Updated: Apr 9, 2019
Written by @niel.fernando
If you’re from The Bahamas, you’re already desensitized to tourists' reactions to the almost holographic beauty of these sunny isles. Most times you just smile awkwardly until time unfreezes for them. Sometimes, you just say ‘thank you’ because, honestly, waking up in one of the most beautiful places in the world is a blessing unparalleled. However, even beauty has its price. If you google ‘most expensive places to live’, The Bahamas usually lands somewhere between 3 and 5 on any given list. Additionally, minimum wage in The Bahamas continues to be insufficient to combat the aforementioned and the acquisition of land or affordable housing can seem like more of an impossibility than a necessity, for most.
Living in The Bahamas is beautiful but at times, difficult. For Millennials, this paradox is especially jarring.
Traveling the world physically or via social media opens one up to new perspectives and ideologies. It leads one to question convention and poke at change. It leaves one hungry and wanting more. It dares you to dream. Life, here, brings you the good with the bad, all at once. An ambush; trial by fire and judgement with applause. It’s like always being on vacation, except you have no money for shiny souvenirs.
It’s like spending your days in a living Instagram post, with sun on your face and wind at your back. Only, equal likes doesn’t exactly mean equal pay. It’s finding love in the summer sun, but being careful to ignite it only under both fall of dark and guise of friendship; knowing paradise is no place for rainbows. It’s existing in an iridescent hologram, that always glitches at your favorite part. Its silver slits and pink partitions pixelating, glitter falling as and to dust, revealing a reality that is equal parts drab and discouraging: sun-bleached dreams hung from transparent hopes and affixed to the backs of doors that degrees may no longer open; their hinges smoothly sealed shut with privilege, opportunity wafting up from the floorboards. It’s chipped China, burnt champagne; an orgasm interrupted at the pinnacle of pleasure. Being a Millennial in The Bahamas in 2019 is more of an exercise in personal survival and fortitude, than a testament to national maturity and progression. It's simultaneously a badge of honor and a scarlet letter; inviting society to hold you to a higher, albeit unattainable, standard that infinitely highlights you as ‘other’. It’s voting ‘yes’ but being told ‘no’, all the same. Although it may sound like a joke, being both Millennial and Bahamian, matched against so many other socioeconomic factors, makes surviving here, akin to a tropical, breathtaking, Instagramable installment of The Hunger Games.
As defined by the American Psychological Association, a Millennial is any individual born between the years 1981-1996. The United States Chamber of Commerce uses the birth year range of 1981-1999 to define the same group. By loose definition, Millennials are individuals who were born in the 1980s and 1990s, aka the undisputed coolest generation of kids EVER! Everything, was made for us: the toys, the movies, the fashion, the technology and the mother of all inventions, the internet. Millennials are literally the Powerpuff Girls. In hopes of creating the perfect generation, the creator (Professor Utonium), combined radicalism, minimalism and technology, oh, and that Chemical X? Definitely the internet.
Now, before I get into the Bahamian Millennial experience, remember sis, this is a blog post. This is an opinion piece unless otherwise outlined. My opinion is mine and is based upon a litany of things like my experiences and formal education. Be critical but kind. This is a conversation; an emotional, intellectual exchange between girlfriends. A queer safe space and a prayer room. Think about this blog post and the accompanying vlog with the knowledge that they are meant to highlight experiences that Bahamian Millennials have, which make being young feel like a cross to bear most days. Also, just because you may have survived worse than someone else, doesn’t negate their hurt; doesn’t help them to heal. That being said, congrats on surviving your own trauma, now, allow others to do the same. Help or get the hell outta the way!
I mentioned before that The Bahamas usually lands somewhere between 3 and 5 on any given list of countries with the highest costs of living. Most regard living in The Bahamas as just as expensive as living in New York City but with the caveat of rent being more “affordable" here. That last part, while comparatively true, begs the very serious question: FOR FUCKING WHO?? Sure, $2500 a month for rent is understandable, maybe even expected, for the average New Yorker; it's probably an actual steal (if the place is nice). However, for a country whose minimum wage only recently surpassed $4 per hour in some sectors, $2500 per month for rent is lavish and outlandish by any stretch of the imagination. As a college graduate with a plethora of technical and creative skills, as well as competencies in English, French and 9th grade Spanish, I struggle to explain what life here is actually like.
Despite boasting a résumé chronicling job experiences totaling almost a decade and outlining stints in business, science, education and even childcare, I am unfulfilled.
I never imagined that I would be 27, still in Nassau and unable to afford to move out because I am grossly underpaid at a job that I do not particularly like. One that won’t afford me weekends off or at the very least, pay me for the degree I worked so hard to earn. I am not special in this regard. My story mirrors that of numerous Bahamian Millennials throughout the archipelago, many, for sure, not as fortunate as I.
In The Bahamas, the sting of this sharp reality reverberates across business sectors and transcends race (for the most part, anyway). In many fields of employment and across areas of expertise ranging from public service to Tourism and Hospitality, Millennials are not only underpaid, but under-respected and overly exploited. I know, you’re thinking, job dissatisfaction isn’t unique to Millennials. While that is true, Forbes magazine reports that no other group in history has been as highly educated yet underpaid as Millennials have been and continue to be. Added to The Bahamas’ previously-mentioned reputation as being a global bronze-medalist destroyer of bank accounts, job dissatisfaction becomes the perfect illustration of the term “adding insult to injury”. As we are all made constantly aware of through the news and social media and from the mouths of every person over 40 on the planet, Millennials get a bad rap. We’re called entitled, lazy, superficial and downright self-indulgent. It seems that young people are traditionally looked down upon by older generations of Bahamians, especially in the workplace. This means serving under managers and CEOs who don’t understand Excel or struggle to understand the long term benefits of going paperless. It also means watching ineffective management systems prevail while greater technology and simpler solutions exist. In a February 2019 Forbes.com article, entitled, 5 Traits For Success That We Can Learn From Millennials, Forbes describes Millennials as:
Risk Takers (who are)
Open to learning (and are)
In search of more than a pay cheque (while)
Embracing and Practicing Transparency
The above list, while seemingly simple, is a testament to the Millennial Minimalistic approach to success in the workplace. Although the editors at Forbes make a compelling argument,
the Bahamian Millennial workplace reality is far more glum. Millennials here are hardly respected in the workplace and are often seen as overzealous, “only” book smart with no real experience, opinionated and flashy by our older contemporaries. Millennials in The Bahamas are more often than not, expected to “sit small til ya name call” and are expected to work harder instead of smarter just because that’s been the way things have traditionally been done.
Never mind that many statutes that form what little crumbling social and professional environments we do have, are long outdated. For heaven’s sake, government offices in The Bahamas, in 2019 are still cramming super important, handwritten documents into filing cabinet with no digital backups! Whew Chile, the anxiety! Call me crazy, but isn’t getting an education, or at least employing an educated team, supposed to make things run more efficiently? Why should we be forced to toil needlessly just to ‘earn stripes’ and the wavering, fragile approval of a generation slowly being buried by the sands of time? I’ll tell you why, because seniority is power, patriarchy is a thing and girl, the struggle is REAL! Truthfully, it can feel like the only foreseeable use that older generations of Bahamians see for Millennials in the workplace is to serve as forced ambassadors to technology. While it is true that good things indeed come to those who wait, there does come a time when older generations should make room for newer generations of thinkers, innovators, dreamers and leaders. There should be offers of mentorship before illness, retirement or sudden death forces a new supreme to rise. However, by large, The Bahamas, it seems, just isn’t there yet in many aspects.
If job dissatisfaction is the ‘insult’ to cost of living’s ‘injury’, then low salaries are definitely the fatal blow to the Millennial machine. Yeah yeah yeah, everyone thinks they should be making more money. However, recession after recession, not to mention shoddy politics and downright neglect of some government sectors have left Bahamian Millennials at a huge disadvantage, most notably, a lack of financial compensation for services rendered. Simply put, we are not being paid what we are worth. Far too often Millennials are not compensated for their tertiary education degrees here in The Bahamas. In August of 2015, the government of The Bahamas increased the minimum wage of private sector employees from $7,800 yearly ($150 weekly) to $11,500 yearly ($210 weekly), making their salaries equivalent to public sector employees of the same pay grade according to a February 2015 article published in The Tribune Newspaper. Yes, you read that correctly. Before August of 2015, private sector minimum wage was set at a meager $4 per hour for full-time work. This was the working Millennial reality at a time when America had a black president, Countries spoke both openly and optimistically about expeditions to Mars, and things like cloning and Artificial Intelligence were no longer postulations of science fiction movies. I know, this is expected to be the turning point of my argument: the part of this blog where I was supposed to quote figures from pharmacy and restaurant receipts and argue that minimum wage is so low that we cannot afford to get healthy or even get sick. But I won’t. We all know it isn’t enough. In fact, it's never been enough and the lawmakers and politicians have always been aware of this saddening fact. According to the aforementioned Tribune newspaper article from 2015, National Congress of Trade Unions Bahamas President, John Pinder called for the government to raise the minimum wage of The Bahamas to $350 a week, so that people would be able to “live above the poverty line and keep a meal on the table”, adding that “it should be between $300 and $350 because people can’t really survive on less than that”. Today, four years later, and with VAT at a hefty 12%, surviving on a minimum wage of $210 weekly is more of an impossibility than ever before. What more do I need to add to that? Exactly. Nothing.
So what’s it like being young, black, educated, ambitious, grossly underpaid and fabulously different in the 3rd most expensive place on the planet? If this were RuPaul’s Drag Race, Ru’s damning monologue would go something like this: America, in the maxi-challenge, you took those bitches to war, Henny. But on the runway, your harsh foreign policies left the judges feeling… alienated. Bahamas, in the maxi-challenge your beaches were mostly pristine but your social policies were just plain mean, girl. And on the runway, your minimum wage left the judges feeling… low. *dramatic pause* Bahamas, I’m sorry my dear but you are up for elimination. Jamaica, Bahamas, two Caribbean countries stand before me. This is your last chance to impress me and save yourself from dollar devaluation! The time has come for you to LEGISLATE FOR YOUR LIFE!! *thunder booms*. Very that.
Believe me when I tell you, it’s hard! For Bahamian Millennials, facing job dissatisfaction and barely-there salaries, notable sacrifices must be made in order to live within some minuscule degree of comfort. As is the case with most things in life, when analyzing the greater picture in hope of cutting costs, Millennials must typically start at the very top, axing the biggest expenses first. More often than not, this process of debt elimination results in Bahamian Millennials postponing leaving the family home and possibly even sacrificing dreams of home ownership entirely.
When desperately seeking to cut expenses and save money, the prospect of staying at home just a little bit longer seems like a God sent. However, fashioning yourself into an adult within your parents’ home comes with its own set of hurdles to jump and bullets to dodge including a breakdown of communication, false perceptions of adulthood and ageism, just to name a few.
At almost 30 years old, I am still living at my childhood address. I am not a homeowner and I can confidently assure you that none of my friends of similar age and circumstance, are homeowners. Most live at home with their parents, others pay rent for a variety of reasons, but none are homeowners. Admittedly, the practice of leaving the nest later in life, if at all, seems to be more of a cultural phenomenon expressed throughout the Caribbean diaspora than a hardship ascribed to Millennials exclusively. Throughout history, it has been commonplace across the Caribbean diaspora for families to bloom within families under the same roof; sharing generational land and pooling resources. This seems to be especially true for families in countries with roots previously planted in the Transatlantic African Slave Trade. Perhaps this propensity to stick together was birthed from centuries of forced communal living on slave plantations. Maybe the racist rhetoric, colorist comments and prejudicial practices of the Colonial era groomed communities to grow closer, learning to lean on each other and to be our brother’s keeper. Whatever its origins, the sentiment of communal living has for better or worse, endured throughout the Caribbean Diaspora, particularly The Bahamas. For Bahamian Millennials, living at home is typically the best chance we have at saving what little we can, from the little we earn. However, there is a major trade-off; one that didn’t seem all that bad when staring the mammoth expenses of adulthood smack in the face. The odds stacked against us, many Millennials reluctantly choose caution over comfort, sacrificing space for security and often-time trading true independence for tiresome arguments about outgrown curfews, modern comforts misappropriated as luxuries and the ever-present awkwardness of having bloomed into a sexual being while still planted in a bedroom that once housed a child. By electing to remain at home, no matter the reason, it seems that one relinquishes a significant amount of respect from older generations. That is, assuming such a thing were afforded to young people in the first place.
Like I said earlier, it has become tradition for young people to be looked down upon by older generations of Bahamians. Come on, I’m sure every young person reading this has a story about some random adult in a gas station, public office, restaurant, on a bus or especially a manager at work, ridiculing you for no other obvious reason besides being young and figuring yourself out. In a slightly heated exchange, a friend of mine was told that this generation is too dumb and dishonest after informing the manager at a gas station that her gas hadn’t come through. My grandmother still scowls at my sister in shorts and me in skinny jeans, not to mention the endless lecture we get about body piercings and ‘acceptable’ ways to wear our black hair.
Like I said, we’re just figuring ourselves out. Which is a notoriously difficult thing to do in spaces shared with older generations of Bahamians.
I recall a friend’s older church lady mom calling me a “pretty little girl” when I pierced my ears. I wanted to tell her she was ignorant and that gender and its norms are social constructs subject to change based on geographical location, cultural expression and time itself. However, out of respect and gratitude for having been called ‘pretty’ moments earlier, I simply smiled and said thanks. “So you agree; you think you’re really pretty?” Regina George retorted. Lol, sorry, I cannot resist a good Mean Girls reference. Like my friend’s church lady mom, Pastors nationwide bark the word Millennials at sermons, vilifying an entire group of newly-minted adults for everything from crime to the collapse of the family structure and even a devaluation of the sanctity of marriage. All issues that predate even the mouths that fire them like poison darts. Every generation has its share of notorious murderers, infamous celebrities and elusive drug lords. And to be honest, there probably aren’t very many millennial drug lords around here. I’m talking Pablo Escobar-esque, not your boy cousin uncle. Yet, many older people act as though cocaine and marijuana just hit the streets at the dawn of the millennial uprising. The gag being that many of them, our parents included, would have experimented with sex, drugs and alcohol long before you could document your own drunken stupor via smartphones.
Twice a Child
For Bahamian Millennials, living at home is all of the above with the added disadvantage of being both familiar and subordinate by way of relation and circumstance. Rule number one is commonly delivered “yous a man or woman when ya turn yuh own key!”. The previous statement making it clear that it’s your parents’ way or the highway. Despite your newfound pseudo-adulthood, you are and will forever remain a child in their eyes. Make no mistake, being unable to afford a home of your own isn’t an indication of immaturity but a demonstration of the need for national reform to make land more affordable and accessible to the general populous. Nonetheless, rule number one is the closer for any argument, no matter how valid, no matter if you’re right or wrong, and it is swift and sharp reprimand against any concerns regarding household governance. Worst of all, is being at an age where half of the population is younger than you and sees you as a trailblazer, while the other half is older than you and sees you by large, as incapable; your successes immaterial.
For Bahamian Millennials, the forced state of pseudo-adulthood in which one exists with all of the legal and social responsibilities of adulthood, but enjoy few of its liberties, is even more exaggerated by variables like The Bahamas’ status as one of the most expensive country to live in worldwide, widespread job dissatisfaction and insubstantial salaries. Now, let me make this clear: If you’re living under your parents’ roof, please, for God’s sake, JUST PAY THE PHONE/CABLE BILL, WASH THE DISHES AND SHUT UP! The liberties of adulthood that I’m referring to are things like having your voice heard within the home, not from the vantage point of an impulsive child but instead, a rational adult. I’m talking about enjoying household amenities freely without confrontation, or being able to respectfully have friends visit without being reminded of your permanent guest status. Not to mention having your personal space and romantic privacy respected. By all means, sis, we’re willing to pay our dues. We’ll handle our bills and pull our own weight in both the home and the workplace but, by damn, please remember that we too, are adults. This is the final stage for all of us and although it may often feel like it, older generations, in truth, are no adult-ier than us.
Contrary to popular misconception, Millennials don’t want a consolation prize or participation ribbon, we just want a fair chance at competing in the race ourselves. Who knows, given the time, necessary resources and proper guidance, maybe… we might win.
Written by @niel.fernando Follow him on instagram!
and watch the vlog that sparked it all!