Christmas has been changing a lot for me over the years but somehow the season still imbues me with a strong sense of tradition.
Christmas is almost universal, at least it is within the Caribbean. What I like about this holiday is that no matter where you go at this time of year, you’ll find a Christmas tree or plastic Santa Clause or two to reassure you that the rest of the world is just as keen as spending money they don’t have as you are.
Or, less cynically, that everyone celebrates the same things you do. It’s a lot easier to spend Christmas away from home when all the same traditions apply here as well: all day cooking, baking fruit cake, Christmas sprucing-up, sit-down dinners.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. . .
. . .so enjoy the cast of Doctor Who singing a Christmas carol.
I want to live in Barbados. Not right now, of course. But at some point in my life, my career or my studies or my personal whims must lead me back to this little big island for longer than just a tourist stay.
I want to immerse myself in the culture and lifestyle of the place. I want to go to the supermarket and pay bills and make routine trips on public transportation. I want to to converse with people for longer than it takes to make an introduction.
But, unlike Liz Gilbert, my budget isn’t unlimited (seriously, did anyone else reading Eat, Pray, Love obsess over how much money she was spending?). If I’m planning on staying in a different country for a while I’d better be working or studying there, not eating my way through a midlife crisis.
I don’t know when and I don’t know how, but I’m definitely coming back.
Sometimes it’s nice to just to stay at home, where the breeze blows cold and the Bajan rain sounds so different on the rooftops from Jamaican rain but it’s a good different, soothing-like, lulling me into a warm sleep ’cause I’m already wrapped up to my eyelashes in blankets and surrounded on all sides by love.
After sleeping the sleep of the jetlagged the day before, I’m up before seven this morning ready and rearing to go. And go I do. Today, I venture into the city: Bridgetown.
Bridgetown is the capital of Barbados, in more ways than just geographically. It’s the shopping and cultural centre as well; everything happens here. And almost every things that happens in Bridgetown seems to happen along Broad Street. I go window shopping in the vast, rambling departments of Cave Shepherd and I learn one very important fact: things are not cheap here.
We run into the nearest Chefette and kill two birds with one stone. Chefette is a uniquely Bajan restaurant, sort of a cross between KFC, Burger King and Pizza Hut but somehow not quite achieving the same excellence of flavour it would have if it had devoted its energies to just one fare. But the food still tastes good, with the exception of one drink option they can only offer in Barbados: mauby.
Mauby is a flavour of soda (also sold as a syrup, and – I would like to think – a paint stripper) derived from the bark of the Mauby tree. It is black and fizzy much like Coca-Cola, but there the resemblance ends. Mauby is as bitter as a jilted bride, with a burn at the back of your throat reminiscent of really bad tequila. It is no Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.
We go back home.
Later in the evening is a small Christmas party, held at the nearby Home for the Physically Challenged. It’s my first time singing carols with a group of people who aren’t in a church, let alone with a group of people who are so enthusiastic (if somewhat dysarthric) in their renditions.
The exposure to Bajan culture and customs is much less overt here where we are just a group of people, some more challenged than others but still people, congregating to celebrate the season. The lines between J’can and Bajan blur enough for me to slip under them and fit right in, serving plates of fresh-from-Chefette Christmas fare and smiling with everyone I see.
Just driving from the airport in St. Michael to the neighbouring parish of St. George gives me a good idea of the Barbados’s layout.
“Bajans love their roundabouts,” K tells me as we pass the 5th such in less than an hour.
And indeed they love their roundabouts. Each roundabout is assigned to a company who is then in charge of its upkeep. Competitions were once held for the best looking roundabout but the practice has since faded. Still, it is Christmas and many of the roundabouts were splendidly decorated in the spirit of the season.
Another ubiquitous facet of the Barbadian landscape is the cane fields that seem to stretch on for miles along the island’s interior. Driving through the country (and I use this term reluctantly, as it reminds me of the annoying Jamaican dichotomy of Kingston/everywhere else) I pass a set of cane fields twice, going and coming.
But cane fields are also a quintessential part of Caribbean history. Not only do the cane fields of Bimshire stretch for miles, they also stretch for centuries back into the eras of colonialism and slavery. It may not be the happiest point of reference but I love the sense of connection we have as a people with a shared history, despite the differences in where we are today.
In fact, despite the absence of the hills that are so commonplace in Jamaica, I’m finding it very easy to feel at home here.
6:00PM Departure Lounge, Norman Manley International Airport, Jamaica
Airports are every bit as grand and awful as I’ve read about in books and watched in motion pictures. In fact, because my principal experience to air travel has been through the lens of fiction, I’ve come to regard the such tediums as luggage checks and line-waiting with the same fondness a dowager would have for her ill-mannered puppy. In fact, I have to resist the urge to pet the drug-sniffing dog as she passes in all her golden, furry glory.
4:10AM Departure Lounge, Piarco International Airport, Trinidad
Standing in lines has lost its allure. Waiting around has ceased to be romantic. Air conditioning and fast food are now a sore sight for my eyes. Perhaps around the same time as I developed frostbite in my toes (covered in candy purple polish so you can’t prove or disprove the cyanosis), I joined the ranks of international travellers who regard airports with the kind of disdain reserved for gum stuck to the bottom of your shoe. A misfortune I managed to avoid when I ran outside the airport into a light drizzle just so I could stand on Trinidadian asphalt.
7:00AM Outside Grantley Adams International Airport, Barbados
It’s too warm for the oversized sweater I donned in Port-of-Spain, and by now I’m old hat at airport bathrooms. The time in Barbados is fifty three minutes faster than the time on my watch, but no matter the time zone I’ve been awake for 24 hours. I’m tired and my bags are heavy, but I’ve arrived.