the Bahamas

Over the President’s Day weekend, my family and I visited the Bahamas. I have hesitated to blog about our trip, because I don’t want to presume any knowledge or insight about a country that I saw so briefly. I find life in America mysterious and complicated enough; to say something about a foreign nation on the basis (mainly) of a two-hour tour provided by a friendly taxi driver is presumptuous.

But I enjoy recording what I happen to notice. In Miami, on the way home, I saw scores of homeless men under a kind of portico in a blighted downtown district. Back in our own neighborhood in Washington, someone asked me for money for food. I didn’t see anyone that badly off in Nassau. There were some very small houses–maybe 10 feet by 10 feet. But they were mixed in with larger homes and shops. People of all ages seemed comfortable out on the streets. There may be crime, but there was no sign of fear. Our taxi driver emphasized that health care is free except for a $10 co-pay if you stay overnight at the hospital.

I don’t want to romanticize life in a place that, to repeat, I know so little. But it turns out that the adult literacy rate in the Bahamas is 95.5%, life expectancy at birth is 67.2, 97% of the population has access to water and up to 94% can afford essential drugs. There are 106 physicians per 100,000 population. Women hold 20% of seats in parliament and are slightly more literate than men, although their earned income is only 64% of men’s. By way of comparison, life expectancy in the US is 78 years, 100% of our population is considered to have access to safe water, and there are about 549 physicians per 100,000 people (but a lot of people can’t afford to see them). I can’t find adult literacy statistics for the US or the percentage of Americans who can afford drugs defined as essential–I doubt that either rate is higher than in the Bahamas. Women hold 15.1% of the seats in Congress and earn 62% as much income as men.

It occurs to me that if the 192 countries of the world were people, the US would be one of the richest, but would have some “issues.” The Bahamas would be upper-middle class and would have its act together pretty well.