We have endured, over the past seven months, more than we could have ever imagined. The first lockdown was a shock but, for the most part, we accepted it as a necessary and temporary measure. Restrictions of movement, inability to travel, loss of income, long lines and many inconveniences have made life significantly less enjoyable. We have tried to comply with the regulations, even as we argued about their utility and overall impact. What we have been demanding, however, is clarity on the way forward and assurance we are recognized as human beings with a specific set of needs.
We want to be respected. We want to see our money go to good use. We want to be able to take care of ourselves and to see those who cannot do it for themselves be supported by the systems we pay to fill in the gap. We have been disappointed, over and over again. The government and, in particular, the “competent authority” has shown us we matter less than power and money. The economy is, again, being put ahead of our health and wellbeing and tourism, which has long been the only egg in the basket, is the egg on our faces.
As of November 1, The Bahamas was officially open to tourists. The government is trying to restart the industry and, by extension, the economy. It has decided to do away with COVID-19 tests upon arrival. The requirements to enter the country have changed and there are a range of opinions on those changes. The country heard from the Minister of Tourism on Saturday— one day before the official reopening. In that address, D’Aguilar said hotels will be able to apply for exemptions from the regulations put in place. Those of us who were paying attention immediately knew what that meant and how it would go. Curfews, lockdowns and beach closures would not impact tourists, but we would be left to suffer.
There is a serious problem with exempting tourists from the impositions of the emergency order. Tourists are being allowed to enter the country and take full advantage of its resources and amenities while citizens and residents are completely restricted. While we are unable to even fill a prescription on a Saturday afternoon, tourists will be able to frolic on the beach, getting suntans and saltwater healing. They, potentially asymptomatic carriers, will be able to do what we cannot and interact with Bahamian staff who could contract and pass on the virus at a grocery store.
We can still be severely restricted and still be negatively impacted because tourists will be able to interact with each other and people working at hotels, taxi drivers, restaurant servers and salespeople. It does not make sense to keep us locked down on weekends in any case, and it is particularly insulting to maintain weekend lockdowns while welcoming tourists to roam freely.
The beach is important to many Bahamian people. It is a fitness centre, playground, outdoor dining space, isolation tank, physiotherapy centre, mental health break, pitstop in a self-care routine, weekend treat, work of art and a retreat.
It is one of the only things we don’t have to pay to enjoy.
We use it in different ways and with different degrees of frequency, but it is one of few resources we have always thought of as our own.
When the beaches were closed the first time, it was difficult to deal with. For many of us, it was a tremendous loss.
People park by the beach to eat lunch, never getting out of their vehicles, but smelling the salty air and admiring the sparkling blues of the ocean. Many older people get into the water to bring relief to their aching bodies. We are often told to get in the saltwater to heal or relieve this and that. Children are taken to the beach to tire themselves out.
Our relationship with the beach, with the ocean, is important. It is not just frivolous or fun, but key to our survival. Truth be told, many of us are only here because of the beach.
What does it mean when you tell the people of The Bahamas they must stay on their properties all weekend long, but tourists are allowed to enjoy one of the only things we all love, miss and are desperate to enjoy during our limited free time? What does it mean when tourists enjoy our home more than we do? What does it mean when the version of The Bahamas the Ministry of Tourism keeps selling - full of white people having fun and black people serving them - is the one tourists get, no matter where they go?
COVID-19 is not the only risk we are facing, particularly as tourism picks up. We are, every day, shaping and reshaping understandings of being Bahamian, our relationship to this place, and the power and privilege differential between us and tourists. Time and time again, we ask the question: Who is The Bahamas for?
WORKPLACE COMMUNITY CARE
Many people who have remained employed throughout the COVID-19 crisis have learned that working from home is not necessarily easy. It’s not all pyjamas, snacks and going back to bed at lunch time. It requires planning, discipline and boundaries. It is easy to eat junk all day because it is accessible. It is possible to accidentally work more hours, or have to work late because of a late start or too many distractions. There is also the difficulty of balancing work with other responsibilities - like helping children with virtual learning - and whatever else is going on in the house. Employers may also become more demanding and insensitive, assuming employees are more comfortable or less productive while working from home.
The sudden switch to working from home has not made it easy for people to adjust.
Most employers do not have systems in place to facilitate the transition or make it sustainable for the business or the employees. It is important to recognize the effects of working from home and for employers to take responsibility for their employees’ wellbeing. It will, in fact, directly impact output.
Self-care is not enough to get through crisis and constant change.
Community care is required. Community care makes us responsible for each other’s wellbeing. Here are five things employers can do to practice community care in the workplace:
Paid time off. If you don’t already offer paid time off, start now. If you do, remind employees of the option and encourage them to use it as needed.
Mental health benefits. Do you cover any therapy sessions for employees? Figure out how to make this a part of the benefits package. Mental health benefits can also include activities, products and services employees enjoy.
Flexi-time. Working from home is challenging, especially for people responsible for children or elderly people. Work hours may coincide with times that employees have to care for others in the home. Where possible, give employees the option to work different hours. For example, the parent of a six-year-old may prefer to work from 1pm to 9pm so they can assist the child with virtual learning.
Regular check-ins. How often do you check-in with employees? Particularly during difficult periods, it is important to demonstrate care and concern. By having conversations specific to wellbeing, you can learn about the needs and opinions of employees and make adjustments to improve the work environment, relationships, and output.
Provision of equipment. Ensure employees have all of the equipment and supplies they need to work efficiently. Sitting at the kitchen table can only work for so long before it affects the body. Proper workstations, mobile devices, printers, copy paper and phone credit should all be on the list of necessities for those working from home. Do not put the burden on employees to acquire and pay for everything.
Community care is an investment.
It is a practice that we all need to learn and strengthen. Employers often have the perspective that they receive labour in exchange for money and that is the end of it, but employee wellbeing affects labor and that affects output.
Respect and take care of employees, and encourage them to do the same for each other. We need each other’s care, now and always.