Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 15th 2015 Contents A22
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt March 15, 2015
It s been a long winter; this
writing apprenticeship in
London has been tough. The
dark segues into one another and
I have a sudden vision of a
white, hot day in Trinidad, melt-
ing tar, spilling into a molten
sunset. It is on a day like this
when I glimpse somewhere far
from my window a square of
light, and then another square.
The sun is out. I hurriedly pull
on purple track pants over paja-
mas, lace up pink running shoes,
pull on my softest sweater,
unfortunately also now riddled
with tiny holes due to age, grab a
mismatched jacket and head out
to the nearest park. I pick up a
coffee and see a well-dressed
African woman smoking a ciga-
rette, waiting for a cab. She
could be a movie star, taking in
the city in a sweeping imperious
gaze. I stop impulsively and think
I really want a cigarette, just a
puff, not a pack, and somehow
try to explain this to the woman.
I ask her for a cigarette. I offer
to pay for it. She looks me up
and down, making me aware of
my peculiar attire, gives me two
cigarettes, and reaches into her
pocket for a pound coin. I refuse
the coin and offer her one in
return. We both smile. I turn my
face to the sun and sit in the
park. A vagrant sits on the bench
next to me. We both enjoy the
So I think, this is freedom.
This is ole mas. Play anything
you want. Nobody cares. It s a
big city. I remember why I am
here again. It s the freedom to
get into the work. Into not caring
so much about what people will
say. Into sitting in the open
without feeling fear. Something
that traps people living in small
patches of the world like ours.
I read a Facebook post from
the writer Monique Roffey (award
winning author of several books
including White Woman in a
Green Bicycle and more recently,
House of Ashes based loosely on
the coup attempt in T&T) who
inspired me to do a year s train-
ing in creative writing in London.
A year out. She is currently
teaching creative writing in
Trinidad. We are lucky to have
Roffey wrote: "A writing group,
especially one here in Trinidad, is
a fringe space where so-called
hostile groups can meet. In a
writing group privilege does not
work. Privilege cannot make any-
one a shit hot writer. We discuss
craft. Talent is on the table,
that s all. Talent and craft is what
is up for discussion. The content
of the work, themes of love, gen-
der, sexuality, race, white privi-
lege, shame, anger, guilt, all these
things need to be spoken about
by these people around the writ-
ing table. It is a fringe space.
What are we, if we cannot talk
there, in this space around the
Yes. I pull out a piece of paper.
I had written this three months
into being here in virtual isola-
tion, trying to find my voice. I
found self censorship, the fear of
gossip that goes viral in Trinidad,
the bullying voice that we all feel
after being robbed---and very few
of us haven t been victims of
some kind of crime or brutality
in Trinidad. The bullying voice
that said watch out, if you say
or do something wrong to the
wrong person, make a false step,
you could be dead if you protest
against noise or a bad drive has
made us somewhat hostile to one
another. The anger is misplaced.
Here is some of what I had
written on that piece of paper.
"For years I had a drawing
room voice. I d say things people
expected me to say. I d entertain
them. I d go to the squares and
markets and speak the language
of strangers. My voice was neu-
tral, benign and conciliatory. It
gave information and said the
sorts of things which would find
approval in schools for girls run
"It was a strange situation.
There were times when even I
found my drawing room voice,
jarring. I must have been boring,
self righteous, and trotted out
"Gradually it seeped in, that
alone voice, tea roses growing
through cracks in stone. It may
have come out when I caught
myself off guard. When I did
that I had to look away from
myself. As if the truth hurt or
"One day I met a person who
only spoke in her alone voice.
She lived in so many places she
didn t know what was home and
what wasn t. She opened up all
her wounds and invited us all to
examine them as if they were
jewels of the Raj. She laughed
without restraint. She lived by
her wit. She wore her pajamas to
the drawing room. She forgot to
eat sometimes. She was the
bravest person I met. She said
nobody, not an ambassador, nor
a business tycoon, could buy an
alone voice. It was more precious
than life itself. I am starting to
speak from scratch."
Roffey inspired that writing.
If we can all allow our voices
to ring true perhaps we will stop
being hostile to one another and
become more productive, nudge
our country to be safer, more
efficient. We can start with small
safe spaces and eventually, allow
the talent, the work to do the
It sounds like the ultimate Caribbean
island comedy. There s Robert De Niro in
a starring role and Princess Diana in the
back-story; there s Australian billionaire
James Packer, whose father, Kerry, ran
World Series Cricket.
For the backdrop, there are pink-and-
white beaches, clear blue waters, a frigate
bird sanctuary, and a deserted super-lux-
For storyline, we ve an island communi-
ty torn between two warring factions,
each ready for larger-than-life character
And for hard-story backup, it s the clas-
sic small-island dilemma. You re in a
mind-numbingly beautiful location, but
where do you look for cash? Government
handouts? Or pop some of your heritage
to a manna-from-heaven investor? If the
latter, on what conditions and at what
You re in Barbuda. That s the number
two island in Antigua-Barbuda. Just 62
square miles, to Antigua s 108; and 1,638
people at the 2011 census, to 80,000 on
the larger island.
It s crying out for that cliché of
Caribbean journalism, a "Trouble in Para-
Early this month, Barbudans met to
vote on a US$250 million proposal for a
super-luxury Paradise Found resort, to be
built on the site of the abandoned K-
Club, Princess Diana s favoured island get-
away. The lead role backers are Packer
and De Niro.
Prime minister Gaston Browne spoke
forcefully in favour and greeted voters
individually. The meeting turned rowdy. A
former Barbuda Council member, Fabian
Jones argued that Browne should not
speak and was taken into custody for dis-
When it came to the vote, there were
206 in favour, 175 against. On the "No"
side was Mackenzie Frank, a former
Antigua and Barbuda senator. He has now
launched a legal action to block the proj-
ect with high-flying lawyers from London,
Miami, and the local bar.
He argues that the terms of the deal
won t take Barbuda to paradise.
The developers want a 198-year lease
on 1,141 acres of prime land, including
airport and Eco-lodge add-ons. They are
offering an up-front US$2.4 million, to
cover the first 118 years. That s around
US$17 per acre per year, for Barbuda s
prime tourist site.
Frank also argues that the vote breached
the terms of the Barbuda Land Act,
passed just eight years ago.
Traditionally, land in Barbuda has been
held in common by the island s inhabi-
tants. In the slave period, the island was
owned by the Codrington family. After
Emancipation, islanders were left pretty
much to themselves. Fishing and small-
scale farming provided food, and earned a
little cash. Today, the only big employer is
the Island Council, led by 11 elected
The Barbuda Land Act sets rules for
managing the island s common property.
Proposals for development must first be
agreed in outline by the islanders. Then
the council looks at a detailed scheme.
That then goes to the national Cabinet of
Antigua and Barbuda, and back to the
voters of Barbuda for final approval.
That s what the law says. But for Para-
dise, it was different.
Cabinet approval came first, in Novem-
ber 2014, along with a 15-year tax holiday.
Right after that, De Niro---a frequent visi-
tor to Antigua s Jumby Bay resort---was
appointed Special Economic Envoy for the
government of Antigua and Barbuda.
Barbudans got their first say afterwards,
in January this year; and their chance to
vote this month. Frank says they have yet
to see an Environmental Impact Assess-
He also contests the voting process.
Barbuda Land Act regulations say there
may be a show of hands, unless a secret
ballot is requested. Only Barbudans can
Instead, those present were asked to
sign their name for or against, on a yel-
low notepad for all to see. And, says
Frank, votes from non-Barbudans were
Taxes paid by Barbudans go to the
national treasury, whose subventions meet
most of the council s costs. Gaston
Browne s Labour government, elected in
June last year, says Barbuda must earn its
own keep and become a net contributor
to the economy.
The council owes its staff US$1.85 mil-
lion in unpaid wages. The vote to approve
Paradise earned the council a US$1.4 mil-
lion cheque, received last Thursday along
with other funds; workers will now be
When the up-front money is spent,
supporters say there will be jobs in Para-
dise---cleaners, security, gardeners. But
most of the skilled staff will be from
Antigua, or from other islands---both in
the construction phase, and when the
resort is up and running.
The next couple of weeks should be
exciting. On Wednesday, Mackenzie
Frank s legal challenge opens in the High
Court, with an application for a judicial
review of the Paradise Found approvals.
That legal drama will run and run; who-
ever loses first-round is likely to appeal,
right up to the Privy Council.
A week later, there s a Barbuda Council
election. Four of the 11 seats are up for
grabs. The result should be close. In last
year s general election, Labour s Arthur
Nibbs won the Barbuda seat with a mar-
gin of just one vote.
For Barbudans, this is no comedy; it s
their island s future.
BID TO BLOCK PARADISE IN BARBUDA
FREE FROM FEAR IRA MATHUR
One day I met a person who
only spoke in her alone voice.
She lived in so many places
she didn't know what was
home and what wasn't. She
opened up all her wounds and
invited us all to examine
them as if they were jewels
of the Raj. She laughed
without restraint. She lived
by her wit. She wore her
pajamas to the drawing room.
She forgot to eat sometimes.
She was the bravest person I
met. She said nobody, not an
ambassador, nor a business
tycoon, could buy an alone
voice. It was more precious
than life itself. I am starting
to speak from scratch."
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