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Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Road to the Future


Dr. Lester CN Simon

We can predict the future. We do it all the time. The last time it rained and we ventured outside without an umbrella, we got soaking wet. We predict that the same thing will happen if we do the same thing the next time it rains. Predictions do not have to be absolutely correct all the time. They just have to be good or fair often enough to give our predictions an acceptable degree of credibility.

We recall there was a badly filled ditch across Friar’s Hill road many weeks ago and that it went from bad to worse. It was partly responsible for the death of two persons in a terrible motor vehicle accident. Immediately afterwards, Public Works (one of our oxymora) fixed the spot. There is a similar area in the road by the northern gate of the Anglican Cathedral. It’s unlikely that there will an accident here because of speeding since it is on the crest of an often congested hill. It’s also unlikely that someone will become so irate over the disrepair of the road that they will stop and put down one piece of cursing. After all, they would be just outside Big Church. We predict that it will not be before next Easter that the spot of bother will be fixed.

Next Easter, the church will enact the walk of Jesus to his crucifixion. Someone, preferably a worker at Public Works, and a churchgoer) will be asked to bear the symbolic cross, and he will stumble and fall at the very spot that needs repairing. When our predictions are generally good, we will occasionally make a knowingly false prediction to some people, in order to get the appropriate, opposite action from others. Let’s see.

The world is watching to see the future of countries like ours, comprising the descendents of slaves and slave masters and others. In particular, the world is watching to see the future of Antigua and Barbuda. Because of the unique mix of Caribbean nationals and other nationals living here, we are unwittingly the nidus of the future of the Caribbean. To see what our future will be like, we have to understand the journeys that descendants of slaves and slave masters must take whether or not they are aware of their fated rites of passage.

First, let us regard the descendants of slaves. Initially, we must recognize why we were enslaved and why and how we were freed. Then we will sing and dance and dress up like nobody else. Different forms of emancipation will last for varyingly long periods of time. You must have heard the story about the rapper, Talib Kweli, driving through the Mississippi delta and seeing a brother running with no shoes or shirt on. Stopping the car for fear that the man might be in trouble, and offering assistance, the man, unaware of the end of slavery, responded, "Shhhhhh... I’m escaping!"

Our self adoration, as a form of emancipation, will become so defining, a popular, local clothing store will cleverly advertise itself using the slogan, “We go kill dem wid clothes”. Our singing, dancing and dressing, as well as our conspicuous consumption, will be the life motif and motive of many. The next, future step away from the middle towards the end of our rites of passage will be the hardest. It demands the partial stepping out from ourselves, the truest emancipation of them all, and our beginning to see our environment as us and not just a place, a landscape, a geography.

We will know we are approaching our remarkable future when we stop littering and literally see beyond our noses whist smelling and abhorring the stench so close to us. We will redesign our cities and environs for business and for pleasure, in equal measure, primarily for us, as if we were the substance of a cake, and our visitors, guests, and tourists, the icing. Designing our environment will be a natural extension of the laying out of the inside and outside of our homes. Emancipating ourselves will be defined by our freeing of our environment.

When we look ahead at the burgeoning development along Friar’s Hill Road we will see that the entire eastern area needs to be circumscribed by major roads. In addition to Friar’s Hill Road itself, and Lauchland Benjamin Drive, two more roads paralleling these two should be added to form an embracing square or a quadrilateral roadway with a verdant oasis somewhere within.

Secondly, for their rites of passage, the descendants of slave masters will accept that there were various classes of slaves and that some of the ingenuity and expertise ascribed to slave masters were in fact engineered or modified by artisan slaves who came over with immense knowledge and high levels of skills. Until and unless the symbolic gesture of reparations is made, we will be denied the respect and the resources for the reconciliatory healing process. We will continue to wander though an economic, social and psychic deuteronomy. Interestingly, reparations will remove the pseudo-philosophy some of us espouse, refusing to repay loans we signed for and blaming others for every single, little error we make, including all the bad manners and all bad mindedness we harbour, and all our inefficiencies and misfortunes.

When, as a candidate for president, Barack Obama opposed offering reparations to the descendants of slaves and yet contended that, “The best reparations we can provide are good schools in the inner city and jobs for people who are unemployed”, was he being duplicitous, diplomatic or both?

We can judge people by simple, common actions and qualities. How many times after stopping our vehicles for someone, young and old, to cross the road, do we have to remind them, using a geometry of gesticulations, to say thanks? Our future will begin when we no longer have to remind others to give thanks (and praise, as our Rastafarian brethren remind us). Our future will begin when the indecent haste to dig up the road to lay utility pipes will be followed by an equally decent haste to repair the damage.

We predict that the emancipated future of the Caribbean will be assured when, in our Sunday-best clothes, going to mass in an edifice described as "the most imposing of all the Cathedrals of the West Indian Province”, after 28 years of independence, we do not accept driving or walking for weeks over lumps and bumps and patches and pitches of stone and dirt, in a major road, at the steps of a cathedral whose cornerstone was properly laid more than 165 years ago.

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