• Liz Lopez - Mother, wife, writer, traveler

Culture Shock in Barbados

Here are the biggest differences between home and here, or the things that stick out the most.


COVID

In Barbados, they respect the pandemic and they take precautions against it. They don’t cry about masks, they just wear them all the time and that’s that. There is a guard posted at every entrance that sprays you with sanitizer and many places require a temp check for entrance. I’d say 75% of the restaurants we’ve been to require your name, address and phone number for contact tracing in case of outbreak. People don’t complain about it, they just do it to ensure safety for themselves and others.


Everyday Animals

Instead of squirrels, Barbados has chickens. And roosters. I have a Mother of Chickens shirt (thanks Kerry!) and I don’t think I’m ok wearing it here. It’d be like advertising that I love undomesticated street animals that have no real purpose here. It did cross my mind that I could eat chicken real cheap if I decided to go old school, but I wouldn’t actually be able to go through with that.. I don't think. Every time we see chicks, Penny insists I take multiple pictures because they’re so adorable. The roosters don’t just cock a doodle do in the morning here either. It’s all day long, and I barely hear it anymore.

Another thing I barely hear is the frogs. I messaged Cyrus during quarantine and asked what on earth made the consistent chirping (or maybe more like a whistle?) sounds and he sent me a picture of the teeny little frogs that orchestrate, without fail, the outdoor sound of Bajan life. He assured me I wouldn’t even notice them soon and he was right. Two people I was on the phone with, sitting in the backyard, asked what the heck that sound in the background was and I'd forgotten they were there.

Last, there are snails and lizards everywhere. Penny has caught several of each, Bow has tried to catch lizards, and tonight Faith and I stepped on and killed four snails on the way to and from the store. It reminded me of stepping on those awesome crunchy leaves at home on crisp fall days in Wisconsin except that I was killing animals.


Catcalling

Yes, there is catcalling here. Faith and I have both experienced it and no it wasn’t traumatic. Uncomfortable the first few times maybe (for Faith, I’ve been to Italy, ruler of all catcalling) but nothing requiring a visit to the shrink and all seems harmless. Most of the guys stopped after they saw me day in, day out, and they’re friendly and say hi to my kids every day, and Lopez knows most of them by first name, all part of his purposeful transition to Bajan American. Faith has already predicted all of his stories will begin ‘as a Bajan American..’ this time, next year. Bahahaha.


Garbage

There is a lot of garbage here. I haven’t been to the city, or maybe just the less popular parts of Milwaukee in a while, so maybe it builds up there too, but it piles up a lot here. There’s a group on Facebook that works to clean the country up, and I signed up to volunteer. I also want to bring a garbage bag and gloves to the beach to pick up all the garbage along the way, but I can’t decide if that’s tacky. Mother Nature doesn’t think so, but I must live here for nine months and the route to the beach takes me past the same locals, every day and I see no need to be a tacky American.


Within walking distance / The Gap

We hadn’t planned to rent a car while here, thus a large part of our decision to select the home that we did. We were misinformed on a few things, although I don’t even remember from where the misinformation came (the realtor? Online reviews?). We CANNOT walk to Oistins Fish Fry, nor can we walk to and from the supermarket. We CAN make it one way, in 28 minutes; I’m totally cool with that, but with all the grocery bags and anything refrigerated melting in 14 seconds, we need to cab it back. If we even make it during the day, Massy’s does have a shuttle that will take us home, but we’re working during the day and the shuttle doesn’t run on the weekends. It’s maybe a ten minute cab ride home so not a huge deal, but definitely not AS walkable as we thought.

Also, we COULD walk to the Fish Fry, but with the babies, it would be tough. They were troopers last weekend when we left for Worthing Beach, past the Gap, on Sunday morning, fully expecting to find a taxi en route. Sunday means most everything shuts down, so we walked the whole way; with Penny and Cal it took about 40 minutes and they were sweaty rock stars the whole time. (We walked the whole way home too, but we stopped at Sharkey’s, the only place open on Sunday in the Gap, for ice cream for them, so all was well in their world).

Walking to the Gap is very easy for us. It’s maybe 20 minutes to the heart of the Gap, a nice walk, and Faith and I have done it together and felt completely safe. The first night we went out here, I asked Lopez to walk a bit and see if could find the Gap; twenty minutes later, we were about to leave the restaurant without him and our server was like seriously you’re leaving without your husband?! So he walked us down to the main area and assured us it was totally safe and ever since then, we concur. There is one section, before the Gap technically starts, (really Dover), which is eerily dark without any street lights, but still it felt completely safe.

I felt like I really packed some nicer clothes than I’m used to (think jeans and t-shirt), and I still feel underdressed when I’m at the Gap. I’ll be buying a few nicer ‘going out’ dresses just so I feel like I fit in a bit more. If I can’t dress up on date night in Barbados, when can I?

Weather

Last, but not least, the weather is a shock. I knew it was high humidity coming in, but you don't know what that feels like until you sit in it for days on end. My poor Penny Sunshine sits and drips sweat, and she's only five!

Admittedly, it's gotten better since our arrival. Winter months start in December, thus the jump in prices then, because the island becomes lovely as opposed to oppressive. Some locals implied that the humidity just 'wasn't that bad' and that it 'might get better, might not', but then I talked to other locals, mostly women, who said the weather at the end of October was miserable, even for those accustomed to the high humidity.

We arrived during the rainy season, but we had read that for the most part, rainy season was a few hours a day and then sunshine after that, similar to what Lopez and Faith experienced while in Guatemala last January. However, this year was different, of course. When I studied in Salzburg, we had record snowfall, amounts not seen for decades; the same goes for the rain, in Barbados, of course. We were effectively unable to leave our house for several days. The rain fell with a fury and our street flooded. Cars couldn't drive through it and we had two choices if we wanted to leave: to either walk through garbage water, (literally, all our garbage and our neighbor's fell into the water), or climb our fence, hoping not impale our bodies on the journey to the neighbor's fence where the street was higher and not chin-deep with water.

This lasted for days. The backyard was flooded as well, and the dog couldn't go to the bathroom without getting her feet and legs soaked. We also couldn't take her for walks as that would have meant submerging her in garbage water. It was a rough few days and we're very glad to have that 'system' behind us. (System being weather pattern that brought all the rain, which was also the predecessor to the killer humidity before).

FYI, it's still hot, but that nighttime breeze is glorious and worth all the daytime sweat.