The Bahamian islands are full of life. There’s a rich history, a wonderful local flavor and some of the warmest, friendliest people I’ve ever met.
I spoke with Shelly, a young woman spending a Monday looking for a job. Probably in her mid-20s, she pegged me instantly as a visitor; not sure what gave that away. “Where are you from? How long are you here? What have you seen?” She had almost as many questions for me as I had of her. A stack of resumes in her had and a smile on her face, Shelly was determined that by the end of the day she’d find employment. She was devout in her religion, with many references to ‘having faith’ and ‘praying,’ and that ‘with gods help I’ll have a job soon.’ She ducked into the Hilton as I walked on, then we met back up after I stopped to admire a mural. The Hilton would not be her workplace this time, but maybe the Dunkin Donuts, or the McDonalds, or any number of other shops in town that she was prepared to visit.
In the United States, we often hear a very simple patriotic chant of ‘USA! USA! USA!’ England gives us ‘God Save the Queen’ while the people of France offer ‘Vive La France’ and Brazil exclaims ‘Viva La Brazil!’ In the Bahamas, the sentiment is a bit more refined – “Believe in the Bahamas.” To paraphrase Will McAvoy from the HBO drama The Newsroom, they don’t just want to be Star Spangled Awesome. While they are a British Colony (with the left side-driven roads and and extra ‘U’ in words here and there to prove it), it’s not just about a monarch who sits on a throne many thousands of miles away. They may sit in some of the most hurricane-prone waters in the world, but there’s more to it than just hoping the country lives on. No, the Bahamian people believe in their country. They believe in what it has to offer. They believe in their land, the people that inhabit it and what they’re capable of. This gent, tho I didn’t catch his name, would be the first of many I saw wearing a shirt proclaiming his belief in his birthplace. As it turns out, the phrase is the slogan of the PLP, or the Progressive Liberal Party, tho the sentiment is shared by many.
There’s a sense of old-time sensibility in the Bahamas. A touch of what used to be. Not quite the land that time forgot, but certainly a land that hasn’t caught the go-go-go, never enough time, always in a hurry attitude that plagues other parts of the world. One place this is more apparent than others is in it’s police force. Nassau still features traffic control from a person in a small shack that’s rolled into the street during ‘rush hour’ and uniforms reminiscent of being on a Caribbean safari.
I was taught from a young age that sand and electronics don’t mix well; I guess my new friend on the beach didn’t get that memo, or – more likely – he just didn’t care. My new friend on the beach watched me as I meticulously moved around snapping photos of the shore, and the water, and the beach-front shacks, and a faux product shoot of a beer bottle. His headphones were plugged into a Blackberry that was more than half buried in the sand. He took out one ear bud to ask what I was doing, then the other when I asked what he was listening to. “The News.” It seemed so simple, but my new friend on the beach wouldn’t stop there. He would regale me with stories of good times and bad times. Of how to live a better life. Stories of “people loving and people hating. People giving and people stealing. People do right and people do wrong.” My new friend on the beach – a Rastafarian – was content under his palm tree, watching the waves lap against the beach, listening to stories of hate from around the world knowing that he was living his slice of heaven – right there in paradise. “Do Right. Be one with your people. With all people. Be kind. See what ties us together, not what keeps us apart. Do right.” Be well my new Rasta friend on the beach – and Do Right.
From the distillery to the beach, from the liquor store to the guy who stopped me on the street just to ask I was in “need of help finding (my) way” – the Bahamian people are worth chatting up. Don’t be afraid to open up and take a moment to say hello no matter where you are. And keep making great photos!