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Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Tour of Tourism


A One-Act Play

Dr. Lester CN Simon

Fibre optic cable is in reference to the confusion between the Government and Antigua Public Utilities Authority about the laying of the fibre optic cable. Dr. Errol Cort is the Minister of Finance. Boggy Peak is the highest point (a hill) in Antigua. ‘Trading Places’ in the annual exercise in which ministers of government exchange places with workers in the tourist industry.

Scene: The reception area of a small hotel.

Jonathan: Mizpah, I was going to throw it in the bin but I am really concerned about this strange email that came in yesterday. See? It’s not clear where it’s coming from; just a set of numbers and musical symbols. At first I thought it was from a prankster or a Spanish tourist. We have had Spanish guests with that name. But last night I had this strange dream that the email was from God and that his son, Jesus was really coming to our hotel.

Mizpah: Jesus Christ? Coming to our hotel? Nah. He would choose an all inclusive.

Jonathan: No he would not. He was born in a manger. He is accustomed to small hotels. Plus, he would want to walk all over the island and sample the local dishes.

Mizpah: Yes. And turn water into wine; walk on seawater (with or without fibre optic cable?); and go fishing with Peter and John and the posse. Why don’t you reply to the email? Say that we are fully booked.

Jonathan: But he will know I am lying.

Mizpah: My point exactly. If the email is from God, he must know whether or not we have any vacancy. And copy your reply to Satan. Wherever one goes the other follows.

Jonathan: What’s Satan’s email address?


Jonathan: Remember he said he would come back like a thief in the night.

Mizpah: Well email Him back and tell Him that plenty thieves down here already. That when we complain to the police about suspicious men loitering, they ask if, “Man can’t lime?” And since He will be coming in the night, it’s time for you to go on night duty. Reply to the email and use the Bcc for Satan.

Jonathan: Why Bcc?

Mizpah: It means “blind carbon copy”. Jesus will not know that the email is going to Satan as well; unless he is not really Jesus. It can also mean “before Christopher Columbus”. He was the first tourist here. Maybe you should invite him too. Do you know that some people in the southern Pacific call tourists, aisalsaliri? It means, “floating ones”. Tourist: the personification of vulgarity, ill-breeding, offensiveness and loathsomeness. As far back as 1870, a clergyman called them that. Have you ever wondered what here was like in 1491? An award winning author, Charles C. Mann did the research and wrote that before Columbus started the cruise tourism business, there were more people living here in the Americas than in Europe. The Aztec capital, Tenochtitl├ín, had running water, majestic botanical gardens and immaculately clean streets; better than any capital in stinking Europe. Tourist! The idea.

Jonathan: Mizpah, if you dislike them so much, maybe you should get a better job. And how come we end up so bad in history if this place was so great.

Mizpah: We end up so for the same reason the tourist gal have you so basodee. But you are damn right about this job. Then again, maybe my job here is to teach people like you about tourism. You love your job so much, you dreaming about it. How can you serve a tourist in a postcolonial society before you understand your own history? People like you are a contradiction, a native tourist on a long, all inclusive vacation. You have to come to terms with slavery, mentally disentangle colonial society and rebuild a society that includes the good ways the colonials behaved to their own. All good societies, starting in ancient Africa, have the same things. Now, black people have to become mentally naked before we can put on clothes. How can we smile, really smile at a tourist before we curse colonialism, rebuild our African culture and add to it (because, Lord, there is so much evil back there) and smile, really smile at each other first?

Jonathan: But isn’t all that the same thing like being born again? That is probably why God sent the email. Maybe everybody should work in tourism as a rite of passage. And not just for a one day, symbolic, play-play foolishness like “Trading Places”. It’s really every body’s business. Otherwise, we are simply moving from what you call political colonialism to economic colonialism and cultural imperialism.

Mizpah: You understand. Tourism is the third largest global industry after oil and drugs, which means that when tourists bring in their drugs, big business going on right here in this little country. Talking about business, you realize that Jesus was born in Bethlehem because his parents were running away from paying taxes in Nazareth?

Jonathan: Well, according to you, nobody will escape Dr. Errol Cort; not even if they hide up Boggy Peak for 40 days and 40 nights. But truthfully, Joseph and Mary had to move from Nazareth, where they were living, and go to Bethlehem because Joseph was from the house of David and he had to move to Bethlehem to meet the empire-wide census and tax decree by Caesar. Jesus was a traveling, tourist baby.

Mizpah: Tourist. Tim Hector said that sugar brought us together in large estates; tourism brings us together in hotels without the same social bonding. From bad to worse. When tourists wanted to buy the Pitons in St. Lucia, Derek Walcott had to ask how anyone can sell a metaphor.

Jonathan: Maybe that is why Jesus is coming again; to change all that. But here is another email from the same….person….. It is requesting reservation for Muhammad, Confucius, Lao-tzu, Buddha, Zoroaster, Haile Selassie and a whole host of people. I wonder what kind of credit card all these prophets use. Must be Master card. All these prophets in our little hotel? Priceless.

Mizpah: Like you said Jonathan, tourism is really everybody’s business; the quintessential, postcolonial rites of passage from servitude to service. Service to self. Service to others, near and far. Service to God. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Monday, December 11, 2006

My People


Dr. Lester CN Simon

A dear friend of mine, truly sorrowed by my long suffering attempts at solving crossword puzzles, suggested I tackled them in the afternoon instead of in the morning. He explained that by afternoon time many attempts would have been made by others, and their successes and failures would be floating in the ether for easy absorption, like a national, ethereal photocopying machine. Another dear friend said that a similar, cultural, photocopying process called race memory, can explain our current behaviour and attitude.

What kind of society do we expect when slaves unlock themselves and become free men and women? One disappointing result is that our culture displays a historic and peculiar national badness every single day in Antigua and Barbuda. It is our fierce and profound lack of respect for authority in all walks of life. It is twinned to a familiarity that says we all came out of the same slavish chains. And that same familiarity breeds contempt even when and especially when some of us attain positions of privilege and power.

The explanation for this national, wanton familiarity and rabid disrespect lies not solely in the small size of our population. We have to reexamine colonial history and race memories to look for clues to solve this mystery. The colonial masters justified their behaviour by seeing slaves as less than human and ill worthy of any respect. Whilst some slaves regarded their colonial masters as the best thing since Columbus, most others regarded them and their authority status as worthy of death and destruction.

The dismantling of colonial authority and all its trappings became the affirmation of the humanity of enslaved West Indians. Anticolonial resistance became a moral duty to be carried out by any and all, by any and all means necessary. To Frantz Fanon, native violence was not a call for new violence. Native violence was a justifiable end to colonial violence. Similarly, native crass disregard for authority was aimed at applying a final solution to the arrogance of the colonial masters and birthing a bright hope for a new beginning; a new, native humanism. But utopia, without due and proper care and attention, can so easily become dystopia.

Yes, there are some of us in positions of authority who have no clue whatsoever about leadership and management. However, in most cases, the combination of small-island familiarity, the absence of any teaching about civics and history and the embedded, historical revulsion of respect for authority, makes for the gross disregard for supervisors, managers, leaders and all forms of authority. This vulgar disregard and utter disrespect even extend to companions who simply ask one another to be responsible.

But there is something peculiar and intrinsic, indeed native as in being constitutive, about the typical arrogance of the garrot. At the stroke of midnight on Thursday, 31 July, 1834 about three-quarters of a million men, women and children were emancipated from slavery in the British West Indies. The Act of Emancipation was passed by the British Government with a proviso. The ex-slaves were made apprentices to their former masters. An apprentice was only able to earn wages or choose an occupation after giving 40 hours of unpaid labour each week.

In Antigua, there was no apprenticeship system. Immediate freedom was granted to the slaves. Because of the lack of alternative employment due to the lack of free land, two-thirds of the ex-slaves returned to the sugar plantation as free labourers, within 2 months of their emancipation. Predictably, sugar production increased despite the reduction in the number of workers. Are there lessons here for this government’s voluntary separation package? In Antigua, we had a head start on freedom and possibly a head start on the social engineering that made ex-slaves jostle for position of responsibility and power. Earlier than others, we took on the guise and disguise of the colonials in form and function, with the attendant despise and blatant disrespect by fellow natives for each other.

Ironically, many of us who curse and despise authority actually crave the same authority. It cannot be that the only way to ensure succession and settle differences is to openly tear down others and in so doing, add to the long line of negative, cultural photocopying and perpetual contemptuousness. We should take a tip from one of our national heroes, the Coromantee, King Court, and the English. If we have to, we must plan and execute our strategies more carefully, cunningly and covertly (like Brer Anancy) whilst going about with apparent public charm and grace.

The enjoyment of private pleasures such as family, property, drive and ambition, requires the existence of a stable society. A stable society is predicated on adherence to laws, rules and regulations and participation in institutions. More important, it demands that its citizens be of good character and mores. But some private pleasures, thoughts, desires and actions may be publicly unacceptable. It follows that the coexistence of some private pleasures and a good society presupposes that living together incorporates an obligatory contradiction and essential hypocrisy. Nowhere on earth is it more difficult to understand and display this fundamental construct, in a civilized manner, than in a post colonial, developing country like Antigua and Barbuda where native freedom and vulgar disrespect came early.

By the bye, I no longer do crossword puzzles (Sudoku is better) because the times for tackling them receded more and more into infinity. But I still honour my dear friend’s advice in other ways. And so, I humbly suggest, with no hint whatsoever of the arrogance that is typically, historically and constitutively Antiguan, that you read or reread this article in the afternoon or evening.