After 17 years of writing a column
almost every week, something happened six months ago. Silence. It
descended, a shrouded grey mist. This is what purgatory must feel like I
thought, and gave in and instead just looked. What I saw felt surreal.
It was like a canvas reminiscent of
Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, which I saw last year in Madrid
in the Prado museum, and which depicts paradise, earthly delights and
gruesome punishments. It is covered with small detailed white naked
figures. It’s difficult to look at because it shows naked humans without
masks of civility, or clothing, humans without a soul, the same as
In these last few silent months the
canvas came together. And it was ugly. A large canvas, with a queen,
sycophantic courtiers jostling for favour, attention. Her army of
supporters, an enemy camp, desperate for a lost kingdom but with no plan
of how to recapture its former glory.
Then I saw the masses, the wretched
of our tiny patches of islands. If we look at “them” we would have to
look at ourselves. And if we looked at ourselves we would find a hollow
space where we don’t know who we are.
We would find a people who try on
costumes and describe our sense of self in a morsel of doubles, in a
game of cricket, in bikini and beads, in the distinction of those among
us who can afford to go down the islands in a boat and those who get
shot in the crossfire in Laventille, licked down by a drunk driver, or
live in the completely forgotten villages where teenagers play with
donkeys for pleasure, grown men who watch porn with six-year-olds, and
the long forgotten cane areas now rabid with incest and alcohol.
I saw the culmination of the
thousands of teenagers who emerge functionally illiterate from our
schools, numbers which must have swelled over the years if university
and Alta figures are right, to up to 500,000, almost half our people. I
saw principals who complained that funding for remedial teaching had
been slashed to accommodate laptops which are loaded with porn.
As a journalist I did what is
anathema to my profession. I stopped buying newspapers. Then I stopped
listening to the news. But the blog posts flew one after the other into
my phone, each one the sound of a whip. There was pure vitriol. The
politics of personality, punishing, crucifying, offensive, berating,
jarring. It was impossible to walk around without seeing. If you live
here you see it.
In silent desperation
Through my grey shroud of silence I
witnessed every day, young boys who should be in the school hustling a
dollar at traffic lights, their mothers’ milk still on their faces,
steely readiness to die and kill in their eyes as they forcibly cleaned
the windscreens of million-dollar cars. Their faces say: You live there,
I live here. The difference is, I don’t care if I die or if you die, so
pay the .... up.
I saw the truck drivers throwing KFC
boxes out of their windows, plastic bottles hurled carelessly by boys
into ditches. I saw the wretchedness of a woman, child hoisted at her
waist at the grocery, not bothering with a basket which she could not
fill, looking to see what her $100 would buy.
And there was the inescapable
brutality, humans like Bosch’s painting indistinguishable from the dead
dogs on the road, run over again and again for days and days, by
rage-saturated drivers; children being shot, the mortuary piling up with
corpses of the dead.
I saw warnings on Web sites for
tourists; I saw our “developed” status ranking part of the big lie we
tell ourselves as we become known world over for having one of the
highest murder rates worldwide. Why else do all the tourists get off in
St Lucia from London? There was no point in writing. No one was
How many times over how many years
can any writer observe that illiteracy is the root of crime—some 500,000
functionally illiterate people—along with deadbeat absent fathers? That
there is a desperate need for centres to supervise children with working
mothers after school? That cutting out the three generations of the
cancer of make-work jobs and creating sustainable jobs for the educated
is the way to go?
Instead, half a century after
independence we invite in the drug trade, talk of death squads,
hangings, army gun talk, and fill the hollow spaces of brutality of the
slave trade and indentureship with more brutality. Instead of using our
native talents to create a brand new, unique world, and marvelling at
the convergence of continents in this tiny space, the power-hungry have
created a dependent and illiterate society without investing in teachers
who would help us fill up our empty selves with history, culture and
Instead of learning music literacy,
the languages of the world, investing in art, our people are encouraged
to fornicate on the roads as part of a weird hubris of “the greatest
festival on earth.” My rage that turned into silence isn’t at the
people, or our landscape—there is much that is lovely here, including
religious and ethnic tolerance. It’s at the politicians who now more
than ever are systemically creating a brutish failed state.
I was to write of India in this first
column, but I would have failed in my duty to my profession and the
people of my adopted homeland if I didn’t break my silence by speaking