Tony Deyal | Caribbean unity or mutiny?
In a bar in Oistins in Barbados, way past midnight into morning, we had gathered eating our fish, partaking of the waters of life, and talking about this, that and the other. We had exhausted religion, politics and women and somehow reached our Caribbean friends and neighbours.
Not for the first time (and certainly totally without justification), I was called a ‘Tricky-dadian’. Someone mentioned how Royal Bank had changed its name to RBTT to avoid being identified with Trinidad, and yet people caught on so quickly that ‘RBTT’ became ‘Run Before Trinis Take-over’.
The old jokes came up about how many Grenadians it takes to change a light bulb. Twenty, they said. One to hold the bulb, and 19 to turn him round and round until the bulb is firmly in the socket.
And so it went.
While we all yearned for a united Caribbean, we mercilessly derided our differences almost to the point of malice, poking fun at some phenomena like Bajan accents, saying ‘televidgeon’ instead of ‘television’ and ‘horse-spittle’ for ‘hospital’.
One man told the story about a Vincentian who was staying for the first time at the Barbados Hilton and never in his life had ever seen anything as large and magnificent. He sat at the poolside waiting for breakfast.
He asked the waiter for a small coffee and got an enormously large cup and a colossal pitcher full of coffee. He asked the waiter for a small sandwich and got a huge submarine sandwich.
“Oh, Lard!” he said to himself, impressed with how everything was supersized in Barbados.
Going back to his room, he slipped and fell into the pool and started shouting, “Don’t pull the chain! Don’t pull the chain!”
I joined the laughter and was then singled out by one of the group.
“You Trinis worse than anybody else,” he said. “Your prime minister facing an election, encouraged Vincentians and Grenadians to come to the country to make up numbers and waved a blind eye to illegal immigration and then, as soon as he won the election, he turned the police against them.”
‘LICKS IN THE POLICE VAN!’
I nodded and another man took it up.
“Yes,” he confirmed. “A singer named Blakie composed a calypso about how the police beat them up and then deported them.”
He sang, “If you see how they beating the scamps and them friends, you bound to bawl…” and ended up with the final line of the chorus “Licks in the police van!”
I admitted it was true. I doubted that their coming to Trinidad was an act of political desperation, but it is a fact that illegal immigrants, and even people seeking political asylum, are treated very badly.
I was then reminded that Barbados fishermen catching flying fish off Tobago were arrested and treated very badly.
“Is one Caribbean sea,” my Bajan friend said. “Trinidad don’t own it!”
I countered with the Myrie story and the way Jamaicans and Guyanese were treated by Barbadians but also admitted that Trinidad does the same.
I recounted an experience I had in the days when I travelled on a CARICOM diplomatic passport and arrived in Jamaica. It was unfortunate but still a lesson in Caribbean unity.
The Jamaican Immigration officer adamantly refused to even look at it.
I then told him, not in anger but in sadness, “If we in the Caribbean refuse to respect our own institutions, how can we expect other countries to do the same?”
One of the guys snorted, “CARICOM? You mean CARICOMFUSION. It is a disaster.”
I replied, “Maybe it asked for directions from a Bajan and got ‘cornfused’.”
I told the story of my enquiring in Cave Shepherd where the T-shirts were and was told “above”. I took the escalator and searched the two upper floors and then came back down to the ground floor complaining, only to realise that “above” means “ahead”, and that for CARICOM to get ahead it needs to go “above” the politics and parochialism.
I told the story of finding myself in Northern Barbados and asking a man standing at the side of the road where I was.
He replied, “Balls.”
I drove off angry that without any provocation he had insulted me. I did not know that “Balls” was the name of a village.
“You’re right,” a Guyanese voice said from the edge of the group, “it is a big balls up. All this talk about single market and economy instead of Caribbean unity. What I can tell you is that whether you go to Stabroek Market or any other market anywhere in the Caribbean, the real markets are something we have in common. They all resemble in so many ways.”
‘IT WAS NOT ALWAYS LIKE THAT’
As the roar of laughter died down and started to settle into the silence associated with the slow sipping of spirits, a voice came from the corner of the bar where an old man sat, his cane leaning against his stool.
He said in a high-pitched voice, “It was not always like that.”
The conversation stopped and all eyes turned towards him.
He continued, “You know, there was a time when all the people of the Caribbean were united, when we travelled from island to island and felt at home. There was never any friction then. The cricket team was not the only thing we had in common. We also had athletics, football, netball and basketball teams. We had one Ministry of Foreign Affairs and no work permits or visas for other Caribbean people. It was fantastic then to see how much we had in common. We were able to stand up to the big powers and make demands rather than beg for handouts or let them divide us. Our politicians stopped wanting to be big fishes in little ponds and decided in the interest of unity to give up some of their power for the good of the people.”
That was the last straw.
What had been a mumble of disagreement and disbelief erupted into an uproar out of which a harsh voice shouted angrily, “Old man, what stupidness you telling us? What happen to you? Like you dreaming?”
“Yes,” said the old man, his voice cracking with emotion, the tears running down his weathered cheeks.
Tony Deyal is still somewhere in Oistins searching for Caribbean unity. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org