All of us have peered behind our individual curtains and were either instantly horrified or became numb as we saw exactly how the hotdogs were made. Our professions may, in some cases, have taken away the magic and have ruined some trick. I have a friend who is a magistrate. I once asked him about his job and the cases he has heard. His response was surprisingly flat, especially for one who cherishes life. “People are bastards.” he said dispassionately; “People are bastards.”
Somehow, I understood instantly. He operates behind the curtain. He knows the side of this human species that is selfish, reactive, thoughtless, evil, unloving and greedy and it has taken away just a bit of the hope that came with youth and slowly withers away as we age. Well, his withering is on overdrive.
Knowledge can indeed be a curse, and there are people from all walks of life who are equally jaded. They can no longer enjoy the superficial, because they know the reality, the mess and the work that is beneath the surface. So, while everyone at the party enjoys the food, the butcher worries about the sausage and the baker worries about the cake. We have our individual worries, but none really worries alone. Come my fellow worriers. Take my hand as we panic on a national scale!
Antigua and Barbuda has rolled along the edge of the economic cliff for a very long time and we have indeed peered over the edge in terror several times. Whether the rescue took the form of tourism, predatory loans or recently the CIP, it gave the feeling that the lifeline was somehow within arm’s reach. But that was the innocence of a young nation born into some geographical fortune and not caring to look behind the curtain to see what real development should mirror. Now citizens of a maturing country, we are beginning to see that the cliff has narrowed tight. We battle to keep our balance every day, on a macro and micro level, many times avoiding the abyss, by what must be miracles.
Our ability to function as a state now hangs on a fragile base. The realities and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have laid bare our pumped-up economy and exposed our social fissures. Our chief revenue earner, tourism, has taken an unprecedented hit of category 5+++ proportions resulting from the global effects of the pandemic. Previously, we worried that tourism could vanish in the ferocity of a hurricane, which has now become inevitable. And as June 1st approaches, we are basically standing blind folded “Hurricane Firing Squad” to take aim. Further, our collective anxieties have increased given that in 2021 there are 18 named storms, 7 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes making landfall on the US coastline and the Caribbean.
It is widely believed that our size, limited resources and high cost of labour and utilities make us suitable for little else but tourism. To add to the injury, locals do not own much of a stake of this lifeblood – an industry which faces more and more global competition every season.
In short, our basic needs are hardly ever met, and every newly paved road serves as an invitation to heavy rains to expose its flaws. Education, poverty, local business, food and energy security, adequate and basic utility services like water, and the environment all spur the rapid flutter of anxiety. Like a chorus, they echo through the chest of us worriers.
While we worry and fret, the politicians and their chosen class flourish. Yes, they pontificate, and many join to table half baked “solutions” to these pressing issues. Many suggestions either certify their lack of understanding of the complex issues of development or have been made with infantile calculations, having failed to peek behind the curtain. The “just fix it” attitude by many in the general public mimics the attitude of children who assume that their parents are rich and never had to work a day in their lives!
Except that nation building requires steady work – not fits and starts! It requires putting all of our heads together to find a sustainable way forward as a nation and for us to begin to place emphasis on preventative maintenance of our infrastructure. It also requires that our leaders LISTEN! We can do meaningful worrying as a nation. We can make the tough choices, give the ultimatums and not just leave this life altering project – called sustainable development – to the government; politicians who only seem to worry about votes rather than fixing what truly ails us.
So, let’s look behind the curtains people. Discard that fairy tale idea of a rescuer. No one is coming to save us! Instead, let’s do this together, worriers. Let us become a nation of warriors!