For the first time ever, in my
decade-and-a-half-long adulation of David Rudder, the visionary calypsonian
who has, unfailingly over the years, mirrored and carved our identity as a
Caribbean people, has said something with which I didn’t agree.
It was just before Carnival. We stood about with a mellow crowd at the
Normandie under the trees and a big round moon, listening to David sing the
favourites, and a haunting new track, which restored faith in an everyday
goodness in our island lives.
When he sang of Laventille, sadness bigger than the night weighed us
down. It was getting harder to keep the faith.
Then David spoke to the tourists, of Maracas, summoning hot sun beating
down on sand, salty lips meeting coconut water into that cool night.
He said something like “our people will put in front of you a pot of
pelau, drinks,” and added: “But we will never ever serve you. You have to
take that food out for yourself. Those days are DONE.”
Morally against serving
There were some half-hearted cheers, but it wasn’t like David to sing
such an old tune. There was something disappointing, even embarrassing,
about that. You don’t invite someone for a meal and say:
“I have cooked. Now fetch the food yourself from the kitchen, because I
am morally against serving you.”
I know our history. I know at one time, service meant slavery,
indentureship, an entire ugly institutionalised racism, exploitation,
We all know that. But it’s time we went past that.
If we picked apart the strands of our beginnings from India, Africa,
China, Syria, even Europe, and followed them to a clearing where there is no
bruising, we will see how necessary service is to great civilisations.
In the correct context, it is a kind of love. When the waitress in the
Sushi restaurant kneels to pour tea and serve food, it’s not about
humiliation; it’s about upholding the honour of a host by honouring a guest.
She is so confident of her own worth, that stooping only adds to her
grace. Feeding people is like holding hands. Old story books tell us that an
Arab will never kill someone after he has eaten his “salt.”
When I was a schoolgirl, I was invited by a Nigerian princess for dinner.
She couldn’t help being privileged. People served her all of her life.
But when I went to her home, serving me was part of her honour, her
culture, her tradition. I was a guest. We sat down at her table, and she
spooned large portions of steaming rice and red, red chicken curry on my
As soon as I cleared a bit of my plate it was filled again. Years later,
I did the same for her. It was like being fed by my mother.
In India, recently, I met hundreds of people in the service industry.
People seemed to take a pride in not just doing their jobs, but in
re-stating a core of humanity in every transaction,
They saw you not a “customer” and you became an instant sister, daughter,
aunt, cousin. I still see their faces.
I’ve had “service” that felt more like kindness in Barbados. “You’ve
missed dinner; we’ve left some sandwiches and a flask of coffee in your
I’ve seen it in my childhood, eating plain daal and rice in a hut in the
mountains with a poor playmate crouching around a wood fire.
There were so many mouths to feed, but the mother gave me her portion.
“You never know which guest is an angel. A guest is God’s gift,” she said
beaming so broadly I felt I was doing something good by eating her food.
I heard gunshots late one night this week. Daily brutality affects us
all. It’s not service that’s eroding our humanity now, it’s a harsh
It’s time to feed one another, stoop, serve with both hands, to be gracious
because we are strong, not mean-spirited because we feel weak and insecure.