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learning from the locals

Posted by on December 26, 2012

December 8, 2012

On this Saturday, we had decided to split up for our day ashore in Nassau. Wil took the kids to the cruise ship area and over the bridge to Paradise Island, while I went inland for some various shopping.

This was the first time in a very long time that I had ventured any major distance in foreign lands on my own without Wil at my side. I knew I would need to be aware of my surroundings, as I would pass through some not so favorable areas. Little did I know, by the end of the day I would end up with some very helpful tips from local islanders.

Prior to my departure, I dressed in capris pants with a nice t-shirt. I knew I had not seen any local women wearing anything above the knee, and I wanted to be considerate in my dress. After saying good-bye to Wil and the kids, I put on my sunglasses and walked up Mackey Street, away from the cruising community. In my mind, if I kept my sunglasses on and walked with an assured pace, I would appear to know where I was going and what I was doing.

As I walked, I smiled and said hello to people I passed along the way. The local men would immediately smile and return the greetings. However, every woman would look the other way or be in conversation with others. I wondered why this was the case.

After an hour of walking, I knew I was close to my destination, but I wasn’t finding it. I decided to stop in a local pharmacy to ask for directions. As people usually do, I removed my sunglasses when entering the store, letting them hang by the croakies around my neck.

The girl I spoke to was surprised to find out that I had just walked an hour by myself through that part of town. She was quick to tell me that I needed to be very careful. Then, she drew out a map that would take me on a shorter and safer walk through a neighborhood, even avoiding homes with dogs. After going over the map, she walked me to the door and wanted to review the directions again. However, she made it clear that we couldn’t look like she was giving me directions. She didn’t want anyone to know I wasn’t from the area. Then, in case I would need extra help later, or run into trouble, she wrote down her home and cell phone numbers for me. I am so grateful to her for being so kind and helpful.

I continued on my walk and finally found the shopping mall I was looking for. There were many of the same stores one would find in a mall in the states, and the entire layout was also very similar. There were even local school kids performing holiday Junkanoo dances for the shoppers. It was very much like being in the states. However, I only ever saw two other light skinned people the entire time I was there, and they were both obviously local. One appeared to be a teacher with students, and one was an employee. I secretly hoped I didn’t look like a visitor.

As I was making some purchases in one store, the clerk asked, “Are you on a boat?” Curious about why he thought I had that appearance, I replied, “What gives it away?” He pointed to the sunglasses hanging from my neck. I asked him why the sunglasses, and he said they mean money. I had wondered why I hadn’t seen anyone wearing sunglasses in such a sunny place. He explained that sunglasses are expensive, so most people don’t wear them.

After making a couple more purchases from one more store, I made my way to the restrooms. I had decided to properly prepare myself for my trip back to the boat, and I would do so in the privacy of a bathroom stall. So no one could tell where I’d been shopping, I placed all of my purchases in my own reusable bags, and then I tucked my sunglasses safely away in my pack. Feeling better about my appearance, and after placing local currency bus fare in my pocket, I headed for the nearest bus stop.

When the bus (which was a large van) pulled up, I verified with the driver that it would take me back to the waterfront. I paid the $1.25 in Bahamian, boarded the bus, and positioned myself in the very back seat. Someone had left a cell phone on the seat. I quickly gave it the driver, and he immediately ran after the phone’s owner.

Once the bus was underway, I sat back and took in the passing scenery. Various passengers (mostly women) chit-chatted with me like I was just any other person on the bus. Except for the color of my skin, I finally felt like I was blending.

As the bus arrived at the waterfront, and drove down the street where many cruise ship passengers shop, I became stunned at the vast difference compared to where I had just been shopping. Tourists with fancy clothes, were either casually walking along with their duty free bags, or goofing off under the influence of alcohol. At that moment, I was glad to be sitting behind the bus window, seeing the world from a different perspective.

The bus dropped me off near the Paradise Island bridge, and I walked the rest of the way towards the east end of the harbor. Before calling Wil on the VHF, I made a few more stops in nearby local stores. I had been gone for 4 hours, and by the time I walked to the dock with all my bags, it was after dark. I knew Wil and the kids would be starting to worry.

Even though we had a joyous family reunion, I had thoroughly enjoyed the time on my own, experiencing local culture. Over dinner, we all shared our stories of the day. Wil and the kids had also experienced the vast difference in wealth and lifestyle when they crossed over the bridge to Paradise Island. We all agreed that there’s a place for that level of wealthy tourism, but that it was too much for the Bahamas.

cruise ships docked by the bridge to Paradise Island

I think I speak for both Wil and myself when I say how proud we are of our kids. During our discussions about the day, Colin commented that after having been on other islands, and seeing local islanders in Nassau, Paradise Island was “not a true view of the Bahamas”. I really love his words!

Justine said that after being in Nassau on the main island, she realized that Paradise Island didn’t have the real Bahamian culture. She says that Paradise Island is built in a way that the tourists want to see the Bahamas. For example, there were decorated walkways and stores that sold diamonds and other jewels of wealth. She said that she felt out of place on Paradise Island.

Again, this was another day we are so happy to be exploring and learning about the various ways of the world.

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