Barbados vs. San Fran. Which is “Third-World”??

Barbados vs. San Fran. Which is “Third-World”??

When I walk through St Lawrence Gap where I live, I often pass by an elderly man who’s blind or nearly so shuffling along. He has his hand out and politely asks passersby for money. (On one occasion I gave him some change and he threw it aside, saying he preferred bills. Um, okay then …) He’s a beggar; I don’t know whether he’s homeless. I mention him to help make my point below.

Along Carlisle Bay, my favorite beach walk on the island, I see a small grouping of handmade shanties hugging the wall near the Bridgetown end of the beach. A few people live there. I’ve never seen them begging.

I haven’t encountered any other homeless people in Barbados.

So I was surprised when yesterday I overheard a tourist in a restaurant refer to Barbados as a third-world country.

I swiveled my head toward this person and thought huh??? If the definition of a third-world country is not having a Neiman Marcus then – yep – our paradise island is guilty as charged.

A third world country is a developing nation unable to offer a minimum standard of health, education, employment and resources. A vast number of their citizens are living in the streets in third-world countries.

Barbadians are among the longest-lived on earth. Our literacy rate is 97%, one of the highest in the world. We have a large and healthy middle class. Our citizens don’t always live high but neither do they live in the streets.

A scene you won't find in Barbados. This is a typical sight, however, in the posh and sophisticted San Francisco. (Think this sign is clever? You see the same wording on cardboard signs all over the city.)

A scene you won't find in Barbados. This is a typical sight, however, in the posh and sophisticated San Francisco. (Think this sign, "Family kidnapped by Ninjas" is clever? You see the same wording on cardboard signs all over the city.)

Unlike San Francisco, where I lived nearly 15 years. I spent some time in San Francisco this month; I’d forgotten how widespread homelessness is there.  I didn’t walk two blocks without encountering a person with a beat-up cardboard sign and cup for donations, a person in rags pushing a grocery cart of belongings, or someone sleeping or passed out on a pile of dirty blankets.

Homelessness in San Francisco has become a subculture.  It’s even an industry, with its own newspaper, political agenda, and organizational structure.

It has even become a business opportunity. In a Starbucks in the Nob Hill area I ordered a cup of tea and fruit salad. I sipped the tea and decided I didn’t want the fruit after all. When I left the Starbucks, I handed the untouched fruit and spoon to a homeless man with a cardboard sign slouched against a mail box. He said thanks and I walked on by.

An hour or so later I happened back at the same corner where I gave the man the fruit. Another man with a crumpled cardboard sign walked up the street and said to the recipient of my fruit, “Hey, man, how’s business?”

How’s business????

Oh, brother.  No, you won’t find that here in Barbados.

Neither the homelessness nor the cynicism.

6 Responses to “Barbados vs. San Fran. Which is “Third-World”??”

  1. stephen says:

    I like the way you say ‘our’ literacy rate, ‘our’ citizens. You’re Bajan already!

  2. Greg says:

    What struck me in San Francisco this year was the new aggressiveness of the so-called homeless. Many came straight at us, almost demanding money. One woman, when ignored, yelled out sarcastically “thank you for caring about the homeless”. Give me a break.

  3. Stephen, you’re right!! Thanks for noticing! 🙂 xx

  4. jdid says:

    interesting points. i’ve noticed a spread of the beggars even into the suburbs here in Toronto recently and it really is a business

  5. Jessica Gittens says:

    Hello Jane. I would personally like to thank you for writing about Barbados. There are a lot of people who are very ignorant to how life is on our island and they need to be let in on a little secret of us… We care about our people!! Anyone who can write something like this about Barbados is Bajan in my eyes! So thank you again and keep enlightening people!

  6. Thank you, Jessica. I feel more at home here in Barbados than I’ve felt anywhere. This is an amazing place and I’m very grateful to get to be here. xxJane

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