Tales from Back Home – British Virgin Islands

“Nature’s Little Secret” is the defining tagline of my childhood. It’s also on license plates, t-shirts and nearly every tourist-trap merchandise you can find in the Virgin Islands (or BVI for short). I grew up on the island of Tortola, the biggest in the archipelago, although at just 24 square miles, this isn’t much to brag about.  As small as the country is, it’s filled with beautiful natural formations- from the crystal-clear waters lapping on white sand beaches, to stretching lush, green mountains towering above. The environment, much like the culture, is warm and rich. 

If this begins to sound a bit too much like a tourism advertisement, that’s because it is. The tourism industry is one of the largest sources of revenue for the nation, second only to financial services like offshore banking (but I won’t get too into that one). In secondary school, I remember my friends and I took a mandatory tourism class despite being science majors. Walking through Road Town, the capital, with your mates only to have your conversation interrupted by the blaring tune of a Disney cruise ship near the docks may seem a bit bizarre, but simply routine for us. Given the pervasiveness of the industry within the BVI, I often wondered whether the culture influenced our brand of tourism, or if the latter influenced our culture. 

Before I go any further, there are three things you must know about people from the BVI. For us, manners are everything. In a place where everyone knows everyone, attempting to enter any establishment or pass by others on the roadside without a “Good morning!” is seen as disrespectful. I remember walking through town when one of my aunts pulled her car up beside me to ask why I hadn’t greeted her. The usually good-natured custom can make you feel welcomed and safe if not just a little invaded.  

Another thing about BVIslanders is we love a good fête. We’ve got the standard celebrations such as our Emancipation Festival, a type of carnival held throughout the Caribbean, and Christmas parades. However, people’s birthdays are often turned into huge events with venues booked, food prepped and cooked by attendees (my favourite), and of course, rum (my second favourite). 

Lastly, and most importantly, we’re incredibly proud of our home. When BVIslanders say we’re “nature’s little secret”, we really do believe it. I never truly appreciated how lucky I was to live in a place where wildlife existed uninhibitedly until I moved to London. It was strange to fall asleep without the sound of waves crashing, and a chorus of crickets and birds chirping. Some part of me, an extremely small part, even misses chasing stray frogs out of the house during heavy rainfalls. I realized I was raised to consider myself a part of nature, and in turn consider nature a part of me. In a time where we’re fighting to preserve the future of our planet, I think the long journey ahead can be made easier by adopting this little piece of Virgin Islands philosophy into our consciousness.  

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Mariam Jallow

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May 2022
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