed thriving businesses, which brings me to this particular tale, so settle back and relax as I tell you the Tale of Theresa
Just a few hundred yards from where we are staying is a delightful beach. It is extremely popular, without being too over populated, and amongst the small businesses there is one that rents out beach chairs and also sells sarongs hats and wild Barbados shirts!
This is Theresa’s small empire that she has built up over twenty years. It is thriving and she has put two sons through University as well as helped other family members get settled as a result of her sharp eye for a business opportunity.
Quite a mum of the old school, Theresa is clearly a believer in making sure that the family comes first but that you always have to make sure the till keeps ringing. She is now probably in her sixties, although this is hard to tell for she keeps herself in good shape and has one of those faces that could be almost any age at all.
Her youngest son is now finished at University, but instead of following either an academic career or working in the corporate world feels that he wants to spend a more leisurely life on the beach. In fact, he suggested to Theresa why didn’t she just let him take over from her as she surely had enough money to retire on.
Now one thing that Theresa clearly does not intend to do is retire, especially if it means handing over her business lock, stock and barrel to just one member of the family. She pointed this out to him and that was when things started to get nasty.
Clearly unhappy about not getting his own way he knocked her down the stairs to the beach and then simply stood by whilst two or three of his cronies started to beat her up. Quite quickly a number of people on the beach intervened and he was told in no uncertain terms that the local police had been informed and that he would be the first suspect if anything happened to Theresa.
Since then he has started up his own beach bed rental service and approaches people pretending to be part of Theresa’s enterprise. In consequence we now have a mini beach bed war in progress with no real benefit to either side. The main effect is that they now have extended their working days with early morning starts – and long days – from 7.30 am to 7 o’clock at night.
As Theresa said: “When I die I don’t care who fights over the business, but I built this up and aint gonna roll over and give it away. When de boy thinks he done got the right ‘cos he is there he is wrong. It is mine and I aim to make sure he remembers to respeck me as he should.
He has had everythin’ to let him do good things an’ now all he sees is easy money ‘cos I have done all the hard work. I don’ understand why he is like that, because I treat all my children the same. Why should he be special and have everyone else’s future money?
It is amazing what tales emerge from taking your time choosing a shirt, isn’t it?