– by Cecil Newry
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It is a matter of hours before the doors of the new, world-renowned Nassau Straw Market, Down Town, Bay Street opens to the public, once again giving host to one of the Bahamas’ oldest industries.
However, coming to this point was not an easy journey for the straw and wood artisans. There were a number of challenges and issues beyond their control which required these Bahamian men and women to have the patience of Job, before better days lay ahead.
On September 4th 2001, fire gutted the building which housed the vendors, also destroying a number of businesses in the vicinity. All was lost for the vendors; however the government came quickly to their rescue, constructing a temporary tented environment for the vendors to display their wares. But then again, the word ‘temporary’ is a subjective word for some.
The 2001 arsonist, Cordney Gardiner, a peanut vendor, was convicted two years later. His act, of setting ablaze the stall of his former lover, speaks to an increasing alarm regarding “dysfunctional Bahamian, romantic relationships” ending violently.
In recent times, there seem to have been a spat of violent outbursts by men against their former love interests when their relationship turned sour. And Gardiner, apparently no different, was out to show his ex-girlfriend that he was “the man”, and that ending the relationship was not without consequences
Thus, in a fit of rage, Gardiner’s cowardly act changed the lives of several hundred women, temporarily stripping them of their livelihood and dignity. – ‘Folk talk’ said upon Gardiner’s arrest, he shouted to the thick crowd that gathered to watch,
“They came to arrest the I, who set fire ‘pon Babylon over woman…”
Obviously deranged, his state of mind speaks to yet another social issue that plagues our society.
Albeit, ten years later, Gardiner has served his time in jail, and reportedly had spent a short stint in Sandilands’ Rehabilitation Center too; yet the Straw Market still remains pending.
The buildings that were destroyed along with the Straw Market in 2001 have already been refurbished and reopened for business for some time now, and even the Ministry of Tourism which too was housed in the old Straw Market building has already moved into their multimillion dollar new, plush offices.
But what delayed the straw market’s progress?
There will be a lot of pomp and pageantry as the government, along with craft artisans celebrate the opening of vendors’ new home on Bay Street; and rightly so, for it has been a long time coming.
At one point in time, the vendors were told that they weren’t being returned to their traditional spot, but instead were to be moved to Arawak Cay, as plans were in the making to transform that area to a cultural Mecca. Well, we all can see that did not happen.
Then, at another time, the most desirous, commercial vacant property, in the down town district was unthinkably transformed into a mere parking lot and bus depot, as the vendors were told to make preparation to be housed for good in the old Custom’s shed on Prince George Wharf
And let us not forget, at one point in time, the vacant lot was sanctioned to be a green space and park for tourists, which raised much fuss from the Straw Vendors Union.
Yet, the vendors as a whole, continued to sit and wait patiently in the hot, sweat box of a tent; even as the fans stopped working, and as the bathrooms overflowed with excrement into the market, and as the stench of foul, stale air sat betwixt them
Yes, the vendors sat ‘quietly’ waiting, as the tent flooded every time it rained, and as rodents ran cross their feet while serving tourists. They waited because their government had promised to create a state-of-the-art complex for them to be housed in, and they planned to keep their government bonded to their word.
Then there was hurricane Irene, which shredded the already weathered tent; forcing a number of vendors to once again abandon their home, only to seek refuge on the Prince George Wharf: yet another ‘temporary’ housing arrangement.
Six vendors’ tents, became scores of make shift shanty town flea markets, as no authorities seemingly assisted with the vendors transition. Their only comfort was the words, “be patient and grateful, as it aint long nah before the new Straw Market is opened.”
And as remnants of the white vinyl lay flapping in the wind at the old Straw Market tent, an apparent second arsonist made his attack upon these artisans’ “temporary home”; burning them out yet again, forcing them to deal with another dose of complexes.
Truly, the vendors finding themselves a home has been a long time coming and they do deserve to celebrate in dignity without persons rubbing their noses in it, suggesting that they are receiving a favor.