IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: Red Light District an eye-opener
A Bajan will be a Bajan no matter where he is in this world. Then again, it appears this is true of West Indians regardless of where they end up on this earth.
Imagine, it’s just short of midnight and I am among a group of Caribbean media workers at a bus stop in Amsterdam, waiting for a tram to take us into the world famous, or infamous, Red Light District.
It’s raining slightly, it’s cold enough to chill the bones of the average sun-loving West Indian, including a Trini colleague who had been too sick for two days to attend the business session, but he was not about to fly out of Amsterdam the next morning without having had a glimpse of the district.
We complete the 15-minute ride and exit the tram into increasing rainfall, but this group from Trinidad, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Barbados is not about to turn back – not before sampling the Red Light District. We arrive in the district and I am distracted by someone on the street when an American in the group shouts: “Hey Roy, look – you missed one!”
She was referring to the fact that I had just walked passed a finely made-up prostitute, wearing only fluorescent bra and T-string underwear in a show window waiting for a prospective client to make his intentions known.
From this point on, I found myself checking show window after show window, paying attention to everything on display. I compared what they were wearing, the different ways light was used to highlight assets (or perhaps obscure liabilities), if they were black or white, tall or short, fat or slim – and of course how many windows were dark or empty since that would have been an indication of how many were “occupied” at the time.
Then as the group arrived at our stop (not a brothel, my friend Senator Harry) which had been selected by our European host who boasted openly of his many previous trips to the district, we settled in for a more detailed observation of the scenes around us.
The discussion touched many topics: Could such a phenomenon ever thrive in a Caribbean island? Is there any West Indian society that would allow its men to so openly seek the favour of its women of the night without looking over their shoulder? Will we ever reach the stage where our young women would feel so “liberated” that they could openly display their “goodies” in the night, without fear of being recognised and then without a thought, head off to university or work the next morning?
And while we were talking, the journalist in me was dying to capture some images of the activity, but having been warned that taking pictures in the district could attract an immediate fine if caught, I had left my camera at home.
But the Samsung Galaxy 5 phone lives up to its name as a smartphone. It can deliver pictures and video of quality as good as or better than many dedicated cameras. I only had to position myself at the right angle to allow a “selfie” to capture a lot more than my face.
But all the intellectual and philosophical discussion soon shifted to conversations that are more synonymous with West Indian life. This was after a member of the group switched applications on her phone and started keeping track of how long the men were “lasting”.
It would appear that 12 minutes was the average – and of course for the West Indians in the midst this did not seem like a lot of bang for the buck.
But something else also fascinated us – how many minutes elapsed between the time the client exited the building and when the prostitute returned to her show window to again market her goods. I concluded that we in Barbados could learn a thing or two about efficiency from them. My estimate was between two minutes and two and a half minutes. A real production line, apparently.
The journey was a real eye-opener. I had been there before many years ago, but did not have the time then to pause and really observe. The contrast with our West Indian societies was stark.
Two other things that really stood out was that in the near two hours spent in the district, I did not see one policeman, never heard a siren, did not see a single person misbehave and even watch apparent “negotiations” over price between prostitute and prospective client, and where there was no agreement everyone just calmly walked away.
I kept thinking, if that was Barbados, there would have been personnel from the Special Services Unit all over the place, you would not be able to walk more than a couple of feet without hearing a string of colourful metaphors, and of course failed negotiations would have been concluded if instructions on where one’s mother should be taken – not to mention what you should do to her.
There was clear order without obvious enforcement.
Soon it was almost 2 a.m. and all over. We were walking through the rain in search of a taxi. Again the West Indian in us came to the fore. Nine people, one taxi in the form of a minivan and a driver who immediately declared he is only allowed to carry five at a time. Of course, within a minute all nine of us were piled inside, ZR van style, and heading back to the hotel.
The multiple benefits of a business trip to Amsterdam aside, I must state it really is a beautiful, orderly and enjoyable city. And Amsterdam is about a lot more than the Red Light District and marijuana being readily available in “coffee shops”.
Most outstanding for me was public transportation. It was efficient, orderly, on time and said to us clearly that in the Caribbean we have so far to go that we really ought not to waste time on the mundane.