Back home after 15 months in Europe, I still marvel at the light. The
way it sets rooms alight like tropical blooms, slopes across the
curtains and on the floor, flames like fire in the dusk. Years ago, when
I was feeling trapped in this place juggling two small children, three
jobs, covering the carnage of road deaths, senseless murders, reading
Naipaul, I could not understand what people loved about this country.
I worried when I walked into marble or stilt homes with no books in
sight. I worried that people saw education or good manners as a threat.
I worried that people were so proud that they refused to serve you in a
shoe shop on Charlotte Street. I worried that the wining would never
That the holier-than-thou faces who would be the first to pounce on the
weak, smelling human blood on Ash Wednesday, that they would never be
unmasked. I worried at the arrogance of men of power and money. Now that
I have been deprived of a tropical sun for 15 months, I look at the
golden days with wonder, with the eyes of one who has seen too much
grey, too much dark. I delight in our dialect, rolling words around my
mouth like the pulp of freshly picked cocoa—“tabanca,” “bacchanal,”
“lime,” “bligh.” In the grocery, on the streets, I warmed by familiar
smiles welcoming me home asking if I’m here to stay.
I speak in a way that in the past I may have mocked as small islander.
“Yeah, no more cold for me, no more living in a country where the sun
sets at 3 pm.” I sit out in the sun like a tourist, drinking in the
northern range. I feel an almost feverish love for these islands and our
people. A neighbour invites me to come over for wine on Friday evening.
What shall I bring, I ask. Just you, she says, making up for all the
times I felt that I was not allowed to belong here because I wasn’t born
I go to Alice Yard where a group of writers has gathered in a small
compound, listening to poetry, subversive, defiant, stunning poetry
about things that I thought we didn’t have the courage to speak out
loud, like being gay or lesbian, like acknowledging how much the
privileged take for granted, allowing our secret selves, sodden with
tears to emerge.
On an island where time is marked and flows easy like sand between our
fingers, like clockwork of Christmas church, Carnival church, cricket
church, and other public holidays set aside for revelry followed by
ritual atonement, rituals that barely require thought, but seize the
flesh and numb the suffering, a recession is a jolt.
That the Government is serious about managing falling oil prices and has
taken active steps to do so by increasing our cost of living has pierced
our glacial inertia. We are in a peculiar position. We can’t grumble
about the price of books or canned salmon while looking forward to our
We have to look at ourselves. We know that Petrotrin, WASA and Cepep are
haemorrhaging due to poor management. Now that it’s affecting our bread
and butter, we want accountability in government business. We have to
start caring about the quality of service whether we are financial
providers, professionals or shop girls. We have to be more competitive
in manufacturing, push the Government to polish up the port and scrap
the rapid rail.
Yes, our bubbles are being burst one by one, but it’s also forcing us to
wash the dust from our eyes. A businessman in the bank told me that for
the first time in 40 years he was not playing mas. His business, a
high-end restaurant, is in trouble.
We are watching as Brazil, renowned globally for its spectacular
Carnival, has taken responsibility for its recession. The people are
admitting it is “self-inflicted” from waste, corruption and
overspending. Brazil is, town by town, city by city, scaling down and in
some cases, shutting down their Carnival as the country comes to grips
with devaluation, unemployment, double-digit inflation.
We are not there yet, but we are on our way. For a long time I thought
Carnival was a sacred cow. Suggest cancelling it or scaling down and
there would be a riot. But now there is a river that’s flowing upstream.
With new consciousness, a small but growing voice is questioning the
premise of Carnival.
One Facebook page declared: “There has to be something very wrong with a
society that encourages the children of the nation to wine and gyrate
their bodies in the most vulgar ways, while they watch, cheer them on,
and discuss how skillful they are at vulgarity.”
I say, let’s go ahead with Carnival but on our own steam without the
State funding mediocrity. It’s a step towards innovation, and back to
steelpan, to a J’Ouvert that through its burlesque dance sheds light on
the dark areas of our consciousness. Let’s keep the joy, but let’s not
be exploited by unscrupulous bandleaders who are giving us bits of
string instead of the soul of our culture. Our people are amazing. We’ve
accepted the VAT cuts, we are tightening our belts without much noise,
we are honing our characters, becoming thriftier, more hardworking, less
Yes, we needed a slap in the face to get
here, but we are getting there, closer to the sun.