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I witnessed a disturbing sight in nightclub Aura in the Atlantis in the Bahamas: a newly-rich young guy climbed up on the dancer’s podium, while his guy-friends were cheering from their VIP table, and started throwing dollar bills in the air over the dance floor. The guys had several thick wads of money and threw at least 400 on above the dancing people. It seemed like this wasn’t such an unusual practice in this club because the dancer simply squatted and started picking the dollars and stuffing them in her high boots. The whole club was excited to get their hands on some cash, but no one seemed to be as shocked as I was.
Actually I should be used to seeing this. I have often seen people throw napkins in pop-folk/chalga clubs in Sofia before. One can buy these packs of napkins from the club and throw them in the air while dancing. The presumption is that one is filthy rich and carelessly throws money around. I’ve always found the gesture a stupid pose, but in fact, it is much worse than that.
Why is wasting money such a source of arrogant pride and sick delight for a certain class of people all over the world? Why do we engage in such a pompous and egotistical gesture? What does is look like in the eyes of the observers and how does it “enrich” the ones doing it?
We saw a carnival in the Bahamas! The Marina Village in the luxurious resort Atlantis on Paradise Island organizes a mini-carnival on weekend nights (or maybe every night, I don’t know) for the entertainment of its guests. About ten-twenty locals dressed in traditional costumes walked, danced, played music, and sang along the main alley while the crowd of tourists gathered around them and joined in the festivity.
The costumes were gorgeous: long robes and lavish head adornment in bright colors with feathers and beads. The atmosphere was great!
The Marina Village carnival reminded me of a similar event in Bulgaria.
The Kukeri Processions
In January, Bulgarian men dress up as Kukeri, ferocious beasts with coats of fur and feathers and large masks with fangs, beaks, and wings who scare the cold and the evil winter spirits away. The kukeri dance around the streets and ring big copper bells (chans).
By tradition, kukeri are young men and bachelors. They gather in groups and every group has a leader. There are similar characters in every group – there is a bride and groom, an old grandmother, a gypsy man with a dancing bear, a king; and all of them are men. Some of the more flamboyant costumes have wolf and fox fur and heads or paws, and real stag horns. Some masks are funny, and some are literally hideous and scary. The kukeri perform different rituals for fertility and good harvest.
The ritual is very typical of Eastern Bulgaria. The biggest annual kukeri carnival takes place in Pernik, just outside of Sofia.
I am always pleasantly surprised that I discover Bulgarians everywhere I go! Who would think that the lady receptionist at our hotel in Nassau is a Bulgarian!
I never fail to recognize the Balkan accent, even if the person’s English is perfect. There is also something about the structure of the cheekbones, the skin complexion and the emanation of the face; something that I can never describe, but that infallibly speaks “Bulgarian”!
Our receptionist has lived in the Bahamas for fifteen years. Eva and I thought she must have fled the communist regime over twenty years ago. She told us that there used to a big group of Bulgarians in the Bahamas, but few of them were able to earn permanent working documents, and most left.
She was kind and helpful to us as I think every Bulgarian should be to her fellow countrymen, at home or abroad. Finally, she showed us a picture of her child, a young mulatto girl, and we understood why she stayed in the Bahamas for so long.
Instead of a marlin (a type of tuna) and a flamingo, the Bahamian coat of arms should depict a bottle of rum and a conch! Both seem to have a special role in the Bahamian culture.
The signature dish of the Bahamas is conch fritters, which to me sounded both promising and disappointing. I was hoping that a Caribbean island would have better choice of seafood dishes, but about all they had was fried conch and fried grouper (sigh!). Conch tastes similar to clam and mussels, chewy and bland. A variation of the dish is conch salad, which Bahamians claim is an Aphrodisiac.
Aside from the gourmet cuisine, conch is also highly valued for the properties of its large pink shell. Bahamian craftsmen make statues and jewelry out of it. Street vendors sell beautiful conches as souvenirs.
Rum is the other trademark of the Caribbean. Bahamians drink it straight, put it in cocktails, and even in cakes. The rum cake is a must-try, especially with banana or coconut flavor. From the drinks, anything with rum is good – piña colada and especially bahama mama.
Señor Frogs seemed like the most popular place for American tourists in Nassau, although any bar can serve you delicious cocktails. A good place to eat and experience the local culture is the Fish Fry, a street with small restaurants that offer everything from jerk chicken to piña colada prepared in a traditional way.
Read more about the Bahamian culture in my post on “Bahama Papas and Bahama Mamas”
What fascinated me most about the Bahamas was the attitude of the local men. Bahamian men are the incredibly friendly and amusing!
I thought that Spaniards are the only ones who’d dare to call after girls in the streets, but Bahamians are even braver! “Enjoying the Bahamas, ladies?” was their playful way of saying hello.
And although Eva found their comments annoying, I thought they were just being sociable in a manner that is very typical for cultures of these low latitudes. Spanish men’s whistling, I argued with Eva, is always sexually charged; it makes a woman feel revered and wanted. Bahamians, on the other hand, call after girls simply to attract their attention and to make them smile at their rather silly jokes. Let me illustrate with a story:
Eva was already lying on the beach while I was still struggling to put my towel on the sand without letting the wind blow it off.
“Beautiful, let me show you what we in the Bahamas do for our ladies,” said a local guy we had never seen before. He brought four stones and with them weighted down the four corners of my towel. He did help!
Then he sat between me and Eva and started chatting with us! Are we enjoying ourselves in the Bahamas, did we like the sun, which was our hotel and room, he asked. Would we like to stay with him in the Bahamas and become his Bahama mamas?
Eva did not tolerate his humor and tried to hiss him away: “HELL NOOO! We aren’t telling you anything!” Her fierce temperament only motivated and entertained him even more! He winked at me and continued to tease her and “hit on” her. I found the situation hilarious! All his comments were obvious jokes: playful, but not disturbing at all in my opinion. Basically, he spent twenty minutes maddening her and making me giggle. It was his lunch break, and I guess this is how he likes to pass his time: by making silly talk with foreign white girls.
Finally, he told another local passer-by that he’d pay him to take Eva to lunch, so that he and I could be left in private (because I was the one who got his jokes). At this point, even Eva couldn’t pretend she was annoyed and burst out laughing!
So the moral is, Bahamian men are some silly Don Juans! They are hilarious and I love it!
A big shoutout to all my friends spring-breakers in paradise-on-earth the Bahamas!
Welcome back to reality and cold rainy New England!
My spring break was an exciting week in Nassau, the sun-bathed, rhythm – captivated, rum-infused capital of the Caribbean islands of the Bahamas. My friend Eva and I spent seven days in Nassau. I trust that the impressions we gained from this country are worth sharing. Stay tuned.
Read about my previous trip, to Dubai, and share my impressions from this ancient-futuristic world.