Excerpted from Offshore: The Dark Side of the Global Economy by William Brittain-Catlin. Copyright © 2005 by William Brittain-Catlin. Publishes in July, 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.
1. Our Offshore World
Happy does the sailor return to the bright streams
From far off islands, where he has reaped—
I too would like to return to my homeland again.
Oh, how I have woefully reaped.
Your lovely shores, which have raised me
Oh grant me, you forests of my childhood,
When I return, peace once more again.
Grand Cayman, May 2003
From the public beach off West Bay Road, you can see George Town, the capital, due south down the shoreline. I look and wait for the fireworks to start. The sun has set more than an hour ago, but there are a few people on the beach. A young couple kiss. A Honduran family, feet in the sea, eat dinner from a takeout bag. Then, a few minutes after eight, the fireworks start.
It is a night in May 2003, the eve of the five hundredth anniversary of the first sighting of the Cayman Islands by Columbus, on his fourth Atlantic crossing in 1503. A weekend of festivities has begun. Cayman is celebrating its birthday, its origins linked to the dawn of Western enlightenment, trade, and empire. Here is the prism through which our offshore world can be glimpsed.
The fireworks are over before they get started. Perhaps it’s because I am too far up Seven Mile Beach to get the full effect. I expect more, a peaking crescendo of light over George Town, some gasp of excitement from the few people around me. It feels like something is being held back. There is an ambiguity to the fireworks; an outward moment of expression has been pulled back, contained, and controlled.
Back on West Bay Road, I start the drive toward George Town. The road runs down the side of Seven Mile Beach and is Cayman’s most developed thoroughfare, linking the banks, offices, and law firms of the financial center with West Bay, a residential area with the islands’ greatest concentration of black Caymanians. On the way you pass Wendy’s, the Holiday Inn, Coutts Bank, the Governor’s House, business centers, clubs, bars, and upscale condos. The massive Ritz-Carlton hotel apartment complex, yet to be finished, shoots concrete passageways over the road, stretching toward the sea. Dotted between the hotels and resorts is an occasional wooden cabin, neat and tidy, with a TV aerial and a large house number fixed to the door. No one is walking, just cars.
George Town is quiet. A few streetlamps on the main harbor road barely reveal the water to one side, and side roads on the other are merely tracks leading into the night. The glass structures of the banks that glint and gleam by day are in the shadows, their names—Barclays, Scotiabank, Butterfield—just visible in the moonlight.
The first signs of life are two policemen in white peaked caps, manning a temporary barrier. A few steps on, some Australians pass by in high spirits; then there’s a sharp turn into Cardinal Avenue. Here several hundred people are crushed up together, moving to the sounds of Krosfyah, a reggae soca band from Barbados. The music is good and loud, with a full, sharp sound. A little carnival has landed in Cayman. Bodies wind and twist, following the bandleader Edwin’s taut gyrations. It’s black people’s night. “Don’t take no video,” shouts Edwin, “you just gwan rob me wi’ dat.” Then he makes a crazy move, and the crowd start to cheer him wildly. “Now show me some grinding,” urges Edwin, “real good grinding.” He moves his hips round and round and up and down.
A little girl is pushed up onto the stage to take part in the grinding contest. The people roar their approval. “What’s your name?” The girl whispers back, her chin pinned to her chest, hiding her face. “Dorrit!” repeats the bandleader, and then asks her age. “Seven years old!” The soca rhythm revs up. The bandleader starts to move. Dorrit starts to grind, body jerking up and down, bonding the revelers together into a single physical mass. But the girl’s chin pushes harder into her chest, her eyes turned inward, hidden in shame and embarrassment, caught at once between expressive physical joy and the authority of her mental detachment from the dance. She tires, gives up, and is passed limply back into the hands of the crowd, her sacrifice complete.
Such events make headline news in Cayman. Only a week earlier, the daily newspaper, in its coverage of the Batabano, Cayman’s annual carnival, had reminded readers that a group known as the Mudders, who were “renowned for lewd behaviour,” had been banned from participating in the festivities. Nevertheless, the Caymanian Compass was sorry to report that “a small number of individuals were openly ‘grinding,’ with their mid-sections glued together in a highly suggestive manner as they danced to calypso songs.” The paper wasn’t sure if it was possible to ban grinding altogether, though that would be preferable, as modesty was “a characteristic of Cayman’s conservative heritage.”
Little Dorrit was caught between freedom and control, like Cayman itself between the global market economy and colonial dependency on the United Kingdom. With this thought we can begin, if we want to look hard enough, to glimpse the strange hidden space between capital and the state, the secret realm at the ambiguous heart of Western modernity, the ever-kept secret contradiction between the individual and the authority of the law.