After working in Barbados for four and a half months, I started the long journey back to Hong Kong. When I got on the plane, a huge sense of relief took over me.
Last year I discovered the Welcome Stamp, a special visa for Barbados. This visa allows digital nomads from all over the world to live and work on the island for 12 months. For a freelance journalist like myself a unique opportunity to discover the region for a year from a Caribbean island and to report on a world that I had not known before.
The visa costs 2,000 dollars (converted 1,698 euros) for people who have a job. With the visa you do not have to pay income tax in Barbados.
I moved in December 2020.
I was in awe of the beauty of Barbados, from the azure blue Caribbean Sea to the rugged landscape of the Atlantic east coast. I found a studio in a residential complex on the south coast for $1,250 a month, including WiFi, water, electricity and cleaning once a week. I loved getting to know the culture of Barbados. I was privileged to enjoy a private cooking demonstration of fried flying fish with cou-cou (cornmeal and okra) and gravy – the national dish of Barbados. Also fascinating: hearing conversations in Bajan Creole and learning Caribbean slang. A street in St. Lawrence Gap in Barbados. Photo: Courtesy of Andrea Lo
As Barbados was also largely affected by Covid restrictions, I didn’t make many friends. The first friend was an Airbnb operator I met while house-hunting. This one introduced me to a “fellow Welcome Stamper”, others I met online or through mutual friends. After Christmas and New Year, the coronavirus revived, resulting in a curfew and a lockdown.
On April 9, Barbados experienced volcanic ash showers from the eruption of La Soufrière on Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which once again locked the country. But that wasn’t the worst. While street harassment is not specific to Barbados, I have never felt as scared and vulnerable as I did in Barbados.
Every time I left the house I was followed up, it felt like I couldn’t go anywhere without someone wanting or having to do something from me. This ranged from the guy who wanted to treat me to his “aloe vera” when I was taking pictures on the beach to the guy who yelled “Leave that ass alone” when I tried to fix my skirt while walking. I knew that street harassment was common in Barbados and local women assured me it was mostly harmless.But as my stay lasted longer, so did the number of frightening experiences. I was warned that a woman alone on a beach attracted unwanted attention.
Once a man sat down next to me and tried to strike up a conversation with me. I kept answering with one word before finally ignoring him. He sat there and stared at me in silence. It wasn’t until I pretended to pack my things to go that he left. It was worse when these men said hello and then came back to continue the “conversation”. A man once greeted me, wished me a good day, and left. To come back moments later and tell me he didn’t believe I was British. Eventually this man also backed off because I showed no interest. I became increasingly withdrawn and paranoid. I even started avoiding my neighbors. Sometimes it took hours before I had the courage to go outside. I paced my apartment, contemplating worst-case scenarios, and postponing my departure. Whenever something bad happened, I kept grinding about it, panicked and full of stress. The streets were mostly empty and I don’t have a driver’s license. I had an alarm in my pocket and a Swiss army knife wherever I went, even to the supermarket which was a fifteen minute walk away. I wore a fake wedding ring, I walked in sneakers instead of sandals so I could run faster. During my entire stay in Barbados, I’ve only been out at night maybe five times. I had read well before my departure, but nothing had prepared me for this experience.
Some friends suspected that the excessive attention was due to the fact that I am an Asian woman with pink hair. Local women said, “That’s just how men are in Barbados.” One of them said that if I wanted to live in the Caribbean, I had to accept it. The straw that broke the camel’s back was an incident near my studio.
It happened during the lockdown in March, I went to the supermarket at three in the afternoon. The streets were empty and a man drove up next to me and stopped his car. He said he sold seats and wanted me to get in. “I’m okay, no thanks,” I replied. He became aggressive: “I’m trying to talk to you, but you’re not talking to me.”
I replied, “I’m fine on my own.”
“Don’t you want a man then?” he asked. I said no and he drove off. I was frozen with fear, and too much panicked to write down his license plate. I notified my landlord of the incident. They were concerned and filed a police report. It turned out that there had recently been an incident of a man making strange comments to a male resident in the complex, although it was unclear whether it was the same person.A man offered her a ride, and when she refused, he tried to drag her into the car.
“Harassment of women and girls is a widespread and pervasive problem in Barbados,” King said. “They are crimes that are normalized as ‘part of the culture’, they are reduced to a triviality: as the way men show their interest in a woman they find attractive.”
My friends in Barbados did everything they could to help me, and I will never forget their kindness and Bajan hospitality. But at the beginning of April, enough was enough and I decided to leave. Once back in Hong Kong, I kept grinding: what could I have done differently?
Maybe it was stupid of me to live somewhere I hadn’t been before. I would never have gone there alone as a woman if I had known what it was like there. I wonder if I should have gone at all. Much of what happened was completely unexpected. Perhaps the best advice I can give: if something is too good to be true, it probably is. The Barbados Tourism Bureau did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. Read more about digital nomads:
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- Working abroad as a freelancer? 15 tips for ‘digital nomads’
- Working abroad is not always the best: you have to take this into account, according to 2 digital nomads
- 9 tips for working and exotic travel, according to 2 ‘digital nomads’ who quit their jobs at Unilever and Deloitte.