A few years ago, at the height of the pandemic, a friend asked if I wanted to join him in the Bahamas. He had booked a solo vacation in a beachside resort in the middle of hurricane season and suddenly realized it might be nice to have someone join him. His hotel would provide an extra bed, he promised. All I had to do was buy a plane ticket and show up.
It was a tempting offer. The flights to the Bahamas from the nearest airport, just 20 minutes from my house, cost under $150 round trip. A long weekend in the sun, swimming in clear waters would have been good for my mental health.
But when I began researching the Bahamas, I became skeptical of the plan. The area where we would have stayed was dotted with pretty colonial-era buildings. But tourists are primarily relegated to beaches and slick hotels, while the surrounding neighborhoods, especially an area known as "Over the Hill," is said to be plagued by gang violence and high homicide rates.
"Violent crime, such as burglaries, armed robberies, and sexual assaults, occur in both tourist and non-tourist areas," reads the State Department's travel advisory, which is, as a rule, far more alarmist than it needs to be (honestly, if you listened to the State Department's travel warnings, you would never leave your home.)
Still, I thought, if I want to be surrounded by rampant inequality and see the privileged go about their lives while ignoring the problems of others, I might as well remain in Baltimore.
Friends also warned me against going on the trip. The islands had recently been decimated by Hurricane Dorian, which caused billions of dollars in damages, and it wasn't clear how they would handle that year's hurricane season. "Why do you think the tickets are so inexpensive?" warned another, wiser friend who lived in Florida and knows more about storms. "You don't want to get stuck there in the middle of a hurricane."
In the end, the coronavirus pandemic got so bad the local government announced a curfew. Confronted with the prospect of being locked up after dark, my friend canceled his trip. I had already decided that spending 4 days cloistered in a nice hotel, unable to meet or mingle with locals due to coronavirus restrictions, was not my thing.
All of this is to say that I have never been to the Bahamas. But I am curious about the place. The chain of islands is a former British colony under 1,500 miles from the U.S. But many people don't know much about it besides its tourist industry.
In this powerful essay entitled Alien Nation, Growing up in a tourism economy made me feel like a person from nowhere, Jordan Darville describes having a conversation with a Canadian colleague who very frankly says that no one cares about the Bahamas.
"If someone had told me years ago that the land I inhabited was more than just a place for carving into resorts, I might still be living there," Jordan writes.
I hope someone like Jordan can take me on a tour of the Bahamas one day.
Welcome to the 195 series, where I take you on a mini-tour of every country (and maybe some places that want to be countries). Each week I'll feature a new location. Some you may have heard of, while others may be new to you. The point is to learn and nurture our curiosity about the wider world. Maybe you'll find a new artist or musician you like, too.
Here's the link to copy and paste in your browser if you're interested in supporting this project: https://lazo-letters.ghost.io/#/portal/signup. You can sign up for $2 a month or $22 a year.
Population: Roughly 402,000.
Current government: The Bahamas is known officially as the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. It's been part of the British commonwealth since its independence from Great Britain in 1973.
The Bahamas has a bicameral parliament comprised of the Senate and the House of Assembly. The latter has more power.
The British monarch is the country's head of state, but they are represented by a governor-general.
The British monarch, now King Charles III, appoints the governor-general, who appoints the Prime Minister. The governor-general wields executive authority but takes advice from the elected Prime Minister.
The current Prime Minister is Philip Davis, a member of the Progressive Liberal Party. His party won a landslide victory last year after the previous government was accused of mishandling the Covid-19 pandemic.
Freedom House writes that the "Bahamas is a stable democracy where political rights and civil liberties are generally respected. However, the islands have a relatively high homicide rate. Harsh immigration policies, which mainly affect Haitian-Bahamians and Haitian migrants, are often executed in the absence of due process."
Languages spoken: Most people speak British English, the country's official language. But Bahamian English has also developed into a distinct dialect, and some people speak Haitian Creole.
Culture Trip has a piece on common phrases you might hear in the Bahamas.
Religion: Since England colonized the Bahamas in 1718, most Bahamians belong to some Protestant denomination. Adventists, Baptists, Evangelicals, Methodists, and Pentecostalists are the most common on the island.
Standout artist: Damaso Gray, from the island of Little Exuma.
Standout film: A 2009 film by Bahamian director Kareem Mortimer, which tells the love story of two young men and portrays the struggle with homophobia and sexism in the Bahamas.
A surprising thing: The Bahamas is made up of over 700 islands. 700!! But only 30 are inhabited by humans.
Story of the week: The Bahamas belongs to an organization called CARICOM, which promotes economic cooperation between countries like the Bahamas, Jamaica, Barbados, and Belize, among others. This week, the government of the Bahamas signaled that they would send troops or police to Haiti as part of a peacekeeping force if asked to do so by the United Nations or the Caribbean Community (more on Haiti in the 'What I'm Reading' section below).
What I'm writing:
• The first story in our series, “The Ukrainian exodus,” which explores how refugees are settling into Poland over half a year after Russia’s brutal invasion of their country, is now out and free to read. I get into the details of the European Union's never-before-invoked Temporary Protection Directive for Ukrainians and how it works.
• In the second story in our series, Ukrainian refugees waiting out the war in Poland have to make snap decisions about where to send their kids to school. Should they send their kids to a Ukrainian or a Polish school? And how do you make that choice when you can only plan your life one month at a time? This article is also unlocked and free to read.
What I'm reading:
• The Russian region of Belgorod experienced more than a dozen explosions last Sunday. Ukrainian officials did not comment, in keeping with an official policy of near-total silence about explosions inside Russia’s internationally recognized border, the New York Times reports.
• Russian troops and military planes started arriving in Belarus in preparation for forming a new joint Russia-Belarus force, the New York Times reports.
• At least seven Russian citizens were detained in Norway in recent weeks for flying drones and taking pictures near sensitive areas, the Washington Post reports. One of those arrested was Russian-British dual national Andrey Yakunin, son of Vladimir Yakunin, a former president of Russian Railways and a confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
• Russian authorities told Ukrainian technicians working at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant that they must choose sides in the struggle to control the reactor complex. Senior officials from Russia’s atomic-energy company Rosatom said Ukrainian staff who sign up as employees would keep their jobs and could be offered Russian passports, the Wall Street Journal reports. Joining Rosatom could make the technicians subject to arrest as collaborators. But Ukrainian officials said there might be concessions for workers who sign the Russian contracts because they are needed to prevent an accident at the plant.
• Ukrainian officials expressed “shock” over Republican suggestions that future assistance for Kyiv could be limited if the party wins the House of Representatives in November’s U.S. midterm elections, the Financial Times reports.
• Iran sent military personnel to Crimea to train the Russian military on how to use Iranian-built drones, CNN reports.
• Israel has repeated its long-standing refusal to sell air defense weapons to Ukraine despite a fresh appeal from Kyiv after this week's Iranian-built kamikaze drone strikes, the BBC reports.
• Tatiana Țîbuleac is one of the most read and beloved Romanian language authors. Apofenie Magazine sat down with the author to discuss generational change, Soviet-era Russification, the war in Ukraine, and the ensuing refugee crisis.
• The favorite to become Italy’s new leader, Giorgia Meloni, has delivered a strong rebuke to her right-wing coalition ally, Silvio Berlusconi, after he made private comments justifying Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, Politico Europe reports. “Italy, with its head high, is part of Europe and the Atlantic alliance,” Meloni said in a statement. “Whoever doesn’t agree with this cornerstone cannot be part of the government, at the cost of not having a government.”
• British Prime Minister Liz Truss resigned after only 45 days in office. What else is there to say? The Tory Party still won't call a general election, so we'll have to wait and see who the next British Prime Minister is and how long they last.
• The UN's refugee agency said it is “deeply distressed” by reports of nearly 100 naked migrants at the border between Greece and Turkey. “We condemn such cruel and degrading treatment and call for a full investigation into this incident,” the agency said. CNN has the report.
• Top EU diplomat Josep Borrell angered a lot of academics last week by making a speech for the opening of a diplomatic academy at the College of Europe in which he called Europe a “garden” and the rest of the world a "jungle."
• The United Arab Emirates also summonsed the EU’s mission head, asking for an explanation of the allegedly racist comments, Reuters reports.
• In a blog post entitled On Metaphors and Geopolitics, Borrell said his use of the term “jungle” was in reference to the rule of law and dictators in Russia and beyond, not to indigenous people in the rainforest.
• The United States drafted a UN Security Council resolution encouraging “the immediate deployment of a multinational rapid action force” to Haiti, the Washington Post reports.
• In an interview with the Intercept, U.S. President Joe Biden's former envoy to Haiti, who resigned last fall, said the proposed rapid action force would be a disaster. "In Haiti, each time the international community has intervened without Haitian and popular support, the situation is stabilized temporarily, and then it becomes much worse over time," he said.
• Dissent Magazine has an excellent article in one of its recent editions examining the populism of Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, also known as AMLO.
• The Australian government reversed a decision by its predecessor to recognize West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, CNN reports.
• Kurdish-Iranian women are escaping state violence in Iran to take up arms in Iraq, CNN reports.
• Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida ordered an inquiry into the Unification Church, a religious group that has come under the spotlight after the assassination of former leader Shinzo Abe, the Wall Street Journal reports.
• In his opening speech at the Chinese Communist Party congress, Chinese leader Xi Jinping called on the party’s 97 million members to prepare themselves for a “critical time” in the country’s history. The two-hour speech outlined goals ranging from an “all-out people’s war” against Covid-19 to the unification of China and Taiwan, the Financial Times reports.
• Government soldiers seized control of the key city of Shire in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray after days of airstrikes, the Washington Post reports.
• The U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider whether American Samoans have full U.S. citizenship at birth, NBC News reports. The challenge was brought by three American Samoans living in Utah who argued that the current law, under which people from the group of islands in the Pacific Ocean are considered U.S. “nationals” at birth but not citizens, is a relic of racist policies towards territories.
What the State Department says:
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