Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bermudianization, Part One


“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” These historic words uttered by Neil Armstrong were beamed from the surface of the moon to Bermuda’s NASA Tracking Station on Cooper’s Island and then on to NASA’s flight control center in Houston, Texas for the rest of the world to hear. It was July 16, 1969, and the U.S. Space Program had put the first men on the moon with its Apollo 11 mission. Bermuda and the Cooper’s Island tracking station played an essential role in the success of the mission. Over the years, the Cooper’s Island tracking station has supported countless launches into space, including the Space Shuttle missions, but new satellite technology has rendered the facility redundant and NASA plans to vacate the complex on the tip of Cooper’s Island by September 30, 1998.

I wrote that - that is the introductory paragraph to a white paper I researched and wrote titled A Cultural, Educational & Environmental Opportunity For Bermuda -- Proposal for the enhancement of Cooper’s Island Nature Reserve by the addition of the NASA Tracking Station lands...what a bloated title! But it had to be that way -- it was going to be presented to the Bermudian parliament and those MPs weren’t going to read my paper, they were going to read the title and then listen to Richard from the Aquarium and possibly old David Wingate, the eccentric but honorable Bermuda Conservation Officer, “Mr. Cahow” himself present a case for making the NASA lands into a national conservation area - the body of the paper made a good case on the outside odds that one of the MPs might be interested, but mainly it was something to be filed away in the great tangle of Bermudian government red tape.

The white paper was supposed to be written by über expat wife and super fundraising woman C. -- you remember her? The one with the Roman nose and the blue blood from my Hell Night Out with the Girls. Well, Richard was going to hire her as a consultant for fairly large bucks to write that white paper, but why pay good Bermudian dollars when you can use captive volunteer labor instead?

One day, I was speeding out of the Aquarium, hoping to get home for a bite and then a nap on the beach that afternoon and Richard called me as I trotted by his door...my eyes were all bloodshot from entering turtle data, “Howz Yer Legs! Gotta minute?” I stopped and put it in reverse, and leaned into Richard’s door. There he sat with his constant sidekick, Jack. They were smiling broad Bermudian smiles. Oh dear, what did I do now? Please no more nicknames, I can’t take it!

“What’s up Richard? Hi Jack!” They were cute boys really, always up to something and counting the hours to cocktail hour every day, but they were also deadly serious about running their aquarium and zoo. Jack stood up and offered me his chair - he leaned back on Richard’s old ship’s desk, and crossed his legs...I was mesmerized by his khaki Bermuda shorts and his pink knee socks, he had obviously just come from town, he didn’t wear that kind of getup around the zoo.

“So girl, we were lookin’ at your resume. Seems in addition to data management, you’ve got some fundraising and writing experience, true?” Richard actually had my resume in his hands as he asked this question. I nodded my head and bit my lip. I wondered, hmm, did C. call them? Did she put in some word to get me out of the fish house and up into the front office. I hoped not, I was making good progress on the data base and my turtling days were heavenly. I had no interest in fundraising, in licking envelopes and kissing moneyed ass.

Jack piped up, “Do you know about Cooper’s Island?”

“Yeah, that’s where the NASA station is, right?” I had driven up to the entrance once hoping to find a way in so I could snorkel off the rocks there, but the place was locked up tight.

“That’s the place! Well, in a year of so, they are going to shut down the station, NASA is going to cancel their land lease with the government and we want to preserve the place -- there are people already talkin’ about a hotel out there, but Wingate says there are Long Birds nesting out there and quite possibly Cahows too and well, its a special sort a place.” Jack was right, it was a special place. Hell, all of Bermuda was special, but tourism had sort of taken care of that, hotels everywhere...land conservation was not a priority in Bermuda.

“Makes sense to me guys, but why are you telling me?” I really wanted them to get to the point, I was hungry and I was already half asleep in my spot in the soft pink sand at John Smith’s Bay.

“Well, we would like you to write a white paper for us...to present to Parliament to make our case. Could you do that?”

“I guess I could, but don’t you have people who do that kind of thing for you already, Bermudians, you know?” This was code for “I know you’re not going to pay me and I already work here 5 mornings a week for free, so c’mon fellas!”

“Oh yeah, we do have a Bermudian fundraising consultant, her name is C. -- you probably know her because her husband works for Gold Finger, do you know her?” They knew damn well I knew her.

“Yeah, I know C.” Suddenly I realized they were testing me -- would I screw C. out of her big consulting fee?

“Would it be say, a conflict of interest, say, if you were to write this paper for us, instead of her?” Jack crossed his arms. I was in deep water, I bit my lip harder.

“No, not really, I work for you guys. I mean, I volunteer for you guys. I rarely socialize with C. -- and you guys don’t have to say that I took the job on for you, right?” Oh my god, what am I doing? I am already collating 9 years worth of turtle data for them for free and now, now I am going to anonymously write a white paper for them to be presented to the whole f’ing Bermudian Parliament and screw C. out of her big commission?! Hell yeah, why not? I’ve got nothing better to do, I’m an Expat Wife! But it was risky...if C. were to find out, it might jeopardize my husband's job...his work permit...our expat existence...

“Right, you can do this for us and...” damn and then I realized it, they would take the credit for writing the paper...

“Yeah, I’ll do it. Where do we begin?”

“How about a field trip to Cooper’s Island next week, we’ll take you to the NASA station, you can see mission control and we’ll hike the island, talk to Wingate about the birds and oh, here’s some background info from the museum library.” They plunked a file of papers in my hand. The dye was cast, I was now a covert writer. I felt like one of Charlie's Angels...

You are probably wondering about now - what’s all this? What’s the big deal? Here friend is where I will teach you about Bermudianization and the extreme proprieties that it required an expat to live under. Bermudianzation is the high fallutin’ word that the Bermuda government used to describe its fair employment practice for Bermudians. Bermudians were entitled to any and all jobs offered on the great island of Bermuda, whether those jobs were offered by Bermudian employers or Foreign entities that chose to incorporate on the island for tax purposes or other good financial reasons. What this meant was that Bermudians had a first crack at all and any jobs available on the island -- all foreigners were forbidden to apply for jobs in Bermuda. You could not say be in the U.S. or in Canada or in the U.K. and look up job listings in Bermuda and apply for a job. As a foreigner, you had to be “sought out” by an employer...that is an employer who had exhausted all Bermudian citizens as possible candidates. If an employer could not find a qualified Bermudian for the job, then they could seek the help of foreign workers. But they would have to jump through hoop after hoop after hoop to advertise the job internationally and any prospective foreign worker would have to go through an unbelievable process to be considered not only fit to work for the said company in Bermuda, but to qualify for a Work Permit. If you, the foreign worker, were so fortunate, as to be hired for a position in Bermuda, you would be required to apply for a Work Permit from the Bermudian Government. This application was tantamount to applying to be a Secret Service Agent.

Said Prospective Work Permit Applicant would need to gather at least 6 personal recommendations from reputable citizens of their home country -- if Said Applicant were to know someone personally on the island of Bermuda, even better! A full medical including chest x-rays to eliminate the possibility that Said Applicant may be a carrier of tuberculosis was required. Said Applicant’s spouse was to provide letters of reference to character also, full medical history, and a written promise to not seek employment while residing on the island under his/her spouse’s ever-so valuable Work Permit. There were reams of information educating Said Applicant of violations that one could commit during one’s tenure upon the island that could result in Involuntary Repatriation. Let me repeat that - Involuntary Repatriation.

Involuntary Repatriation is the nice way of saying Deportation. And repatriation could come in several forms --they might give you 30 days to leave the island, they might only give you a day...it depended upon the extent of your violation of Their rules...

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