INDEPENDENCE MY FOOT
Dr. Lester CN Simon
Can it be that after twenty eight years of independence, we suddenly wake up to the realization that independence is not a single, ceremonial night of becoming, not a boisterous walking away from England, not an annual celebratory event, but rather, a gradual process of extracting and filtering a way of life that on one hand, makes us different from others, but on the other hand, makes us establish and cherish an amalgam of values, common to all humankind?
Consequent on the recent passing of the last matriarch of my maternal family, I have been rediscovering pathways and places in my village that I had long abandoned and forgotten. After the funeral, I was forced to park so close to the yard where I grew up, a wave of nostalgia almost blew me over. This reconnect has taken me from nursery-school road to primary-school ground, from family and friends I took for granted, to villagers whose names had become uncomfortably unfamiliar, but whose familiar faces collectively painted a landscape from which I had exited with indecent haste and improper and impolite closure.
It is not enough to say you are independent of a noun (a person, place or thing) if you have just walked away, even if you said goodbye. You have to return. Going back ensures that you are truly independent because it pitches the memory of things past, against the reality of things present. It brings to quick attention, and into sharp focus, an understanding of living that is different in its method from the past, but an understanding nonetheless, that is identical in outcome. It simply says that these are my people, my tribe. As different as other tribes and villagers may seem, we all come to a singular state from myriad roads and all roads lead to the one homeland we call the nation of Antigua and Barbuda.
Recently, there have been all kinds of talk about native Antiguans and Barbudans versus non-nationals. Some have even gone as far as to talk about xenophobia. Talk is cheap. Hence I take my expensive time to write and say that, yes, there will be unwanted and unwarranted excesses in the claiming and re-claiming of nationhood after long periods of unchallenged quiescence. This is not xenophobia. I will call out these occasional excesses but I will not genuflect and offer exuberant excuses for them, anymore than I will offer guests at our home the appropriate excuse for the torrents of rainwater that flood our yard after a long drought.
You cannot come into a country, you cannot even sleep in a house or stand at the bus station, for a short time and claim knowledge and familiarity. Such instant familiarity is deeply contemptuous and is a registration of mockery. Worse, is the vulgar and wanton disrespect for our culture and blind deference for yours as if you are a peninsular of non-nationals jutting out from a mainland of nationals. That can’t work.
You have to become foot soldiers. You have to walk for affirmation and walk again for confirmation. You have to walk to, and through places in this land, taking instinctive pictures of nouns, and then go back, after a time, to see the transformation of these persons, places and things. It is this distraction, this voluntary separation and distinction over time, between the past and the present that helps to create a view of life that is truly independent, because it tests your affirmation.
This is why we can never say we are independent until we revisit our separation from England over long periods of time, such as twenty eight years. We will come to the realization that as much as we disliked many things English because of our history, the differential of time tells us an independent fact. There are just so many ways to do anything. There are just so many ways to ride a bicycle; and even the number of ways to skin a cat is not infinite. There are just so many ways to unite people. We must have a regional radio broadcasting service before we have a Caribbean Court of Justice, or at least have both at the same time.
Indeed, some ways are not particularly English; some ways are simply human. But this independent thought and associated action can only come with proper closure of our servile, historical links with England and other colonial states, and opening of a relationship rooted in the common values and virtues of humankind. This is why reparations are as inseparable from independence as our future is inseparable from our past.
It is in returning to our places of growing up and measuring our growth that we establish the notion that whilst we no longer speak as children, and even though we have put away childhood things, the charity that we display as adults is actually the very same charity (probably less now) that we displayed as children; only now, as adults, the method of distributing that common charity (greater than faith and hope), is simply different.
The next time you hear non-nationals talk about their instant love for Antigua and Barbuda, ask them a few questions; and ask some Antiguans and Barbudans the same too. How many trees have you seen grow? How many children have you witnessed and helped pass through the rigors of life? How many roads, byways and pathways and buildings have you seen altered or transformed? How is your view of today, in this land, different from yesterday, to allow you to arrive at a viewpoint of our present, if you do not know our past? How can you help us surge into the future if your view of our future is dependent only on what you see and hear today?
Some things in life take time. Independence of thought, word and deed takes a long time. You have to get up, get out, and walk about all over this country over periods of time and mingle, to know it and its people. So the next time anyone says they know Antigua and Barbuda and Antiguans and Barbudans and they want to share our independence, ask then to show you the motion and emotion of their long walk for more than a mile and a half around this country. Ask then to show you their feet.