My wife and I were fortunate enough to go on holiday this year to a beautiful island in the Caribbean. Palm Island, a stone’s throw, well 10-minute boat ride (I’m not prone to exaggeration you understand) from Union Island, and some 45 minutes by plane to Barbados is a unique paradise described as the Maldives in the Caribbean.
The circumstances of the people that work on Palm Island (and history) are perhaps not too dissimilar to those that work in Cape Verde, a subject of a previous blog. Wages are poor, the staff are not exactly affluent, and work is hard to come by. Many have gravitated to Palm Island from nearby islands to find work and have subsequently stayed on Union Island, commuting every day after a long shift. Others stay on Palm Island in staff accommodation, returning home to their families every few months in St. Vincent and elsewhere. Whilst guests enjoy luxurious accommodation, great food and plentiful drinks, the workers receiving low wages, relying on a percentage of the service charge and tips, do not even have the luxury of a constant water supply on Union Island. Palm Island has its own water processing plant, Union Island does not. Hence the gardener telling me he had to pay $250 dollars to have water delivered to his home; £100 for the water and $150 for the delivery. The dry season is hard going and financially precarious.
The Island shut down during Covid and many of the workers returned home with no wages for the duration. Poverty is not an alien concept to them. Their lives and that of the visitors couldn’t be further apart and yet are intertwined by capitalism in the form of tourism. They need the tourists to sustain the jobs, the more tourists, the more in service charges and tips. Of course, the owners of the island want more tourists because it brings in more revenue. A moral dilemma for some perhaps, well for me anyway. I won’t be pretentious and state that I go to the island to support the local economy, vis-a-vie the poor people, I go there for a really good holiday. But here is the crux of the matter, and hence the title, I try my utmost to treat the staff with respect. I recognise that they are paid to serve me and other guests, and they do a brilliant job, but they are not my servants or slaves (the historical significance should be obvious). And yet I have witnessed people demanding drinks without a please or thank you, “give me a vodka”, “she wants a rum and coke”. I have seen people coming off yachts with day passes for the island, they came, they saw, they made a complete mess and they left…. You can clear up our mess! Glasses left all over the beach, beach towels left wherever, they last used them. “What did your last servant die of”, I ask, as they slope off into the rum filled sunset? “It certainly wasn’t old age” I shout after them. But it just seems lost on them.
I ask myself would they have treated me like that had I been the one behind the bar? I think not, perhaps the lighter colour of my skin may have persuaded them that I am worthy of some courtesy. But then who knows, it seems that some people that have money have a certain arrogance and disregard for anyone else.
Not all of the customers were like that, most were polite and some very friendly with the staff. But we shouldn’t forget the power dynamics, and above all else the privilege that some of us enjoy. Above all else it is a useful reminder that when people are there to serve, they are not your servant nor your slave and they and the job they do deserves respect.
This is a great article highlighting the importance of showing respect and kindness to workers in the hospitality industry, even when on vacation. It is important to recognize the privileges of being a tourist and to treat workers with the respect they deserve.
Civic Edge Lifestyle
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