When I was knee high I remember going to Father Knight’s shop in Maxwell to buy groceries with my cousins. It was a time when my Grandmother wrote her list with a lead pencil on a brown piece of paper and we carried our groceries in a box. I still have a memory of Father Knight looking down at me from behind the counter and I peering up at him smiling, I could see the top of the bright red scale that rested on the counter. The shop smelled like salt meat, red herring, salt fish, potatoes, cheese and fresh salt breads all rolled up in one.
He knew everyone by name. He talked a lot and asked a million questions. He was the source of information even though he did not get out much because he was literally tied to the shop.
As I grew a little older, we traded in Father Knight’s shop for Hills Supermarket in Oistins. The only thing that I liked going there for was the ice cream. There was no friendly shopkeeper who knew me by name or had a conversation with me that made me smile and gone were the familiar smells of Father Knight’s shop. The supermarket was not personalized and even back then I recognized that it came with a price.
It has taken a lifetime for me to process what happened way back then. It was never progress but we may have thought that it was because everything was now brightly packaged. I did not understand back then that that change symbolized the breaking away from the traditions of our past which we held so dear. The village shop, the prominent fixture in every village, the fabric that held the communities in Barbados together had started its demise. Today we are still reeling from the effect of what happened so long ago, when our black entrepreneurial class was significantly destroyed because Barbadians stopped patronizing them. What makes this situation even worse is that Barbadians no longer own the supermarkets that the village shops were traded in for. Besides its social ramifications, mass retailing with all of its packaging started the garbage problems that we have today.
Mrs. Burrows was the shopkeeper in Cane Vale; she must have been the first person in the village to buy a TV. It was a black and white TV and like bees attracted to honey the children would gather at her window late in the evening and watch whatever was showing on TV. I remember watching Dark Shadows and afterwards feeling scared to go home. However, it was when my uncle bought a TV that I began to notice that my life was changing. Watching TV became my past time, when my home work was finished I was glued to that box. It became an obsession. I wanted to watch all the shows. We no longer had to create our own entertainment, someone else provided it for us. That box that we welcomed with joy really changed us. We enjoyed because it was new and everyone else was doing the same thing, watching TV. It did not build creativity, all we did was sit an absorb like sponges a set of make believe that started to change to our customs, our norms , our values, the way we dressed and behaved. “Dark Shadows” truly brought a dark shadow into my life. We no longer played the childhood games like we did at night. We did not sing folk songs as much. We no longer went for walks when the moon was full and the whole world looked as though it was dressed in silver. I do not think we truly understood what we were doing. The art of good conversation that I heard as I sat and listen too was disappearing from the landscape, all the talk was about what was happening on that foreign TV. That box had begun to transform the simplicity of our lives.
So, we put away our own drums and started to dance to the beat of another drum because we thought it was progress. Progress stopped our children from playing the games I played as a child; from singing our folk songs as they gathered at night; now they have to learn them at school. I wonder how many of them know of the old Bajan proverbs, or hear stories at bedtime that were passed down from one generation to the next.
All is not lost because Lynette Eastmond is working diligently to create a film Industry in Barbados and I am hoping that her efforts will be fruitful to create in Barbados a Barbywood of the Caribbean as we have so many stories that can be put into film before they are lost to living memory.
This brings me to the standpipe, a remnant of a bygone era. I do not recall any standpipes in Cane Vale but there was one in the Crane where we washed the sand off our feet or sometimes rinsed away the salt water from our bodies after bathing in the sea at Foul Bay. Decades ago, the standpipe was a permanent fixture on the Barbadian landscape. Many Barbadians armed with buckets and skillets travelled to this source of running water. They were truly the watering holes. Women gossiped as they washed their clothes, children played and even the occasional fight broke out. The demise of the standpipe came with the advent of running water into Barbadian homes. What then seemed like a privilege then is now a basic necessity for cleanliness a well as good health and sanitation. To me this was the greatest act of progress in modern Barbados, even surpassing Independence. I believe that the demise of the standpipe impacted the congregation of people but they were far more meaningful benefits that were to be obtained from having running water in their homes.
Surely the Government of Barbados has its priorities in the wrong order. It made a choice to spend 63 Million of the tax payer’s money to build a new complex for the Barbados Water Authority and is spending another $300,000 to start off Independence celebrations when it already had information that the burst mains were affecting the water supply. To add insult to injury the Government went ahead to compulsorily acquire land to build a Waste to Energy Plant in the same area to further deplete the water supply of the people in the North. It is an embarrassment that Government values buildings and celebrations more than Barbadians having access to a water supply.
After 50 years of Independence, reverting to the use of portable standpipes rescinds any gains in the past fifty years. It seems that we are right back where we started. How can Government wish to remove the last bastion of colonialism and become a republic when it has sentenced it people to live as they did in the colonial days? I now wonder if we have lost more than we have gained, if we are using the correct measurement of progress. Have we finally lost our minds in pursuit of brand name clothes, constant fetes, carnivals on every bank-holiday, grandeur and legacies; on things that give gratification that last no longer than a snow cone, that we ignore the basic needs of man?