Wednesday, October 04, 2006

St. Lucia is a smiling island

Yesterday morning as I traipsed around town, I stopped two or three people at certain points along the way to ask them questions or directions. The first person I stopped was a middle-aged woman. Before I could even ask her anything, her face broke into a broad smile which did not disappear for the whole time that she gave me directions. It was as though it was her pleasure. The next person I stopped was a man who looked tough and construction-workerish. The same thing happened. I had barely said "Excuse me, please" ... his face burst into a smile and he stopped for me to ask directions, then gave me a clear and cheerful answer.

So far, apart from an aggressive woman in the market who was carrying on about me touching one of her things and not buying it, I've encountered only smiles and kindness on the streets. When I was walking down the hill, I stopped a bus (their mini vans, like TT maxis) to get to town. The name on the bus was PINK. Along the route, various people, young and old, got in, cheerfully saying "Good morning!" (to which the whole bus would respond: "Good morning!")

At one point a woman was getting out and her little son (about 3 - 5 years old) remained seated. She called to him to come out and not keep the bus back and he slowly started moving from the seat, sucking his finger. The whole bus started to laugh fondly. This was just one of the things that grabbed my attention ... out of the many moments where I knew that if I were in Trinidad I would be seeing a completely different response. Even the PINK bus driver, wanting to get through traffic, simply rested his hand on the steering wheel, pointing forward. It was so subtle. Other cars, somehow seeing this, allowed him to go through .. quietly, without fuss and frustration. There was no pushing, cussing, cutting in front of cars and almost causing accidents, leaning out of window and disrespecting other drivers, no horn blowing to say "Get out de %$^& way!" (I have not heard a single horn blow in St. Lucia yet ... apart from me blowing the rental car horn around bends the other day).

Ironically, on my way back home a few hours later, the bus that pulled up was PINK. Along the route I asked the driver if the bus stopped at the roundabout (whereby I would have had a long walk past the airport and uphill to the house) or if it went on further. He clearly remembered me from earlier in the morning and told me "The bus stops at the roundabout, but I'll drop your further, to where I picked you up this morning." He did not have to go out of his way, but it was like his pleasure to do so.

I think it's because St. Lucians seem to be very religious or spiritual (the society) and because there are so many old people who are active in communities. I see them on the streets, in the markets, everywhere, like ever-watchful grandparents and ancestors. They appear strong and integral, not feeble and forgotten. Even yesterday morning as I observed children at the roadside going to school, there were older women (grandmothers) standing with them to stop the bus (sometimes also with the mother) and I've been getting the feeling that these old people play a vital role in the upbringing of the children. They probably instill that politeness and respect in them from birth.


Blogger Webgrl said...

i've been reading these st lucia posts with this 'nuh uhhh' feeling. Like, really? Such a place exists? So close by? No cussin and horn honking - whoa.
Nice smiley people? Its amazing the difference between us and some of the other islands.........Why are we so angry/rushed/impatient

7:43 AM  
Anonymous Guanaguanare said...

There are still pockets here in Trinidad, believe it or not, where you will find people like the ones you are encountering in St. Lucia, and every now and again you are renewed by a random gift of gentility and a humane touch from a total stranger. The way I see it, Trinidad is going through a period of soul drought or as they say, a "darkness of the soul" and in such a hostile environment, you will find the lushest, the best that we have to offer, dying back a bit, retreating to pockets where they can draw upon their own store of spiritual resources to weather the situation. I believe in these people as the real Trinidadians and in fact I am counting on them to keep that torch smouldering until conditions are right again for new growth.

Elspeth, I have been listening to Kobo Town on the Internet. Their new CD is a thing of breathtaking beauty. There is a song called "At the Edge Of the City" where Drew writes:

"Hiding in unexpected places
Resting on the neglected faces,
the beauty that we seek
lies unseen among the meek"

That's just it! For me that says it exactly. The people who are carrying the beauty that we seek ARE the meek. In my earlier days I used to squirm with discomfort at what I thought of as another counter revolutionary admonition,that is, Jesus' conclusion that the meek would inherit the earth. Who wants to be meek when everyone is out to get you or get ahead of you? Drew's words brought the message through. The meek won't have to wait though. I believe that this earth is already theirs because they are not at war with it.

What is meekness anyway? I think that it is strength of the soul. It takes strength of the soul for a big man to do a favour for another human being without fearing somehow that he will be seen as weak or a mook, for a leader to accept that he is in fact nothing more than a servant of his people, for us, without expecting to be rewarded in some way, to show kindness and understanding, to smile spontaneously to be grateful, to be patient....

Drew goes on in the song to ask for "sight" and to be liberated to "BE". I will leave this prayer with you. I think all Trinidadians should be praying constantly for this:

Remove the mists that cover me
so I can see, so I can see
Shatter the glass that bottles me
So I can be, so I can be.

3:58 PM  
Blogger allan said...

the child,the mother, the grandmother-3 threads on the seam from the inside out-what a strong sail to catch the wind- and oh what wind!!

10:30 PM  

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