My Barbados

Six Barbadians from diverse backgrounds talk to Nailah Folami Imoja about their lives and work, what they love best about their home island, and their biggest hopes for the future, as Barbados marks fifty years of Independence

©iStock.com/TommlIn the woods at Farley Hill National Park. Photo by Russell WatsonRisée Chaderton-Charles at one of her favourite spots on Barbados’s south coast. Photo by Russell WatsonJohn Roett takes in the sunset in his favourite place: the seashore. ©iStock.com/TommlThe South Point lighthouse, Barbados’s oldest. Photo by Styve Reineck/Shutterstock.comAnimal Flower Cave near Barbados’s northern tip looks over cliffs and crashing waves. ©iStock.com/Dain BlairFatima Patel enjoys the peace and quiet of Turner’s Hall Woods. Photo by Russell WatsonArcher’s Bay on the wave-battered coast of St Lucy Parish. Photo ©iStock.com/AnathomyBathsheba, on Barbados’s east coast. ©iStock.com/TommlLuci Hammans on the pier at Speightstown, on the west coast of Barbados, where she grew up. Photo by Russell WatsonPhoto ©iStock.com/TommlTheatre practitioner Nala at Temple Yard, a familiar place from his earlier years. Photo by Russell WatsonA quiet lookout at North Point. Photo ©iStock.com/Sylwia KaniaMahmood Patel. Photo by Russell WatsonTiny chattel houses are Barbados’s most characteristic form of folk architecture. Photo ©iStock.com/OnfilmA classic Barbados landscape of gently rolling green hills. ©iStock.com/Stockfinland

Magical light

Risée Chaderton-Charles’s Barbados is closely connected to her passion for photography. “I love Farley Hill,” she says, “because it has some of the most amazing mahogany forests, with deep green ground cover. The light is spectacular, and I love shooting brides out there. Also St Lawrence Gap, because of the bright colours and buildings. The sun in the early morning and late afternoon sweeps across the brickwork, creating magical light.” The photographer, teacher, and social media activist recalls fondly: “I photographed an amazing bride at Farley Hill. She had a guitar. I turned her into a fairy!”

She shares similar memories of the more urban locale: “I once took a bride and groom to St Lawrence Gap, and they played in the street, hula-hooped with a small child who passed by, and kissed in the glow of a perfect sunset. It remains one of my favourite photoshoots. A close second has to be the session with a local rally navigator and his stunning bride. We were in St Lawrence Gap, they had an antique car, and the light was gorgeous against the brickwork and the buildings.”

You can see the stunning result of the latter shoot on
www.eyerisee.com, the website of Eye One Visuals, a flourishing full-service company specialising in wedding, portrait, and fashion photography. Chaderton-Charles is owner and lead photographer of the outfit, as well as mother of two, wife, and part-time college lecturer. (“I adore teaching my students! Really, I have the best students,” she says enthusiastically.)

The young woman, whose natural flair electrifies any space she enters, seems as comfortable in front of the camera as she is behind it. She admits, however, that she’s “most likely to be found sitting on the ground in random places, taking photographs of people.”

Fascinated with photography since school days, Chaderton-Charles now boasts almost twenty years’ experience in the field, having worked on magazines, commercial projects, and TV shows, including Caribbean’s Next Top Model. She has travelled widely, throughout the Caribbean, the United States, Britain, Austria, and Italy. Still, she remains a Caribbean girl at heart, as evidenced by her art and her social media activism.

“I love creating images,” she says. “My artistic focus is often on challenging the traditional representation of Afro-Caribbean women in the media, and my work reflects the truth of my Caribbean heritage and of whom I’ve become as a Caribbean woman,” says the self-described “unapologetic Kadooment reveller.” Of her activities on social media, she says, “I try my best to be a voice for people who may not have either the courage or the ability to speak up against discrimination and systemic oppression.”

For Barbados’s future, she wishes “a better education system that includes courses in colonialism as a modern entity, not simply in a historical context. Discussion of the role Barbados has played in the creation of global systems of oppression, as well as critical thinking skills, need to be taught in all secondary schools.” She adds, “I look forward to open discussions of difficult topics among my countrymen — discussions that are free from personal attacks and focus instead upon issues. I also look forward to freedom for all Barbadians to be who they are. Our treatment of our LGBT citizens is an embarrassment. We have a strain of odd religious bigotry that I would like to see vanish.”

To demonstrate her point, she notes: “I love to watch kids at Easter. You will see Muslim kids flying kites — not because it is a Christian tradition but because it is a Bajan tradition. We are all Bajans, and it disturbs me that we fail to remember that when it matters most.”

She adds, seriously: “We need to do better because we are better.”

 

Facing the sea

For internationally acclaimed keyboardist John Roett, the ocean figures deeply in his love of Barbados. “Cattlewash and Carlisle Bay are my two favourite places on the island,” he declares, after some thought.

“At Cattlewash, when I look out to sea, the sheer majesty and power of the waves that have relentlessly pounded their assault on the shore for hundreds of years, remind me of how resilient we have been as a small nation — a people who will never be beaten into submission.

“On an early morning, I can walk the beach for miles and be the only person in sight — looking for shells, or digging my feet into the sand to make it squeak. I know of no other beach in the world where the sand does that,” he says with a smile.

“That beach fills me with a deep sense of calm and peacefulness. There, turbulence and tranquillity exist together, and I become who I truly am.”

The much-travelled musician — who has toured with many acts, including international recording star Maxi Priest, for whom he was musical director during his world tour in the early 1990s — adds, “Carlisle Bay has got to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

“As a young boy I lived in the sea there, and would spend all day either swimming out to where the yachts were anchored, to play ‘catcher’ with friends, or climbing into a tractor inner tube with a couple of fellas and floating aimlessly around the bay. There is no childhood like a West Indian childhood.”

One of the most prolific jingle writers in the Caribbean (with clients including international brands Hershey, KFC, 7-Up, and Schweppes), John describes another favourite aspect of the island. “I love the way we speak. As a musician, I understand that speech is a rhythm, and each island has its own tempo, style, and inflection. Our speech also reflects our personality as a people. We shorten words, ignore tenses, and chop up phrases to be more economical as we express ourselves. Our “sayings” are actually life lessons handed down from our ancestors. However, the most Bajan form of expression will be found in a response to having asked for directions.”

He says with a laugh: “Without a doubt, you’ll be more lost than you were at the beginning.”

An award-winning musician, John is highly respected for his many contributions to the local and regional musicscape. As a high-profile session musician, he has played keyboards for a who’s-who of Caribbean entertainers, including Dennis Brown, David Rudder, Machel Montano, Black Stalin, Arturo Tappin, Nicholas Brancker, Alison Hinds, Edwin Yearwood, Red Plastic Bag, Gabby, Biggie Irie, TC, and Natahlee — to name but a few. Apart from music, he admits to a great passion for helping others. “Especially children and those truly in need. Those fighting for survival. People have asked me why I do this, and the only answer I have is, ‘because I can.’”

Of the future, John hopes that “we reach a stage where classism and racial prejudice no longer exist. These traits are not inherent in children, but are taught by parents, both white and black. These ‘teachings’ need to end, or we will never achieve the incredible potential we possess.”

He leaves us to ponder some words of wisdom. “I am a musician, and have been all my life — though I was once a computer programmer. Why am I a musician? Because to ignore the gifts we are given is a cardinal sin. It’s OK to not ‘fit in’ with much of society, as long as you fit in with yourself.”

 

The “aha!” moment

“My two favourite places? Not easy to choose, but I think Turner’s Hall Woods, because that’s as close to the original vegetation and state of Barbados as you can get, before the colonists cleared everything. And because it’s so peaceful and shady.”

And the second? “The stretch of coastline between Little Bay and North Point! Because students often get that ‘aha!’ moment when we do field trips there and they observe things they’ve learned about in class: the arches, the cliffs, the wave-cut platforms.”

Fatima Patel, teacher, geologist, and lover of the arts (and of all things blue), once wanted to be an astronaut and an astronomer. “I was so impressed by the sheer scale of space. I remember when I located the Andromeda Galaxy for the first time. I was awestruck by the idea of seeing the furthest object visible to the human eye. Two and a half million light years away! Mind blown.”

As she grew older, her gaze “turned earthwards,” however. “Our planet is, after all, so much more accessible,” she says with a laugh. “I became fascinated with it — with its majestic landforms, particularly those formed and carved by water. I find them awe-inspiring and humbling at the same time.” Her keen interest, she explains, was fuelled by the documentaries of Jacques Cousteau and David Attenborough, which she watched voraciously as a child.

First-generation Indo-Barbadian (born to migrant parents, and the only girl of five children), Patel always wanted to teach geography. This desire lead her to Jamaica, where she earned a BSc in geography and geology at the University of the West Indies. During a work stint in Jamaica (“I did consultancy work in environmental assessment”), that island became her second home.

Patel, who has been teaching at Queen’s College in Barbados since 2003, admits that, despite bouts of disillusionment with the education system, “My fascination with geography and having a captive audience to listen to me talk about it keeps me going. That and, of course, the students — these wonderful young people who give us so much hope for the future.”

And it is with the students in mind that Fatima says, “I hope in the future we take these young people, our future, more seriously. I’d like the next fifty years to bring more inclusion of children and young people who are marginalised today because our education system ignores them.

“We have lots of intelligent, thinking children whose potential is not fulfilled, who are labelled ‘dumpsy’ from young, just because our education system caters to just one way of learning. I want to see primary schools being fully inclusive, where every child is assured of being able to learn at their pace.

“Children with different learning abilities, as well as those with learning disabilities, are left out. I want all children to have access to quality education,” Patel says, “regardless of how they see the world, regardless of how their brains work, regardless of how they read or write.”

 

Creative spaces

For twenty-three-year-old Luci Hammans, no matter where she may roam, Barbados will always be home. Having recently returned from five years of studies at the Birmingham School of Acting in Britain, Hammans finds herself even more aware of her island home and her place in it. The poet, performer, teacher, and arts coordinator plans to use her newly earned qualifications in applied theatre along with her stage experience to benefit the community.

To this end, the young woman — who, judging from her quirky personal style (she meets me wearing an Indian-inspired dashiki with cycling shorts and shiny purple Doc Marten boots), clearly dances to her own drummer — spearheads Beatfreeks Barbados (BFB), a non-profit organisation aimed at facilitating training, developmental, and professional opportunities for young creatives.

“As the younger sister to Beatfreeks Ltd, which is based in the UK, Beatfreeks Barbados takes the principles of the Beatfreeks movement and places them in a Bajan context,” Hammans says. “We’re an agency, creating spaces and places for creative Bajan youth to best develop and showcase their talents. It’s about their empowerment and their professional development.”

Poetry Lime, the first BFB product, is a spoken-word poetry open mic session staged the last Saturday of every month at the Barbados Community College Performing Arts Centre. The free event offers young people a chance to be heard, and audiences a chance to hear them.

Of Barbados, Hammans says her favourite places are on the east coast: “The Sleeping Giant — because of all the stories that literally leap from those rocks.”

The stunning rock formation, named for obvious reasons, dominates the scenery along the northerly stretch of the Ermy Bourne Highway in St Andrew.

“My second favourite place is Speightstown, by the pier, because that’s where I grew up.” Hammans goes on to share a memory which obviously resonates as one of her fondest. The recollection, about ten years old now, features swimming off the pier one moonlit night after she and a group of friends rather impulsively jumped into the water.

“We had so much fun. We only got out of the water because we noticed this huge shadow beneath us. We knew about this big stingray that was known to frequent the waters in that area, so when we saw that . . . Getting out was not as easy as getting in. Getting out was definitely a team effort,” she recalls with a laugh.

With Barbados celebrating fifty years of Independence, it’s natural to reflect on the past and to examine the road forward. “In fifty years,” Hammans says, “I’d like to see Barbados benefiting from the investments we put into our artistry and young people forty-five years ago.”

 

Chosen by the stage

“My two favourite places in Barbados are Temple Yard and the stage,” says actor Nala, who dropped his surname many lifetimes ago.

“Temple Yard because as a young man I found it a vibrant, creative, familial space. Very welcoming. I felt protected there. The Rastas in Temple Yard encouraged me to start selling my hand-painted shirts. That’s when I discovered I was good at selling things,” he says with a laugh. “Also, because there’s a confidence about our Afro-Caribbean identity that has always been a part of Temple Yard. I still lime there often.”

“In terms of the stage, it’s where I spend much of my artistic time. I don’t think I chose theatre. It’s more a case of this being the only thing I’ve been interested in enough to find the discipline to do it.”

Since Nala began acting professionally “rather than as a hobby” in 1995, his career has seen him perform in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Suriname, and Anguilla, as well as Senegal and Switzerland.

“I’m very proud of the Swiss gig,” he says. “I had to perform in three languages, two of which I don’t speak — French and Spanish. And I had three days to prepare. It was very stressful, but good fun.”

“I remember recognising at some point that what I loved could be a profession,” says Nala of his connection to the arts. “I am an artist — a multi-genre artist. In terms of what I do, how I make my living, there’s nothing more to me than art — whether it be performance, visual arts, or my writing.”

Nala is also involved in film production, having trained as a boom operator and sound man. He adds with a grin, “I’m also a self-declared social commentator.” Enter The $2 Philosopher, Nala’s popular stand-up comedy alter ego, and host of The Philosopher’s Corner, a season of comedy staged annually between January and March at The Cove in St Lawrence Gap.

“The Philosopher is really just me on steroids,” Nala admits with a chuckle. “He’s a cynic, but, just beneath the surface, truly an idealist. We, as a people, could be doing far better if we would just try harder. My act is a response to that — a cynical response to the nonsense.”

And the next fifty years? “I would like to see Barbados take our creative and cultural output seriously,” Nala says, “because that’s where our identity lies. Once we have a clearer idea of that, we will have a focused, more proactive interaction with the world.”

He adds, “I’d like to see us make better use of our natural resources. We grow the best cotton on the planet, were the first to create rum, have the best mutton. Given our historical position, we should be much further ahead in these areas.” He pauses.

“I’d also like to see all Cabinet ministers take a ten per cent cut in salaries. I would like to see this happen right now, because it would give me more hope for our political future in fifty years,” he says, face deadpan.

For all The Philosopher’s cynicism, Nala is certain of one thing. “I would never settle anywhere else. I’ve thought of leaving, because Barbados can be an art-hostile environment, but I want to see art develop here, and I don’t see how that can happen if we keep running away. I want to see and be a part of the ‘fifty years from now’ I mentioned earlier.”

 

Love for the land

For hotelier, eco-farmer, and filmmaker Mahmood Patel, the east coast of the island is a favourite aspect of Barbados. “This is my spot,” he says indicating the summit of a slope on his large tract of land in St Joseph. The site affords a magnificent view of the lush foliage of the eastern parish, its fields and hills, and the foaming, rolling surf crashing onto sandy shores way off in the distance. “Sometimes I come here to think or just relax.”

His land in St Joseph is the site of an interesting project in eco-farming. Patel is integrating food crops into the natural landscape of the area, which is mostly forest. He is also contouring the hilly landscape to decelerate erosion and make more efficient use of natural irrigation.

“As a boy, I would come to this area with my father,” he says. “I always loved the peaceful beauty here, so some of my love is connected to my memories of the place and the people. I saw how hard people worked in agriculture, and it’s important to me that I continue that heritage — to re-establish and maintain the old crops once grown here, like cocoa, coffee, and pineapples. I’m going back in history, resurrecting the past.”

While some of his stock is bought from local nurseries, some of it comes from the natural habitat. “We find many of the plants growing wild in gullies. And we transplant them here,” he explains.

As well as the aforementioned crops, the Fruit Forest, as Mahmood calls his two-and-a-half-year-old pet project, is home to lime, orange, golden apple, banana, bay, coconut, mango, avocado, and Jamaican ackee trees, as well as ginger, strawberries, and much more. The former owner of a plant nursery and landscaping business, Patel is no stranger to the land, and sees the Fruit Forest as a return to his personal roots and an investment in his future as well as that of Barbados, as it adds value to another business: Ocean Spray Beach Apartments.

“My vision is that hotel guests will eat the food we grow and rely less on imports. Right now, guests are served banana, ginger, and star anise jam. The chocolate we make is infused with natural ingredients from the forest — we’re playing with flavours here. We serve dark chocolate truffles with ginger and with bay leaf. I’m being forward-thinking here, adding value to what we produce. For me, it is all about establishing the symbiosis between the hotel and the forest.”

Also known throughout the Caribbean and elsewhere for his film-making, Patel is taking a hiatus from the movie world, allowing his creativity and sense of design to have free play on his land.

“Eventually, this will be a nature park as well,” he says. “I want to venture into agro-tourism so people will be able to come here and hike the nature trail down into the forest and back, and gain a better understanding of the connections between the food we grow and what appears on their plates. Tourism and agriculture should have a much firmer handshake.”

Mahmood’s other favourite spots: the wonderfully picturesque Harrismith Beach in St Philip, with its wind-hewn cliffs and the interesting ruins nearby. Also an abandoned free village in St Lucy called Near Date Tree Hill, “because that village, the minimalist way those people lived, is evidence of human resourcefulness, and that impresses me. The idea of leaving a small carbon footprint appeals to me a lot. Unfortunately, we’ve lost that connection to reality, the reality of living with nature.”

 

Caribbean Airlines operates daily flights to Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados from destinations in the Caribbean and North America