March 3, 2014
Grenada is strikingly beautiful country. From the white sand beaches, to the turquoise water and lush mountainous rainforests, it’s an extremely picturesque place to be. Take the physical beautiful, add the tropical climate and an extremely welcoming and friendly people, and it’s easy to understand why this island is such a popular tourist destination. As a visitor with a purpose beyond vacation and relaxation, I look at all of these factors with a critical lens. Experiencing this beauty and seeing the large presence of tourism, I ask: is it possible that the beauty of this island can be blinding? Does the labeling of the country as a tropical paradise mask the underlying social issues and public health challenges faced by the Grenadian people?
I imagine tourists on a cruise who experience the island for a day. They leave their ship and go to the market where they are exposed to a very warm and friendly people and their diverse spices and crafts for sale. They then may go to the beach for a dip in the crystal clear water and some quality time under the sun. These are all understandably enjoyable activities. I myself am constantly thankful that I have been able to experience this short break from the frigid temperatures of Michigan.
But what stories do these tourists bring home? I imagine many tell stories of the beautiful island and the “easy-going” lifestyles, as if this place truly was paradise. They will not tell stories of the high rates of unemployment, the growing concern of adolescent alcohol consumption, or the issues concerning domestic violence. In this way, the tourists are contributing to a very limited dialogue on the Caribbean experience. Life on the island for the Grenadian people is not a vacation.
As outsiders from a country with considerably more global influence, what can we contribute? I think that it is important we expand our notion and understanding of the Caribbean. We must not let the physical beauty inhibit us from learning about the culture and society. We must not value places such as Grenada solely for their beautiful vacations settings. If we take the time to learn about the people, the cultures, the histories, the foreign influence, and the current challenges faced by the populations, I believe our experience will be much richer. It is only by such processes that a deeper mutual understanding can be reached so that the Caribbean is viewed more than a beautiful place to vacation.