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Other side of Independence

Independence means different things to different people and some people will do just about anything they have to liberate themselves.

This is the final story in this year’s Ah Come From Independence series, so there is no better way to end it than at the place where it all begun 46 years ago.

On November 30 in 1966, thousands of Barbadians gathered at the Garrison Savannah with the rain pouring to witness the Union Jack being lowered for the final time and to celebrate the raising the Barbados flag. It was a historic occasion that will forever be remembered. Now fast forward to 2012 – and tomorrow morning the country will once again celebrate the momentous occasion with the annual Independence Day parade.

Last night I visited the historic Garrison area to compare the area today to how it would have been on that fateful night. I arrived via the Hastings, Christ Church end opposite the police station, and there were tents set up on the racing track already and a lone CBC vehicle was parked. I could tell that it had rained recently, sometime within the hour, but it was not too heavy because the road was slightly slippery and there was a pungent odour emanating from the trees covering it.

Outside was cool, not too cold, still a bit overcast and the quiet felt therapeutic.

I drove slowly, enjoying the splendour that is the Garrison historic area. A taxi driver behind me, seemingly in hurry, spotted his bright lights on me; apparently eager to overtake, so I let him, as I continued to appreciate the architecture of the buildings like the Barbados Museum and Historical Society and the headquarters of the Caribbean Examination Council.

I would have liked to stay longer just admiring the area but it was now 12:26 a.m. and I was growing weary, so I decided to head to my destination – Bush Hill.

We know what will occur at the Garrison on Independence Day but do we really know what occurs there nightly. My aim was to find out. Turning left onto Bush Hill, there was a line of traffic, only one half of the road was passable due to repairs to the Barbados Turf Club and also because a passenger in one of the cars was busy talking to a woman under a tree who, I assumed, was “working”.

A few metres down I saw “another lady of the night”. Her high brown skin complexion made her visible. She was wearing an extremely short, tight white pants and a pink vest. As I disembarked my vehicle heading in her direction she began to turn her back to me and my eyes quickly caotured her callipygous figure.

I was somewhat fascinated and wanted to know about her and to asked her to tell me about herself, but she declined.

“You would have to check them girls down there but them gine tell you the same thing. Them gine tell you them ain’t got the time, them looking for money but you can check them though.†Still check the girls down there and see what them tell you, don’t be afraid to ask,” she instructed.

She explained that her night was busy and I was preventing her from earning money, and since that was not my goal I continued on.

Further down the hill a navel ring shimmering in the darkness on a semi-nude body alerted me to another figure. However, she too was not interested in speaking with me.

“I can’t talk now, I looking for money,” was all she said.

It seemed like I had bottled dew for nothing and I would not get my story.

But then I told myself, ‘The strong black woman is not dead and I will get that story!’ – so I approached another woman.

She was leaning against a wall wearing a tiny black laced lingerie, apparently not bothered by the slight chill that even I in my thick wool jacket felt.

She told me her name was Plum and she has been working in Bush Hill for a month.

Plum told me she understood the meaning of Independence and respected it, but one of the main concerns for “working women” like herself was that Barbadians did not understand its true meaning.

She explained that independence for her was doing what she had to, to make a better life for herself and her four-year-old son.

“It ain’t that we choose to do this, we ain’t wake up one day and say ‘I just feel like being wutless, let me come out here and sleep with everyman and let he pay me’. No, it is the responsibilities.

“The majority of women out here got children… We are trying to make ourselves independent from the situation we are in.

“You hear a lot of young people talking ’bout ‘I ain’t got no bills, I ain’t got nothing to worry ’bout!’. That is because it is just them one but when you have another individual to be responsible for, especially a young child, he can’t worry about nothing so I got to worry about it.

“I have responsibilities and I can’t forget them; I don’t want to be a statistic. [Am] I suppose to stop without here just because somebody discriminating against it? Then when I go home; I homeless, my rent ain’t paid or my son ain’t fed and he die from starvation. Sometimes you got to bear the pain and do what you have to do at the end of the day.

“A lot of them don’t know nothing about all of us and we ain’t different from them. A lot of people do pass up here and laugh. I never had the experience, but I hear stories about people egging girls and all kinds of foolishness.

“Some of them, especially the females, is the same people that when hard times hit where them would end up? Out here! And them want to come out here and disrespect it, I don’t go pon nobody else job and disrespect them so I believe I should be given the same respect here,” she said.

As she spoke cars repeatedly passed, slowing down each time, and she gave each here usual, “psst, psst”, but there were no takers.

The 22-year-old was very assertive and told me that becoming a prostitute was not one of her life goals. Her dream was to become a singer/song writer. After leaving secondary school with six CXC passed, she said, she attended the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic. She reported she had been employed for a time, then laid off. She said too she had sent out hundreds of applications, done follow-ups even “humbugging” places, but without luck.

“I respect Independence because I am a person and I glad to be free and mek my own decisions but otherwise than that†it is just history; something to look back on and tell your children so them would know the knowledge, but it really won’t make a big impact on me like it would mek on somebody else who was enslaved.

“I just see it as a day to be grateful…†I see it as a day to be happy that I don’t have nobody slapping me in back with a whip or having me when them want to. This is just for a time, I want to get my foot off the ground. I can’t left out my responsibilities, I have a son – I am a single mother,” she said.

I left begging her to have a safe and wonderful night. Finally heading home I stopped in the section of the Garrison opposite the Main Guard reflecting on what I had just learnt and saw. After this there was no way that I would ever be judgemental again about what an individual believes they have to do to empower themselves.

Looking beyond everything in sight the only question I could ask myself was: “What is my mirror image?”.†

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