- Andrea Lo, a freelance journalist, worked remotely in Barbados for four and a half months.
- She cut her year short after experiencing incidents of harassment and men who followed her.
- “My thoughts go back and forth about what I would have done differently,” she wrote.
After living in Barbados for four and a half months, I started the long journey home to Hong Kong.
When I got on the plane, I was overcome with enormous relief.
Last year I came across the news of a special visa for Barbados called the Welcome Stamp
The visa gives digital nomads worldwide the opportunity to live on the island for 12 months.
As a freelance journalist, working remotely for a year from a Caribbean island seemed like a great way to explore and cover a region of the world I had never been to before.
The visa costs $ 2,000 for those who already have employment, and recipients are not subject to income tax in Barbados.
I moved in December 2020
A beach on the west coast of Barbados.
Courtesy of Andrea Lo
I was struck by the beauty of Barbados, from the azure shades of the Caribbean Sea to the rugged landscapes of the east coast facing the Atlantic.
I found a one-bedroom apartment in a gated community on the South Coast for $ 1,250 a month, including WiFi, water, electricity, and weekly housekeeping.
I also loved learning about Barbados culture. I had the privilege of enjoying a private cooking demo of fried flying fish with cou-cou (corn flour and okra) and sauce – the national dish of Barbados. It was also fascinating to hear conversations in Bayan Creole and learn Caribbean slang.
A street in St. Lawrence Gap in Barbados.
Courtesy of Andrea Lo
Since I spent most of my time in Barbados under some restrictions, I didn’t make many friends.
The first friend I made was hosting an Airbnb that I stayed at while looking for a place to live. They introduced me to another welcome stamper. Other friends I have made online or through mutual friends.
After Christmas and New Years, a resurgence of COVID-19 cases resulted in a curfew and then a lockdown
On April 9, Barbados was badly hit by the volcanic ash that formed during the eruption of La Soufrière in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and the country was closed again.
But that wasn’t the worst thing I’ve seen.
Although street harassment is not unique to the island, I had never felt as fearful and vulnerable as I did in Barbados
Catcalling happened almost every time I left the house. It felt like I had nowhere to go without someone telling me.
This ranged from one man saying he wanted to “put his aloe vera on me” while I was taking pictures of the beach to another yelling, “Leave this prey alone!” when I adjusted my shorts while walking.
I knew catcalling was happening in Barbados and the local women assured me that it was largely harmless. And at first I tried to laugh about it.
But as I continued to explore my new home on my own, I saw more incidents that filled me with fear.
I was warned that solo women on the beach could attract unwanted attention
Once a man was sitting next to me trying to have a conversation. I gave him one word answers before finally ignoring him. He sat and stared at me in silence. When I pretended to pack and leave, he left.
It’s even worse when these men say goodbye but come back minutes later to keep talking to me. A man once started a conversation that seemed innocent enough. He said hello, wished me a nice day and drove off. But he came back later and started speaking again: “I’ve been watching you and you don’t sound British.” The man finally left, maybe he sensed that I didn’t want to talk to him.
I found myself increasingly paranoid and withdrawn. I became cautious about speaking to my neighbors myself.
Sometimes it took hours before I found the courage to go outside. I walked around thinking about worst case scenarios and delaying departure. Whenever an incident happened, I would repeat it in my head and sink deep into a rabbit hole of panic and despair.
Most of the time the streets were deserted and I wasn’t driving. I carried a rape alarm and a Swiss Army knife with me everywhere, including to the supermarket, which was a 15-minute walk away.
I was wearing a fake wedding ring. Instead of sandals, I wore sneakers because they are easier to walk on. In my four and a half months in Barbados, I’ve been outside at night about five times.
None of my research prior to my move showed what indicated I would experience
Some friends in Barbados speculated that the excessive attention was due to my being an Asian with pink hair.
Local women said to me, “But that’s how Caribbean men are.” One said if I wanted to live in the Caribbean I would have to accept that.
The last straw turned out to be an incident not far from my apartment
It was during the lockdown in March, and I went to the supermarket by myself at 3pm
The streets were empty. A man drove by and stopped next to me. He said he was selling beach chairs and then he told me to get in the car.
“I’m fine, thank you,” I replied.
He became aggressive: “I’m trying to get in touch with you, but you don’t care about me.”
I replied, “I’m fine on my own.”
“Don’t you want a husband?” He asked. I said no and he drove off. But I froze in fear, too panicked to write down his license plate.
I have informed my property management about the incident by email. They were concerned and reported to the police. It turned out that there had been another recent incident where a man made strange remarks to a male resident of the complex, although they weren’t sure if it was the same person. As far as I know, the driver was never caught.
I looked up the number of incidents like this in Barbados and came across Ronelle King, a Barbadian student who was on her way to the capital Bridgetown in 2016, when a man offered her a ride. She refused and he tried to drag her into the car.
“Harassment of women and girls in Barbados is a widespread and ubiquitous issue,” said King. “It is one of those crimes that has been normalized as ‘part of culture’, trivialized to be considered a masculine way of showing their interest in a woman they are attracted to.”
My friends in Barbados went out of their way to guide me and I will never forget their kindness and bayan hospitality. But at the beginning of April I decided to go.
After returning to Hong Kong, I think back and forth about what I would have done differently.
Maybe I was stupid to move to a place I’d never been to. As a woman, I would not have gone there alone if I had known the reality. Sometimes I wonder if I should have done that at all.
So much of what happened was completely unexpected. Perhaps the best advice I can give, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Barbados Tourism did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
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