(Cross posted on PeterMarina.com)
From New Orleans, the plane headed straight to the rolling hills of Barbados where Pastor Michael Alleng picked me up near the capital Bridgetown. Alleng heads Evening Light Pentecostal Church in Arch Hall, Barbados. He is a tall, lanky man standing at about six feet two inches and drives a green car. He travels frequently to other churches in Barbados, the Caribbean, and the United States, guest preaching at the churches of several leaders he knows through PAWI (Pentecostal Assemblies of the West Indies). For example, Alleng recently traveled to Highland Church in Queens, NY on October of 2013. Like other senior pastors of large churches, he also speaks on local Christian radio stations including 97.5 and 90.1 Cita. Arch Hall, where Alleng’s church is located, is near the Barbados town of Holetown, formally called Jamestown since it is where the first English settlers to Barbados arrived in 1627. Arch Hall struggles with the Sanitation Service Authority that many believe dump toxic waste in a nearby area called the Mangrove Pond Landfill. Like the rest of the entire West coast of Barbados, the town caters to mostly European tourists who have cash to blow. The restaurants and shops crackerjack well beyond the norm marking up prices, basically making it unaffordable to many travelers. Bridgetown, in the southwest part of the island, bustles with activity—people rushing to and from their appointments, busses blowing smoke in a rush to reach their final destinations, mini-malls of every variety, pedestrian walkways teaming with small-scale economic activity, beggars and hustlers, and people just hanging out. South of the capital lies the heavy tourist zones starting with Hastings, Worthing, St. Lawrence Gap, Dover Beach, and finally to the small but lively fishing village of Oistins. Oistins is my favorite place on the island. I rented an apartment in Holetown (Jamestown) but was fortunate to find relatively affordable accommodation at sixty USD per night, or 120 Barbados dollars. This price included a fully equipped kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom with hot water and a broken, useless air conditioner. Although stationed in Holetown, I was able to travel the entire island from Bridgetown to Speightstown on the upper west coast, to the northern most point of the island where the Caribbean meets the Atlantic, to the Atlantic battered west coast where brave surfers take on the soup bowl and huge rock cliffs leave one standing in awe at the site of pure beauty, through the interior of the island where remnants of the colonial past testify to the long history of the former slave colony, to the commercialized south coast littered with endless resorts, restaurants, and bars catering to a younger, mostly European crowd, to the fishing village of Oistins with few tourists, many local bars, good and cheap food, and fish just caught on the island for sale. In fact, I caught a ride from Pastor Alleng to Bridgetown, took a bus to Hastings, walked from Hastings to Dover Beach, caught another bus to Oistins to lime for a few hours before heading back to Bridgetown to meet with Allenge after his weekly marriage counseling session he offers to born-again believers.
The Ass Grasper: Dover Beach to Oistins
The bus from Dover Beach to Oistins was rather interesting. Buses here resemble a Mexican collectivo rather than a standard, boring American bus. Unlike the more erratic Mexican collectivo, the Baja bus follows a set and unalterable path. It is a minivan—much like the Trinidad Maxi-Taxi—with a sliding side door that opens and closes with passengers constantly entering and leaving the bus. The bus sits fourteen people including the driver. Two people sit to the left of the driver (remember that the wheel is on the wrong side in the U.S.), three people on the bench immediately behind the driver, and behind that bench another two benches that seat four people (one of those four seats on the last two benches opens and closes to make an extra seat for a fourth person). One man drives the bus while another man manages the bus, including seating people and collecting their money. Seating people in the bus involves pointing to people where they should, perhaps must, sit. This job is much more difficult than appears at first glance.
While most men contemplate the butt of the woman, this man must fully comprehend the ass in all its dimensions, angles, shades, shapes, sizes, and maneuverability. He must fit many asses into small spaces to maximize the profit for the bus route. Like a pimp, the more asses he moves, the more money he makes. Therefore, he must not only understand the ass in its entirety. In fact, he must grasp the ass. He is an ass grasper. In split seconds he must decide where each ass will fit, how it will fit between two different asses located on the same bench, the ability of an ass to make space sitting sideways and at an angle between two asses of various shapes and sizes. This man must fully and objectively know the ass, predict its behavior, see patterns, and decide in an instant what ass belongs where and why. He must treat his profession as a sociologist—an entire subfield of an unknown but burgeoning discipline in Barbados—to fully absorb all the complexities of the human bottom. The ass grasper must calculate all the asses on each of the four benches, make instant measurements of those leaving the bus and observe asses coming from all dimensions walking towards the bus and, not knowing which ass will approach the bus first, must start calculating in his ever-working mind a plan of action. When the asses finally approach the bus, he quickly shouts out, “You, over there (pointing to a space), “You, get up and slide over. You, get on the next seat. You three, sit there in the back.” And he must be accurate every time, no slip ups. The ass grasper is a marvel, his work under-appreciated and underpaid.
Fieldnotes from Interviews with Pastor Alleng:
I met with Pastor Alleng everyday. This man is constantly busy running a church, taking care of family, counseling married couples or couples planning to get married, and so on. As a result, Micheal Alleng was late in all of his meetings with me, sometimes hours late. But he always came through in the end. At first, he was very skeptical of me, not wanting to say much save for the usual born again Christian jargon. As an ethnographer, the challenge of doing this research requires moving past this in order to get deep into the insight needed. Alleng picked me up from the airport with a friend of his who takes part in the youth ministry of his congregation. He took me to a local beach where locals where celebrating fathers day. The beach was near an old Anglican Church the community seems proud to showcase. We talked about my book and religious beliefs and about his relationship with Apostle Stephen Andrews and charismatic Christianity in Barbados. He remained skeptical the first day but made sure that good and affordable accommodations were made near his church. On the second day we were supposed to meet in the morning but instead met in the afternoon. I believe it was during this meeting where we began to open up in our conversation. I pressed on about the problem of charisma and institutionalization in the church and what will happen to the future of the charismatic movement in the Caribbean. We drove and talked at length and in depth. I finally knew that some degree of trust and rapport was made when he decided to pray for me and the book I was writing in the car. He stopped and offered a prayer and blessing that I will have the strength and knowledge and blessing of God to write a successful book that properly represents the movement. As I was pressing him about the charismatic movement, he explained that this topic is of great interest to him. He claimed to have many opinions on the matter, especially on how the charismatic movement is losing its original fire, that charisma that sparked the movement. He said it is not that the charismatic church is getting too big. Rather, it does not know how to handle getting too big and powerful. He also explained that as the church grows, it should continue to decentralize, make many autonomous and semi-autonomous small cells under the umbrella of a large cell.
Another interesting aspect of the conversation was on how the Charismatic church is more successful in maintaining its charisma as it experiences increased external adversity. He argues that whenever the church is under pressure the quality of conversion and conviction and unity is stronger. Increased adversity from the outside creates a vibrant militant charismatic church. Alleng met Stephen Andrews and other religious leaders throughout the Caribbean through their training at PAWI (Pentecostal Assemblies of the West Indies). Although under the umbrella of PAWI, each church remains largely autonomous. The only real power PAWI seems to have is deciding what pastors get elevated to higher ranks such as Assistant Pastor, Head Pastor of a church, Bishop, etcetera. Members of a congregation of various ranks can also hold their senior pastors accountable for their actions through PAWI. (More on this later and more on PAWI in my book.) I asked Alleng why he decides to remain with PAWI. His answer was the same as Pastor John Andrews of Trinidad response that remaining with PAWI holds him accountable to others as everyone in his church has the right to rebuke. It is a balance, he says, between dependence and independence. He also says, as many other pastors like to say, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Alleng acknowledged that many pastors face what he calls “professional temptations” that often come with a growing and successful church. (More of that too will be in the book.)
Finally, I explained to Alleng the three different meanings of secularization: (1) People are less religious today than in the past, (2) religion as an institution takes a back seat to other institutions, mainly the state and economy, in the shaping of world history, (3) other institutions (political, economic, social, and cultural) are less religiously influenced. He added that religion itself today is more secular than in the past. He views this as a problem. We discussed the separation of church and state, a uniquely American problem he believes that is backward thinking. We had a conversation on university professors and belief. I explained that a social scientist who is a born-again fundamentalist Charismatic Christian would have a hard time in academia, to the point of not being taken seriously. In fact, I explained to him that mainstream American society would think he is a crazy, out-of-his-mind, holy roller Jesus freak. And further, a homophobic intolerant bigot who unquestionably believes in creation, that non-Christian born again believers will go to hell, and so on. This reinforced to him that the U.S. is backward. He pointed out that the opposite is true here in the Caribbean. A university professor and social scientist might be disregarded if not a born-again Christian. He even pointed to examples from academics he knows in Barbados. In short, credibility of all types depend in large part on church affiliation much like Weber wrote about. Religious belonging and affiliation gives one further credibility and legitimacy in everything from academics to economics.
Oh Happy Day! The White Man Give Me Money!
From my apartment in Holetown, I walked to lime every evening on first and second streets off of Highway 1. Various resorts, hotels, bars, and restaurants can be found along the highway from my apartment to first and second streets. In fact, I often walked on the beach parallel to Highway 1 to observe the bars and restaurants that serve expensive food to few tourists during the slow season. Here I experienced a bizarre form of reverse racism.
Barbados is expensive for the average traveler and the people of this country expect tourists to throw away their money at people for very little in return. Further, I noticed that everyone wants my money; they all want to take it from me. Even when I point out that the absurdity of a 15 dollar hamburger, the workers find it strange that I find the price too high. They figure, after all, that tourists—in fact all of the tourists they have ever met— travel from far away places to pay about over 500% of the actual costs of things. From their point of view, white people love to get ripped off. They travel thousands of miles to do it. And every time they pay 15 US dollars for a hamburger, or eighty US dollars for a plate of chicken, they do it happily, even thanking the people for ripping them off through the teeth. So, one could reason from intimate, personal experience—and years of personal observation and direct experience—that white people absolutely love to pay way too much for everything. And the gratitude they express when doing it adds further evidence. It took this realization to understand why they were confused when I refused to be ripped off. I would say, “Fifteen USD for a hamburger? Wow, this is more expensive than Manhattan prices.” They just give me the Sin Carrrrrrrrrne look, confused as if, “This white man is strange. He does not want to get ripped off paying way too much money for mediocre food. Why? What makes him so strange?”
This feeling in Barbados that white people love to give away their money penetrates deeply into the worldview of its inhabitants. I left Second Avenue at around 11pm from liming with a nice mix of locals and tourists performing Karaoke in the middle of a street outside of a bar. Walking down Highway 1, I noticed a man running from a far distance in a park headed towards me. He was running raggedly, body barely holding it together, with each struggling step forward his shoulders seemed to collapse while somehow rising again to fall even harder with each new passing step as he was rushing towards me. Yet, he seemed strangely happy, even ecstatic, an uncontrollable excitement that could not be harnessed or kept from full expression, similar to Fanny (my parents fur-daughter dog) who uncontrollably pees when seeing, me unable to keep her excitement in check. He awkwardly ran towards me across this dark park making sounds that I could vaguely understand, only enough was heard to capture the thrill of his emotion. As he drew closer I began to make out his words uttered while simultaneously smiling ear to ear, “White man, white man, how are you white man?” He continued, “Ohhhhhhh white man, Hi! Hi! Ha-ha, hellooooooow white man, you give me money now. Yes, yes white man, I would like to have some money.” He seemed so happy and certain that I wanted to not only part with my money but also give it to him. As he made his final approach, and he was in full sprint with his near-decrepit body, his hands were already extended out to receive the money stating, “Thank you white man, give me money now, (smiling) oh thank you, thank you so much.” I looked blankly at him, confused, but perhaps more frustrated that everyone—the government, every corporation in the world, banks, airlines, businesses of all types—wants my money. Everyone, including this man. I told him that I did not want to give up my money. “It is mine” I explained, “my money, I’m not giving you my money.” He gave me the now usual “Sin Carrrrrrrrrnee” confused look as if “why would this white man not want to give me money? White people love giving away their money.” He did not look disappointed. He looked betrayed and actually stated “What? But I ran all this way!” He successfully turned the tables leaving me in a position to apologize that he ran all this way for nothing. “I’m sorry you ran all this way but I do not want to give up my money. I’m sure, as you seem to be, that the next white man will be more than willing to give you his money.” Disappointed, he acknowledged this apparent truth and walked away back into the shadows. This behavior happens in other countries too, except with some differences. In Trinidad and Dominica (see next posting) for example, a man did not bother to run after me. He too, fully expected that I, who they perceive as a white man, want to give them my money. This man was sitting down on the corner when he spotted me. He yelled, “Hey boy, come here boy. Yes, you boy, come here and give me some money.” I looked at him strangely and returned, “No, I like my money and will keep it.” I was amazed. This tactic must usually work for this man. He acted surprised, even offended, that I did not want to walk over to him and release my cash. This shows the relative power marginalized black men are able to easily secure over weak white liberals. The marginalized black man yells to the effeminate white American male, “Hey, boy, come here.” The white man walks over and says, “Yes?” The marginalized black man says, “Give me your money.” The effeminate white liberal apologetically hands over money to his temporary master and even says “thank you.”
I’m in Dominica next on what will prove a wild adventure, stay tuned.