Caribbean musings #3 Four thousand miles wide of home
May 20, 2015
During a recent trip back to the UK - and I should say this was an unusual visit being as I had only one (nine-year-old) child with me - I had time to think. To stop, take in my surroundings, and be, just like the Fatboy Slim song, Right Here, Right Now. Which was, at the time, England.
But it wasn't easy being there at first, because, emerging from the artificial light of the Gatwick airport terminal into the cold multi-storey car park surrounded by white-grey sky, I felt like I'd landed on another planet. Where had all the sunlight gone? Driving past spindly silhouettes of bare trees, row after row, stark against the dull blanket of sky, it was as though I was seeing them for the first time. That's when I realised that I'd missed so much. Two British winters, two autumns, nearly two springs.
Walking through the town centre of the wealthy London suburb where my parents live - and I was staying - I couldn't help but think about all the other things I'd missed. The school nearby that my children no longer went to, crisp afternoons at the play park where we'd meet up with friends, libraries, museums and galleries, pubs, browsing good book shops, bakeries, popping in to my sister's house for a cup of tea. Christmas.
The bursts of yellow daffodils on the grass verge were a shock against the grey sky which seemed to hang over everything. They were like a sprinkle of magic. Which, I remembered, is what Spring always feels a bit like. I drank in the crisp fresh air, whoop-whooped my way round the marvelously stocked shelves of Waitrose (while cramming my basket with ridiculously cheap jam and kettle chips). I cosied up on the sofa to watch live Saturday night TV. And it all felt a bit strange.
I thought of my husband and two other children in Barbados, in our house with it's huge white walls, bright shafts of light and sticky heat, in their alternate reality where everything from breakfast to bedtime happens five hours later. Imagining the two places on a map with a huge expanse of Atlantic between them, made the distance feel so palpable. And the realisation that I didn't have a life in the UK anymore was suddenly overwhelming. My day-to-day was spent somewhere very different. But I still felt that I had a place, or a presence in England, even if it was a ghostly one.
So most days, via What'sApp, Facetime, digital radio, my imagination, I straddle two worlds. I'm not on holiday in Barbados (although I am mistaken for a tourist most days). I do my weekly shopping at the (pretty basic) supermarket, in heavy traffic, down worn, narrow roads past the woman selling bags of monkey nuts and the mango man with his table of neatly arranged fruit by the roundabout I do the school run, I have down days and moments of sheer, utter joy here. After nearly two years of living in a Caribbean nation, I truly know its pleasures - but also it's struggles and differences - by being here every day. I am part of the contradiction that makes up it's Afro-Caribbean-majority, white-priviledged-minority, tourist-reliant population.
Long after I've left, Barbadian accents will sound familar to me - I'll be drawn to them. I'll also know what it is to be seen as different. To be part of an (albeit, privileged) minority. To go to sleep to the sound of whistling tree frogs and lift the kids up to the window in the morning so they can see monkeys walking along our garden wall, to wait every morning in traffic to the sound of soca music and swim in sea so clear that I feel like I'm dreaming . To live and breathe life in the Caribbean.
And in knowing that, I'm priviledged to know what it is to compare with authenticity. I don't view life in either place through rose tinted glasses. Yes, it can be frustrating and hard not to wish that things in Barbados (conservative attitudes, weak infrastructure, the crushing heat of mid-summer) were different sometimesand more like England. But those frustrations - the very ones that zap my patience and make me feel like I'm not coping with life - are part of the appeal. Part of what drew me here.
I left the UK looking for a different experience of life, looking for a different way of seeing. And right now, right here, I've found it.