It’s Not Easy Being Green

I love myself. I do. More precisely, I’m growing in the love of myself – learning how to care for me and accepting the challenge of bettering myself. Of course I also tend to think I’m a pretty cool person. I can only imagine the joy when someone discovers how thoughtful, insightful, creative and strong I am. I’m finding lately though that some people are really good at hiding that joy. Either that or it actually isn’t there….not always a pretty thought.

I’m not talking about arrogant expectations here, rather it’s the cocoon of narrow-mindedness that Bajan life can be sometimes. In a metropole like New York, it’s easy to feel alone – one of millions, everybody on their way to somewhere, doing something more important than you are. Quickly though, you meet people. That world of millions feels so much smaller – there’s your French friend to go to wine tastings with, West Indian friends to fete with, your West Coast Buddhist friend to hike with. Then your Math genius friend to philosophise with, your Pakistani friend to intellectualise with and your balding friend who teaches you sign language. The eclectic abundance not only means that there’s someone out there who has a deep passion matching your curious interest, but that all those someones are expecting you to be YOU – to present a perspective melded through your many unique experiences.

The snap-back to Bajan reality is jarring sometimes. I get the innocent but potent jabs and jokes from those who care, looks and snide remarks from those who don’t. Even I am sometimes tempted to cower rather than take the challenge of self-assertion. I haven’t had to flex these muscles in a while, to make such an effort to be me, to source a healthy dose of affirmation.

Yet in the absence of a fuller acceptance, of the city’s unending stimulation of the mind and heart, away from the buttress of rich friendships, I realize that I have come full circle. This doesn’t feel that different from when I’d first left home. And I remember what I learnt then – that the power to shape my reality lies within.

So Barbados, I love you – but ‘no thanks’ to that box you want me in.

 

Cheese!


…..and we’re BACK!!

Wish we could say it was babies and marriages and million dollar movie deals that kept us away, but it was pretty much the mundanities of life – moving, school, jobs, etcetera. Nothing too thrilling.  Then again, let me not belittle the beauty of everyday life…breathing. Sunrises and sunsets. Soft gentle snows. Smiling children. And all that other mush…Let me stay focussed.

Errol Barrow Day heralds the return of the blog Allegiance. You’ll find he runs through all of our posts today. Gots tuh pay homage to a hard seed. It’s not just about respect, but about turning that mirror around and having a good hard look at yourself. Myself.

Keep looking out for new posts on a regular cycle again. You’ll hear from our core staff and from so many more talented and creative West Indians. Hop back on for the ride!!

 

Love & Light,

D.


Mirror on the Wall

Walked into the staff room at a certain tertiary-level educational institution in Barbados and was interestingly surprised to find four posters of the President of the United States, Barack Obama, posted at various points around the room. I could not leave without inquiring why there were four posters of President Obama, and only one of a Barbadian leader – our deceased Prime Minister, the Right Honourable David Thompson. And I didn’t even see Thompson until I searched, his photo being quite diminutive in comparison. They had started with 2 Obama posters, I was told. A US Embassy official visited the institution and upon seeing the posters was impressed by the obvious “respect”. His response was to mail back two framed photos of President Obama, autographed by his own hand. I got the impression the gifts quite delighted the division’s head.

Impressed by the respect? I was saddened by the genuflection. I certainly don’t mean to belittle any aspect of Obama’s presidency – I myself skipped work, drove 5 hours and froze my giblets off for the opportunity to be on the Washington Mall in DC when he was inaugurated. But sometimes we all are challenged to keep things in perspective. As monumental as his presidency is for the United States, I have to ask – what has Obama done for me lately? Not nearly as much as The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, for random example, and I don’t see her picture up anywhere. Perhaps I should put it up…hmm…

Make sure you take a good read of the often-mentioned “Mirror Image” speech by good old Errol, the Right and Honourable. We’ve taken but only one step towards his vision. Education is the vehicle not the destination. We so love to boast about ‘free education’ and few of us can say anything about continuing to move towards true transformation. Therein is our lack of enlightenment evident. Take Errol’s words to heart: “I want to know what kind of mirror image do you have of yourself? That is what I am concerned about. What kind of mirror image do you have of yourself?” Let’s look inward for our heroes. ‘Cause trust me – Obama’s a cool dude and all, but he ain’t transforming Barbados or the international power hierarchy anytime soon.

Love & light.


We asked our readers…

…reading the quote from The Rt. Hon. Errol Barrow’s famous ‘Mirror Image’ speech below, do you agree or disagree? Is this perspective still relevant today?

“What I wish to speak to you about very briefly here this evening is about you. About yourself

I want to know what kind of mirror image do you have of yourself? That is what I am concerned about. What kind of mirror image do you have of yourself? Do you really like yourselves? Because you can never really like anybody unless you first like yourself. There are too many people in Barbados who despise themselves and their dislike of themselves reflects itself in their dislike of other people… people who live next door to them, members of their family, husbands, and wives, and the ox and the ass and the stranger within the gates.”

 

“These days we love ourselves too much. So much selflove we’ve become ultra selfish. Sadness.”
~C. Baptiste, CaribVibez
Barbados


“In times like these people will hate themselves because of a lot of de stress of everyday living ….TINGS hard people looking for a way out and will think others doin better than dem so dem going use every excuse …ME PERSONALLY I THINK ITS JUST PART OF LIFE …. HOW DO U LOVE YOURSELF ???
~Bajan Fari, Fari to de World
Brooklyn, NY

“Nothing has changed.”
~B. Taitt Jr., lawyer
Barbados

“I agree – it is very much still relevant today.”
~M. Baldeo, Jazz Musician
Boston, MA


By the Rivers of Babylon

HAPPY ERROL BARROW DAY!

Well people, we back wid a vengeance! (so to speak). We want to keep this unique line of communication and resource that is PledgeAllegiance available to you.

It’s a fine day to be Bajan (as is everyday) and a better day for a relaunch!

On to business…

Every year, Barbados, like other Caribbean islands and lesser-developed nations, exports what is a most valuable commodity. We export young people (and the young at heart) whose goal is to further their education. Brilliant minds!

Many of you reading this belong to this group (after all, the mission of this blog is to keep you connected in our own way) & that is great.

But now you “are” an emigrant, a foreigner, different, a minority, African-American or Black (as opposed to Caribbean or Barbadian). Some people find it hard to wrap their head around the fact that the distinct intonation that is your unique accent is actually real, whether you are of African descent or not. I say that you “are” these things because, let’s face it; the society you’ll be trying to navigate will label you this way. This is how they will initially perceive you. For some, they will hold tight to that perception just to be comfortable. You don’t have to accept these labels, but it can be shock being thrust into a storm of cultural relations.

And so, one inevitably struggles with how to maintain aspects of oneself that are culturally related; and constantly presented with situations that, aware of it or not, are in fact markers along one’s journey to a well-assimilated individual or an individual experiencing difficulty defining oneself in a new culture. However, assimilation (the process of absorbing the culture and mores of another population or group) does not have to be synonymous with discarding/forgetting one’s past.

How do you navigate what is now a new reality, so to speak?

I asked my Facebook friends to weigh in on the topic by sharing any advice that they would give to foreign students coming to the US (read: any other country).

  • Be prepared to work hard.

Jah will bring forth milk & honey, yes. But it will only happen as long as you are aware that contrary to popular belief, The Land of Milk & Honey only exists where one is willing to raise the cows and milk them yourself; and become a beekeeper and bear some stings. Nothing will be given to you. Chances are because you are “different” you may have to work a little harder than every one else (sometimes just based off the fact that no one understands a word you are saying because of your accent). It is definitely a case of action speaking louder than words. If you put in the work and stay prepared, when the opportunities arise, they will allllways be yours.

  • “Us Americans can be rude, sometimes closed-minded, but don’t take it  personal. Most of us are good people.” – from an American friend

It is within the nature of a human being to fear what he or she does not understand… or at least avoid it. Just be yourself and make some friends. It is important to develop a social network. A strong supportive one doesn’t have to be large, but should be effective in adding to your experience positively while you are far away from home.

I feel it would be remiss of me not to mention the phenomenon that occurs when you are the only person, on campus or in your new locale that is of your origin. People automatically come to see you as the Representative of your culture, nationality, country; and you automatically become the archetype of what a(n) >insert your nationality here< is, & how a whole nationality behaves. Certainly there is a level of ignorance that must exist to comfortably place that burden on an individual. But the fact of the matter is that it happens. I am not telling you not to live your life the way you see fit and are happy to do. I am saying that like it or not you become the unofficial ambassador of a country, so choose an aspect of your life that you will be glad to accept the responsibility and act accordingly; whether that be academics, professional relationships, social interactions, athletics, etc.

  • Try not to get mix up in Babylon system!

As a former Resident Assistant, I have seen the effects irresponsibility has on many a foreign/international student career. There are rules at university (who knew???) and if you get caught breaking them you will suffer the consequences. In some cases offenses, alone or when repeated enough times, will land you a suspension or expulsion. Not being in school when on a student visa is a no-no, and the fastest way to find yourself back home before you even get a chance to make Dean’s List.

Beyond the penalties your college imposes, if your offense breaks the law, you will end up out of school. Do not pass go; do not collect your degree. You will be deported.

So I guess my advice would be… Don’t. Get. Caught. Juuust Kidding! Actually a major problem for us coming from countries where for example the drinking age is 16/17, is dealing with the alcohol laws in countries like the US (21???  Who does that??). In MY opinion (and not necessarily the opinion of anyone else who is associated with this blog), don’t get caught. I am saying that based on the assumption that telling you not to drink will be a waste of (internet)breath and you will do it anyway. Seriously though, be smart about the choices you make. And if you are breaking a rule, don’t earn the award for the idiot who posts the pictures on facebook or jeers at the security camera. Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up.

  • Kiss the right person’s ass.

Ok so maybe these words are a bit harsh, so to be politically correct, in the words of Ms. D. Lashley herself, “Make strategic alliances – get personal and friendly with the staff in the bursar’s office and student affairs.”

This is valuable advice for life. Period. Find some one you like to interact with in each office that isn’t a hard ass (He/she doesn’t need to be your bff) and forge a genuine relationship with that person. On days when the money dad wired is coming via a sloth and you can’t make a payment, or your flight got cancelled and you can’t move out by the deadline, or you absolutely need to get into that class because it is a requirement, having a friendship with a bursar, a Residence life hall director, or a registrar is extremely helpful.

And last but not least, and of the most importance it seems,

  • Stay connected to your culture

This was the most offered piece of advice. It is also, in my opinion, the most valuable. This is how you stay grounded. This is how you do not forget who you are, where you came from, where you’re going and what it takes to get there. This is how assimilation, though not always smooth, becomes less of a stressor.

–       Communicate often with relatives and friends from back home. Sometimes all you need is to hear a familiar voice.

–       Join a group or an organization that relates to your culture. It’s a great way to meet people who share similar beliefs and have a similar background. Yes, I know, the point of college is to diversify, expand, and appreciate differences, & build new relationships. If you don’t join a group or you are not on a campus with a high population of Caribbean students, making connections with other international students is a good idea.

You will miss home. If you don’t miss home in its entirety you will miss aspects of it. The food, the music, the people, the language, the customs… at a minimum you will learn to appreciate all the thing that came together for you to have the absolutely unique and fantastic experience of a Bajan/Caribbean upbringing.


Do YOU Know…?

 

When people hear of Errol Barrow their free reign of thought usually flows directly to education, unless they were fortunate enough to remember some of the political jokes he left behind. Remember when he referred to then president of America, Ronald Regan, as “that cow boy in the White House”? Or when he told the world that Barbados is a friend to many but a satellite of none? But it is true that because of him Bajans have enjoyed a sweet life in terms of education.  Good education by some standards is hard to come by in this world, further more free education. But because of Barrow we have always had education at a “free” rate.  But what has it taught us and what have we learned? It is not my role here to criticize or publicize what I feel in my opinion we as Bajans or West Indians as a whole are lacking. Instead, I have just a few points that I want us to note. God made us to be rational beings, so pick sense out of my nonsense and what you weren’t taught seek and you will find.

We come along knowing free education but what do we know about our struggle, the struggle of others and the struggle that has made us who we are today?  Remember Inkle and Yarico or that one went over your head? Let me come more recent. In Haiti for example, even public schools come at a price. Wunna thought that only private schools make you pay? Look how our brothers and sisters have been struggling for decades, study it. What has your free education taught you in terms of how to help others? Stop taking what we have for granted and realize that their struggle could have very well been yours.

When the idea came about to pen my thoughts on Errol Barrow day one song came to mind. Red Plastic Bag’s “Issues of the Day” I couldn’t remember the verses but for days I sang this part of the chorus “…we must know who our heroes are, and we must hail them from near and from far. We must know famous from notorious. That is a must here in Barbados. This nation was not built by our leaders alone, so many heroes but they are unknown…” We go through the motions of life almost in robotic simulation. We celebrate days on the calendar with no deeper understanding of the significance or lack thereof in regards to why we should be celebrating. We need to remember how Barbados became what it is today. So while wunna on de excursions picnicking and eating and drinking, reflect on how the West Indies came to be and how some of our brothers and sisters are still in the midst of their own struggles. Yarico still getting fool by Inkle. Remember de “small” people who never got a day, but made significant contributions to the state of the country. We should be striving to learn from the struggles many of these unsung heroes fought and continue to fight today to fix. Maybe we can become better countries or maybe even a WHOLE.

The circle of life for many of us has a beginning and end. No middle because we have learned little and taught even less.


Stay Tuned!!