Barbados and the Mongoose

We had a cold snap this week in San Diego, so my thoughts turned to one of the countries I lived in that was never cold: Barbados.

The temperature in Barbados was always warm, between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The average daily high temperature is 86 degrees. In fact, I suffered from a serious sunburn my first week in the country–in December of 1989.

The variation in the number of hours of daylight is very slight. Check out the chart below which shows in light blue the hours the sun shines over the course of a year–from approximately 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. every day.

And compare it to a chart showing the same data for San Diego, CA, my current home, where the sun comes up between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. (adjusted for daylight savings time) and goes down between 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. (adjusted for daylight savings time):

Back to Barbados. The days are about the same length every day of the year, and the temperature also varies little from one day to the next. Time seems to move very slowly.

There is little difference between summer and winter, making it difficult for the season to help jog memories of when something happened. That further distorts the sense of time passing, blurring one year into another.

One of the most interesting explanations I heard of how past events both seemed recent and served as reference points came from a St. Lucian woman who applied for a visa to the United States in Barbados. She told me she had last traveled to Barbados “a few years ago,” which I interpreted as being two or three years. But when she mentioned it was just after her daughter was born, I asked how old her daughter was. Her response was along these lines: “She was born the year they stopped the mongoose from Barbados.” That was approximately 18 years earlier, a considerably larger number than my assumption of what “a few years ago” meant.

Barbados imported mongooses from India at the end of the nineteenth century in an attempt to eradicate rats, which were feeding on sugar cane, the country’s most important agricultural crop. Unfortunately, rats are nocturnal, and mongooses are not. Instead of feeding on the rats, since they were not out and about at the same time, the mongooses ate snakes, the natural enemy of the rats, leaving the island with no snakes and an ever-increasing rat population.

Some mongooses still survive in Barbados. Our intrepid cat, Sharifa, tangled with one and came out on the losing side. If we hadn’t seen her streak through the french doors to hide under the sofa where she probably would have stayed and gone into shock, we might have lost her, according to the vet next door. He patched her up and kept her overnight for observation. That vet saved her three times. First after the mongoose attack. Second when she tangled with a centipede when the bite swelled up her neck so much that she looked like a short-eared rabbit. And finally when he stopped one of his other customers from driving away while she sprawled out, sunning herself in the car’s back window.

It is understandable that the government decided to stop the importation of mongooses from other Caribbean islands.

To explain why “the year they stopped the mongoose from Barbados” was important to the St. Lucian woman, you must understand her profession: She was a solicitor.  This did not mean a lawyer. Solicitors in the islands brought goods from one island to a second one, where they sold what they brought, bought what was available on the second island, traveled to the next island and sold what they brought, continuing from island to island until they returned home, hopefully with more money than they left with.

The St. Lucian woman had stopped her itinerant solicitation business when she gave birth to her daughter, the same year Barbados outlawed the mongooses that she previously brought there to sell “for food,” she said.

Photo credits:

tortoise featured image: Cédric Frixon



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