Why Did You Sell Us a Dream?

REUTERS/Jason Reed

Editor’s note: The following Op-Ed was originally submitted to The Nassauvian in late 2019. We are re-publishing, with the consent of the author, in light of recent conversations surrounding young professionals and home ownership opportunities in this country.

I think it’s time we’re open and honest about some profound ideas that touch upon the very fabric of what it means to be an ‘educated young person’ living in The Bahamas. As the saying goes, ‘confession is good for the soul.’

Humble Beginnings

To give a little background, I was born on Grand Bahama Island, in Freeport, to a single black Bahamian woman. She raised me to cling to good values and strong morals so that I, as her successor, would not be persuaded to devalue and tarnish my image or the image my family has built. This upbringing is familiar to many Bahamians. The paths that my mother and family members cleared for me and the opportunities they supported me in allowed me to excel in my academic career and sports during high school.

Logically, it is fair to say that many children in the Bahamas who are nearing the time to graduate high school look forward to the collegiate experience. These students are pushed harder and harder until graduating to ensure that they get the highest grades to get into the best universities. To the Bahamian child, the best university is the school your family can afford or the one that gives you a full academic or athletic scholarship.

I was the latter.

Students like me don’t have the opportunity to “mess up” in school, get left behind in academics, or even be lazy when it comes to sports. For us, going to a university is the only way out of poverty, according to the government, statistics, and, more importantly, our parents. Yes, our good Bahamian parents were the most adamant about telling us that our futures lie in the hands of a college acceptance letter. They preached that we were just another statistical addition to all the others that lie in the path to the Bahamas becoming a ‘great nation’ unless we got a degree.

To us students, who could not afford to go to the best schools money can buy, it was a Godsend to be told that there was a way out for us to one day live comfortably if only we would “settle down and just read a book,” as my mother always said.

Students like me don’t have the opportunity to “mess up” in school, or get left behind in academics, or even be lazy when it comes to sports.

We, your unsuspecting victims, were told repeatedly along our collegiate journey that what we were striving for was greatness. We would be missing an enormous opportunity if we didn’t go to school, get a degree, and return to better the Bahamian economy. If we did not do everything we could to increase our academic credentials, we would be just like the other kids who ‘never left the island’ and were relegated to menial and ‘lowly’ jobs. We were possible prospects to ‘barely support’ ourselves, they said.

So, armed with this knowledge, who were we to go against the grain of what every more experienced person was telling us?

The Obedient Daughter

So off I went to a university in Pennsylvania without a grain of fear about how I would make it tomorrow.

I took up my position as an athlete and scholar with the full financial backing of the university. I took up my cross of late nights trying to finish 500-word essays, sitting through 3-hour classes, and found comfort that my family was rooting me on from thousands of miles away. I was under the impression that by the time I graduated, there would be an opportunity for me to utilize the bachelor’s degree that I painstakingly took years from my life to earn.

I spent four years in university and graduated in 2015. I spent another year in the USA gathering all of the experience I could to be sure that I was far ahead of any competition at home with my international experience.

Finally, the war was over for me, and I returned home in 2016 with my diploma in hand and a stellar curriculum vitae resume. I had made it, and I could finally realize the dream that took me years to achieve. Now I would apply to the available jobs. There were supposedly so many, at least that’s what I kept hearing all those years.

I took up my position as an athlete and scholar with the full financial backing of the university. I took up my cross of late nights trying to finish 500 word essays, sitting through 3 hour classes and took comfort that my family was rooting me on from thousands of miles away.

Reality Check

Almost immediately upon returning home, the rug was pulled out from under me. The cloak was removed from my eyes. I was gutted and splayed by the realization that this dream that I had – and the advice I got – was all a fallacy wrapped in a big, fat lie. It was a sham and a setup for the worst joke I had so unwittingly been a part of.

What I came to find, while searching every nook and cranny of the internet (of which I had now spent four years becoming the master of), was that there was nothing available for someone like me.

There were no prestigious jobs or even an abundance of available jobs waiting for me back home in The Bahamas.

This hard – hard! – truth shook me to the core. Not only were there no jobs with a pay scale that I could independently support myself with, but there was also phasing out of the offer for companies to give benefits.

Sometimes I do come across advertisements for positions I know I am qualified for, only to learn these ‘job ads’ are just a formality in securing a work permit for some other lucky pre-picked soul.

Now I am a jobless person in a society where businesses can hire you to work for less than minimum wage. Which, at $210 per week before National Insurance deductions, isn’t even a ‘living wage.’ Many businesses scoff at the suggestion that you would even have the audacity to suggest you would want to receive benefits as a young, educated person.

I remember all too well the feeling of getting punched square in my face from these companies. It happened over (and over and over again) whenever I tried to negotiate contracts they had ‘set in stone.’ If (in the most humble way) I tried to assert that I was qualified for a position above entry-level, that was the end of the interview.

Now I am a jobless person in a society where businesses are allowed to hire you to work for less than minimum wage (which, at $210 per week before National Insurance deductions isn’t even a ‘living wage’)

None of what my generation learned in college could prepare us for ‘well-connected’ supervisors who got all the credit while we did the work. I didn’t know we needed to be contracted into a lesser pay than we are worth with no benefits because we have minimal experience actually working with any company. Maybe I should have taken a course in ‘How to be so broke from just trying to keep your head above water, even though you are living with your parents, due to the high cost of living 101.’

What Now?

These obstacles have made me realize that instead of planning for my family or getting my own home, I now have to figure out how I will get any decent job at all.

I want to transition into supporting this society as a working individual, as my parents have. I need to save enough money to pay my rent to my family because I will have to live with them well into my 30’s. Perhaps I need to give up on ever becoming an independent homeowner with a stable income.

The few treasures this life has to offer, like having a family, having your own home, and having a job with benefits, are not and will never be available to all of the ‘good Bahamian children,’ who left this country as babes and returned as men and women ready to commit to making the Bahamas the best it can be.

This lack of good jobs is the most tragic and egregious error that our lawmakers, government, business leaders, and the Bahamian public do not address.

My country has nothing to give the poor kids who stayed the course, hoping that once they return, they could take over their family’s reigns and support their mothers and fathers, who did it all to help them while they were in university.

Older Bahamians laugh and scoff at the outspoken young people who wish that they could make just a few more dollars to be independent for once in their lives. These educated young men and women, myself included, cannot even add to the population. Our inability to support ourselves causes us to develop an aversion to bringing any lives into this world that cannot receive at least the same level of financial security we had.

Statistical data tells us that the more educated a society is, the fewer children it produces. We, the young people, are stifled by the same community that once put us on the highest pedestal and revered us as dedicated scholars.

Does the older generation wonder why we feel so entitled? Look in the mirror. The high esteem we have of ourselves was only fuelled by your praise, only to be shattered by your empty promises.

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