By Genevieve Leck, MD, MA, Mother of Alexander '15, Thomas '18, Matthew '23, and Annalise '25
I am sharing my experience of growing up in the Bahamas in hopes that you will learn some interesting Bahamian heritage. I moved from French Canada to Grand Bahamas Island in the Bahamas when I was 6 years old. This is where I first learned to speak English, the main language spoken in the islands. The English spoken there is very different from the English we speak in North Carolina and has a specific accent and slang unique to it. For instance, “We done reach,” is a common expression for we have arrived, or “My nerves are on me,” means you feel nervous.
My childhood was very different from the more typical childhood you might see with a child going to Cannon School now. My school had no cafeteria. A lunch truck would sometimes come and sell conch fritters or Jamaican spicy meat patties, but you had to bring a lunch if your family could afford to provide one. We had no PE and no sports of any kind at school except for one day of the year when we would have sports day. We had no after school activities of any kind, very rarely any music, no science lab, and no history from any part of the world except our own country. We rarely had homework. We had no buses, and almost everyone I knew walked to school. So school was really simplified, and there was no required activity whatsoever after school. There was no college or university on our island, and most of my friends did not go. If you wanted to go to college, you needed to go to another island called New Providence (where our capital is) or go outside the country.
My favorite part of school was when we had art and made Junkanoo masks and costumes. Junkanoo is a street parade filled with dancing and music that takes place on December 26 and New Year’s Day. Costumes are made with bright feathers, beads, and glitter, and I made my masks with leaves, beans, beads, and shells collected throughout the year. We also would take brightly colored tissue paper, cut it into tiny strips, and glue it to our clothes in rows all the way along them to make costumes. We would get long, dried bean-like shakers from the trees, which we would shake, and whistles, which we would blow while dancing the night away. Everyone that is able to move dances at Junkanoo—it is so much fun!
Music is very important in the Bahamian culture, whether it is at church, at work, or at home. My parents had a small fabric business downtown, and music was on anytime the store was open. It was just normal to sing and dance along for anyone in there, and most Bahamians in my opinion are fantastic dancers. Church was an important part of the lives of most people I knew there, and their Sunday mornings were spent at church. Most people sewed their own clothes since there were no department stores to buy clothes at. My mom made most of my clothes until I moved to the United States. I remember thinking it was very odd that tourists would wear clothes with labels on the outside rather than on the inside (like the first time I saw a pair of designer jeans with a label on the pockets, or even more surprising, right on the front of a shirt)!
On our island, there was no toy store, no malls, and no department stores. Our movie theatre had one screen, and our bowling alley had two lanes total. Our TV had only two channels, so we almost never turned it on. After school and on weekends, I was lucky enough to be near the beach, and I spent all my free time there. Our beaches are absolutely beautiful, with soft white sand, beautiful reefs, and warm crystal clear water. I would snorkel, look for shells, build elaborate sand castles, climb trees, chase crabs and lizards, watch for dolphins and sting rays, and swim for hours every day. Very few people used actual fishing rods, so when I went fishing, I had some fishing line wrapped around a stick, and I carried a little pail with an extra hook, sinker, and some hot dog for bait. There were so many fish, it was really easy to catch a few in just a short period of time. My friends and I would get coconuts from the trees and smash them open to drink coconut milk or eat the coconut inside. We also ate coco plums and sea grapes which grew on the trees and bushes at the beach, so no need to go home for a snack. I did not own a watch, and I never ever felt stressed! Life was so simple. I had very few toys or clothes, and that was fine because you didn’t really need much. We had no play dates—we entertained ourselves daydreaming, playing outside, or inventing games. We had free time all weekend and every day after school if we were lucky enough not to have to work.
Sometimes as a child when I was talking with tourists, I wished I could live where they did and enjoy all the things they would tell me about—mostly malls, skating rinks, and toy stores. But now whenever I think of my childhood, I give thanks for the amazing relaxed time I had in the beautiful Bahamas.