Archive for February, 2011
One hour into 2011. With fireworks and champagne still fresh on my senses, I leave the Atlantis hotel marina on Paradise Island, Bahamas and am now driving to the western side of the island to meet up with friends visiting from Palm Beach, Florida. Taking my usual route down Shirley Street, the traffic suddenly detours to the right. There are barricades and policemen diverting traffic. Swarms of people crowd the street — downtown is completely blocked off. If you’ve never heard of Junkanoo, take a look at this video clip for a flavor of the madness that was awaiting me:
But of course, it is New Year’s and therefore the Junkanoo parades are set to take place any minute now. Not sure how to circumnavigate this, I entrust my fate to the driver in front of me and humbly follow him until I find myself in the parking lot of a law firm. Still blindsided by this dent in my plans and not sure how I’ll get to my friends, I unconsciously follow the direction of the parking attendant and get out the car.
“Ten dollars boss.”
“You’re gonna make me pay to park at my work?” I fib as I reach for my wallet.
Before I know it, another attendant shouts, “No charge for him!”
“Oh yeah! I seen him here before!” shouts another. (Clearly in a country where about 90% of the population is of African descent, the entire white minority must be indistinguishable—but that’s a separate issue. I’ll touch on that at a later date.) So looking up from my wallet, I smile awkwardly and am waved through.
Although I was born here, this is surprisingly my first encounter with this most infamous celebration of my country’s culture, Junkanoo. I can’t quite put my finger on what’s kept me from this experience, but tonight, I’m glad I’ve finally stumbled into it.
The festival’s origin dates back to the 17th century and represents a celebration of the slaves’ emancipation from the Colonial cotton plantations on which the country’s history was initially forged. Fast-forward a few centuries, throw in over the top costumes, a panel of judges, some ‘friendly’ competition and a five-figure cash prize and—“voila!”—Junkanoo!
As I walk up the street towards the city square, the energy in the air is almost tangible. Locals and visitors are scurrying about for the best spot to view the parade, belly dancers in glitzy bras and head gear pace back and forth, restless with excitement. Frazzled men fuss over finishing touches for the larger float displays, clearly stressed by so much to do with only twenty minutes left on the clock.
Suddenly, someone thrusts a headpiece with green plumes bursting from its top into my arms, “Can you watch this for me please?! I’ll be right back!”
“Okay?” and before I know it, he’s vanished before I could even get a good look at him through the feathers.
Five minutes pass. Another five go by. “Ten minutes before start time!” blasts the emcee. I’m not sure what to do. I still have a ways to go down the street to secure a good view of the parade and it’s about to start. As I turn about in place frantically searching for my cloaked assailant, I’m reminded of one of those movie scenes where parents dump their babies onto total strangers before taking off for the restroom. “Well,” I reason, “It’s not anyone’s baby…” I take one final look around before gingerly placing it on the street curb and taking off for Rawson Square, the heart of Nassau, Bahamas.
The thud of a hundred goat-skin drums shake the ground, trumpets blare through the crisp night air and dancers snap like dolls into the spell of their choreography. Wedged at the forefront of the action I can only laugh at the infectious energy of this crowd. What I thought was loud cheering before proved to be nothing compared with what I was now hearing and seeing. Wild-eyed men screamed support for their favorite group at the top of their lungs, fists high in the air. Women managed to dance and shake to the music within the few inches of personal space the crowd allowed them. The American couple next to me stood in stunned silence by this sheer show of gusto I’m sure they’d never seen.
Junkanoo’s music grasps your core, touching on the most primitive aspect of your being with its African roots. The sounds alone seem to call you to where it all began. Opening your eyes reveals a kaleidoscopic explosion of pastels and glitter in costumes take literally all year to construct. Using everyday items like cardboard, crepe paper, paint, glitter and whatever else the imagination deems necessary, artists transform their dancers into characters that portray the central theme that particular group is representing. Colorful Aztec warriors go by, followed by another group’s take on a royal Victorian court, followed in turn by gun wielding cowgirls and sheriffs.
Watching the festivities before me, I think just how profound this is to see people from so many different backgrounds united in celebrating this part of Bahamian heritage. For a moment I allow myself to be enraptured by the sights and sounds of Junkanoo and by a supreme hope for this country as it enters into this New Year to face the subsequent economic and social challenges it will bring.
My phone vibrates, showing a missed call from my friends. As green feathers begin to weave by, I disappear into the crowd towards the parking lot, glad to have stumbled upon this.
Justin Ritchie is a contributor to Two Passports. He grew up in the Bahamas, went to university in Minnesota and currently makes frequent business trips to China.
It’s 2:30am, and I just had my first personal experience with the UK’s Big Brother-esque camera network.
I was sitting in bed working on my computer when a burgaler alarm from across the street sounded. I looked out my window to see a man trying to break into the business. Despite the alarm’s persistence, he just stood toward the side of the display window shaking back and forth, as if he’s trying to shake something free. I picked up the phone and dialed 999.
“Emergency services, how may I help?”
“Uh, yeah, I think I’m watching a burglary.”
“Fire or police?”
The phone beeps a few times, then:
“Hi, I believe I’m watching a man attempt to break into the building across the way from my bedroom window.” I tell him the address. I describe what the man is wearing.
“One moment please, I’m going to patch into the cameras.”
He put me on hold for about 20 seconds. It had been about 45 seconds since I made the call, and already I see a van marked Heddlu (Welsh for ‘police’) speed by, passing the man who is now casually walking away.
“Alright, I’m —”
“He’s walking northbound!” I say with the adrenaline of someone on COPS.
“North! Towards Cowbridge Street!”
“Alright, I see him on camera. The police are apprehending him now. Thanks for calling in.”
Two more police cars met the first at the roundabout as I gawked out my window. I watched the female police officer pick up her phone and make a call. My cell phone rings. Eerie. She wants to know precisely where he was breaking in, so I guide her from my bedroom window. She points a flashlight on the building while I, from across the street guide them on my phone — further left — she moves the flashlight beam left, now up — she moves the flashlight beam up. There. That’s where he was standing. Apparently the guy was attempting to work out early in the morning and started shadowboxing, using his reflection in the window as a makeshift mirror. When he accidentally hit his reflection, he triggered the alarm. The police officer sounds sceptical when she tells me his alabi, but his story must’ve checked out, because as I write this the police are gone and he’s back at it, shaking back and forth in front of the window.
I may have given the guy a fright, but it was worth it. Civil rights and privacy concerns be damned, that camera system is cool.
They’re like real fights, but a whole lot less fulfilling. Arguments have a life of their own. I’m not talking of one-off, who-ate-my-pizza-arguments, but sustained arguments that carry across weeks, months or years. These kind of arguments go into hibernation, tricking you into thinking they’re not there while they gestate, like the supervillan that is killed at the end of the movie only to come back in the sequel bigger, stronger and with some extraneous new superpower.
In this case, the supervillan is my mother’s increasing unease with me living overseas. The first time I brought up that I wanted to move abroad was on I-94, driving back with my parents from visiting my sister in college. The idea was met with a collective shrug, they were unsure if I’d ever actually put my money where my mouth is.
Then I moved. Times were rough, early on. I was unable to find a job, then unable to find happiness in my job, and my parents invited me to come back home a mere month after I’d moved abroad. It was a gracious invitation, but one I declined. I wasn’t ready come come home yet. I would power through the malaise.
A year and a half later, I’m on the verge of finding some real success in my career. Suddenly, my life abroad has the potential of becoming a lot less temporary. I’m also about to go home for a visit. Cue the supervillan’s return. It starts small. I mention a possibility of getting a permanent job, but instead of a congratulations I get a half-hearted, “Oh.”
As for my return home, I’m starting to plan where I’ll be spending my time. My parents live in southern Minnesota, my sister lives four hours north in Fargo/Moorhead and all my friends live an hour and a half away in Minneapolis/St. Paul. In planning my two and a half weeks at home, I can’t seem to reach an amount of time to spend at my parents’ house that will please my mother. It’s is not an easy thing to get upset over. I love my mom, I want to spend time with her and it’s flattering and a bit ridiculous that we’re reduced to negotiating something I want so much anyway: spent time at home.
It’s not an unusual situation, from what I’ve heard. Expatriates I’ve spoken to universally report friction with family members for their choice to live abroad. It’s ironic then, that the quarrel seems to come up the most when it shouldn’t: When we’re making the effort to go home.
So that’s what led to a recent Skype-argument with my mom, an argument about as satisfying as wet socks, because there’s no way to reach a satisfying conclusion. Like that classic Mitch Hedberg bit, I felt like I was fighting in a tent. What was I supposed to do, walk out and slam the flap? How are you supposed to express your anger in this situation? In my case, I raised my voice and felt guilty about it afterward. I’m not sure there will ever be a resolution to the on-again/off-again fight until I move home. Fight isn’t even the right word for it, since it’s ultimately bickering because I love my mom and she loves me. But in the meantime, I guess I’m stuck with the unflattering, occasional Skype fight whose only solution is the digital equivalent of slamming the tent flap, clicking the “End call” button.
Have you lived away from home for an indefinite period of time? How did it affect your relationship with your family? Leave your feedback or advice in the comments section.
I wanted to give you a tour of the city I’ve called my home for the last year, but in this internet age, I knew I needed to be as concise as possible. So in the video below, you’ll find a full tour of Cardiff’s city centre in under two minutes. Watch for its famed arcades, the national stadium of Wales, the hustle-and-bustle of St. Mary’s Street and the sleek new St. David’s Shopping Center.
The capital of Wales has been good to me. I’ll be sad to leave it in just twenty-one short days.