An Immigrant’s Tale

Musings are thoughts, the thoughtful kind. For the purpose of these articles, a-musings are thoughts that might amuse, entertain and even enlighten.

I’ve done some stupid things in my life; some might think coming to St Lucia was one of them. You see, one of my problems is that I believe in people. I truly want to believe that people are basically good, and that every one of us wants what is best for everyone else. It doesn’t get more stupid than that, not in a Caribbean context, at least.

Take the ship I once bought, for example. And I mean “ship” – none of this yacht nonsense; this was a bulk container longer than three football fields that was languishing outside Kingston Harbour just off Port Royal.

I had this crazy idea, being absolutely convinced of the excellence of the Jamaican Maritime Institute and the training it was offering for seafarers the world over, that what was lacking was actual practical experience in working on board a real ship. The studies in those days were all theory. There was no scope for apprenticeship on board a real vessel.

To me, it seemed an ideal opportunity to kill a dozen seagulls with one stone – not that I would ever kill any animal – so I bought the tanker.

Even Kenny Anthony got in on the act. Didacus Jules, who was Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education at the time, introduced me to the then newly elected Prime Minister who invited me to lunch at his official residence by the Vigie Airport. We “veteran” pilots of the aviation fraternity have never really warmed to the George F.L. Charles moniker.

The Prime Minister, in his official capacity as leader of the country and leading light in the Caribbean Community, wrote a very nice letter to his counterparts in Jamaica and others requesting that they afford me all possible assistance and courtesies in my endeavors. I believed then, and still believe today, that the PM was genuine in his desire to help. I think we were both naïve enough to trust that his letter would make a difference.

I traveled to Jamaica for a week; toured the ship, liked what I saw, visited and inspected the Maritime Institute, met with members of staff, conferred long and hard with the Commander and came away with the conviction that here was a project that was worthy of support.

The idea was to moor the ship in an inlet adjacent to the Institute where it would be safe. It could even be allowed to rest on the seabed by filling its ballast tanks with water for stability. There were plans – dreams really – of the Institute actually operating the ship, but that was something for the future. For now, the aim was to furnish the students with on board accommodation, provide on-ship working environments, and give access to real machine rooms, etc. Enthusiasm was running high.

But in the end, it all came to nothing. I met with the board, had the support of the Institute and its staff, and had bought a ship to donate to them. They turned me down. The board of directors was unable to accept that anyone would be either generous or stupid enough to provide a ship for the benefit of the students and staff of the Maritime Institute without a hidden agenda.

Philanthropy is a weird thing – it is perhaps the only human endeavor that is truly and exclusively its own reward, if, that is, you can get people to believe enough in what you are doing to accept your assistance.


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