While there are many interpretations of the term "Caribbean", for the purpose of this article, the Caribbean would be defined as that archipelago surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and bordered by the Gulf of Mexico. It is that chain of islands from Jamaica to the north down to Trinidad and Tobago to the south. Historically and politically, Guyana, a South American country, is also included as part of the Caribbean region.
Quite often we hear Game Show hosts offering all-expenses paid trips to the Caribbean islands and often referring to them as "paradise". Persons who live in the Caribbean would concur that the Caribbean is indeed a paradise; a unique place to reside.
What adds to the uniqueness of the Caribbean? Firstly, there is a diversity of culture that cannot be found anywhere else on earth. History has woven a common thread through the islands from the indigenous Indian communities to Columbus; slavery to indentureship; as well as to being used as pawns in the World Wars. The islands changed hands from the British, the French, the Dutch at one time or another during the Wars. As a result, the Caribbean islands are now either English-speaking as in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Jamaica; French-speaking as in Martinique and Guadeloupe; French-Creole speaking as in Haiti, Dominica and St. Lucia; Dutch as in St. Martin. In some of the islands such as Trinidad and Tobago, St. Vincent and Dominica, communities of the indigenous Caribs can still be found with their practices intact. With the increased migration of Caribbean people within the region over the years, an individual living in the Caribbean can be assured to get an earful of these different accents on a daily basis. It can only be described as music to one's ears.
The legacy shaped by the historical events has impacted on the variety of foods in the region. National dishes abound in the different islands and is the second factor which adds to the uniqueness of the Caribbean. From roti, wild meat, pelau (rice, peas and meat), callaloo (spinach and ochroes in coconut milk) and curried crab and dumplings in Trinidad and Tobago; jerked meats, ackee and saltfish in Jamaica; Mountain Chicken (a type of frog) in Dominica; arepas and tortillas in Santo Domingo to bar-be-cued pigtail and Flying Fish in Barbados, it is a culinary feast. Added to this is the variety of colourful fruits that can be found in abundance in each of the islands on a daily basis. Living in the Caribbean is a rich experience for the palate.
A person living in the Caribbean is sure to attend one or more festivals each month from world-renowned Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago; National Fete in Martinique; Zouk Festival in Dominica; Kadooment in Barbados; Jazz Festival in St. Lucia and many more. What emanates as well is the wide selection of music that can be found in the Caribbean region from Zouk in the French-Creole islands; Soca, Calypso and Reggae in the English-speaking islands. Along with the music are the renowned musical artistes such as Bob Marley; David Rudder; Machel Montano; Morgan Heritage; Eddy Grant; Faye-Ann Lyons; Billy Ocean and so many more. In addition to this, there are the island folk songs that form part of the tapestry of the Caribbean.
The Caribbean islands are all blessed in large part by beautiful beaches with sands which can be classified as either white, grey or black based on the mineral content of the soils. Sunshine abounds in either rainy or dry season and going to the beach is often a daily pastime for many folks living in the region. What is deemed a vacation for tourists, is simply a part of everyday Caribbean living. What adds to the uniqueness of this region is that there has never been social unrest among Caribbean neighbours. Caribbean people live harmoniously in spite of religious and ethnic differences. This is an example for the rest of the world.
Financially, the Caribbean neighbours are dependent on various types of industries for their national income. In Barbados, Jamaica, Tobago, St. Coix and some other islands there is a dependence on tourism; in Trinidad there is the oil and gas industry; in the Dominican Republic there is the dependence on manufacturing of products; in St. Vincent, Dominica, Grenada and other islands there is dependence on the agricultural industry. The islands, however, are able to market their products with each other via inter-island trade brought about in large part by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) agreements.
Finally, apart from all that has been stated, the area that binds the Caribbean people together is that of sport. The sport that outweighs all others in the Caribbean is that of cricket. The performance of the West Indies Cricket Team which comprises many cricketers from the region, is the pride of the Caribbean. The Cricket Team is often the talking point of many avid fans and it is a daily sight to see several men and even women gathered together discussing cricket greats such as Frank Worrell (Barbados), Brian Lara (Trinidad and Tobago), Chris Gayle (Jamaica), Ramanaresh Sarwan (Guyana), Shivnarine Chanderpaul (Guyana) among so many more. It is that factor which makes them shed individual personalities and take on the Caribbean persona. While cricket is in the Caribbean "blood", football (soccer), basketball, golf, swimming and athletics have seen many sportsmen and sportswomen from the Caribbean holding their own in the international arena and especially at the Olympics. names such as Usian Bolt, Hasley Crawford, Ato Boldon, Dwight Yorke, Kenwyn Jones are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the wide number of achievers.
While there are socio-political and financial issues as in any other part of the world, in large part, living in the Caribbean is an experience that is incomparable with any other. To live in the Caribbean is to experience the heights of human interaction, history, nature and culture all wrapped into one. Living in the Caribbean is the closest experience to living in paradise.