A letter from Nassau in August 2016
This is a story about people in The Bahamas or the 32 ‘family’ Islands and almost 800 uninhabited sand bars or Cays.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Al Nahyan arrived today on his yacht Pelorus from Las Palmas, he is not from Spain of course but as Foreign Minister of the UAE, it was decided that he should be here. He has paid the vast mooring fees but did not come ashore. Maybe his yacht’s pollution did. His crew like him were captive on board, only allowed out in a group. Why after all would they venture ashore to Señor Frogs or Bar Sharkeez? These loud and touristic dens are inhabited by tired and not very wealthy but overweight couples from Florida on cheap
His crew like him were captive on board and only allowed out in a group. Why after all would they venture ashore to Señor Frogs or Bar Sharkeez? These loud and touristic bars and dens are inhabited by tired and not very wealthy but overweight couples from Florida on cheap three-day cruises out of Fort Lauderdale. Their huge boats do at least dwarf Pelorus. However, at these bars, they revel in drinking and competitions, one which is about observing and betting on little people putting ice cubes into condoms.
So much for the ruling race of America, it was not a great spectacle.
Sheikh Abdullah has enough issues to contend with, having lost almost 50 of his soldiers to what they call ‘martyrdom’ in their operations in Yemen. His countrymen probably either have no idea about what he really does or really care. However, the $350 million he paid for his yacht could help here if he wanted to help after the devastation of the hurricane.
I had lunch with a seventy-year-old Oxford New College educated fellow who epitomises a tragic and lost generation who sought their fortune in The Bahamas and overseas. He married late in life a Guyanan girl and then adopted a daughter. This girl was educated at huge expense in the UK. Then she married a Bahamian and that is where the story becomes complicated.
The daughter’s husband, the son in law of my friend, is obese and has gout in his hands and legs. He has three children with his wife and she has another one from his wife’s past. They all now live at my friend’s house.
This son in law is unemployed and works on chasing a dream of the deal that never comes. So four adults and four children are living in a shanty in Nassau. Does he dream of those Oxford spires I wonder?
This chap looking every day his seventy years wanted me to meet his business partner. He, the partner, worked from a table in Dunkin Donuts, has a claim of fathering over twenty children and yes, is about to buy my friend’s business for $100,000. There is no obvious money on the table, so I have to buy the coffee.
We then move to have a lunch in the Taj Mahal. This was the old British club originally called Green Shutters. There are no British here now, just ghosts of those who drank on Friday evenings. My friend never paid into his British pension and so will face financial issues with a slow and painful decline. His knee and hip operation will never happen. He wishes to die in England. He was the Brideshead of his time, now he is a Bahamian, white and proud of it.
George is the barman at my hotel. This hotel is the strangest place of rest that I have encountered. They keep a Macaw on a perch, hence the name The Talking Stick. Haitians who are poor stay here, hoping to get jobs in the seedy bars and cruise ships. The other guests are Jamaicans and the occasional student. There is free Wi-Fi so that is an attraction and the food is not too bad, a lot of goat curry and fish too.
George, his face is black, deep black, lined and is a story book in itself. He will have been descended from slaves brought from Ghana in West Africa and his life is etched into his face. He works all hours to get his daughter educated; he laughs with me, loves my jokes but is deeply sad. He worries about his daughter. The local statistics underline the fact that most Bahamian women never marry but have multiple children from multiple fathers.
Outside my hotel is a public health sign that says ‘Wear ya Tings’ and one young waitress in the hotel told me that at 18 she had two children.
‘Wear ya Tings’ indeed.
Unemployment is very bad here; there is an issue with the type of work available, so what can the young do? There is limited bar work. The 250 international banks are leaving all their decisions to Geneva and London leaving nothing more than shiny brass plates to claim their place in The Bahamas. It was once described as a sunny place for shady people. Their few expatriate staff live in gated communities in the Cays.
The United Kingdom has shut its Consulate, the town is crumbling. This week with unprecedented storms, the drains flooded causing traffic chaos. The Chinese are pulling out of hotel projects, but the smiles of the people hide their problems. They know that The Bahamas is a failed state with corruption and a very developed poor class who sweep and serve drinks. And I have not touched on the Haitian and Jamaican immigrants who work on jobs no one wants.
There are some positive things but you have to search for them.
I crossed the island on a small motor bike. Away from Nassau and the cruise ships, you find a country that reminded me of West Africa. Thick plantations with banana trees, crumbling houses, small holdings with goats and ragged smiling children scattering on the road. When you stop for help, a contingent of very large and colourful mamas try to help with my map reading. They had no idea where I was on the map, neither did I, but it made for a great conversation.
Opposite my hotel is the Cathedral and I find that attending a Sunday Service usually allows the observer another view of the country.
This is how the British celebrated their religion in the tropics in a huge white breeze blocked structure with fans, polished wood, hymnals and the Book of Common Prayer. The choir trooped in followed by various Bishops of the West Indies in robes that only Whipple’s the outfitters to the clergy, could imagine!
The choir trooped in followed by various Bishops of the West Indies in robes that only Whipple’s the outfitters to the clergy, could imagine!
Any Englishman would have felt at home.
Among the fading expatriates in the pews, two blind Rastafarians stood throughout the service and a homeless woman slept and snored throughout the proceedings. The rest of the congregation was the great and good of Nassau, violet and green dresses, hats and white gloves. Little girls were all squealing and darting around in white sequinned dresses and boys in suits and ties and polished shoes ran around excitedly.
At the sign of peace, there was a surge towards me as a visitor, I was clasped and greeted like a long lost friend. The sermon told us that the country had pulled together after the hurricane devastated Cat Island, Long Cay and other small coves among the smaller 780 islands. Last week a visitor was so moved by what he heard that he gave on the spot $10,500 in cash.
The coffee time afterwards was a chance for the poor of the parish to have a much-needed meal. They stood outside the main door in the rain as we passed out trays of tuna rolls, cake and sausages. There was no them and us, just that we were all together for a moment.
My hosts at the coffee, her father was the Head of the Defence force, told me of their pride in the British connection and their despair of the state of Nassau.
Colonial countries have responsibilities and can not just vanish and keep the islands as off-shore cash machines, that help few except for the wealthy in developed countries, it is just not fair.