Buddy Up in the Bahamas: A Cultural Tour
If the only Bahamian you ever met is one who served you drinks, dinner, or tried to hustle you for a t-shirt or trinket on Bay Street in Nassau, then your perception of this tropical island chain will be decidedly one-dimensional. Certainly, the beaches will still be pretty and the waters suitably blue-green. But the culture of those folks who have lived here for the last several centuriesthe people who know these islands the bestwill be missing.
For folks who are quite content with an Accidental Tourist style of travel, a casual brush with a bartender or maid or cab driver is enough. But for those eager to better understand the culture of the destination they visit, there is a yearning for a more authentic connection with locals. Some extroverted visitors are simply better than others at making new friends; but for the average folks, there is another solution:
"People to People" is a program created by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism intended to give visitors, in their words, "a genuine and informal view of Bahamian hospitality and culture as you might see it when visiting a friend."
The program relies on Bahamian volunteersmany of them professionalswho agree to spend time with visitors in the spirit of international goodwill. You register for the free program by contacting coordinators at least three weeks prior to your visit, and giving them a bit of information about yourself, including age, personal hobbies, occupation, and special areas of interest in the Bahamas. The coordinators then match up locals to fit those profiles.
For instance, during a recent visit to Cat Island, I met Sylvia Larramore-Crawford, a writer from Nassau who greatly appreciated Cat's own cultural nuances. We drove around and met her neighbors, had lunch and dinner at her house, and later, visited a local club where Sylvia knew everyone, musicians and customers alike. We were even invited to church with Sylvia on Sunday (unfortunately, we had to leave before then).
Most People to People volunteers are in Nassau and Freeport, because those islands are simply more heavily populated and have far more tourists than the Out Islands. But there are also volunteers to greet you on Eleuthera, Exuma, Abaco, Bimini, San Salvador, and Cat. One of the major organized events of People to People is a monthly Tea Party at Government House on Nassau, hosted by the wife of the Governor-General of the Bahamas. It is held on the last Friday of each month, between January and April and open to 200 guests.
To participate in Nassau, call the People to People coordinator at the Ministry of Tourism (phone 242-326-5371; 242-328-7810; 242-326-9772). On Grand Bahama Island, call 242-352-8044. Many hotels also have concierges or social directors who can put you in contact with the program if you alert them in advance.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication