It’s not the Jamaica of Fleming’s Goldeneye nor Coward’s Blue Harbour/Firefly.
Antigua is more aloof than that. It has inspired great anger in Jamaica Kincaid, "You may be the sort of tourist who would wonder why a Prime Minister would want an airport named after him--why not a school, why not a hospital, why not some great public monument," and great healing for Eric Clapton at Crossroads, An International Centre of Excellence for the treatment of alcohol, drugs and other addictive disorders. It will come to the world stage in March 2007 with the Cricket World Cup, which will be hosted entirely in the West Indies. Antigua is just finishing the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium for its part of the series, a world-class arena named for its swaggering world-class favorite son.
An adventurous friend of mine moved to Antigua, lock, stock, and dachshunds three, several months ago, when the opportunity of a good position arose at one of the posh British resorts. It has turned out to be more the dark side of paradise—part “behind the scenes of a hotel” a la Down and Out in London and Paris, and part The Island of Lost Souls—the vivisection here being specifically of dogs. The island has a rampant stray dog problem—the government has enacted new legislation just last year to help get the situation under control—but there is some segment of the population that tortures and kills these animals. Ex-pat’s pets have often been stolen or poisoned.
That darkness is not the sum of the island, of course. The economy—-centuries ago based around sugar—is dependent on tourism. As one guide book said, the island is not the friendliest in the Caribbean, because the poverty is too great. But treating Antiguans with respect will be returned respectfully. And culture blossoms in the artist communities and in youth initiatives like the Wadadli Pen competition for writing.
And so my friend and I found ourselves driving around the less-traveled southern part of the island during 2006’s final hours, through the lush, lush vegetation, eating great food at a small neighborhood place on the water. Restauranteur Mr. OJ told us of the coming celebration for the neighborhood-—the boys would barbeque all night, and he would bring them 2 large bowls of rice for the feast.
At midnight we were in one of those white rooms (meaning the sterile white-on-white décor, although it describes the revelers as well), filled with representatives from across the Commonwealth, and a lot of Italians. It was a tableau of many families glad to be together, dancing happily to seventies disco.
On the way home, we passed the tents with the neighborhood celebration. Another tableau of many families glad to be together, dancing happily to island music. Hopefully 2007 will bring health and some prosperity to all.