Friday, November 18, 2011

Caribbean Context - What is it?

Talking about the differences between the US and the rest of the world got me to thinking about own little neck of the woods. The Caribbean.

What exactly is the Caribbean?

If you're not from the Caribbean, I'm sure you have a relatively defined answer. One that probably involves lots of islands and sparkling blue sea and maybe a coconut tree or two. But for Caribbean people the answer is a lot more complicated than that.

Islands in the Caribbean
Not all of the Caribbean is islands, and not all of it is in the Caribbean Sea. (Yay for misnomers!) For example, the Caribbean coasts of Colombia and Venezuela consider themselves a part of the Caribbean. And Barbados, my island, is not actually in the Caribbean Sea. The island chain seperates the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. That island way out to the right (east) that looks like it's too cool for school? That would be Barbados, entirely surrounded Atlantic Ocean. Of course this gives us the random distinction of being the first "major" port after you sail west from Africa. Doesn't matter now, but it mattered a heck of a lot in slave days.

The most interesting has got to be Guyana, which is neither an island or in the Caribbean Sea. I think it only identifies with us because it's the only English-speaking country in South America. That brings us to another important factor...

There really aren't words to describe how language seperates the Caribbean. The only other place where so many "major world laguages" are spoken by different countries is Europe, and while Europe may have it's seperatist moments, they are nothing compared to the Caribbean. They are islands which flat out DISAPPEAR from maps. San Andres is a Colombian island southeast of Jamaica. It doesn't exist on this map. I'll give Jack his jacket and admit that San Andres is only 26 km square, but St Barts is only 21 km sq and is pictured. (Caveat: St. Barts is also not an English speaking island, but Dutch. I'm guessing it's pictured because it's actually in the chain.)

Additionally, it's a pain in the butt to get to islands which speak a different language. Barbados is a hub. I can fly direct to any of the English-speaking islands, but heaven forbid I want to get to get to Martinique- it's a puddle-jumping nightmare. Let's not even get started on those Colombian islands. Barbados - Venezuela/Miami - Bogota - San Andres/Providencia/Santa Cantalina. Even if we knew they existed, there's no way in hell we were going.

This language barrier apparently also works in reverse. When I was in Colombia, I always had to show people where Barbados was on a map. Then they'd be shocked and exclaim, "It's so close!" Seems Colombian maps don't picture some of the islands either.

Mother country
This also ties in with language. If a person in mainland France says they're going ot the Caribbean, they mean Martinique, Guadeloupe, or Saint Martin. If a Dutch person says it, they mean Sint Maarten, Saba, St Barts, St Eustacius, or the ABC islands.


Caricom stands for "CARibbean COMmunity". It started back in 1973,  which wasn't that long after the founding nations gained independence. It (along with CSME- Caribbean Single Market and Economy) work mostly like the European Union. The major theory behind it, is that we are itty-bitty teeny-weeny yellow polkadot islands, and we're not going to get very far on our own. I don't know how sucessful we are at acheiving the goals of Caricom. There is a lot of time spent grumbling over who's in charge and which territory is getting the short end of the stick.Anyhow...

Most of the time when I say Caribbean, I mean the member states of Caricom.

Antigua and Barbuda
Bahamas [Sometimes not. Bahamas acts more American than Caribbean most days.]
Belize [Sometimes not. Being in Central America, there isn't that much actual interaction with Belizeans.]
Montseratt [Sometimes not. Still a British colony]
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Trinidad and Tobago

Apart from Caricom, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Martinique,  and Sint Maarten/Saint Martin are often included when I talk about the Caribbean.

And now a random video from "TODAY" where they visit Barbados. He only makes one mistake (the bit about carnival - Crop Over IS our carnival). The hotel he's at is the highest-end hotel you can stay at. As in Tiger Woods got married there - trust me you can not afford it. (If you can, feel free to donate to a starving writer - me!) But the hospitality is lengendary everywhere.