Oh, Oh, Those West Indian Men! By Marianne Ilaw

“Walking past a soccer field at dusk in Barbados, clad in a black, ruffled off-the-shoulder dress with a giant hibiscus blossom tucked behind my ear. The game stopped and the players gave me a rousing round of applause.”
Oh, Oh, Those West Indian Men! By Marianne Ilaw
—REMEMBER THAT WICKEDLY FUNNY ROUTINE EDDIE MURPHY DID A FEW YEARS AGO? Don’t let your woman visit the Caribbean alone, he warned. Because she’s gonna run into Dexter St. Jacques, the island playboy, who will purr, I want to make love to you endlessleeeee!
Sisters who vacation in the Caribbean shrieked in recognition when they saw that number, for anyone who has ever stepped foot on West Indian soil knows that Dexter St. Jacques is ubiquitous throughout the region. He’s tall, often lean and long-legged, cocoa brown, with a luxurious mustache fringing his full kissable lips. Or else he’s very fair skinned (known as clear, red, or bright in the islands) with wavy blondish-brown hair, green or hazel eyes, and a penchant for bragging about how his granfodder was a pureblood Englishman. (The Puerto Rican variation on this theme is, My grandparents came from Spain.) Whichever West Indian model you choose and both are plentiful he’s likely to be named Trevor, Fitzroy, Winston, Neville, Denroy, Basil, Godfrey, or Junior. He has a lilting accent, and when he addresses you as me darlin’, you’re ready to sell your Chicago condo, resign from your job in human resources, and make plans to open up a beachside cafe (Chez Wanda) on his island.
Girlfriend, get a grip! West Indian men are great they’re sexy, sweet, charming, and attentive. They’re a lovely diversion for sisters fed up with self-absorbed buppies and commitment-phobic boyfriends. And there is no man shortage in the Caribbean.
Now, don’t get me wrong all island men are not playboys or gigolos. There are just as many hard-working family men who are faithful to their wives, churchgoing, dignified brothers, and studious young guys who would rather prepare for the future than fritter away their hours badgering tourist women to buy them a shot of Mount Gay. However, if you are a single black woman traveling without male companionship, the men you’re going to meet will be the ones who are looking for babes like you cute, sassy, with discretionary income and no husband lurking in the background. But remember it’s only an island fantasy. If you keep a clear head and remember that your Caribbean fling is just that, you’ll enjoy yourself. And remember, too, you don’t have to have sex with an island man to enjoy his stellar rap. Kissing and midnight walks on the beach will give you that nice tingly feeling without having to worry about the consequences of pregnancy or disease. And, if you’re an exhibitionist, you can get your jollies by simply doing a wicked wine to a steamy soca tune on the dance floor.
Keep a cool head, and don’t get hung up on that muscular bartender who serves you a frosty Bahama Mama. He’s had plenty of practice, and he knows just what to say: What! A beautiful woman like you and no husband? I’ve never felt dis way before, for real. Of course, I’ll wait for you to come back next year. There’ll be no odder woman! Trust me, they’ll be cruising the arrivals terminal the minute your Delta flight takes off. But don’t take my word for it listen to my good buddy Rhona A., who was born in Dominica and raised on St. Croix: West Indian men are oversexed, girl! she says, laughing. When Rhona and I and another pal went to St. Martin some years ago, she was not impressed with the antics of the local men and yawned as I gaped, wide-eyed, at the sexy, loose-hipped, chocolate-skinned brothers who were crawling all over us. (She sniffed, You yellow gals go for these hard-core’ nasty men. Not me. I want someone quiet, with a small face, not these twenty-five-pound-head guys.)
These dudes literally hid in the bushes behind our cottage, grabbed our ankles as we splashed in the ocean, and even hung over the roof of our unit one morning and peered in the bathroom window, hoping to catch one of us showering. Happily married to a soft-spoken Southern-bred brother, Rhona says, Yeah, I liked West Indian men, but they have to have a lot of women: a wife, a girlfriend, and some stuff on the side. And you know what they love fat women! Sure, they’re romantic, but that’s because they’ve had a lot of practice! (But they’re so irresistible, like the gallant Bermudian admirer who told me, as we strolled through a fragrant garden during a tropical shower: Oh, sweet lady, the island is crying because you’re leaving tomorrow.)
Desmond B., a West Indian born bachelor who now works in New York City, reluctantly agrees with Rhona. Yes, there is some truth to this, he sighs. There are some West Indian men who love to philander. They just don’t have any restraint. Now, if an American man could get away with this, he would! But American men understand the consequences West Indian men let the urge overpower them and they just go for it.
Yes, I know West Indian men and how they work. I live in New York City, a magnet for island immigrants. Many of my suitors here have been of Caribbean or Latino ancestry. (And I also have island blood in my own veins, so I know how mangoes, curry, and rum can enliven one’s temperament.) However, after years of being exposed to rap music, BMWs, Armani suits, and the hype over the black man shortage, the transplants have adopted the cool facade of American brothers. They don’t have to work for the boots. The indigenous Caribbean man, on the other hand, is earnest, anxious, and in your face. (It’s kind of like the difference between powdered ginger in a jar and the fresh, pungent root both are spicy, but the unadulterated stuff has the biggest, nose-opening kick.) And for a black woman who is weary of men who are too selfish to cater to her, Caribbean men are a sweet treat.
For fifteen years now, I have been fulfilling my college dream of traveling widely throughout the Caribbean. I often go alone, since I’m a freelance travel writer and I don’t want to be encumbered by companions who prefer to spend their days at the beach and their nights at the casino. (Girl, let’s check out that $8.99 buffet over at the Tropicana!) No, I seek out adventures, talk to everyone from cabinet ministers to barefoot crackheads. I’ve been to nearly every island, from sprawling Jamaica and Barbados to tiny Bequia and Nevis. I’ve danced barefoot at the Friday night jump-up in Gros Islet, St. Lucia; got into a heated discussion on male-female relations ( de problem wit’ American men is dat dey rodder buy a foncy cyar den take care o’ dey woman) in a smokey bar in Tortola; and ventured alone, my thirty-five-year-old body poured into a scandalous orange miniskirt, into a packed disco on Grand Cayman, where I had nineteen-year-old studs panting to wine with me.
Traveling alone has many advantages: You can make your own itinerary each day, without worrying about the friend who wants to price crystal and perfume; you can eat when and where you choose (some of my best meals have been takeout curry chicken and homemade ginger beer consumed on my balcony at sunset) and you have a greater opportunity to meet local folks, including men.
Some Caribbean men think black American women act hard to get. Once I was in a nightclub in Freeport, dancing with a guy who sported a gold tooth and pink polyester pants. He asked, Are you Italian? Spanish? (I’m beige with that Is that a weave? kinda hair.) When I replied, No, I’m a black American, he left me standing on the dance floor. Damn, right in the middle of Caribbean Queen! I asked his homeboy what was going on, and he replied, Oh, you know, black American women don’t give it up and they sure don’t spend their money on you, so he thought he was wasting his time. He wants a girl who will give him sex and greenbacks. I didn’t know whether to be flattered or pissed off, and when I later asked the fire-eater (who wore a jheri curl with enough grease to fry five chickens) to explain what had happened, he said, White women want these black island men. You sistahs have black men at home, so you expect more from us. It’s not enough that we be big and black. For a blonde chick we’re a novelty. So it’s easier to score with them. If it’s any consolation, I was later propositioned by the portly, balding contortionist in his civilian garb of a black felt Superfly hat and orange and yellow satin cape who whispered, Wanna see me scoot naked across de floor like a crab? I passed.
In St. Croix, I met a man who had six jobs. (Yeah, just like the Headleys on the show, In Living Color.) Foxton was a photographer, a waiter, a bodyguard, an illustrator, a security guard, and a paramedic. He used to joke and say, Me so black, I gotta smile for you to find me face at night. He thought he could win my favor by inviting me to his house to view videos of fatal car crashes. Yah, you should see dis one partikalar video. It was brutal. De mon, he bloody head roll out on de ground!
In Grenada a ruffian followed me along the beach for about ten minutes. I thought he was trying to get a rap, but, actually, he was trying to steal my bag. He insisted that he was a member of the secret police and wanted to search me for drugs and contraband. I shrieked a string of curses, New Yorkstyle, and a security guard came a running. He ordered the suspect to sit on de beach until de police come! Surprise he did! The constable took the ne’er-do-well into custody and assured me, We don’t really have crime in Grenada. The only reason this guy tried to rob you is because he used to live in New York. Gee, thanks, pal. The following day, the arresting officer paid me a call at my hotel, and questioned me for about, uh, forty-five minutes as I was sprawled on a chaise lounge in an eye-popping pink bikini. He asked in earnest if I needed a bodyguard for the remainder of my trip. He wasn’t the only one who offered his services. After word got around about my unfortunate experience, all manner of local men were volunteering to squire me around. Humphrey tried to impress me with his brute strength by bragging, You know I killed “tree” (3) people with a machete. I yawned. It was I alone who killed dem. Yawn plus a shrug. He leaned forward and whispered, Dey wuz “tree” white people, woman! I later learned from Virgil, a beachside crafts vendor who claimed to be a former cop, that Humphrey fabricated stories to impress women. Dat bwoy kunna kill a damn mosquito if it land on him nose! Virgil offered to protect me by spending the night in my hotel room. I promise, I sleep on de floor and stay awake all night to guard you! With his eyes trained on my overflowing tank top and his breathing raspy and labored, I declined. Some of these island guys are too bold to be believed. I was minding my business on a beach in the Bahamas, eyes closed, Walkman snugly attached, when I felt a dog licking my foot. I reached down to stroke him, but when I opened my eyes, I discovered it was a young man. Sunglasses lowered, my neck popping, I demanded an explanation. He shrugged sheepishly I was just removing the sand from your toes. (Feet must be popular in the Caribbean. In a beach bar in Barbados, a man I had never see before pulled off my sandal and put it in his mouth. These shoes have walked on the streets of Manhattan! I shrieked. And in St. Thomas, a handsome local dinner date dropped his car keys, dove under the table to retrieve them, and gave my bare tootsies a quick slurp.)
On the ferry from St. Vincent to Bequia in the Grenadines, I was ogled by a hygienically challenged dude with bare rusty feet housing toenails so long and strong they could open up a bottle of ginger beer. He winked his bloodshot eyes at me and ambled over. Hi dere, he nodded, wafting breath that smelled as if a monkey had slept in his mouth. You wan’ company? No, thanks, I declined. He clucked his white-coated tongue and peeled a scab off his arm. You gwine be sorry you turned dis down, sister! Despite some crude knuckleheads, for the most part I have felt cherished, respected, and admired, even if I was being handed a truckload of fertilizer. And I did meet a bunch of men who were absolute gentlemen and were appalled at the behavior I described. Dey ‘ave no home trainin’, one cab driver clucked.
The fellas in St. Lucia were pretty smooth; well, you know, those Creole cultures have that extra little continental twist. I met men who would bow at the waist and kiss my hand, a guy who crooned to me in French under a palm tree one evening, and a bunch of mannerly teenage boys who plucked hibiscus blossoms and fresh coconuts for my approval. Why, even a local crackhead was a bucket of charm. As I explained the penalties for narcotics possession in New York, he fashioned a cricket and a beach hat out of palm fronds for me. I was the only patron in a charming seaside restaurant one night off-season. The elderly owner was courtly and attentive, and as the cooks prepared my fresh dolphin, and the bartender concocted a special drink just for me, the proprietor spun me around the establishment’s concrete floor as an infectious calypso tune poured from ceiling speakers. Just the two of us, twirling around the empty room.
Startling or sweet, I have great island memories:
Walking past a soccer field at dusk in Barbados, clad in a black, ruffled off-the-shoulder dress with a giant hibiscus blossom tucked behind my ear. The game stopped and the players gave me a rousing round of applause.
Being given a tour of Antigua by an earnest young business man who suddenly stops the car, leaps over a roadside fence and plucks a fat, juicy mango to present to me.
Strolling along downtown Nassau, minding my own business, when this dude jumps off a moving bus and rushes up to me. Startled, I asked him what was up, and he kissed my hand and said, You just so pretty, I had to say hello to you. He pointed to the sky-high water tower behind us and said, Men would jump off dat tower for a girl like you. (Even if it was a crock, I sure ain’t never had no brothers in New York jump off a speeding subway train to rap to me.)
Hanging out with two of my girls at a hot nightclub in Bermuda, basking in the male attention. We all get up to dance, and when we return to our table, there are twelve count ‘em twelve pastel-colored drinks in front of us, courtesy of several admirers.
Chuckling while I overheard two waiters arguing over who was going to serve me at my hotel’s restaurant in Aruba. Alright, alright, so the only other customers were a group of middle-aged German men.
Lying on a deserted beach in St. Kitts, hearing giggles floating from behind a sand dune. When I turned my head to check it out, I saw two young boys whispering and pushing each other. Hi there, I waved. One of them waved timidly and said, When we grow up, we gonna look for a girlfriend just like you, Miss! (They start young, don’t they?)
If you’ve never been to the islands, you’re in for an unrivaled experience. Whether you’re sixteen or sixty, slim or stout, sophisticated or shy, you’ll return from your trip agreeing that if Caribbean men could bottle and sell their charm, their finesse, and their sex appeal, the region’s sluggish economy would soar. Be safe, and don’t take it seriously.

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