Barbados - a funeral in SVG, and a family in Bridgetown!

People are certainly much nicer than most people expect. I wonder why people expect that other people wouldn't be nice?


St. Vincent & the Grenadines (SVG)

If you recall BT from last weeks blog then you might also recall that he is quite the peoples man. I was lucky to make his acquaintance and one of my last experiences on Saint Vincent was when BT invited me to a funeral. I asked BT if a funeral in his culture was a happy occasion? BT replied to me in his deep voice: "yes! Happy!...but also sad..."


BT Marksman, Director General of SVG Red Cross

He picked me up in his personal car and drove us about 30 minutes away from Kingstown. We moved slowly through the masses of people standing on the street in a small village and BT said "hello my brother" around 10 times to various people with a big smile. Then he parked near the church and he introduced me to another 15 people. After this we moved towards the church which was a simple wooded building. The building was full and all the windows were open which enabled others to stand outside and follow the ceremony from there. Others would stand in the back of the church and all the way outside through the doors. There were more than 100 people present. BT simply pushed through the masses until we were inside the church and then someone got up so that we could sit down. Naturally I did not feel too comfortable with taking someone else's seat but I was there as a guest and followed BT's lead.


Funeral procession

The priest was not running the ceremony as far as I could determine. Family and friends would take turn to go up behind the "alter" and say a few words or sing a song. It was very emotional and very warm and humid inside the church. But the emotions ranged from happiness to sorrow. There were many people chatting and making noise while the speakers had their moment. Some of the speakers had the strength to carry their own voice while others would break down midway. I saw a woman who desperately tried to sing out a song she had chosen for the occasion but her voice was flooded with tears and she had to give in... This had me looking at her while she rested her upper body against the "alter" and cried. The guitarist standing to the left inside the church continued playing the melody but the voice was gone. Suddenly another woman stood up and walked up towards the "alter" with strong determined steps. She put her arm around the crying woman and grabbed the microphone with her other hand. Then she continued the song with a powerful voice until the crying woman again had the courage to continue her song. Beautiful!

Once friends and family had finished, the priest took over. He started preaching in a quiet voice but after a few minutes it turned into a dramatic performance with large arm gestures and a raised voice. A truly theatrical performance which was as entertaining as it was powerful.


Funeral procession

Once the priest had finished his performance we all walked outside and followed the casket which had been placed in a hearse. In one large procession we now followed the hearse walking and dancing to the happy tunes of various calypso performances carried out by the musicians that walked with us. The mood had changed. We were now walking under the open sky and many were smiling, clapping and dancing. Some were clearly in sorrow and took no part in the dancing but for the majority it had turned into a celebration of a life that had come to an end. We probably walked for about 30 minutes until we reached the graveyard. The music continued as well as the celebration. There was payed no particular respect in regards to not stepping on the other graves. The entirety of the graveyard was now a dance floor as the casket was laid into the ground and covered with dirt. The calypso tunes continued and continued. A rainbow formed in the sky as the sun was setting in the opposite direction. Finally family and friends walked towards the freshly laid pile of dirt and decorated it with flowers and candles. 


Calypso at the graveyard. Spot the rainbow.

As it got dark we walked away. We enjoyed a few beers and some food at the family residence and then drove back to Kingstown. My mind was full of the idea of celebrating the dead instead of mourning them...


The formerly Norwegian ship: Admiral Bay 2

The next day at 07:00am I was ready at the port. The "Admiral Bay 2" had not arrived yet so I leaned my back against a wall and had a few bananas. Once the ship arrived I embarked and learned that this was a former Norwegian passenger ship which now served a different purpose. Where the cars and trucks used to parked was now packed tightly with what I would describe as crated bananas - but what really were plantains. I'm still not done learning the difference? And I often wonder if we strictly import bananas to Denmark or if I have been eating plantains throughout my childhood?


Bananas in front of plantain 

The captain took my passport as per standard procedures and I went into the lounge area which probably used to contain families and travelers alike who would play cards, read newspapers and eat at the many tables. Now most of the sailors had conquered a lounge sofa to sleep on. I had taken a motion sickness pill and felt tired so I fell asleep. Then I woke up around midday and went back to sleep. Then I woke up around 4pm while we were at sea. Then I fell asleep. Then I woke up around 10pm and had another pill. And went back to sleep. This continued until we reached Bridgetown.

Barbados is a single island about 100 miles east of Saint Vincent. Therefore it does not lie within the neat string of other Caribbean islands. It is also the only one of the Caribbean islands which is completely surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. This is because the Caribbean ocean ends somewhere between St. Vincent & the Grenadines and Barbados. For the same reason it poses the greatest logistical challenge in the Caribbean for me. It's harder to get to Barbados and it's harder to get away. But it really wasn't too hard due too the fine work carried out by the Red Cross in both countries. They did not have any obligation to help me. But both Red Cross societies have taken some ownership over Once Upon a Saga. Also I'm a firm believer in the high level of hospitality you find in the Caribbean. Help is right around the corner.


Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados - a country of 285,000 people

Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados, is different from Georgetown. In Georgetown everyone knew everything and in Bridgetown everyone kind of knows everything...or not really. But I thought it would be similar due to the approximate same size of the islands. Immigration let me into the country but I later learned that this was mainly because of a full days work carried out by Barbados Red Cross the day before I arrived. The probability of not being granted access was high according to some people although I am not required to have a visa. My ego, of course, tells me that I would find a way. But I can't deny the possibility that there is truth to the statement that I would have been turned back onboard the ship. No matter what I owe the Barbados Red Cross a lot of thanks.

Once within the country I walked towards Bridgetown and asked 2 police officers for directions to the Red Cross. One of them knew where it was and gave me very specific directions. 20 minutes later I was standing in front of the Salvation Army? I asked someone else for directions and met a lovely lady who was on her way to work which happened to be nearby. So I followed her for another 20-30 minutes though Bridgetown until we stood in front of a closed fire department. She had actually been kind enough to walk past her workplace in order to get me there. But it was still wrong so I told her that I would work it out on my own. I sat down for a while at a place with wifi and soon thereafter I had located a bus station and got on a 20 minute bus ride to the other side of town. There I met Peterson, Steven and Mark at the Red Cross - who were laughing. They knew I would get lost.


The always smiling Peterson at his desk

The Red Cross is currently getting ready for the Independence Day parade which is to take place on December 1st. So I was invited to walk down to the port where I had just come from. Practice for the parade takes place in the port area. I was game so we started walking the 1 hour it would take us to get there. On our way Peterson introduced me to a man who was standing on his porch. I shook his hand and then Peterson told me that this is Rihanna's father. I thought Peterson was joking but the man acknowledged it as Peterson asked if Rihanna was still there. The man replied that she left last Sunday (which was just 2 days earlier). Imagine that! I came that close to meeting Rihanna which I admit I never thought about before. But now I keep thinking that she must be a very interesting person to come from such a relaxed and laid back society - and to rise into such international fame as an internationally known singer.


Handcrafted mahogany flying fish 

Later on our walk I was introduced to Medford Craft World, which is a workshop that handcrafts artwork of mahogany. One of their signature items is a flying fish and I was presented with one of them as a gift to me. Barbados is famous for it's flying fish. I have seen one while moving between countries here in the Carib. It's quite a wonder to see them come out of the water and glide though the air for surreal long distances. They used to be plentiful around Barbados but they have not shown up this year for some reason. 

After we left the mahogany workshop I learned that you must obtain governmental approval before you can cut down a tree in Barbados. Trees are a valued commodity and the ecosystem is so far reportedly in good shape. It reminded me of Libya in North Africa. I used to work there and while so I was under the impression that you would spend time in prison if you cut down a tree. The reason in Libya was the fear of the Sahara desert taking over the last 10% of the country. It's a similar fear for Barbados.

image image

Barbados vs. Greenland - same same but different?

Finally we reached the port. The military, the Police and other officials were present along with the Red Cross. Everything needs to be perfect for Monday when the parade will be filmed on international TV. And by my iPhone too :) I have been invited to participate in this formal event as ambassador. I am after all traveling as goodwill ambassador for the Danish Red Cross :)


Steven on the left and Mark on the right. Holding the Red Cross banner for the parade

That night we had a home cooked dinner at Stevens place. His mom cooked for us and I was treated as one of the boys. Then Peterson, Steven, Mark and I headed back to the Red Cross where we put up beds and went to sleep.


My beautiful girlfriend and I on Danish morning TV. Media has been picking up lately!!

The next day the Red Cross had a press conference for me in the morning and I spent the afternoon hanging out with Peterson, Steven and Mark: "The boys". I have been asked to reply to a great many written interviews lately so the rest of the day went with that. I also discovered an article about Once Upon a Saga in Indonesia and one in China. Much has happened lately. And we ended up having dinner cooked by Stevens mother again. It already feels like I've been here for months. I'm simply accepted as one of the boys and that is a spectacular way to discover Barbados I think. I haven't seen the tourist spots and I haven't been to the beautiful beaches. But I've been inside homes, spoken to locals, had home cooked meals and walked the streets of the capital. And the way that people around me have made me feel welcome is almost magical.


Im sticking to European beer. These islands have no clue. But they do know a thing or two about rum!!

Hospitality is to make someone feel at home - when you wish they were! That's something I once heard. Now, I certainly hope that no one here hopes that I was at home but I can definitely say that the culture I have seen thus far has been extraordinary hospitable. 

Who knows what the coming days will offer? Tomorrow, Friday, I have been invited to visit a school for a "show and tell" about the project. The weekend is booked up with tourist stuff. Monday is set aside for the parade and hopefully I will be on a boat Tuesday. At the moment it looks like that boat would take me back to SVG. But that would at least get me back within the string of islands. This is a great adventure!


Sunset at the docs.

Best regards
Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - enjoying the rain and the sun and the life ;)

Once Upon a Saga
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