For people who grow up in the vastness of a geographically open space or the freedom of an open society, this choking claustrophobia is unknown to them – there is always a bus ride to anonymity, just a small step away.
When I was in my late teens – in ‘A’ Level College, I was a founding member of the Karate Club; some of us, Japan-Samurai-ophiles, convinced the Principal, Dr. George Forde, that a Karate Club would be a seriously good thing. So along came Sensei ‘Bobby’, the barber from Chauseee Rd. R.I.P. I was SO happy. I took Karate from then until the day I left St. Lucia in 1984 – a long 4 years, by which time I had earned the status of Sempai – the island’s first female black belt. Well that was when small island claustrophobia hit me hard.
What happened? Everybody ‘knew me’…everybody had an opinion on me...the ‘inevitable’ insinuations started…’De Sensei like me’ ‘Is only because dey having an affair’…in my young innocence these rumours hurt and messed up my confidence and my natural independent and minding-my-own-business nature (shy and unconfident?) to the point that on top of everything else St. Lucia wasn't, all I could think about was to get the hell away from Small Island Life into the vast anonymity of somewhere where nobody knows my name.
That’s my experience, but I know it’s just a part of it – for some people it’s the lack of opportunity, the ‘fact’ that you have to know the right people, be from the right family, be prepared to smile and kiss and be the number one fan just in order to get one step ahead…these are all things I’ve experienced too…and they’re nasty for true!
But that is not what this post is about…
I went off to the vast anonymity…luckily to the helping hands of friends and family who guided me through some of the strangeness and into a job at War on Want during the height of the Ethiopian Famine and under the directorship of the amazing George Galloway (of Oil for Arms and other scandals) that proved to be a wonderful, challenging and eye-opening experience, and from there into college.
It was in the 4th year of college – 1 yr before completion that I began to miss my small island community… I was in an area of the UK where a Caribbean face was about as common as a month of Sundays. I was studying art and had busily been absorbing and consuming the vagaries of intellectual art and life…the famous people, the pressure of competing in the vast anonymity…and I began to long for people who knew how to season chicken and debone saltfish. I wanted to walk down a street and be greeted with ‘Ras Fifi!’ a hug and a kiss on the cheek and a shared ro-ro.
Yesterday I went To Town…I stopped by SLTB and had a wonderful chat with Daune, my old school pal who attended her first party at my home many years ago…it was a lovely chat of old new friends. I went on to the Ministry of Commerce where people smiled ‘Hi Finola! How are you? You’re looking SO well…it’s good to see you again’ and answered ‘No problem’ to my every query and request. I walked past the Car Park to the Treasury and waved a big smiling ‘Hello!’ to Jaqui, next school pal and head of OPSR as I passed Bldg. 1, hugged a beaming Rose, dollmaker who said I’d been on her mind…shook Petie the messenger’s hand warmly as he welcomed me back on the pavement by the market…thanked the guy’s who told me ‘push’ as I pulled the Treasury door, chatted with people in the not-too-long-lines at the Treasury as I determined to get a smile from the young man serving when it was my turn…I did, just a few pleasant words did it. Scotty Lawrence beamed a big smile and ‘Hi-iii!’ at me as the SLASPA driver obliged with a beep to call my attention as I crossed the zebra crossing back to the Car Park…even as I drove away from Town, the huge smile of Elizabeth as we drove past each other on the Car Park Ramp and beeped hello, made me feel so good. Simon from BOSL, in returning my call enquiring about mobile credit card processing was as ever, polite and so helpful with such genuine pleasant professionalism…people stopped along the way to let traffic in and out of gaps, as did I…I could go on...since coming back, the embrace of staff at SJC, the response of friends who I've phoned to say "Hi", the sunset get-together of my designer ladyfriends on the verandah at Cap...