Irma – some thoughts and a suggestion

Antigua, Barbuda, St Martin, St Maarten, St Barts, Anguilla, St Kitts, Nevis, British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Bahamas, Cuba..

Sounds like the DJ at a soca fete asking revellers to show their national colours or the shortlist for a honeymoon location. Instead these islands were pins in a meteorological game of skittles.

My twin-island place of birth was spared…this time. But the hurricane season is far from finished so it’s worrying if you have connections in any of the aforementioned or the following countries: Jamaica, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Grenada andTrinidad and Tobago. As Irma moved on to the USA, the dread continued as thoughts turned to more friends and family.

It seems impossible that many of these tiny islands are autonomous states. Wouldn’t it be better if they were united, a federation of sorts? But that is an ‘f’ word which stirs up unpleasant memories of the past, colonial and early post-independence. Caricom, based on the EU, is a model for how this could work but in light of Brexit, it may be just as well that closer political ties have not been sought. Additionally, others would point to the fluctuating fate of the West Indian cricket team as a reason to not think of more formal ties.

These economic and political drivers cannot ignore the immense pride citizens feel in being independent of the ‘mother country’. A fact supported by the continuous agitations for independence on some of the French islands. Yet the Dutch and French responses have been praised while the UK government has been criticized for its lackadaisical approach to its territories. Though, I wonder if there are leaders or citizens of countries, which have no automatic right to help from former colonial masters, who are wishing that these rights could be reinstated at a time like this.

Solutions to these issues come easy when the discussion occurs among friends from the Caribbean diaspora in a British back garden and lubricated by generous servings of rum. Talking is easy, action is more difficult but is needed in the aftermath of this tragedy that has shattered so many lives.

I feel small, helpless and ineffective in the face of  calamities like Irma. Research has shown that 24 hours news coverage has desensitised many of us to the plights of others. But I know that if such a life-changing event happened to me, I would want people to imagine my pain, feel my incomprehension and be moved beyond inertia and do something. I would want them to help me. Wouldn’t you?

So what are we going to do?