We went having done very little research, and with little idea of what the country was like. Until I stepped off the plane, I didn't even know what the dominant language was. Once we were inside the airport, however, it was obvious that it was English. Not just because all the signs and advertising were available in English -- but because they weren't posted in any other language.
The island we visited, Nassau, is the most heavily populated of the many islands that make up the Bahamas. It felt, in many ways, like being in any heavily-touristed area in the US. There were lots of tourists -- tourists do not outnumber the locals on any given weekend, but it rather looked as though they did. And casinos and attractions and shops and restaurants and beaches catering to tourists.
But the most interesting part of the trip was talking to the cabdrivers. We'd discussed, after getting off the plane, whether it'd be better to rent a car or to take taxis. One airport worker recommended a rental, but we decided to use taxis anyway. As it turned out, this was the best decision of the trip, and not only because we didn't know, until we were on the road, that people drive on the left in the Bahamas.
It was one of the cabbies who told us about the wall.
His name was Quentin, and he grew up in a small house right next to it. He was born in 1974, one year after the Bahamas gained independence.
Until this trip, I hadn't known that the Bahamas were still an English colony until 1973. England still has a couple of tiny colonies, here and there.
The push for independence in the Bahamas came, according to Quentin, as a result of segregation. On Nassau, there was a wall that divided the island into two parts. On one side, all the white people lived. On the other, all the blacks. There were a few controlled openings between the two sides, and if you were black, you could not enter the white side without documentation proving you were a domestic servant or had a similar reason to enter.
The wall is still there, a plain, ugly and worn thing of concrete, topped with barbed wire in places. There are many openings in it now, and no restriction on movement through it. But it's still standing; unlike Berlin's wall, the people did not rubble it when the reason for it ended.
The difference between the buildings on both sides of the wall is still evident; the house Quentin grew up in is not as pretty or large as the houses on the other side of the wall.
He said, "A lot of people didn't think we could make it, a black country going it alone. But we did."
That hadn't occured to me until that moment. I'd noticed that the locals were overwhelmingly black. All the people we came in contact with who were clearly locals -- the dealers, bellhops, cab drivers, shop keepers, policeman, parade participants, etc. -- were black. We saw one white man who was watering a lawn; he's the only white person we saw who didn't look like a tourist.
But it hadn't seemed strange to me -- it hadn't seemed peculiar at all -- that this free and pleasant country, which I could easily have mistaken for the US or Canada -- was predominantly black. It hadn't occured to me that, just thirty years ago, many people would have thought it impossible that a nation of black people could be successful.
Later, Quentin said, "I don't understand people who long for the 'good ol' days'. I wouldn't want to live back then for anything."
Yeah. Me neither.
This is progress.