An acquaintance of mine, who happens to be a lawyer, and a female at that, once told me, in response to my stating that I had gained St Lucian citizenship – this was way back in the 1990’s – that I might have citizenship, but that I would never become a St Lucian, and she meant, I hope, nothing nasty at the time, but her well-aimed barb pierced my memory and has remained there ever since.
I think she was right, by the way.
But why will I never become a St Lucian? I left England immediately after completing my first university studies and went to work in Germany. I loved the language. I loved the country. And could easily have remained in Germany and been accepted as a German in time.
But I took a post as a lecturer at the Folk University in Sweden, met a girl, stayed there for almost three decades, and became completely, utterly, more Swedish than any Swede, because Sweden for me is as close to the perfect society as we shall ever reach on this earth. But I never applied for Swedish citizenship. It seemed so unnecessary.
And so my wife and I discontinued our successful careers and came to live in St Lucia, a country we had come to enjoy, perhaps love, where we believed we could contribute more than back home in Sweden where the welfare state really makes sure that everyone is as well protected and cared for as possible, without smothering initiative and endeavor.
Let me digress a while and tell you a tale of the Gambia. I used to spend quite a lot of time in West Africa and the family was always with me. As was the custom, there were maids and other employees all over the place. Our son, being very young, soon became their favorite and followed the girls all over the place. One day, I was disturbed at my work by mighty howls of laughter coming from the garden where I discovered Martin surrounded by the maids. Saffi, his favorite, explained, ‘I told Martin I was coming back to Sweden with you.’
Now what was so funny about that, you might be wondering, so let me explain. Back in the Seventies, there were almost no black people in Sweden. In our small village, I was a curiosity, an immigrant, an Englishman. My father-in-law was so appalled that his daughter should choose to marry a foreigner that he scarcely spoke to us for the first three years of our marriage.
And here was Martin, faced with the dilemma of his beloved Saffi coming back to Sweden. I have to add, at this point, that Martin was no more than a few years old and was still choosing his words carefully. He knew that Saffi might stand out in Sweden and had tried to describe the situation as diplomatically as possible. He knew instinctively that people are different but he was not sure why.
‘Saffi,’ he said, ‘you know that in Africa people are black. And in England people are white. But in Sweden, people are GREEN!’ At which point, we all cracked up! Yes, we are all different in many ways, but essentially, we are all the same. I do not believe that I identify people by the color of their skin; I certainly do not judge them by it.
Perhaps, well more than perhaps, before I came to live permanently in St Lucia I doubt I was aware of the subtleties of color. In West Africa, I loved the shining, jet-black face of my great friend Lamin Jeng and the softer hues of our beloved Ms Renner, the principal of the Yundum school not far from the airport, but people were still black, in a casual sense.
It was only when I came to live in St Lucia that I understood how deeply rooted the sense of color is to many people. I know St Lucians who will not buy bread from a black baker because he is considered dirty. I know girls who cannot consider kissing a thick-lipped man. Indians marry Indians. The owner of one of our most successful media houses once told me with the friendliest of frank candor, when we were speaking of my grandchildren who are the wonderful fruits of an interracial union, that she absolutely believed that black and white should never intermarry because it simply was not right. No Aryan could have put it better.
So what chance have I, a simple white guy, of ever becoming a St Lucian?