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Writing from Tortola

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I am sitting on the balcony of my hotel room overlooking the sea, taking in a scenery that reminded me very much of the view from Cane Garden. Ahead were a couple islands, spread out in the way Bequia appears from Cane Garden. To the eastern side is Virgin Gorda which, I am unable to see unless I go to higher ground. Ferries move frequently to and fro and two large cruise ships are in the harbour. The scene is peaceful, interrupted only by the boats, the waves beating on the shore and a few tourists walking along the sea front. In the midst of all of this I hear the sound of a familiar voice coming from the television set. It is Randy D of Vibes Caribbean. The programme is an old one about the Bequia Music Fest that I had seen before. It is coming from CaribVision.{{more}}

Randy’s Vibe Caribbean programmes are now being carried on CaribVision which is a regional channel that is probably seen throughout the entire Caribbean. Looking at this programme again in a strange setting has brought home to me what a valuable contribution Randy is making in promoting St.Vincent and the Grenadines. This type of coverage under normal circumstances will cost the country more than it can probably afford. It might be good for the Tourism people to understand the value of this coverage and build links with Vibes Caribbean. Not only is Randy showcasing activities and people, he is directly making a plug for visitors to come to what in his view is the most valuable piece of real estate this side of eternity. But it is necessary to get back to reality. I know that there is another side that exists on this piece of real estate, a side that does not value your contribution but pigeon holes you especially if you dare to be a man or woman, have ideas and have a commitment to your country and do not wear appropriate political colours.

But to focus a bit on Tortola, BVI: After leaving St.Vincent one of the first things that strikes you about Tortola is a sense of discipline. This is, admittedly, first impression and based on a view from Road Town. It might indeed be different elsewhere although I doubt it. Someone did in fact indicate to me some concerns about rising crime. After all we are in the Caribbean which the World Bank or a World Bank Report described as the most murderous region in the world. I am tempted to think this is an exaggeration but then we are just behind Africa with HIV AIDS. So we are certainly getting on but in the wrong areas. The reality in Tortola might easily be different but first impressions count and of course, for the cruise ship visitors who I see here in large numbers, first impressions are what count.

But beyond this there is a kind of order that has long evaded us at home. Let us be clear about certain things. Tortola is a small island with a population of a little over 20,000. It is the centre of commerce and government for the Virgin Islands and is still a colony whatever that brings with it. There are visa restrictions. Jamaicans and Guyanese, I believe, can only enter with visas. One of the categories on the immigration card seeking information about the reasons for your visit asks if your mission is to look for work. I suspect that there is little or no unemployment so there is a context that underlies how the society ticks.

Another thing that struck me immediately is the number of Vincentians who appear to be living and working here. And while I am on this issue I have just heard an announcement about a meeting of the Vincentian Association in Virgin Gorda. An earlier visit to Virgin Gorda a few years ago had made me aware of the number of Vincentians working there. Within minutes of my arrival in Tortola I headed to the hotel bar for a cold drink only to find that the person who served me was a young Vincentian lady. Sitting near by was an elderly, retired gentleman, not a Vincentian but who was very familiar with St.Vincent and who because of his time in education knew a number of Vincentian educators. He specifically asked about Leroy Mulraine and Walden Ryan. A hundred yards from the hotel I met another Vincentian youth whose name I don’t remember but whom I knew as a promising footballer.

While walking in search of a book store I was greeted by another Vincentian lady whose face I knew but whose name escaped me then who was kind enough to take me to two bookstores and to other places where she was going in the course of her work. Later as I walked around I saw two women staring at me. I was sure they were Vincentians, had recognized a face they thought they knew but didn’t know where to place it. On my early morning walk at 6:45 I met two other Vincentians. It appears that one can hardly walk around without bumping into a Vincentian. Certainly we do not need visas to come here although the authorities threatened to have us do so a few years ago.

A boat from St.Vincent comes here every other week. While walking along the road I saw ripe bananas which I foolishly assumed had come from St.Vincent. I don’t know why I made that assumption but in any event I bought a hand. The price convinced me they were not from St.Vincent. The amount in US dollars I paid for them could have bought me bananas at home for a whole month. But Tortola is a big financial centre and is among a group of tourist islands. The currency is US dollars. All of this of course adds up to high prices and a high cost of living. Vincentians like others born outside the country are considered not belongers. The country is in the process of drafting a new constitution. I don’t know if this has any implications for Vincentians living here. At least some of their children who were born here will now be belongers. By the way someone asked me about our dear Prime Minister. I had just seen a news item indicating that he was staying a week longer in Cuba so I was able to convey this information. The person took the information and smiled. I still don’t know what the smile was all about.

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