On Thursday I flew with D to Barbados. D is the Deaf young man I’ve been working with this school year. He’s made some progress with me, but only an hour a week means that progress is minimal. What he really needs is an environment rich in communication that he can access. Once he develops a first language it will be much easier for him to develop a second (reading and writing English). His sailing coach (the woman who coordinates with me for his tutoring sessions) understands this and has been working to get him into a summer program at Gallaudet, the main US University for the Deaf. In fact, D was accepted and ready to start at the beginning of July, but the program was cancelled. That meant Allison, the coach, had to work even harder to get him accepted for the fall semester. I tell you, she is a miracle worker, because she did it! And she secured all the funding for his entire year of tuition, room, and board. (Apparently you must have the full year’s funding as an international student – federal law!?) Anyway, that’s what brought us to Barbados! As a BV Islander, D must apply in person at the closest US Embassy for his student visa before he can go to school in August.
Our Liat Air flight made 4 stops along the way: Antigua (An-tee-gah), Dominica (Dah-mi-nee-ka), St. Lucia (Lusha), then finally arrived in Barbados. Barbados is a coral and limestone island, so it’s very flat, but quite lush and green. It’s a sizeable island, and from the air I could see fields where local produce is grown. It’s also an expensive island! The roads were really nice though, and everything was clearly labelled. It seems like it would be an easy place to visit.
Unfortunately, we didn’t build in much time to explore. Our ride picked us up from the airport and drove us straight to the local mall for dinner at the food court. Being my mother’s daughter, I’d been snacking all through the day, so I wasn’t that hungry. A salad was nowhere to be found though, so KFC chicken and mashed potato biscuit it was!
Our driver/guide, Dale from Jendal Apartments, was fabulous! He pointed out all the sites, made jokes, and told stories to make everyone feel comfortable. His entire business seems to be centered around people who come to Barbados for visas, though I’m sure he’d be willing to allow general visitors to stay in his guest house or apartments, and he’s a very good host!
One story he told was about a real tragedy that occurred on Barbados many years ago. Since Barbados is made of limestone, a soft rock, it’s known for its caves. Well, one night many years ago an entire apartment building fell into one of the caves! The building had been there 20 years or so and no one knew it was built over hollow ground. Construction in the area had destabilized the ground, and about 4am the neighbours heard a massive rumbling. One neighbour saw the building sinking and ran toward the aperture, calling down to the father in the family, who said he was ok but had a broken leg. As the neighbour went to get help, a 50 ton boulder fell onto the building! The local authorities had to bring in specialists from Miami, including 2 dogs – one to sniff for the living and one to sniff for bodies. The latter was able to sniff through the rubble and accurately locate each of the 5 family members. So now, when they’re going to build something, they make sure to check for caves! We drove past the site and the buildings left standing around the sunken one are all condemned, and for good reason!
It was early to bed that night as we left for our 8am appointment at the Embassy at 6am on Friday morning. See, everyone has an 8am appointment, so we wanted to join the cue early. Dale had lots of great advice for us all on our way and told us some of the questions that we’d be asked. Even with his great preparation though, my first visit to a US Embassy was extremely intimidating!
As we waited outside the security building, I had sudden flashbacks to last August when we were applying for residency in the BVI, except this was worse! I was bumbling and nervous, and I’m a US citizen! I felt bad for all the other people waiting, whose trips to the US were dependent on their few minutes today with the agents.
After clearing security, checking all my electronics and cosmetics, and going through the metal detectors, we had to wait an hour + just so I could be approved to enter with D. (It did seem a little fishy – this American traveling with a Deaf man who couldn’t communicate with anyone… so they had to call someone higher up for approval.) From there we moved from the security building to the actual consulat so we could wait some more. We submitted the paperwork, paid, and had D fingerprinted with no problem, but then we were called for the interview. This is the part I was worried about. We all know I’m no interpreter, and even if I was, D doesn’t yet understand enough sign to communicate his intentions for travel to the US. Thank the Lord our agent used to be a teacher! She was very kind as I tried to explain D’s background and why he HAS to get off this island, but she did have to hear it from him. Finally, D wrote down “house school” and signed “G-A-L” to show that he knew he was going to live and learn at Gallaudet. Phwew! I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen until that moment! But the agent smiled and gave him a thumbs up and told us how to proceed.
I was still a little nervous and jittery, even as we were waiting for Dale to pick us up, but very glad we were able to acomplish what I was sent to Barbados to do! By that time it was almost noon, so Dale took us on a driving tour of downtown and dropped us off for an hour or so to walk around and get something to eat.
Here you can see one of the beaches (all of which are public, just like here in the BVI) and the building where they store sugar cane before it’s shipped off for processing.
From there though, it was back to the airport. Our total time on Barbados was right at about 24 hours, with a total of 12 hours travel time, including LOTS of waiting in different airports due to delays! We made it back safe and sound though, so now it’s time to prepare for our trip to DC in just a few weeks!