My view of you used to be a tourist’s view. The view of an outsider looking in.
As a child, I swam on your world-renowned beaches. Walked your commercial strip that stretches all the way down seven-mile beach.
I ate dinner at all your fancy restaurants on the waterfront. I slept in the Westin where every single guest was an American.
When people asked me what I did over Christmas break, I would say I went down to the Cayman Islands and “had the best time”. I wouldn’t explain further, and wouldn’t explain that I didn’t just go for a cute little beach trip. I went to visit my family. And yes, I did stay at the Westin hotel and spend my days pretending to tan at the beach.
But, come December 25th, I went into the heart of West Bay; to where the hotels faded away. To where there are churches, primary schools and the typical one-story colorful houses. To where the ackee trees grow. I went there and I saw my dozens of aunts and uncles, and if I was lucky 10 or maybe more of my 25 first cousins. I went to West Bay and didn’t eat fancy lobster from a waterfront hotel, but instead my grandmother’s macaroni pudding. I ate curry chicken with rice and beans catered from Welly’s Cool Spot, a hole-wall restaurant where the Jamaican men hang out and play dominoes from dawn to dusk. I went there and I said grace before Christmas lunch and listened to my mom and aunts gossip about the latest family drama over the sound of soca music.
But, after December 25th, I returned to your hotels. Returned to your commercial strip and bought souvenirs from Tortuga Rum Factory to bring home to my friends. I returned home and told my friends about only what I deemed the best part of my trip; the swimming in the crystal clear ocean and the hammocks in the cool breeze.
This summer, I got to experience you not through a hotel. Not the way a tourist does. I spent my whole summer with you. Living in a condo in West Bay Road, working at a preschool, and grocery shopping at Fosters Food Fair on Saturday afternoons. I came to realize that when you live on the islands you don’t have time for the beach because you’re too busy living in the real world. Although it is sunny almost everyday and it feels amazing to be in your fresh air, the sound of bulldozers doing construction on the seemingly train of never needing hotel chains takes away from your beauty. I realized that even though July and August are the months when sea turtles come to shore to lay their eggs, many of them don’t come anymore because the lights from your waterfront restaurants shine too bright and scare them away. I realize that while your lack of taxes is amazing on a two-week vacation where you want to order piña coladas on a daily basis, it is not amazing when you need to pay rent. I realized that your commercial strip is causing erosion on the beach and taking away from locals access to public beaches. I realized that although my little cousins were born and raised in Cayman, they have far less access to your beauty than any American tourist would.
I used to only see your beauty, but since living with you I see your flaws. But, your flaws made me realize that part of your beauty lies within your problems. You have your issues, but they can be fixed. Although tourism is what runs your money and your industries, you have no balance or boundaries. Tourism is king and at the expense of all the people that call you home. You need to find your balance once again, and return your island to your locals. You cannot have people like me, who before living and working on an island, thought your only charm lay within your hotels and fancy restaurants. Your attraction is your natural beauty. Return it to those who deserve it.