By NICOLE BURROWS
I am at a crossroads.
Do I stay in and fight for my country? Well, the country I once thought I had?
Or, do I leave while I still can, and start life anew in another part of the world, where it may be easier for me to enjoy the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, my labour and the fruits of my labour, where the children I still want to bear and parent will have real opportunities because they are born into and grow up in an environment conducive to lifelong learning and advancement.
And I don’t mean advancement marked by another fancy, inappropriate hotel-condo resort development beyond the reach of most Bahamians, or 12 more of the same. I mean advancement of thinking – real human progression. The kind of advancement born of raw ambition and shoulder-to-the-wheel hard work; but not just hard, manual work alone, because there are many who work hard and strong, but have no self-awareness and no desire to make any impact whatsoever on their world. There is a difference.
Every day I walk outside my house and face a special “only in The Bahamas” challenge, I wonder if the fight is worth it. Toiling, practically slaving to have the life and professional success I want and to have it freely, without someone trying to deny me what is my right to have and to expect of my own country.
I’ve been an upstanding citizen. I’ve done my best to be law-abiding. I work within my limitations. I don’t come from a family with means; we are people who have learnt to live on very little. My Nana (grandmother) used to say “when you ain gat horse, ride cow.” And, to exemplify it, my mum often told me the story of how, when my late uncle and his baby brother (the first two of my grandparents’ children) were little, Nana used to mix rice and grits to make it “stretch”, so that the little she had could be more ... enough to feed her and her two little children (at the time), though I’m sure she would have gladly starved so her two boys could eat. And maybe she did.
My young life was filled with old-time sayings, and they made me more appreciative of the little I/we/my family had. And maybe that is the one reason I was born onto this tiny island, into this country. But maybe that is all Delia wrote and now it’s time to move on to anywhere else where I can walk into my neighbourhood every day and be confident that I won’t be harassed or interfered with on some level or in some negative way.
And I have to wonder, after all these life lessons, were Nana still here with me today, is this the life she’d want for me? Would she tell me to stay and fight another day, or would she tell me to leave? Did she struggle and sacrifice so much and live her whole life with so little, so that I could go off to college only to return home and struggle like she did? Does this life of limitations that I live do her personal sacrifice and struggle any justice? And what about my mum, who has also lived with very little to make sure I didn’t have to? Yet, here I am, now, doing the same thing, living with very little, because the opportunities for me to have a more plentiful, fulfilling and meaningful existence don’t exist here despite my efforts to create them.
When do you say enough is enough? At what point do you divorce the thing, place or person you still love, because the relationship is no longer fruitful, if ever it was?
My college mentor (Pops, affectionately) once told me how he had to make the very difficult decision to leave his home in South America for a better life in the older, safer, cleaner, more hopeful Bahamas, and that he was able to do it because he reasoned that he could only help more while away from his loved ones. And that never made sense to me when he told me, or for years after he told me ... until now.
Now, I get it.
Sometimes, you have to separate yourself from the people you love and the places where you made beautiful memories, to be able to make a better life for yourself and/or for them. It’s like a love relationship that only has love left and nothing else. And love is often not enough to keep that relationship in place. In fact, most times, love isn’t what keeps that relationship.
But Pops’ concept is not something you could ever understand until you have to decide it for yourself. Many people on the outside or people with privilege can’t/will never understand it. People on the outside want to visit The Bahamas and take vacation here because of the sun, sand, sea and all the rest of the fading physical beauty. I get it. It’s a great place to relax for a short while, if you have means and don’t have to fight through the layers of opposition and resistance you will meet every day you live here.
I’ve never been one to con anyone out of money or kiss up for positions and status, so maybe this new Bahamas is really not for me. The Bahamas I loved once is a distant memory, perhaps just a remnant of a potentially thriving country, on the shadowed back end of the drug era; the calm before the storm brought on by an improper, inadequate foundation laid for what could have been a booming country all-around.
I grew up when political freedoms were oppressed, sometimes outwardly, though not always, and in many ways that has never really gone anywhere because the people who still lead us are products of that day.
I remember how all the grown ups would whisper information to each other, because if you were known to be or even suspected of speaking out against the Pindling government, you and your entire family were blacklisted. For having a differing opinion, freely expressed, you stood to be blacklisted, targeted, and deprived of professional and economic opportunities. In many ways, over the years, all we did was make the blacklisting less covert, but it still underpins political and economic activity because the players are of the same or a very similar ilk.
A more liberal, freer speaking Bahamas was known after 1992, but a lot of damage had already been done. So many fundamental rights were not protected in theory or in practice, and many critical elements were not put in place. Their absence from our early years as a pseudo-sovereign nation are the reasons our country is caving in around us now. Of course, there are some external forces at work, but strong buildings are built to resist high winds and torrential rains, and the strength of their foundations is a significant part of their ability to withstand storms and other harsh processes.
Only now as it disintegrates do we get to see the full extent of the weak, crumbly foundation our country was built upon. It has to be rebuilt. But our so-called leaders are running around like headless poultry, trying to plug the thousands of holes of neglect, some of which they may not have created, but are certainly perpetuating.
From my vantage point, all I see is a mad scramble. The people in charge of decisions which affect my life and yours inspire a total confidence of nil, in anyone who has eyes to see or dares to dream. You can feel the uncertainty, the panicked, tentative attempts to build and rebuild/reinforce the structure of The Bahamas, and it is extremely unsettling. Why should I deliberately choose to stay in the middle of this? Should my mother’s and my mother’s mother’s struggles be all for nought?
What is the potential fallout of an ongoing fight for a hopeful country? Do I want the rest of my hopefully long life to be a battle with people who don’t want any more or better than they have? People who work hard but have no real ambition to create a better country for generations to follow, or people without vision ... more of them? Is that what - who - I want to fight for?
The Bahamas is not a place I go for vacation, it is where I have to live. And I have two choices:
I can stay and toil until time is done, by squeezing into politics, offering myself for election to government and working my ass off in the administration of my country to create the better country I want. Because, let’s be real, I’m not going to be able to do it any other way.
Or, I can fight the establishment, continue to speak out against developmental, economic and social injustices, from a place where I can reap actual rewards of my ambition, live fully in my passions, not worrying about who won’t let me speak freely, and have a real living legacy for my children that they can see in action, as opposed to a struggle. And, maybe, finally make my mother’s and grandmother’s sacrifices worth the pain and lack that came with them.
If I try, do I stand to make any substantial gains in a country whose constitution says I have freedom of speech, but finds some way to censor my words, directly or surreptitiously, even by the roundabout threat of financial lawsuit? How free is my free speech? What about the free press which, no matter the truth it uncovers, it can never fully expose it and nothing seems like it could ever be done to change it? What good is a free press when, no matter what they find, there is fear to act boldly on it by the press corps itself or by the civilians who are trying to build a more transparent and accountable society?
What about my freedom to protest and assemble, where I need a permit to publicly congregate, so that those in leadership against whom I protest can see me coming from a mile away and lock down my protest before it even gets started? How free are we to grow where we are planted? How free are we to have the forward-thinking, forward-moving country we not only want but need in order to achieve our dreams and realise our ambitions?
The current PLP leadership is inspiration-less. To vote them back into the leadership of this country is to slam all our heads into a concrete wall, in unison, all day long, for evermore.
The current official FNM opposition is weak and tentative. Its leadership consists of a soft centre surrounded by others who may in fact be firmer, but who, for the sake of protocol, will not openly or overtly contest the leadership.
From all my observations, we are going backwards at least five times the pace at which we arrived at this place where we find ourselves today.
So, if I stay in The Bahamas, who will help me save my freedoms and my children’s freedoms in this regressive nation? Who will help to change The Bahamas and set it on a course to true freedoms? Can it be done? Can it be done within?
Do I stay and fight for The Bahamas I want, no matter if it takes a lifetime? Or do I leave, fight from a distance, and have a life ... beyond the limitations of The Bahamas?