When you think of the Bahamas I bet you think of palm trees and beaches, a tropical paradise, but that’s not exactly the case. In January of 2009 my family and I boarded The Disney Wondercruise ship expecting nothing but pure entertainment from what promised to be an exciting vacation. The cruise itself was amazing, after all it was Disney, but when we made port in Nassau, New Providence things started to change.
I first started noticing how different life was in Nassau when our tour guide, Carmichael, explained that the main source of income for Bahamian families was tourism. That didn’t sit well with me; these people were relying on strangers to feed their families. Women stand on almost every street corner offering to braid a “pretty lady’s” hair. Hand-woven purses and fans are among the most commonly sold souvenirs, and it was not uncommon to see a man (and possibly his family) selling conch shells and starfish that had washed ashore. Of course Carmichael made light of things, asking the “rich Americans” if they felt like buying an island during their stay.
Carmichael took us to forts, a Junkanoo exhibit, and Queen Anne’s Staircase all of which are very important to the history of Nassau, but he also drove us through a typical, slightly crowded, neighborhood.
I was horrified. All of the bright colors of the main streets seemed washed away as I looked at this neighborhood. Instead of the bright orange and purple shops I had seen leaving the boat I was confronted by houses with chipped, pale, yellow and white paint. Few, if any, of these houses had air conditioning, so most of the owners were outside trying to cool down using the ocean breeze.
The part that really got to me though was the fact that all of these houses lacked a common necessity that we Americans all take for granted. No one had indoor plumbing. Carmichael drove us right by the small gray building that served as a community bathroom. Outside of the bathroom was a small tap sticking out of the ground; he explained that this was where the neighborhood got their drinking and cooking water.
It was like a smack in the face. I had no idea there were rural areas of the world that still lacked running water, and I never would have found out if I hadn’t gone on this trip. Hearing Carmichael explain that was an eye opener, and from there my eyes could only get wider as I listened with astonishment about how the Bahamas have only two hospitals.
New Providence is lucky; they have one of the hospitals on their island. However if you are injured on an island that doesn’t have a hospital you have to wait on a helicopter to find you and bring you to safety.
Imagine only two hospitals open and operating after a category five hurricane hits fifteen of the most populated islands. According to Carmichael only about fifteen-percent of the population would survive, and we’re assuming that neither hospital is damaged by the rampaging storm.
This trip really put things in perspective for me. It is another thing entirely to be standing in the middle of poverty instead of simply watching it on television
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