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Monday, October 8, 2007

My Native Land


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Friends. Antiguans and Barbudans. Countrymen. Open your ears. Antigua and Barbuda is dead. Long live Antigua and Barbuda. The old country is passing away before our very eyes. A new state is coming into being. Ask yourself what it means to be an Antiguan and Barbudan. Ask yourself, because that is all you will do. You dare not answer the question. Not because you do not know the answer. But because you are afraid of the answer.

Well, let me tell you what Antigua and Barbuda means to me. My first sense of belonging to something other than my family, my church, my school and my group of friends came to me at a little corner in my little village of New Winthropes. On the four arms of this corner we had the church, the steel band, the shop and the union hall. I was proud to be a member of the juvenile branch of the Antigua Trades and Labour Union (AT&LU). I was ecstatic when, as a juvenile, I was given the key to open the union hall and attend the big-people-AT&LU meetings. How proud I was to hear a meeting called to order, proceed in order, overcome sprinklings of disorder, and end in order. Yes, it brought order to my wayfaring life. I recall the war between the sacred noise of the church and the profane bedlam of the steel band and how they seemingly settled into some sort of dissonant harmony.

What sense of growing nationalism I had, came tumbling down with the consequences of the fracture of the AT&LU over the estrangement of George Walter and Donald Halstead. In 1968, I witnessed the widespread labour unrest, the demonstrations and riots with the deployment of soldiers and fire trucks. A schoolmate got shot and wounded near Big Church. When I left here in 1970 for university, I was glad to leave. On the morning of my departure, I deliberately walked around my house and told all the plants, trees and animals goodbye and swore they would never see me in this land again. When I returned in 1983, friends from my last 3 years at Antigua Grammar School were so few and far between, I ran and hugged the first one I saw. Where had all the flowers gone?

To me, Antigua and Barbuda means separation. Seemingly, there are more of us outside the state than those of us living here. Historically, we have always been a transit state. Ironically, because of the flood of foreigners that have come in (to replace the flood of natives who have emigrated), we are now seeking more fervently than ever to find our national soul.

The leaders of this country have to understand a simple thing. They cannot cater to foreigners to the extent that natives continue to feel ignored or left behind. Let me say it in ways they can understand and that can be printed in a respectable newspaper. If you are in a relationship with person A, and (for whatever reason) you are courting a relationship with person B to the extent that person A is badly affected, you know what will happen. Person B will be smart enough (hopefully) to realize that the same estrangement between you and person A can happen to them too. In the final analysis, there is no relationship at all. This is where we are in this country right now; in a state of un-relatedness and disinterestedness. Some of us have become so disinterested, instead of using the active, grammatical voice to say we cannot bother, the passive voice saying we cannot be bothered is more suitable, literally.

Moses was born an Israelite but he was raised in Egypt in Pharaoh’s house. One school of philosophical thought says that Moses did not enter the promise land because his nationality was ambivalent. Leaders must understand that foreigners always know their place. When we are foreigners overseas or when foreigners come here, we all abide by this unwritten rule. But the same industry and drive that drive all of us to become foreigners also drive us to take whatever is available, even if that means taking over the whole adopted country or the promised land, unless rules, customs and burning bushes militate against this.
The stark irony that native Antiguans and Barbudans face is that we have to continue to seek to find our national identity whilst we embrace those foreigners who have helped to build this country. Some of them have been more patriotic than our very own. In this regard, natives and foreigners come face to face with an ambivalence that would make the causes of schizophrenia look like a pleasant Sunday afternoon beach picnic. The only way out of this national malady is to continue the healthy debate on what it means to be Antiguan and Barbudan. Natives must be the hypotenuse of this triangular relationship between us, politicians and foreigners. Otherwise natives, politicians and foreigners alike will perish and we will continue to define and redefine Antigua and Barbuda as a transit state.

The alienation of natives living in a transit state is in keeping with the ethos and pathos of our main industry, tourism. Frankly speaking, all this moko-jumbie talk about tourism being everybody’s business is making me sick. Who is everybody and what does everybody do? How can we take away Half Moon Bay from one owner and give it (the whole half-moon) to another? Were we natives born in a taxi or with serving trays and cleaning implements in our hands? The only sensible thing to do is to let citizens of this country (natives and foreigners) buy into it. This does not mean it will be run like some sort of insipid, pepperpot business.

There are successful ways, with the appropriate education and training, to run a hotel or any other business in which the people can invest their money and their pride. And for those who say it will fail, let me remind them of all those brilliant, foreign investors who have failed miserably. The future of APUA will help to define our ability to move from chaos to a new economic order. The rabid inability of two of our brightest and bespoken patriots to agree on the mode, pace and sequence of this transition is top ranking testimony to the lack of a clear, conjoint, pragmatic vision of the future of this transit state.

Imagine therefore my angst when I read in The Daily Observer a few days ago that, “A Cabinet subcommittee will meet with Sir R Allen Stanford … which time the billionaire investor will, once again, present his vision for Antigua and Barbuda……The latest meeting comes on the heels of the partial disclosure of the judgment on the Asian Village”.

First of all, my dear good people, let me say to all those jumbie-crab neaga who keep on saying that Antiguans and Barbudans knew nothing about these offshore islands and all of a sudden we are drunk with adulterated, moonshine nationalism, that they miss the proverbial point. The separation between us natives and the offshore islands is the very same separation between us natives and the mainland where we live. Separation is the constitutive, defining culture, the etymology, of Antiguans and Barbudans. Why then do we want to heap further separation on ourselves? The nascent nationalism will be totally extinguished forever.

It cannot be a coincidence that on the same day Stanford was reportedly due to meet with the Cabinet subcommittee, it was announced on Observer Radio that the mental hospital will be upgraded to the tune of 1 million dollars. Not nearly enough money, if you asked me.

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