Growing up in the Virgin Islands, I had the opportunity to hear and learn the meaning of certain sayings which we now refer to as local proverbs. Recently, I was reminded of two of these proverbs. The first one is “Hog know where to root.” The second one is “If wind don’t blow, you would never see fowl bottom.”

The first was brought to mind by a natural reaction to being provoked. The second was brought about by a sense of being deceived. Only the second is worthy of attention.

If I were to teach a seventh-grade class the meaning of this local proverb, I would use an analogy from the situation created by the presence of the Commission of Inquiry.

A fowl is quite an attractive animal. She has neatly arranged tail feathers that make a pretty picture as she steps proudly along. But if a high wind blows and the fowl walks ahead of the wind, her tail feathers are spread and it is possible to see her bottom, which is not pretty. Let us think of COI Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom as the wind (not the bottom). The bottom which he has exposed is what some people really think about Virgin Islanders.

 

Beacon commentary

This was brought unmistakeably to my attention by a commentary in the Sept. 23 issue of The BVI Beacon, titled “COI seen to reveal ‘social divisions.’” That commentary seemed to be a hurried response to mine of Sept. 16, captioned “COI commentary draws sharp retort.” Misguided though the Sept. 23 commentary may be, dialogue is a good thing. It is a necessary element of a healthy democratic society. I welcome dialogue, as long as it remains clean. No hitting below the belt, and no personal attacks.

But before that can happen, the writer must be disabused of those misconceptions on which his ideas are based. He elevated me to the status of “highly entitled” and one of the “untouchables.” Clearly, he has not been here long enough to know that he is barking up the wrong tree, and he is even more out of place than he was before. After the misconceptions are cleared up, we can start over.

Incidentally, I have seen a video circulating on WhatsApp, where this lady doctor talks about being told by her employer that she was “out of place” when she was a student, working as a house cleaner to earn needed money. I know what that “out of place” means because I have experienced it. That’s not the same “out of place” that allowed the writer in the Beacon’s Aug. 26 edition to label VI politicians as corrupt. That “out of place,” in VI parlance, means “Yoe fresh, yoe forward, and yoe outta order.”

You see: The English language is a complicated thing. One expression can have several different meanings, and readers have to use context in order to give one of these expressions its appropriate meaning.

 

Introduction

To start over, I think that I should introduce myself to the good gentleman. When God was sharing gifts, talents and special assignments, I was hoping that I might get athleticism, or the ability to knit and crochet, or a beautiful singing voice, or the ability to play the piano. When my turn came, I saw that all of these were gone. Then I noticed where He was looking to find my gifts and assignments, and I panicked. I thought, “Lord, please! No! The people will hate me!”

He heard my thoughts and He looked at me with compassion. He spoke kindly. “Don’t worry. Be of good courage. My grace is sufficient for you.”

So I came into this world born of a mother who was a hat and basket maker and a father who was a fisherman and craft maker. My father had a primary school education. My mother had less, but she recognised the importance of higher education. She worked hard to find seven dollars each month for my taxi fare from Fat Hogs Bay to Road Town to attend the VI Secondary School.

If that makes me a “highly entitled” Virgin Islander, the readers can judge.

After the results of the Senior Cambridge Examination came back, it was thought that I should be prepared for the Cambridge Higher School Certificate Examination. With his limited resources, Principal Carlisle Scott started putting something in place for me, but just then, Methodist Minister John Mitchell sourced an opportunity for me to study at the Antigua Girls High School. The VI government paid my airfare, my school fees, and my board and lodging. They couldn’t afford to give me an allowance.

 

‘One brick at a time’

Those were the days when the government was building capacity, one brick at a time. They financed my studies in Antigua not because I had an important last name, but because I had the highest score in my class for the certificate examination, as indeed I had for the five years I spent at the high school.

If that makes me a “highly entitled” Virgin Islander, the readers can judge.

Later I attended the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill, Barbados. I believe that the government was already making a yearly contribution to the upkeep of the university. This didn’t happen because I had an important last name. My friend Noel Vanterpool and I had to sit an entrance exam set by the university, and on the basis of the results we were granted bursaries which covered everything: tuition fees, room and board, and so on. We left on the same flight from Beef Island. He went to Trinidad, and I went to Barbados. If that makes me a “highly entitled” Virgin Islander, the readers can judge.

After four years, I returned to the VI and served as a Spanish teacher at the BVI High School, as I was expected to do. Later on, I pursued further education without assistance from the government. I attended the College of the Virgin Islands in St. Thomas and the Monterrey Peninsula College and the Monterrey Institute of International Studies in California. I did this while working and raising six children.

If that makes me a “highly entitled” Virgin Islander, the readers can judge.

 

‘Value of hard work’

You see, my dear brother, I learned about the value of hard work from my parents early in life. As a hat and basket maker, my mother worked on what we called a foot machine. On top there was a kind of wooden casing that held the machine. Underneath there was a foot pedal. She used the pedal to get the threaded needle to engage with the plaited straw, which she would sew into a hat or basket. During one period when her feet were swollen, as feet may be sometimes when one is pregnant, she gave me the responsibility of working the foot pedal while she worked the threaded needle and the plaited straw. It was a task which required good eye-foot coordination. I must have been 9 years old at the time, because my youngest sibling is ten years younger than I am.

If that kind of training makes me a “highly entitled Virgin Islander, the readers can judge.

As long as I am getting the personal stuff out of the way, there is another matter I wish to address. I don’t know if the writer was including my style of writing when he talked about “pontificating,” but in case he was, I will say this. I write for a mixed readership which includes readers and aspiring readers. I try to include something for everyone. Besides, what some people would consider pontificating is everyday fare for accomplished readers.

Truth be told, it would be very difficult for me to change the way I write. I write what I hear in my head, and that is the result of heavy emphasis on the reading of English literature and the study of Latin sentence structure. In high school, when we not studying poetry, we were immersed in Shakespearean drama. Then in sixth form, we had Mrs. Edris Byrd at the Antigua Grammar School, and she was an outstanding interpreter of Shakespeare. Not to be outdone were Mr. Andrews and Mr. Johnson, both Englishmen who were great teachers of English literature, from Chaucer to the Romantics. So I can’t just pluck it out of my head, even if I wanted to.

If that is something that makes me a “highly entitled” Virgin Islander, the readers can judge.

 

Important point

This last point is probably more important than all the rest. As a young girl, I was not uncomfortable with my dissenting opinions, but I couldn’t voice them. At first, they were expressed in body language, and later with words. It got me into a lot of trouble.

My employers in different places, not just in the VI, wanted to get rid of me. There were people who didn’t want to associate with me. I ignored it. At first it was lonely, and then it didn’t matter. It still doesn’t matter, because God had already said, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

If that kind of experience makes me a “highly entitled” Virgin Islander, the readers can judge.


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