Recently I ventured on a trip to the isle of Antigua. Not open-mindedly, I had read ‘A Small Place’ by Jamaica Kincaid. It’s a blunt essay, a substantial length to be printed as a book by an author who seems to have generated some hatred for her homeland. Kincaid targeted the Antiguan government at its core, materializing an unofficial ban from the country for herself.
I also heard that Antigua was boring, and I remembered travelling before, for the shortest of weeks, and being homesick. What could take me away from sweet Saint Lucia? The temperature was in the high eighties over there, like you’d expect in any Caribbean island, but it felt five degrees hotter.
To my dismay (because I didn’t want to prove the Antiguans right), after traversing the so-called main road, I learned this island has a little more magic than I expected. Antigua isn’t boring; there is a balanced blend of nature and development. Wild piglets and other animals make their way on the roadside and everywhere “developed” looks like suburbs, while many of the facilities appear well kept, as far as the eye can see. St. John’s, the town, looks cleaner (because there’s an enforced law against littering) than I’ve ever remembered Castries for twenty-one years, and on the beaches I met lifeguards, hired by the government.
I did not get a chance to experience Antigua’s smaller attachment, Barbuda, but the white and pink sand of the mainland’s unsullied beaches was enough to capture my heart. I can testify that Antiguans will not let you leave without instilling in your mind: “We have 365 beaches, one for each day of the year!” I agree, they should be proud, and I remember a former colleague who hails from Antigua speaking only of the perfection of the island. She was also the one who recommended the Kincaid novel.
But still, I could not succumb to the Antiguans’ constant claims that their land is the best. I was accompanying a group of teenagers from my church and I was older than most of them but not by many years. I had to be an example. I had to remind everyone that Saint Lucia is still simply beautiful, tourist board logo change or not.
Distressfully, we went to the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium where the lawn is immaculately kept and the driveway towards the main entrance features a high standard tennis court. Flowers and palm trees create the perfect balance, and a statue of the man himself stands erect on the side of the car park.
When we entered the stadium, I still didn’t lose my battle with the Antiguans, but the rest of my group sure did. We had the privilege of viewing the stands of the empty arena where the seats are coloured and coordinated to recreate a massive version of the Antiguan flag. Oh, if only you could see it with your own eyes, mesmerizing even while vacant, as birds that are found everywhere in Antigua paraded on the field in the afternoon sun.
Immediately I heard someone ask, “When can Saint Lucia ever have national pride like that?” Well, my efforts were surely in vain; the question lingered as a sharp jab in my side. Then the response pricked me even deeper: “I know, we can never be so creative; all we do is build things halfway or destroy it.” I couldn’t save Saint Lucia’s dignity then; soon local social issues began spilling from each teenager’s mouth. The government was mentioned, as well as poor healthcare, dirty streets and the equivalent in soca lyrics.
But, even in those 90 seconds of bearing the painful insults on behalf of my homeland, I had to be proud of our youth. They are aware of the unfairness they face, and can feel the constant deficiency of important systems in our society. Even the inefficiency of the passport and registry office was common knowledge to them. Maybe this is hope that we can make a meaningful difference in our time.
Finally, I had one point against Antigua (not one to be celebrated though), because I noticed their young people knew nothing about the island except that it has 365 beaches. While my youth group stood discussing with anguish the unfortunate situations at home, those from Antigua were not sure if Vivian Richards was still alive.