There I was, sitting in my car, minding my own business, when I heard my name. No, forget that! I didn’t hear my name, but I suddenly realized the person on the radio was talking about me, ‘that white guy’!
“I dunno, but something worries me about some white guy talking about our culture,” the voice went on to say.
The person was obviously referring to something I had said about some Creole storybooks I had produced with the help of my all-St Lucian-Creole-speaking team. This is so long ago; I still imagined that people, the Creole-community of experts, would appreciate interested help from someone with a passion for language and an understanding of how languages interact in bilingual societies. We had recently produced a few Creole stories – I think they were the six Konpè Lapen books, but they could have been any of the other twenty or so books we produced at the time – and were trying to get people interested in actually ‘reading’ Creole.
A couple of decades earlier, a group of experts had come together and produced an ‘official’ orthography of St Lucian Creole, that is, an accepted way of spelling the words, but as is usual in many parts of the world, especially here, the job remained unfinished. What was the point of determining how words should be written if there was nothing to read? Actually, there was a short-live newspaper called ‘Balata’, but there was no program to follow up, to build on the work of the committee that produced the orthography, which brings me to one of my pet peeves about this society and the way it is run.
Everything is patchwork, fixes, sweeping under the carpet, ‘making do’ for now. There is seldom, if ever, a long-term program that leads to a resolution or solution. And if there should happen to be such a program, such a plan, it is never carried out. ‘Never” is a tough word, but in this case it’s the right word.
In recent months I have read and read dozens of reports about specific problems that might beset St Lucia. The process goes something like this: A team attends an International Conference. A year or so later, funding is approved for an investigation and report, which leads to the setting up of a committee. The committee deliberates, but usually very few of the committee members actually make time to attend meetings, and the work is left to the enthusiastic few. A report is produced, usually in time for the next International Conference – the Committee might wangle an invitation if it is lucky – and the findings of the report is submitted, whereupon a new date for a third International Conference will be determined at which the Committee will once again submit a report.
Now, when the time for the third International Conferences comes round, the Committee will submit a report that is more show than substance; it will have many more pictures than the first report; it will regurgitate all the recommendations of the first report; it will report on activities that are planned – or occasionally in progress – or that require more funding. At this stage there will be few or no signs of actual progress, though an impression of progress will be created by the need for more funding.
A date and place for a fourth International Conference will be determined on the basis of ‘continental considerations’ – it would not do, after all, to have delegates going to the same of boring destinations conference after conference; I mean, how many times can you fly to Rome, Madrid, Rio, London, Paris, Copenhagen, New York and Bali without getting sick and tired of the places? Even Moscow sounds nice in that context. If you don’t believe me, check out a few reports; they will all begin with ‘cut and pastes’ of St Lucia’s Geography, History, Climate, Colonial Past, etc. They will then spend pages describing the issue they are going to investigate – which has already been made clear in the funding application – and if they are lucky, they will have enough blurb to copy and paste to fill the first ten pages of the second, and even third reports without any difficulty.
But I digress. Here was that guy talking about a white guy who was ‘interfering’ with ‘our culture’. Of course, the ridiculousness of the situation was all too glaring given that the guy on the radio had scarcely had a good word to say about ‘Patois’ in his whole adult life, though he probably grew up using it as a kid down Laborie way. Obviously, it was time for action. I had to take the guy on, so on my way back from town I stopped by the guy’s office and took the bull, or unicorn, by the horn – perhaps an unfortunate choice of word given the potential for misunderstanding – I meant ‘horns’, and went to see the guy, which resulted in a meeting that changed my life forever!
But that, as my good friend would say, is for another show.