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Lessons in living, Bermuda-style

Bermuda house

JoshuaDavisPhotography under a Creative Commons Licence

Departing for Bermuda on a ship. First time to Bermuda, first time on a ship! We are sailing from Boston to Bermuda, for an international family reunion, scattered as we are in different countries and continents.

We’re not great tourists but arriving on an island I was so abysmally ignorant about was fascinating.

Getting off the ship I had a déjà vu feeling. Been there. Seen that. Realization dawned. It was the colonial legacy that made it all so familiar. Parts of Pondicherry looked like this. And Mauritius.
Frightfully expensive, but that didn’t stop the tourists from going out and spending their money. Good for the local economy, I thought. The people here are lovely. Genuinely friendly, polite and welcoming – mostly. Not just putting it on for the rich US tourists.

Me on a cruise ship? Couldn’t believe it. For the most part, I felt like a fish out of water. Then we met Mr Bermuda: Big Ed Christopher, all two metres of him. He is the town crier, complete in 17th or was it 18th-century regalia: hat, gold braids, lace and all. Even without the stage gear, Big Ed cuts a dashing figure. Not a man you’d easily forget.

He fascinates his audience as he takes us on a historical walk, explaining the origins of the settlement and giving us a potted history with all kinds of information. He starts with the first shipwrecked crew who ‘discovered’ the uninhabited island. Then moves on to the slaves, both West Indian, Native American and Irish and Scottish prisoners who were brought in for agriculture. Ed also introduced us to modern-day Bermudian governance and trivia. I had no idea that Bermuda was still a colony of Britain. Or that many locals prefer to leave it that way.

We learn a lot. Many of those lessons would benefit all of us hugely. Bermudians can only own one car per family. So we notice the Chief Justice has arrived on a motorbike because his wife needed the car. There’s no garbage lying around. Almost everything’s clean and well maintained. The seafront area is the tourists’ happy hunting ground, but even the poorer quarters did not have an air of squalour, in spite of being slightly run down. Though we saw quite a few people who looked like perennial drunks, they were not menacing like the drunken men I carefully avoid on Indian streets. ‘They’re on happy juice,’ Ed says. ‘They wouldn’t dream of harming anyone.’

Big EdBangalore and London could learn from Bermuda something that might help keep housing affordable for the local population. Only Bermudians can buy land here. ‘Since the island has such limited space, if rich foreigners came and bought up the best locations, where would our people go?’ asks Ed. I think of Londoners moving out because millionaires have bought up properties as investments. I think of Bangalore’s increasingly unaffordable flats. I see resentful Italians, French and Spanish people who can’t stand huge parts of their country being bought up as second-home destinations by wealthy outsiders. And I wonder how come we didn’t inherit this Bermudian common sense to protect our own folk from the land sharks who invade all our countries?

All the roofs of Bermudian buildings are white. And stepped. Ed explains why. There is no fresh water on the island – so all the rainwater from the roofs is harvested. The white is lime to purify the water. Another thing to learn from Bermuda.

As we watch local kids dancing in the street, I sense a carefree, happy environment. If we spent a week with Ed we’d have enough insights and distilled wisdom to fill a book. We had all of an hour and a half of Ed’s wisdom. So what we didn’t learn would fill several volumes. But what we did learn was fascinating.

We watched local people protesting against a Canadian company trying to build an airport which the company would control and profit from for 30 years. ‘What about us?’ ask Bermudians waving banners. Apparently, they have brought the island to a standstill whenever they felt bad governance or business decisions were being made on their behalf. ‘It’s a small place, a tiny community. Everyone knows what’s going on. So we can control it easily,’ says Ed.

Is that the secret then? Staying small? Being a close community?

Lucky people to not get caught up in the rat race, to live in paradise and feel happy with their lot.

I’m glad I came to Bermuda. Thank you, Ed.

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