I spent my formative years in rural St Joseph in the small community tenantry of Parris Hill and it has been the most important and influential years of my life, mostly for shaping my character, my core values and principles. With the limited resources of my grandparents, ingenuity, imaginative ability and enterprise were the standards I quickly acquired on a daily basis, when facing unbelievable and difficult challenges, before the amenities of street lights and in-door plumbing.
My parents, like many Barbadians between 1955 and 1966, recruited to fill the labor shortages in transportation, healthcare and the postal service; migrated to the UK. During this period, migration to the UK was easy since many Barbadians were overseas British citizens, and as a result more than 27,000 Bajans left the country, which they hope was for a better life and prosperity. Some succeeded, but others struggle with racial discrimination and the unyielding British weather.
In the early 60s, sugar cane production was still the main source of income of the Barbados economy and the sugar cane industry dominated every facet of life in this tiny agricultural village of less than 250 people. Andrews Factory and Plantation, located just on the main road from entering Parris Hill, was instrumental in the island’s booming sugar trade, and the mainstay of subsistence to the many tenants for their livelihood. The back-breaking agricultural work of reaping ‘cutting’ canes during the Crop Season and the out of season work of clearing weeds, preparing the fields for other crops of yams, potatoes, peas and other ground provisions, is the most extensive labor any human being can endure. During the Crop Season, the sun beats down like a fireball and the cane cutters drenched in sweat, broad brim hats, long sleeves shirts to shield from the blades of the cane stalk, undershirts and boots increase the exorbitant temperatures in the cane field to over a 100 degrees. It is not easy for the women, either, who are similarly dressed, but are able to take breaks until it is time to load the trailers.
The break for the men is usually when lunch time arrived. My job is to deliver my grandfather’s food before noon. St Anne’s Primary Principal and teachers has allowed me and my other friends who have parents or relatives in the agricultural sector to leave class around 11:00am and pick up the food for delivery, that means coordinating which cane field he is working that day, or if that field is harvest, somehow a message with directions to the new field is convey, through word of mouth. Being late reaching my grandfather for lunch, is absolutely unforgivable, a punishment is mete out. I remember one day, I fell off the bike and lost most of the food.
Like most Andrew Plantation tenants, my grandfather had the ownership of a temporary right to hold land and a house ‘spot’, of which the rent deducted from his weekly wages. The land he held, he cultivated sugar cane and share the profits with the Plantation. As a precocious nine-year old, I had the responsible of calculating the tonnage (the weight of cane) at the rate set by the Plantation to decide what money he would receive to buy new clothes or give me some pocket-money or school fees.
To supplement our family income, pigs were to sell for emergency cash, or share with the neighbors, chickens for eggs and rabbits for Sunday dinner. My uncle, the tailor, also ran a convenience shop that I managed at the ripe old age of ten after he migrated to the UK. I ordered supplies when the salesman showed up weekly, I keep track of all customer credit and was generally a whiz with numbers.
I returned to Parris Hill this summer, the house where I once lived is gone, replaced by a mini park. I could not bear to take a picture. Andrews Factory, formerly a source of employment to Parris Hill and the surrounding villages; the place where I spend long nights listening to the hum of the turbines and clouds of warm hissing steam emanating from the pipes, is now being dismantled for a sugar diversity production. Parris Hill is no longer the lively place of fun and excitement, but the murals are becoming a tourist stop on the way to Bathsheba. Parris Hill is now without water for four days a time, I rather go without electricity.