I was frankly intrigued by last weekend’s STAR article titled Home and Away. My curiosity was aroused because I thought that a new generation of Saint Lucians had longed outlived the old stereotype of laid back (lazy almost) at home, and enthusiastic and purposeful away in foreign lands. I regularly wonder how often that observation is recalled without digging deeper, perchance to discover its true import and origin. Does it hold true for every Saint Lucian? Why are some Saint Lucians always late for every appointment, including their jobs, and others always on time? Will a survey reveal two separate mindsets on this little island?
In my book ‘Shattered Dreams’ I recalled paying tribute to my parents and grandparents for always making certain that the children under their care were up at sunrise, and often before first light. This was not unique to the children in my family. Everywhere one turned at that early hour one observed other children off to feed and water their animals, put them to pasture, whilst adults were off to work.
These children would later proudly say that many chores were finished by early morning, and one was never late for school. Such punctuality served these early risers throughout their lives. To reinforce punctuality, former headmasters seemed then to take a vicarious pleasure in letting latecomers ‘taste’ the full brunt of the thick leather cowhide. It was seen as an instrument of discipline – a virtual rod of correction. To this day, there are many senior Saint Lucians who consider lateness an insult to whomsoever may have been kept waiting. That history partially settles the time argument for those who had the benefit of school. Of course, there were always stragglers arriving late for school as there are to this day.
Then there was the question of the weather. One had to be on time, whether it was school, church or work, regardless of the elements. Wet clothing and soggy shoes was never the best garb for any occasion. Frankly, Saint Lucians in those days never placed emphasis on rain coats, for reason of affordability, I suppose. Shelter therefore became the best and only option, which often meant lateness. In addition, most workers were forced to give their best effort because one’s work was literally marked-off for them; from the field hands to skilled masons, carpenters and others. If the better tailors promised to deliver a pair of trousers by a certain day and time, rest assured it was a done deal. And there were no electrical sewing machines and apprentices to help speed up stitching, buttonholing and ironing.
The above still leaves the idea of more recent lateness and laziness at home compared to away, to be discovered and properly analyzed. Is this the behaviour of a small group of folks who missed out on proper parenting? Or are these persons who merely rebelled against having their children wake up early because they associate early rising with some sort of punishment or mischief, slavery even? Some folks feel no obligation to rise at dawn. What’s the origin of this negative attitude of some Saint Lucians at home towards on-time obligations and a positive work ethic? Would a survey of secondary school pupils on the island, together with a sample of their parents, reveal new information about punctuality and lateness?
Perhaps it’s time to get to the bottom of this. But wait! There is another view. It is noteworthy that living and working in developed countries has not robbed Saint Lucians of their ready smile and quick wit. Most are still quick to offer a pleasant good morning or good evening or whatever greeting the hour demands. We may therefore brave the snow and the rain, get to the job on time, but we will hopefully never become cold and heartless or however else these ‘developed’ folks project themselves on foreigners. This observation is more broadly applicable to the entire Caribbean than to Saint Lucia specifically.
So we need to be careful in our analysis of the conduct of Saint Lucians and others when they migrate to white ‘developed’ countries. A careful analysis may discover that it’s time to stop giving a dog a bad name or, worse, making innocent Peter pay for guilty Paul. It’s almost like lumping all Europeans or all Americans in the same pot. Socialization distinguishes them!
There is one last bit to discuss on the issue of a change in attitudes of the transplanted Saint Lucian. Locally, it was drilled into many Saint Lucians to say thanks or thank you when a request was granted or when one was served. It did not matter what the situation was or who was rendering the service. For those who may have forgotten, a simple thanks or thank you is still an essential part of the socialization of the modern Saint Lucia. That, plus an appropriate greeting, is still the preferred way. Thankfully, from all appearances, these are two crucial aspects of who we are that have not yet been eroded, and hopefully never will. In the race for the almighty dollar, good manners and decorum can often be relegated to the back burner, so to speak. We descend to the crude manners of the greedy white man who is always after something of value to steal or take without permission, and from wherever he can. Soon afterwards he tweaks it and tries to make a fortune from someone else’s idea or invention.
In ending I wish to return to the theme of our penchant for saying thanks. In this regard I wish to thank the Gros Islet Town Council and, in particular, its chairman Mr. James Edwin for clearing the earthen drain at Marina View Road at Bonne Terre. The clearing came just in time to allow the uninterrupted flow of rain water during the passage of tropical storm Maria on Monday and Tuesday last. It’s nice to see that the Gros Islet Town Council is working to repair the unflattering image it was acquiring due to unkempt roadsides. By the way, the overhanging campeche on that road, bent by Maria, needs attention.
Hopefully, making Peter pay for Paul’s sins is a thing of the past. Hopefully too, Saint Lucians will learn to always deliver their best efforts at work or play, whether at home or away.