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Friday, December 24, 2010


The Excursions of Mr. Emmanuel

A One Act Christmas Play

Dr. Lester CN Simon-Hazlewood

Scene: The porch of a small guest house in St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda.

Jonathan: “It has become that time of evening.”
Mizpah: “When people sit on their porches.”
Jonathan: “Rocking gently and talking gently”
Mizpah: “And watching the street.”
Joseph: To see who will take in the non-national girl; big, big with child; and her Antiguan boyfriend.
Jonathan: “And the standing up into their sphere of possession of the trees…”
Joseph: You can ignore me and carry on reciting your poem. Even trees are better off than these poor folks.
Jonathan: “People go by; things go by”. Talking casually, I hear he is not the real boyfriend at all. Truth to tell, I hear he cannot have children. Dry; dry. Like an Antiguan drought.
Mizpah: You are always hearing something. You must be a radio station.
Jonathan: No my dear. You are the radio station. I am the listener, the observer.
Joseph: I would take her in, if I had my way in this guest house. She might be a non-national here, but she is a national of somewhere. The man can go and look after himself.
Jonathan: Yes, she is a national of the whole, wide, web of the Caribbean. You and Mizpah and all the rest of you think Caribbean people are going to wake up one morning and start to sing in harmony, “One Love. Let’s get together and feel alright”?
Mizpah: Why not. We are all one people.
Jonathan: For the same reason I cannot take in this wandering couple: It is not in my self-interest. Self-interest is what drives the world. The father of economics, Adam Smith, said so. Part of the money our foolish governments spent on the Caribbean Court of Justice should have been spent buying a few ferries; so that Caribbean people, including your wandering friends out on the street, can travel cheaply up and down the Caribbean and do business. You won’t have to sell Caribbean unity to people. They will be selling it to each other. Self-interest brings simple interest and compound interest, if you can understand my arithmetic. The drug people are way ahead of us.
Mizpah: I understand arithmetic. I am not a judge in an election petition case. The same father of economics also talked about moral sentiments. And why were you so upset with the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago for talking the truth, the same self-interest truth you are now talking about?
Jonathan: Because my dear Mizpah, some thoughts must remain thoughts and become deeds without talk.
Mizpah: The same way you have been dropping hints at me since you turn manager and part owner of this little guest house.
Jonathan: Precisely.
Joseph: Jonathan, I know Mizpah well; very well. If you really like her and have plans for her, you are going to have to wet your hand and wait.
Mizpah: Well put Jo. I could not have said it better myself. But if I were to augment: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”, ….with emphasis, I hasten to add, on the indefinite article before wife becoming the definite article, if I may so articulate myself.
Joseph: This brings me back to the pregnant woman. Maybe we should get them to go to the hospital, since we are not that hospitable here; I hasten to add.
Jonathan: Let then go ahead. Everybody wants to go up to the hospital. Some people go there just to watch television.
Mizpah: What if the baby turns out to be a genius, a Mr. Somebody Important?
Joseph: Yes, suppose he grows up to be Mr. Emmanuel?
Jonathan: Then God be with us. And then we will haul him through the streets (over all the pot holes), string him up on a tree, dig him in his side and give him vinegar to drink. What kind of life is that?
Mizpah: Some people have to die so others may live.
Jonathan: Be careful with that kind of talk. It reminds me of what you said the other day about some people having to be gay so others can say they are straight.
Mizpah: It’s not me who say that. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man….that people are defined by the other.
Joseph: Every time talk about gay and straight comes up, I get confused. Everybody fighting for rights; black people, gay people.
Mizpah: Don’t confuse sex with race. As gay or as straight as you are, you can abstain, even for a day, or an hour. Try abstaining from being black…although some try to.
Jonathan: It’s really confusing. Take all those vicious, male, anti-gay bashers. Many of them are very abusive of women too.
Mizpah: You hit the nail “right in me head”, as an old, idiosyncratic, carpenter used to say. That is why these same men who wantonly abuse women will also abuse passive, gay men who behave like women, have sex with them and still fight against them in public; because they see them as women and therefore objects to be abused. They do not see them as men, like them, at all.
Jonathan: So all that round about talk, all that excursion, is telling me that I have to define myself by the way I treat others, even the ones I don’t like.
Mizpah: Yes. You are known by the company you keep.
Joseph: And by the company you publicly say you don’t want to keep, but are yet keeping, in private.
Jonathan: So I must take in this pregnant stranger, for nothing, just to show how kind I am?
Mizpah: That, my dear Jonathan, is your immaculate perception.
Joseph: I thought it was immaculate conception. But it’s all words. They can mean what you want them to mean. You can make them up.
Mizpah: Like when you were tipsy the other night and asked what you call a man who writes plays under a pear tree and shakes up the literary world? Shakespeare!
Jonathan: And the name of the man who was so happy to win the election petition he started to bawl? Baldwin!
Mizpah: And if more big than big, is bigger, then more less than less, is what? Lester!
Jonathan: And don’t forget the one who talks a lot of sense but sometimes it’s a ton a gas.
Joseph: Alright then. Here’s a new one. So when the whole mass of people in the Caribbean get over the bad-play on the Caribs and Arawaks, the false mathematics of the Federation and come to understand this regional excursion, this wandering and welcoming of the outsider, and take in the other, like that poor, pregnant woman outside; take in people like Christ himself would; what do we, the mass of Caribbean people have?
Mizpah and Jonathan: Christmas! Christmas!

(And they all sang, “drink a rum and a punch a crema, drink a rum”)

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Give Them Work To Do

Dr. Lester CN Simon-Hazlewood

When I was a little boy attending primary school, I was quiet and rotund and called all sorts of names. I was an easy target for the bullies, until I engaged the superhuman strength of one of my female cousins. Just the mention of her name and that she was from Cedar Grove would send them packing. The sequence of insult, damage or punishment followed by my call and her response, was so remarkably efficient, effective and Pavlovian, I wondered if I had deliberately and gratifyingly provoked them.

One of the bullies and his Gordian knot of infidels would assault poor, little, innocent me, after I had nervously removed from my own anatomical shoulder, a blade of grass he had harvested from nature, transplanted and called his cultivated own. He might box me and I would display a pensive (and expensive) countenance; and then bawl out for my cousin. It was early training at thinking outside of the box.

Some people just love to fight. They fight when they are right. They fight when they are wrong. They fight all day and fight all night long. Some people just love to jump over fences. They will scale high walls with a garland of barbed wire to enter a free function. And, on discovering the function was free, they will bellow mouthfuls of expletives and gracefully exit the very same way they came in.

Someone has to tell some members of our tribe that the old revolution is over. It was televised. A new revolution is on. But they know this. They also know and believe that, based on all the fighting (and jumping fences) they have done historically, they are the only ones who can run things. Or, can it be that the clamour, the chatter and clatter, and promises, if provoked, to batter and shatter, are mere symptoms arising from and disguising the essential heart of the matter?

A revolution is said to be a large change in a short time. Our independent nation, twenty-nine years old, needs another revolution. Call some members of our tribe what you like. Subtract whatever, whichever and whomever from their past leader. And subtraction and division are in order but you know how they are afraid now of mathematics. They will still have a past to reckon with and a future to fight for.

Warriors do die but they die very badly from inaction. Atrophy sets in and gnaws their lives away. Look at the elderly cast aside with nothing to do but think. Thoughts without deeds are like ploughs without fields. Their arthritic hands and feet disappear and they soon go tumbling after.

When the cry goes out for nation building and nation building stands still, it is not because people are not nation builders. We have to understand this very clearly lest we spend stone-heaps of time firing at a target that does not exist. We are all nation builders but we want to build the nation the way we see it. And the way we see it is uniquely different from the views of others, if views they have at all.

We know the answer to our problems. When we had a problem with the snake, we brought in the mongoose. After the snake died, the poor mongoose, with nothing to do, started to feed on the chickens. Pity they did not have a mongoose to eat the first snake, or wish that Adam had been smart enough, and not a vegetarian, to refuse the apple and barbecue the snake instead.

I remember the May 68 protests in France. Two of the graffiti from that era that bear recalling are: “Those who lack imagination cannot imagine what is lacking” and “The future will only contain what we put into it now.” Can we imagine what we have to do to shape a prosperous future for Antigua and Barbuda? Let us assume that the others members of our tribe are found guilty of whatever they are accused, and more even. What does it gain Antigua and Barbuda to go through these bruising battles in court after court and end up with national concussion at best or Alzheimer’s at worst? If we can do mathematics inside the court now, surely we can do the same mathematics outside the court and use subtraction to save long division.

In war and in politics, strategy is vital. Sometimes you have to do the unexpected. Before the days of adequate and affordable security I used to contemplate my response to a burglar breaking into our home; through a window perhaps. Might I express sincere gratitude to him for proving right my suspicions about the vagrant window and solicit his able assistance, at a negotiable price of course, in finding the notorious carpenter (probably his friend) who had done such a terrible job installing the windows?

The local political battle is hot and sticky. The country is tired and weary. Combatants are approaching that point when, if provoked, they warn, they will hawk and spit in the beverage for no one to drink. A large change is required in a short time: A revolution. You know their strategy, so calling their bluff will be too easy for your right and might. No. That is not a revolution. That is simply going round and round and round.

Drop your weapons and leave them with theirs. It is not a sign of weakness. It is the maximum strength and the moral high ground of which you boast that force you to compel them to do the same. Throw down the gauntlet of peace and reconciliation and force them to take it up. Give them work to do. Give them really hard work to do.

Monday, November 1, 2010


The Enigma of Independence

Dr. Lester CN Simon-Hazlewood

I should be ashamed to report that some years ago I asked another West Indian national if we could exchange nationalities. The negative response was not because my friend declined to accept my nationality. It was arguably that it was six of one and half a dozen of the other. We are all the same, one West Indian people with similar cultures, politics and problems. I beg to differ.

Can it be the wrong premise that to become a West Indian and embrace a West Indian nationality I have to first become and express my island nationality? As a musician, I am aware that I have to be able to express myself well on my individual instrument before I can join, understand and really enjoy the collective sound of an orchestra.

What then do I do when I find myself in need of West Indian nationality whilst I am trying to find and come to terms with my island nationality? How can I be part of an orchestra when I, like many of the other players, am still learning my basic craft? This is where many of us find ourselves on the twenty ninth anniversary of our independence. As we write and re-write our political and cultural narratives we are arguably the most assorted West Indian nation per square mile.

The struggle for nationality and its expression post-independence is being pitched against the expressions and livelihoods of the masses of West Indians and other nationalities in Antigua and Barbuda. It’s a very delicate battle that can be lost easily on both fronts. And like all battles, strategy is essential for victory.

We are upset over the way many of our guest Caribbean nationals were shuttled and chaperoned here to alter the political landscape. Ironically, many of our politicians have little regard for and pay scant regard to them, except for their voting fingers. We argue a strange logic that says essentially that we can be bribed at elections but they shouldn’t. This is probably a corrugated corollary of the warped philosophy that some parents can beat their children (almost to death) but that these same parents should not even raise their voices at strangers.

Our guest Caribbean nationals are already here, regardless of how and why some of them bang water to come here. In life and in dominoes, you have to play the hand you have. After a while, when you will have exercised and exorcised your point, you have to, as the English say, “get on with it”.

In getting on with it, we have to escape the paradox trap set for us. We cannot afford to decry and debase our guest Caribbean nationals in order to praise and purify our nationalism. If we do, we will end up losing the soul of the very nationalism we seek to find, declare and display. And then we will end up like those who set the trap in the first place; indeed worse. The plotters will laugh and point with giddiness and say, “See, they don’t love Caribbean people. They don’t even love their own selves”.

Good strategy and tolerance in a democratic state inform us that we should contend with ultra-nationalists who blindly see nothing and no one else. We will also have among us our native, Caribbean nationalists who by dint of travel, family, thought or otherwise will tell you that they have long gone beyond island nationalism, to the greater, more laudable, aesthetically enriching and economically rewarding Caribbean nationalism. But what of those, like swing voters, caught between two extremes, in two minds or with no mind on the matter at all?

National identity (and indeed West Indian nationality) begins in the mind and becomes culture when the expressions of the mind lead us to create, modify and inhabit the world around us. If this identity is perceived to be under threat, nationals will rally around it. Many Antiguans and Barbudans fear that we will end up last and lost as we redefine ourselves as the greatest assortment of Caribbean nationals in the smallest place. But rallying around the West Indies will force us to more clearly identify and crystallise who and what we really are. Maybe in doing so we will disabuse ourselves and others of idealistic notions of nationalisms, island and West Indian.

In the orchestra, steelband or other, there is constant dissonance and consonance (musically and otherwise) to remove inertia and give momentum to the music. It is within the orchestra that the true musician really begins to find and harness that individual voice. You are forced to listen to all others as well as your insular instrument, at the same time. This dialectic gives birth, with all its pangs and damns, to the epiphany that you can only find yourself in others. Independence becomes meaningful only when you selflessly accept this enigma.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


It’s A Foolish Dog

It is sometimes dangerous to listen to Observer Radio in the early morning whilst getting ready for work and visiting the toilet. One may have to make a clear distinction between the action of listening and the action. It does require some degree of aural as well as intestinal fortitude. It cannot be that we are having a problem with customer service in tourism because we do not understand the value of tourism. Let us flush that nonsense. The fundamental problem is that we do not understand customer service within and without tourism. We are not generally courteous to each other, full stop.

St. Lucia, Barbados and Jamaica seem to have got something right. I suggest that that “thing” is not just training in customer service. Institutional training must be surrounded and embraced by a sense of national self and national pride. Years ago, on a visit to St. Lucia, I saw sections of the news on television read in patois. In Antigua and Barbuda part of our television news is read in Spanish and a few years ago some man went up his fundament by conducting part of the Independence Service in Spanish.

Barbados was once laughed at as Little England. The Barbadian seemingly made a quantum leap from little England to big Barbados. Quantum leaps are not impossible. Decades ago, when I went to the Catholic Church on Church Street, I was not at all impressed by the Latin and ornate worship. Years later, I suggested to someone that the church had made a quantum leap and had become truly catholic and almost a clap-hand church.

Sadly, Antigua and Barbuda is known as a country where “anything goes”. We can train as many people as we can and invite as many customers service trainers to tell us what we know and what we do not know. This training will work for a while but until we understand and tackle customer service as a national problem, and not just a tourism or job problem, we will continue to spin top in seawater. You do not tell a worker in tourism or in any other business to smile if you really want them to smile, you tell them to be pleasant.

It is indeed a foolish dog that barks at a flying bird (as Mr. Bobby reminded us). That flying bird is the tourist. Those who come in contact with the tourists are not the real foolish dogs. Workers do have responsibilities and many are found wanting. But it is the awful lack of clarity of the fundamental cause of the problem and hence our approach to the solution that is utterly foolish.

Dr. Lester CN Simon-Hazlewood

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Quality of Mercy


Dr. L.C Simon-Hazlewood

As someone who responded in writing to Shelton Daniel's article on homosexuality in his Man Matters series, last year, I feel compelled to respond to his recent article in which he wrote about the backlash he has received.

Mr. Daniel now seems to understand that some people (speaking for myself) responded to his epistle not because they are homosexual or homosexual sympathizers. He hit the nail on the head when he noted that his article might have conveyed a holier-than-thou, talk-down-to-you condemnation. Additionally, some people (speaking for myself again) just love to take on an argument. We studied theorems in school.

But we must understand the basis of this condemnation to which he so apologetically and manly referred. I wish to posit that the fundamental problem is acceptance of a false premise: that of being a Christian. There is no such thing as being a Christian, until just before our last breath. It is not like the practice of “Walking for Confirmation”, that we, Anglican children, endured, and then, voila, we became confirmed. I am registering an obvious fact. Mr. Daniel and all others who profess to be Christians, are in fact in, or should be in, a constant, daily act, indeed an hourly, raging battle, at times, of becoming a Christian. The word Christian should be changed from a noun or adjective, to a verb in its present continuous tense, or a gerund. We are “Christianing”. “Christianing” all the time.

Simply put, my dear Shelton, at the real core of Christianity is a constant battle of becoming Christ-like, with the eternal paradox that we are forever and ever becoming and improving our chances of actually being a Christian. If this act of constantly becoming a Christian were to replace the claims of being a Christian, and become the mantra of Christianity, the world would be a better place, starting inside the very church itself.

The recent article might also raise (higher) the ire that the initial article generated. Daniel claimed that, “No Christian should ever look down on others for their sins or faults – be it homosexuality or anything else”. And then he dropped the axe by saying that the reason for this is because, “…we ourselves also were once foolish, disobedient,…serving various lusts and pleasures..…” (Titus 3:3).

The foolishness, disobedience, etc. are dynamic definers of becoming a Christian, of “Christianing”. You are only less foolish and less disobedient than before. Mr. Daniel should probably have quoted more of Titus chapter 3 because it goes on to explain how the change from being once foolish and disobedient, etc. was realized: “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared. Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us…” (Titus 3:4-5).

The fundamental problem I had with the original article had very little to do with homosexuality. It had to do with the response given by some of us when we confront a difficult topic. Throwing the book (the Bible or the law books) at wrongdoers is the easy part, and we can always find the scripture and laws to do so.

I am sure Mr. Daniel is familiar with the Christian principle that Shakespeare inscribed in our hearts. “The quality of mercy is not strain'd. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven” (The Merchant of Venice). This, unstrained mercy has nothing to do with being sympathizers or empathisers of homosexuality or of whichever act is being brought to whichever book. This unforced mercy that drops as the gentle rain from heaven is the first radically conscious, Christian, ethical step, in beginning to grapple with a very difficult problem. This is where the original article failed miserably. Daniel’s subsequent attempt to try to understand the backlash he is enduring is highly commendable. Elementary, my dear Shelton.