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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Six Of The Worse


Dr. Lester CN Simon

It was hard, backbreaking work on a sweltering, breezeless day almost fifty years ago. The seawater’s edge was idle all the while we assembled, adjusted, dissembled and refitted on site an entire set of beach beds ordered by a hotel. Probably because he thought tourism should begin at home, or more likely, because he was simply exhausted, one of the workers all at once sprawled himself off on one of the beach beds. The rebuke from the boss was so precise, immediate and coarse, it ordered the seawater’s edge out. Always one with a good retort, the worker walked away embarrassed, and muttered, “I was just viewing the view; for the tourist”.

The debacle surrounding the US 6 tourists says volumes about our concept of tourism, how we relate to each other, how we treat our guests and how we should behave when guests pass their place. Somebody has to shout out that tourism can never operate successfully and sustainably in any country in which the people do not know and exhibit their understanding of their history and their view of the future.

Writing in Last Resorts, The Cost of Tourism in the Caribbean, Polly Pattullo noted that, “Antigua’s disregard for its own identity is perhaps more acute than anywhere else in the Caribbean”. Reasons cited by Pattullo include our smallness and the largely foreign-controlled nature of our tourism, dominated by expatriates and investors. Regarding the reasons cited, Pattullo missed the boat. She missed the entire ocean.

It seems fundamental that a nation of people made up largely of the descendants of slaves, as well as the successors of slave masters, varying combinations of the two, and others, must first come to terms with our history of slavery and its disguises as well as our future, before we can honestly welcome a tourist to our island.

A friend put it very simply. He said that a black woman must go through the epiphany sequence from understanding why she hated her nappy hair, to loving her nappy hair, afro, locks and all, so as to be able to do anything with her hair, including what she used to do before her understanding, in order to wear a wig (or is it a weave?) comfortably.

An understanding of the glorious past of our ancestors as well as realizing that economics, not racism, was the primary imperative for slavery (racism was the subsequent marketing tool), will afford us many advantages at this time. We would realize just how much of the world we built. Looking at ourselves from Africa to the entire black diaspora, we will come to terms with just how brilliant, noble and despicable some black people can be. We will arrive at the fascinating conclusion that we are just like other people.

I am reassured whenever I see black people behave badly and run afoul of the law. It not only tells me that all black people are not the same. It also tells me that some of us are so beholden to tourism that we do not know when to tell the tourists, black, white or indigo, to go back where they came from (and stay there).

Tourism should make us proud and proud to serve but not servile. Tourism can never empower us socially and psychologically if it is not liked to our culture in all its complexities and contradictions. And the greatest avenue to cultural realization is not music (as I used to think) but agriculture. The word bespeaks itself.

Subsidizing agriculture has relatively little to do with courting votes at elections or even providing for a family without any other means of production. Agriculture must be subsidized because the proper running of our agriculture should be predicated on this simple and often overlooked fact: It is humanly impossible to till the land, to get dirt on your fingers, to hold national produce in your hand, to taste it, and not feel the national pride that germinates within the farmer and consumer. Priceless, way beyond any Master card.

It is the presence of this national pride that informs us firstly and informs the tourists instantly about the way we relate to each other and the way they must relate to us. It also tells us what to do and say when six of the worse of America parade their true selves here and go back home and pretend to be sweet things.

We must never again allow another set of Christopher Columbus to come here, misbehave and we become afraid that we will not survive when a ship turns in the opposite direction. We will conduct our due process. Then we will go to Spain and tell Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand that whilst we welcome tourists here, alas, some tourists will never discover our beautiful paradise. They will discover our police.

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