How disheartening, after all these years, to discover we still have not learned that to keep administering the same failed chembois to our worsening problems is pure madness. When will the message sink in, that to base our most important decisions on notions totally removed from any reality is an open invitation to new disasters? When will we quit pretending we’re close relatives of the ostrich?
Over the weekend a friend shared with me his perspective of life in Saint Lucia, in the guise of a review of something he had read in last weekend’s STAR. “You and your eternal exaggerations,” he scoffed with a chuckle. He had no way of knowing his remark brought to mind a former school principal who remains one of this newspaper’s most loyal readers. On the remembered occasion she had confessed her enjoyment of my articles, even though she suspected that every now and again I enhanced situations just to emphasize a point.
“C’mon,” she said, “just between us. You do, right?”
I said: “You think so, huh?”
“Oh, I do, I do, I do!” she howled. “The way you picture people sometimes is enough to make the dead stand up and scream.”
And I said: “So, I guess you’ll give me some examples of my exaggerations?”
“I’ll be happy to,” she said, and cited, of all things, my coverage of an incident on an unforgettable July evening in 1979.
“The way you described Henry Giraudy wrestling a young heckler who had pulled away his mike in mid-sentence,” she went on, “I’ve known Henry for years. Hard as I’ve tried, I just cannot visualize him rolling on the ground; at least, not with ‘some doped-up Rastaman,’ as you put it.
“Then there was that other individual on a bike. The way you portrayed him casually pedaling around the boulevard and tossing exploding small sacks of shit at the UWP platform . . .”
Evidently the images in her head were still vivid and obviously quite hilarious eight years later, enough to double her over, eyes streaming. When she had regained her normal composure I enquired whether she had ever spoken to other eyewitnesses to the William Peter Boulevard incident. She admitted she had not, the stories she’d heard were all third- and fourth-hand accounts; hearsay.
“In that case,” I growled, “how can you say I overstated the facts? If you have no truth of your own to compare with mine, how then did you determine they are exaggerations?”
I reminded her that I was at the scene of the crime, so to speak, from start to finish. I had the photographs that proved what she considered “unimaginable” had actually occurred.
She apologized for her demonstrated lack of faith, sorta. Methinks she faked her remorse, however. I suspect she believes to this day I had invented the story about the notoriously prissy Giraudy—with whom she claimed some affinity. Somehow she just couldn’t imagine him struggling in the William Peter Boulevard dirt with a half-naked and malodorous Rastaman.
As for my more recent doubter, currently based overseas, he stubbornly refused to believe life on the home front could be anything like my article implied. During a short visit last year, he said, he had witnessed with his own eyes the loaded trolleys at a particular supermarket.
“The evidence does not support your case, sir,” he sniffed.
“People gotta eat,” I countered. “Did you take a look at their purchases?”
And he said: “Regardless of what they bought, it still cost money. If the country is as broke as you say, then where does that money come from?”
I could’ve offered several possibilities, none of them related to regular employment. Instead, I pointed out that purchases at the particular supermarket in Castries were no useful indicator of what went on elsewhere on the island. I also reminded him of the often-repeated UNDP observation that even when the economy is fairly healthy most Saint Lucians are forced to exist below the poverty line.
I treated him to a few lines from the “Performance Audit Report of the director of audit on the Public Assistance Program,” placed before parliament on 17 March, 2012: “Many Saint Lucians are at risk because they lack the financial means to provide the basic necessities of life . . . A report found on the government’s website shows changes in poverty rates over a 10-year-period. The number of individuals considered to be indigent fell from 1.6 percent between 1995 and 2005. However, the number considered poor increased from 25.1 percent to 28.8 percent over the same period. This means that out of the Saint Lucian population of roughly 175,000 50,000 are poor.”
The report defined an indigent as someone without the means to acquire the basic nutritional requirements for survival. “Poor” referred to those without the “monthly $423.83 that a household should spend if it is to meet its basic food and non-food requirement.”
I informed him that the prime minister had recently informed the nation that 72 percent of our work force was unable to access available jobs. My friend suggested the money splurged on supermarket items quite likely came from overseas relatives. As if to say I was making too much of our undeniably dismal employment figures, he added, “Many countries survive largely on remittances from abroad.”
I could hardly trust my ears: “Are you saying it’s no big thing being out of a job and dependent on overseas-based relatives? And what about the fast disappearing small-business sector?”
For his own peace of mind, I suspect, my friend held fast to his position that though things could be better economically our situation was not nearly as bad as the pictures I had painted. It occurred to me, long after our discourse had ended, that it actually was impossible to exaggerate local conditions.
In any event, better to be accused of overestimating the people’s misery (no one denies its existence, only the level!) than be guilty of inventing accomplishments for a government that in 2011 had promised but failed to deliver jobs-jobs-jobs and an employment-generating investment in the private sector of $100 million “immediately upon being elected to office.”