Monday, November 24, 2008

Searchlight on Vacations

Searchlight, a Vincy weekly newspaper, has been publishing some pieces on vacations in the caribbean, and how vincies can (and do) make them more enjoyable.

Embracing all things Vincy: Vincy Love, Vincy Flavour, Vincy Food

Vida Bernard

As we celebrate tourism week, we are cognizant of the challenges faced by the tourism industry, issues such as, but not limited to, the cost of fuel which is impacting negatively on airline operational cost; reduction in routes by airlines and cruise lines, thus limiting accessibility to certain destinations; the economic downturn in major source markets which is negatively impacting visitor arrivals to some destinations and the impact of climate change on the movement of people. Tourism Planners and other professionals must adopt a more pro-active and creative approach to the way things are done in this dynamic industry.

While the task of being creative must be led by those responsible for the development of tourism in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the involvement of the general public and more so communities that are home to our many sites and attractions is integral to the advancement of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ tourism product.

The tourism industry is important to us, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we therefore encourage our nationals to embrace all things vincy: vincy love, vincy flavour, vincy food, these we must showcase to our visitors.

As most countries struggle to deal with the issue of rising food prices, we are in a position to produce more local foods by utilizing available agricultural lands. For private consumption, we encourage back yard gardening. In this way, we are seeking to ensure food security not only for ourselves, but also for visitors to our shores. Opportunities would be provided for our farmers, fisher folks and other cottage industry providers, our hoteliers would have the opportunity to showcase the local foods of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to their guests - Vincy flavours, vincy food.

From a cultural perspective, the culture of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has always been in the forefront however at this time when we are advancing the theme,

“Embracing All Things Vincy”, let us not just showcase Carnival; Easter Regatta; Nine Mornings and Christmas “lighting up”, but rather let us find ways of packaging and promoting the “light up” activities that take place in the various communities of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in early November as we remember our departed love ones.

A concerted effort should be made to encourage communities to revive the traditional house to house Christmas caroling that we are accustomed to; this could be an activity not just for us locals to enjoy, but also an experience for our visitors that can create lasting memories.

As the National Parks Authority and the Ministry of Tourism pursue the path of developing/upgrading sites and attractions throughout St. Vincent and the Grenadines, let us take pride in upholding and protecting the work done, users of these facilities must ensure the proper use of these amenities.

Finally, the issue of cleanliness and national pride is one that cannot be over emphasized. Kingstown, our capital is seen by almost all visitors to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, are we happy and proud of Kingstown as it is? Attempts have been made over the years to “clean up” Kingstown, and within recent times we have seen such efforts being put forward again. It is the duty of all Vincentians to support efforts to “clean up” and re-organise our city in an orderly manner. Kingstown should be a place that we are proud of with its many arches and cobblestone streets, let us Embrace all things Vincy.

SVG named Best Honeymoon Island - 2008


As the Ministry of Tourism hosts its annual Tourism Week of activities, it is pleased to announce that St. Vincent and the Grenadines has once again been named Best Honeymoon Island of the year for 2008 by Caribbean World Travel Awards 2008.

The announcement was made last month by Founder and Award Winning Publisher-Ray Carmen and the award will be among a list of awards which will be broadcast on - the online interactive Caribbean world TV Channel. This will be broadcast for an entire year from October 2008-October 2009. The winning awards will also be featured in the Winter 2008 issue 61 of The Caribbean World Magazine.

The Ministry of Tourism is proud to be a recipient of such an award and congratulates accommodation properties throughout the state who helped to make this award a reality by their quality product and service to our visitors.

Storm playing his part in tourism


 "Mr. Tourist Man

" Winning essay in the Conde Nast Traveler “My Caribbean” children’s tourism essay contest by Storm Halbich of Windsor Primary School

“Hey there mister tourist man, come let me tell you a secret about my beautiful islands in the sun”. I heard that this is your first time in St Vincent and the Grenadines and that you came to get a true Caribbean experience. 

I am not going to tell you about our lush green valleys and or our majestic volcano standing four thousand and forty eight feet high. And I’m not going to talk about our fresh, juicy fruit and our delicious local dishes. I was not even going to brag about the hit movie Pirates of the Caribbean that was filmed here. Let’s not talk about the Botanical Gardens, the oldest in the western hemisphere. 

I will certainly not get into talk about our exciting national festivals like; Blues and Rhythm, Carnival and Nine Mornings. Don’t even ask about our refreshing waterfalls and inviting black and white sand beaches. Mister, if I tell you about the whales, dolphins and tropical fish swimming throughout our islands that could take all day. If you see them playing in the water it would take your breath away. 

I don’t want to start about the spectacular Grenadine islands or I’ll never stop talking. The people from Bequia say they are the best in building boats and every true sailor must touch its shores. Mustique is the island getaway of the rich and famous, can’t tell you about that because “it’s a secret” they say. You can also find Canouan, Mayreau, Palm Island and Petit St.Vincent there are some special hotels there, cruising through these islands are really amazing. 

I know you believe that my secret is the beautiful Tobago Cays, they are really spectacular and snorkeling with the sea turtles in the marine park is hard to beat. The beaches surrounding the cays are powdery white and all visitors say “can you leave us here”. But that not my big secret, no not at all.

I want to tell you about our friendly and interesting people who are always ready to welcome you to our country. Let me tell you about Tanty Muggy who mixes up herbs to fix everyone. Tourist comes from far and wide to cure aliments by her side. And what about old man Earl who takes you on a beach lime and shows you how to catch your own fish for lunch, man you will have so much fun. Grandma Vee in her wooden house will invite you in for fresh passion fruit juice and a hot slice of Banana bread, you will unbuckle your belt and beg for more. Let me carry you by Rasta Wally who will strum some sweet reggae music while we sit drinking coconut water by the seaside. So come let me take you to find the Caribbean you’ve been looking for.

Message from the Taxi Drivers Association

Angus Martin

President’s Message

To all Vincentians and visitors, let me once again as President of the SVG Taxi Drivers Association take this opportunity to greet you, and thank the Ministry of Tourism for yet another week of activities within which we can take part; and congratulate them on the hard work they have been doing. The theme: “Embracing all things Vincy”, is very appropriate at this time, when we join together with the same voice, encouraging each other to Embrace all things that are Vincy.

We as Vincentians should be proud of our small country, and what we have to offer to visitors when they come to our shores. We the members of the SVG Taxi Drivers Association view our Country as a “Treasure to hold and a Pleasure to call our own”. 

This country has some of the best scenic views in the world. Tourists are amazed by our lush green vegetation, fantastic landscape, beautiful beaches, tropical weather, and warm hospitality just to name a few. These are the things we have to embrace and love to call our own-Vincy.

Let me appeal to all Vincentians to protect the island sites and attractions, and encourage our Tourism Department to further develop them, this can create revenue for our country’s economy. 

The Taxi Drivers play a pivotal role in the economy. We sell St.Vincent and the Grenadines in the best way possible so as to make sure the tourist receives the best customer service there is, by ensuring that they are comfortable, happy and safe, in order for them to come again, and bring their friends. When this happens we build the country’s economy, the money we receive is spent right here in SVG to pay for and insure our vehicles, send our children to school, buy food for our families, and pay bills etc.

This country can do better in the tourism business by offering more of our natural resources and services where it is needed. Tourism is everybody’s business and we need to join hands and embrace our country for what it can offer us and the tourist. Remember Vincy love, vincy flavor, vincy food, one people, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Tourism Ministry strikes deal with supermarkets

Minister of Tourism Glen Beache (left) unveils the unique plan where the Ministry of Tourism has purchased and branded two sizes of canvas-type shopping bags to be distributed, free of cost, to the participating supermarkets.
Staff Reporter

The Ministry of Tourism is partnering with three supermarkets to promote tourism and environmental awareness.

At a press conference held at the Ministry of Tourism’s conference room last Monday, November 17, Minister of Tourism Glen Beache unveiled the unique plan.

The Ministry of Tourism has purchased and branded two sizes of canvas-type shopping bags to be distributed, free of cost, to the participating supermarkets: Greaves, Randy’s and the government owned Food City.

At press time, the price of the bags had not yet been determined, but Beache said he expected that the bags will be sold to shoppers at about $10 and $15, respectively, for the two sizes.

For six months, customers who purchase and use the bags when shopping will get a two per cent discount on what they purchase.

After the six-month period, each time a shopper uses the bag, he or she will be refunded the cost of the plastic bags that the supermarket would have had to use, had the shopper not had the bag.

In addition to the Ministry of Tourism’s logo, the bags will have different environmental awareness and tourism taglines printed on them.

The two bags that were displayed at the press conference had the respective taglines: Less plastic, save more and protect the environment today.

“We think this is something that will really work well,” Beache said.

He said that his Ministry is open to other supermarkets that will want to come on board, including those in the Grenadines. (KJ)

Henry Afflick “Flick” Haynes at forefront.

Kirby Jackson 24.OCT.08

Taking a flick back to 1950s 

It wasn’t planned. It was purely coincidental, but it was certainly one of those coincidences that you wish you had orchestrated.

How fitting is it that as we celebrate this country’s 29th year of independence from Britain that we look back at the life of Henry Afflick “Flick” Haynes?

He may be the only living person who served in this country’s Legislature in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Back then, Independence was just a dream, a goal; the basic rights of citizens were very slow in coming and took much lobbying to achieve.

Against this backdrop, Haynes, 88, the son of estate owner Edward Percival Haynes, served two terms with the People’s Political Party (PPP), under the legendary Ebenezer Theodore Joshua, who had formed the party in 1952.

Joshua was known as the defender of the rights of the poor and working class. So how did Haynes, a member of the planter class, the very class that Joshua often challenged, come to serve with Joshua, and furthermore be his second in command?

Henry Afflick “Flick” Haynes (2nd from left) meets the Queen Mother.

Haynes told SEARCHLIGHT that his mother Winifred deserves much of the credit for that.

Although he grew up on the Grand Sable Estate in Georgetown, where his father Edward was the manager, and later in Belair, after his father brought the 175-acre Dauphine Estate, Haynes said his mother kept him and his brothers and sister grounded, despite their privileged circumstances.

He recalled being taught to love people no matter their status in life, and his mother’s kindness to the less fortunate left an indelible impression on him.

The flogging he got for complaining when his mother asked him to give her last shilling to a poor woman who passed by is a lesson that Haynes said stuck with him for life.

Haynes attended the St Vincent Grammar School, where in 1936, the then 16-year-old was the opening bowler and batsman for the school team. He also represented the school in Football.

He didn’t say yes, but the bright smile he flashed told the story of a young man: tall, athletic, who commanded the attention of many girls at the time.

After school, Haynes joined his father on the estate, but the two couldn’t get along, so he went to work with the Arrowroot Association instead.

In 1942, after working for four years, Haynes, who was then the receiving and shipping manager, helped to organize a strike for better working conditions.

“We didn’t get what we were asking for. They just replaced us,” he said.

He rejoined his father at the estate, and later took over running it.

Haynes told SEARCHLIGHT that he never adopted the attitude of many other plantation owners who ill-treated their workers, because of his mother’s training.

“In those days, workers were not well paid and they were not well housed. I once said that some planters’ stables were better than the barracks where the workers slept,” Haynes said.

“In those days, the plantocracy ran the country, and although I was a planter and was heavily criticized, I loved the toiling masses,” Haynes said.

This love for the masses prompted him to first run as an independent candidate in the elections of 1954, where he lost by 100 votes.

His performance at the polls didn’t go unnoticed by Joshua, who convinced him to run on the PPP’s ticket in 1957, which he did and won the St George Constituency, giving the PPP five of the eight seats contested.

In the election of 1961, the St George constituency was spilt in two, and he won the West St George seat, while Joshua’s rival, Milton Cato, who would later become this country’s first Prime Minister, won in East St George.

He explained that back then, while the elected officials ran the internal affairs of the country, the real power was wielded by the British appointed Administrator, Attorney General and Finance Minister.

The Chief of Police was also British.

“We didn’t have much power. We fought for power. The power that the youngsters (in politics) nowadays enjoy is what Joshua and people like me fought for - to rid ourselves of colonialism,” he said.

Haynes recalled all the high profile dinners and events, including dinner with the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh aboard the vessel HMY Britanna in 1966, but it was the struggle for betterment for the people, working along with Joshua that was most fulfilling.

“Joshua wasn’t easy. He fought the British government. He made it hard on the administrator and the chief of police,” he said, shaking his head, chuckling, as though the memories were being awakened as he spoke to us.

“That is what politics is. It is about representing the people. Yes, yes, yes, politics should be seeing that the people are being taken care of, making sure that their needs are met.”

As SEARCHLIGHT spoke to Haynes, it was clear that there were many things, some very personal, that still affected him, that he couldn’t bring himself to talk about.

One such is the years that followed his daughter Jackie’s death in 1960. She died in his arms at the hospital, after being stricken with pneumonia.

All he would reveal is that his daughter’s death was a key reason why he ended his political career, messed up his life, lost the family estate, and struggled to find solid footing again.

So what did he do during this time?

“Oh, I just drank myself to death. I lost my estate, lost everything. Then I had to go to America and make a new life,” he said, without going, even when probed, into much detail.

Haynes had 10 children in total, five with his first wife, three with his current wife Eileen, and two others.

Now, as he enjoys the sunset days of his life with his wife at their Belair home, Haynes said that he is concerned about the increasing level of lawlessness and crime in the country.

He told SEARCHLIGHT that while the new police stations being built are good, he would rather see more emphasis being placed on specialized training for police officers so that they can be equipped with skills needed to deal with the modern criminal elements.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Indigo Dive

Indigo Dive is located on the Blue Lagoon (or Careenage) just beyond Calliaqua. They have a web page at [] with some marvelous pictures of underwater denizens.


Originally uploaded by Karlek
Sweetie (aka Sweetie-pie) on her first day as part of our household. She is about 6 weeks old. Her mother is part labrador and part spaniel and her father is a Vincentian acquaintance of her mother's, not otherwise identified.

There are some other pictures on Flickr.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Caribbean Christmas Holidays - Part One
Written by Tropical Sky

This is the first in a series of blog articles where we celebrate a Caribbean Christmas by exploring Caribbean Christmas holiday food and culture.

Christmas is Christmas almost anywhere in the world nowadays.  The influence of American seasonal icons and traditions has “globalised” even this celebration.  But there are still some places where you get a really unique twist and flavour to Christmas.

The Caribbean is definitely one of them!
Food is a fantastically important part of the Caribbean Christmas holiday and many of the dishes you see are made only for Christmas.  These include fermented drinks such as sorrel and mauby, as well as the alcoholic drink rum punch. A special type of cake, called Black Cake or fruitcake, is also made with raisins and other dried fruit that are minced and soused in wine or spirits for several weeks! 

The main menu of a traditional Caribbean Christmas dinner includes baked poultry, roast beef, ham, boiled and steamed root vegetables, rice with peas, seasoned rice or rice pilaf, with sorrel, rum punch or mauby to follow.  This may sound very close to the traditional English Xmas fare, and that is undeniably the case thanks to the long history of the English as the colonial power in the Caribbean.
Another very English-inspired tradition is Carolling, although its practice has been declining in recent years. Small groups from churches or schools will walk through neighbourhoods singing Christmas carols or will drive from house to house to sing carols which might seem a little weird- singing about snow deep and crisp and even when the average temperature is around 75 degrees!

Two Christmas traditions that are unique to the Caribbean are the practice of Jonkonoo and having a grand market.  Jonkonoo is a group of masked revellers, often including stilt walkers, who parade through the streets dancing to the beats of drums, shaking tambourines and improvised instruments.  Grand market is a big outdoor market that takes place the week before Christmas, right up to Christmas Eve, alive with bustle with activity even after nightfall. It’s a special treat for kids to go with their parents to grand market during the Christmas season.
Even within the Caribbean itself, there are charming regional variations on celebrating Christmas.

In St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Nine Mornings Festival runs for a full nine days before Christmas (excluding Sundays).  Celebrants have to get up very early in the morning and participate in church services, fetes, go to the beach and head into Kingstown where there are organised singing contests and other recitals.  In Jamaica, the Christmas spirit starts to set in from late October going into November.   Christmas carols are sung to a reggae beat and Jamaica too has its Christmas morning market and masked parades.   In Trinidad, Christmas is the time when the Spanish cultural influence really comes to the fore, making it really unique, especially amongst the English speaking Caribbean islands.

Each Caribbean nation has its own specialities. In Barbados, you’ll hear about jug-jug (a dish made from ham, guinea corn flour and peas). In Trinidad, it’s pastelles and ponche de crème while a  typical Vincentian Christmas dinner will have sorrel, ginger beer, ham, green peas, baked chicken, mutton (curried or stewed), beef, rice, pies, salads, and black cake.  This last delicacy is almost universal throughout the Caribbean.
Black cake is descended from British plum pudding (like calvados is descended from apple juice!)  and reflects the British presence in the Caribbean. The brown sugar, molasses and rum used in it are reminders that it was sugar that kept British in the islands and transported slaves who grew and harvested it in huge plantations.

Making black cake is expensive because raisins and prunes cost more there than mangoes and pineapples.  The fruit is soaked in rum for months, sometimes even years, then  baked just before Christmas and eaten at Christmas dinner and afterward, in thin slices, for as long as it lasts.  Guyanese cooks usually use Demerara dark rum.  Jamaicans use Appleton or Myers’s. Traditional English cakes were soaked in liquor (usually brandy) to preserve them on sea voyages. The black cake’s Caribbean character comes from the rum and its intensely dark colour.   To receive a whole home-baked black cake as a gift is a sign of great affection because everyone knows that it’s a lot of work.  You can only really properly make a just a few, so when you give a cake, it’s a special thing.

Like anywhere else, Christmas in the Caribbean is becoming more commercialised as time goes on,   but the people have still retained the warmth and goodwill of the season, even if Santa Claus and “snow–themes” seem ludicrously out of place, and it’s perhaps the flavour and warmth of the food and the people that makes the Caribbean Christmas holiday so unique and special.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Blogs on Calypso, sometimes including musical examples, can be found on my folk music blog:

Friday, November 14, 2008

Travels: St. Vincent

Travels: St. Vincent

November 14, 2008 by Karen Berger

I was in St. Vincent and the Grenadines last week, on a travel writer trip. I saw a raft of hotels from divers’ dives to movie-star mansionettes (Johnny Depp reputedly stayed at Young Island Resort while filming Pirates of the Caribbean). I also ate a lot of fish, went scuba diving, sailing, and hiking, and got a sense for the variety of recreational, vacation, and adventure travel opportunities available on these laid-back islands.

Trips like these are the meat and potatoes of a travel writer’s job. They are fun, and exhausting, and always an education. But this time — as is so often the case — the best thing wasn’t 300-count sheets or wine on a sailboat: It was meeting local people. And last week, that meant sharing America’s election day with a bunch of people from other countries. 
Okay, let me just mention that in all the traveling I’ve done, I’ve very rarely been intimately knowledgeable about local politics. I was in Nepal for its first election ever, and in South Africa for its second… and those were memorable. I’ve also been in places that were subject to riots and terrorist bombings while I was there (Paris; Basque Country; Lima, Peru; Nakuru, Kenya, and others). But like most Americans, I’d be lucky if I could name more than a dozen international heads of state (and if you think that makes me ignorant, YOU go ahead and try….) 

But people in other countries are certainly knowledgeable about us. The Eastern Caribbean dollar is tied to the US dollar, St. Vincent’s tourism income fluctuates with our economy, and with lower per capita incomes, they are saddled with higher oil prices. What happens to us (and what we decide) matters to them.

So it wasn’t perhaps surprising that the most common question I was asked wasn’t “who do you want to win” (or the more politic “Were you pleased with the results?”) It was “WHAT are you doing HERE! You should be at home voting.”
Okay, so self-defense here: YES, my absentee ballot was duly cast, although I live in Massachusetts, so it wasn’t though anything was riding on my vote.

On election night itself, our hotel had satellite access (or at least, it had CNN, which I understand comes on after the local station signs off). But we (a group of two Americans, one Canadian, and a Turkish citizen) elected to take a boat taxi to the mainland and find a bar where we could watch the elections with whomever happened to be around.

The bar we ended up in — called “Cheers Sports Bar and Grill” was not the most happening place on the island, but we joined several Vincenzins of various ethnic backgrounds and a couple of English ex-pats, and settled in to watch — and stood up to cheer whenever the announcers said anything like “And for those of you watching from overseas….”

There wasn’t any debate about who we were rooting for. In case you need another hint, let’s just say no one was crying into their beer as the results came in, and the most negative commentary of the evening focused on the subject of Michelle Obama’s dress.

What I take back from this will stay with me. I’ve always felt on my travels that the relationship between American and the rest of the world is an organic, important one: While abroad, I’ve been challenged to “explain” (or defend) some things I find inexplicable or indefensible, and some things I know nothing about (An issue regarding the French and banana tariffs comes to mind).  In – literally — many hundreds of days traveling in other countries, my experience has been that people in other countries are intensely interested in America and American politics. While they may be critical of various American policies, they are often friendly toward Americans, even as they chortle at our cultural gaffes, our inability to speak even a few words in their languages, and our ignorance about their politics and leaders.

But this election was more than that. This time, they weren’t only interested: they cared. After eight years of an administration that has high-handedly flouted international relations in every way imaginable, and had a disastrous effect around the world, the scenes in bars and restaurants and homes around the world was, very much, like what I experienced in St. Vincent. There were cheers and sighs of relief; in some cases there was jubilation. But mostly there was hope.

Now the hard work begins. There is a huge mess to clean up. It’s a good time for prayers.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


A sandy beach at Argyle, near the mouth of the Yambou River. A sandy beach! Last time we came here (in the late spring) it was boulders and rocks from the water to the grass. I suspect that there is still too much undertow for swimming, and we didn't find any big shells, but it was an interesting change.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


We stopped off for lunch at a small restaurant on the south side of Georgetown. The Jerk Pork was a bit dry, but the fish, a plate-sized kingfish, was delicious.

Dry River Bridge

Bridge with Soufrier in background.

On the way back from Orange Hill I stopped to take a couple of pictures of the bridge over the Rabaca River. These show the driver in the "Dry" condition, with the flow going through the gravel left by the pyroclastic flow debris left by the 1079 eruption. The bridge is a welcome alternative to fording the river,

From Shelby's Blog

Shelby is a Peace Corps Volunteer working in St. Vincent. Her blog is at

tuesday, november 11, 2008

Hello again! Sorry I haven't posted in a while - I didn't have a lot of access to internet after I moved out from my host family. As some of you may have guessed, I am writing you using my NEW INTERNET CONNECTION! Be prepared for some serious blog-age.

So, let me update you a little on what I have been doing the past couple of weeks. I have been working full time at Emmanuel High School. We are doing reading assessments right now, which are pretty time consuming. We have to assess each student individually and each assessment takes between 10 - 20 minutes. The assessments consist of 6 passages, which the students read aloud and 4 - 8 comprehension questions per passage. We have finished with one Form 1 class (7th grade) and one Form 3 class (9th grade), but we still have one Form 2 (8th grade) and three Form 3 classes to do! As each class has between 35 and 40 students, this is quite a task! The nice thing about the evaluations is that they allow us to identify and group students who need a little more help - starting in January, I will be taking those groups out of class to work with them.

I also began working at the Marriaqua Government School this past Monday. I will be going in Monday mornings to work with the 2nd and 3rd grade students. I will be working mainly on literacy there as well.
Last Thursday and Friday, I attended an HIV/AIDS workshop in town. We discussed ways to educate the public about HIV prevention and I am going to use that information to work with an adolescent health group that I hope to re-start soon. The group was begun by the PCV before me, and I hope that the members are interested in continuing to meet.

On the 1st of November, I went with my host family to Union Island, one of the Grenadines, where we watched a Pan Against Crime performance. The ride over on the boat was 4 1/2 hours each way! It was also really choppy, but fortunately, I slept most of the way (otherwise, I might have been seasick for 9 hours!). Union Island is a really beautiful place, but unfortunately we didn't get there until the late afternoon, so I didn't get to explore too much before dark. It's really an interesting comparison to St. Vincent - I thought that St. Vincent was pretty un-populated, but when compared to Union Island, it is like New York City!

I think that all the Grenadines are pretty sparsely populated, although I expect they are hopping during tourist season. Of the 120,000 people who live in SVG, I think only about 15,000 live on the Grenadines. And about 30 - 40,000 live in Kingstown. I am posting pictures of Union Island and also of Bequia, where I spent my independence holiday. SVG Independence was October 27th, 1979, so the country is 29 years old (just 7 years older than me!). Next year will be the 30th anniversary of independence and the whole year will be spent in celebration! The government is inviting all the SVG ex-pats back to the island and there will be festivals and celebrations all year long. I'm really excited to be a part of that!

This weekend, two PCVs are having a wedding ceremony in Bequia. Their service dates were pushed up at the last minute so they didn't have time for a ceremony before they left to serve in SVG, just an appointment at the courthouse. I think this arrangement is even better, though - where better to have a wedding than on a beautiful Grenadine Island? We were able to rent two apartments to hold everyone, and the tourist season doesn't start until early December, so we got cheaper rates! We'll be there Saturday and Sunday and most of us will return early Monday to our jobs.

I have to give a shout-out to our new president-elect, Barrack Obama. We were able to congregate in Kingstown for the election (courtesy of the American Embassy, who also provided free food - we will go almost anywhere for free food!). It was a great night and I for one am hopeful and excited about what the next 4 years will bring.

I also have to give a shout-out to the 4th graders at Tomahawk Elementary School in Overland Park. I am corresponding with them through letters and through this blog and I am really excited to tell them of my adventures and to hear all about theirs. Keep up the hard work in school and always be excited about life - with those tools, you can do absolutely anything.

posted by shelby at 10:01 am

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Help Wanted For Boy's School

St. Vincent Grammar School contact information :
Mr. Frank Jones
St. Vincent Grammar School
P. O. Box 369
St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Phone number : 784-456-1337
E-mail :

Lab equipment needed at Grammar School

Editor: The St. Vincent Boys’ Grammar School - of which I am an alumnus - celebrated the centenary of its existence this year. I am told that the event was marked with a series of activities throughout the year, culminating in a grand finale at the Victoria Park some time early in September.

I visited St. Vincent during the last week of September and took the opportunity to pay a visit to my old school. As I expected, much had changed over the fifty odd years since I left those hallowed halls: there is no vestige of the old school as I knew it; the enrolment is much larger and as a consequence the physical plant and the staff are larger; the teachers are no longer all male, the majority seem to be of the fairer sex; while the senior pupils are still required to wear ties, apparently the male teachers are not.

Some aspects of the change I witnessed are nothing of which I could be proud. I was somewhat taken aback by the writing on the walls of the classroom I visited and at the apparent lack of discipline among some of the boys. My greatest shock and disappointment, however, came when I visited the science laboratories.

No fire extinguishers

Having spent my entire professional career in the Life Sciences, I paid the Biology Laboratory a visit. I met with one of the Biology teachers who took me to the Laboratory where I saw a skeleton, a number of desks and a cylinder or two of what I assumed was propane. I asked: “Where are your microscopes?” The reply, “We have none!” I asked: “Where are the fire extinguishers?” The reply here was no different from the first.

Biology, like other subjects in the sciences, is a practical subject that requires the running of Laboratory classes. These classes are designed to provide students with first-hand experience with concepts dealt with in the course and the opportunity to explore methods used by scientists in their discipline. Further they are designed to develop in the student, certain skills - manipulation, observation, recording (by way of drawings and diagrams, graphs, tables, narratives), drawing inferences from observed data, making measurements and determining magnifications, to mention a few.

One of the key instruments used in making observations in a Biology Laboratory is the microscope. Some pupils offer Biology as a subject at the CSEC examinations of the Caribbean Examination Council. The syllabus is divided into five sections (A-E), for each of which there is a suggested time-table allocation. It is suggested that Section B (Life Processes) be allocated 40 weeks of the 65 weeks over which the course should be run. The next highest time allocation is to Section C, which is allocated 10 weeks. This gives an indication of the amount of material to be covered and, to an extent, the importance of the section.

Poor substitute

In Section B, as a specific objective, students are expected to “relate the structure of the leaf of a flowering plant to its function in photosynthesis.” The syllabus states that “The external features and the internal structure of a dicotyledonous leaf as seen in cross section under the light microscope” is necessary. Other parts of that section also require the use of a microscope. Textbook diagrams and drawings are a poor substitute for the actual material. One of the characteristics of living organisms is the variability that exists among and within a group. The powers of observation to note differences cannot be sharpened by examining a textbook figure.

If indeed there are no microscopes - and I have no reason to doubt the teacher- the pupils are at a definite disadvantage and it is to the credit of both the pupils and their teachers that some of them obtain Grades of 1 in the subject. However, they are apparently not acquiring some of the skills that are necessary for further study in the subject area.

A good 100-year birthday gift from alumni of the school would be a set of stereoscopic and compound microscopes. I am appealing to fellow old boys to join me in a fund raising effort or making a donation to give the school such a gift. To that end I have suggested to the Biology teacher with whom I spoke that he gets a cupboard with a dehumidifier in which microscopes can be stored, for in the tropics, fungi tend to grow on the lenses if the instruments are not stored under proper conditions.

E. Julian Duncan
Permission granted from Searchlight for circulation.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Some of this season's orchids from the back yard.

Mustique: Paradise Found

We had heard Mustique was beyond exclusive. But it wasn’t until we went through customs, (after boarding a tiny prop plane to the island from nearby Barbados), that we found out just what exclusive really means. The officials weren’t examining our bags for weapons or forbidden foods. So what’s verboten here? Fancy camera equipment in general, and powerful zoom lenses in particular.

After all, those who frequent this sybaritic Caribbean island retreat, just 45 minutes by boat from St. Vincent in the Grenadines, are ultra high-wattage celebrities—or, at the very least, unreasonably wealthy. It’s the St. Bart’s set taking a break from St. Bart’s; so when you’re introduced to Eileen, you’re not supposed to acknowledge you know that her stage name is Shania and that, yes, her last name is Twain. It follows that snapping pics of her with a high-powered Nikon is, alas, pretty much out of bounds.

That’s how it’s been since 1960, when the ultimate British trendsetter, Princess Margaret, first arrived here. Two years earlier, the Scottish Lord Colin Tennant had purchased the entire island for a meager $67,500; but when he gifted a 10-acre parcel of land to Princess Margaret for her birthday, she quickly began Mustique’s transformation into an over-the-top haven for the well bred and well heeled. Tennant’s financial woes caused him to sell the island in 1976, and now the entire island, down to the beaches and villa rentals, is managed by Mustique Company

Still, once the puddle-jumper—which even stars like Eileen have to take, since the Mustique runway is too short to accommodate a private jet—swooped down over turquoise waters to deposit plain old ordinary us on this speck of lush vegetation and white sand, we couldn’t help but feel like celebrities ourselves. It was apparent from the second we stepped off the plane that personalized service is the number one priority here.

Mustique is most famous for its spectacular villas; we, however, checked in at the Cotton House, one of only two hotels here. Yet we felt less like paying customers and more like guests at a secluded private estate.

When we arrived, we were ushered to lounge chairs overlooking the ocean and served chilled lime crushes while hotel staff not only brought our bags to our suite, but unpacked and pressed our clothing as well. Our airy two-story villa was comfortably elegant: Caribbean décor as refinement, not kitsch. Instead, there were cool tiled floors, a plush canopy bed, a private plunge pool, balconies overlooking both sides of the island and panoramic sunset views.

As we soon discovered, the primary pastime on Mustique is relaxing—it’s practically a competitive sport. (As proof, consider the beaches, several of which are available exclusively by reservation: as soon as our allotted time on stunning Macaroni Beach was over, we were shooed away by Tommy Hilfiger’s staff, who arrived not only to lay out color-coordinated chaise lounges, crisp linens and a picnic on fine china for the designer and his family, but to rake the beach free of our unsightly footprints.)
Visitors like Hilfiger, of course, weren’t staying at our hotel. Rather, they own or rent some of the most stunning villas we’ve ever seen: The 1,400-acre island is home to 72 of them. Most are available for rent (yes, even Mick Jagger’s—but expect an extremely stringent background check) and each is unique, from a zen-inspired Japanese-style retreat for 18 to a two-bedroom Balinese pavilion you can keep all to yourself. Mustique’s villas have been an ultra hot destination for British VIPs for years, but the word is just now getting out stateside.

The exclusive setup generates an intoxicating cocktail of privacy and intimacy in this tiny community, where estate owners like David Bowie and publishing magnate Felix Dennis can join visitors like Prince William and Brad Pitt for a sunset dinner at the Firefly Restaurant, or for drinks, jazz and impromptu rock star karaoke at Basil’s, the two hottest (and only) nightspots on the island.

After all, it’s the ultimate romantic escape. It’s also the only place you can feed table scraps to Jagger’s dog, Star—while pretending, naturally, not to notice that he’s a celebrity at all.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Palm Island

There's an interesting blog on "Coconut Johhny" the developer of Palm Island at

Friday, November 07, 2008

Nurse In Essex

I left Caribbean sun to nurse in Essex 07 November 2008 | 09:29

A new exhibition honours folk who travelled halfway round the world to treat Britain's sick in the early days of the NHS. Back in Colchester for the first time in more than 45 years, an ex-nurse tells Steven Russell what it was like swapping the Caribbean for the Colne - and how close she came to quitting

IT was approaching midnight by the time the taxi arrived at the nurses' home. Not surprisingly, Shirla Allen found the iron gates locked. “We rattled the chains and eventually somebody came and let me in. I made such a commotion,” she recalls, with a laugh. “This lady came down. She had a pigtail and a nightcap on, like Wee Willie Winkie. She greeted me by saying 'Nurse, you know you shouldn't come to the front entrance of the nurses' home; you should go to the front entrance of the hospital to be let in.' Well, I didn't know that - and nobody had ever called me 'Nurse' before.”

Not surprising, really, for Shirla had arrived in England only that morning - a cold and grey Sunday in March, 1958 - after forsaking her Caribbean island village to start a new life in the “mother country”. Britain had launched its National Health Service a decade earlier and needed staff to keep it going. It saw the Commonwealth as a fertile recruiting ground. So an invitation went out for folk to come and train as nurses. Shirla answered the call. 

She travelled on the cruise ship SS Antilles and landed on the south coast at 8am, to be greeted by a representative of the British Council who saw the new arrival onto a train to Paddington.

In London a lady whisked her by car to Liverpool Street to catch the train to Essex. “It was the 9.18pm train. I'll never forget that,” says Shirla. 

There was no-one to meet her at Colchester, but the stationmaster helped by arranging a taxi. “He said 'This lady's for the County' and I said 'No, I'm not for the County; I'm for Essex County Hospital.' And the driver said 'I know, Duckie.' It was the first time anyone had ever called me Duckie.”

Thus was Shirla's late-night arrival. The roused lady left her standing in the lobby with her suitcase. “Eventually the night sister came and I slept in what she called the sick bay.”

Nursing training began the very next day: three months of basic classroom-based tuition to start with, with one day a week spent on a ward. The intake was 13-strong, with two trainees from Jamaica and Shirla. The rest were white.

The course had already been running for a fortnight, so there was a bit of catching-up to do, as well as a different culture to get to grips with.

Welcome to your new life.

Decades later, in 2000, Shirla would receive the OBE for services to nursing, but it would be wrong to think everything went swimmingly in those early days. 

She admits finding nursing hard at the beginning. And then, nearly 18 months in, she nearly quit and went home. Shirla and two other trainees from her cohort - English people - were working on a ward. She claims the other learners were shown techniques and procedures “and I was relegated to the sluice with the bedpans”.

Early one morning she decided she'd had enough. Off duty at 9am, she went to the post office and sent a telegram to St Vincent, requesting money be sent for her passage home. Shirla packed her clothes and belongings, and even stripped the bed, and resolved not to return to the ward at 1pm.

In the bustle of visiting time she wasn't missed until later that afternoon, when “somebody had the temerity to die and then it was 'Where's Nurse Allen?' and I wasn't there.

“They rang the home sister, who came to disturb my equilibrium,” she chuckles, “and was quite harsh at first. I said 'Well, I'm going home. There's my uniform; and my bag is packed.' She probably thought I'd gone a bit nuts! So she toned it down.”

Anyway, Shirla did return to lay out this unfortunate dead patient. The return telegram came from St Vincent, confirming money would be sent, and the hospital authorities realised this trainee nurse was serious. 

The night sister rounded up as many of the black nurses as she could to try to talk her out of it, says Shirla. “I remember one of them saying 'Shirla, if you want to get on in this place you've got to stoop to conquer.' I said 'Stoop? Tell me, how low?'”

Matron sent for her the following morning and wisely advised her to think about it for a fortnight. “I don't know if she told the sisters in the hospital, but from then on I earned the right to be treated equally with the other nurses,” feels Shirla, who in the event wouldn't make a trip back to St Vincent until 1966.

Generally, she says she was treated well by patients and staff. “The English nurses were kind and helpful. I spent my first Christmas with one of them and their family in Braintree.” There was no sense of resentment - of migrants taking jobs - “because we were seen as helping. The NHS was just 10 years old and wanted nurses so it could develop”.

There were hardly any other black people in Colchester. “Apart from the nurses - there were people from Jamaica and Trinidad, but I think I was the first from one of the smaller islands - I don't remember seeing any others.” 

Some people were wont to lump together all black folk as “darkies from Africa”, though not in a racist way. Such descriptions were mostly underpinned by ignorance.

“I remember spending a weekend with one of the nurses in a village,” says Shirla. “There was a fete and I was standing there, and a child came and touched me, and when I moved she ran screaming! And the older people, who'd never left the village, I think . . .” She pulls the kind of quizzical sideways glance they'd given her.

Shirla knew “absolutely nothing” of Colchester before she set sail - hadn't even pinpointed it on a map - but knew much about the history of her new land. Her posting had been arranged between the Methodist deaconess in St Vincent, who happened to have come from Maldon in Essex, and the British Council.

“It was the 'empire in colonial days',” says Shirla.

St Vincent had come under British rule in the late 18th Century. “The headmistress of the school I went to was always English. The Governor was always English. So you had this idea of England's green and pleasant land. We did Chaucer and one of the teachers came back from England and brought us some daffodils to show us what they were like. So you had this idea of the mother country: welcoming . . . a nice place . . . nice people.”

The deputy head's daughter had trained as a nurse in Britain and had talked to the girls about it. “In a small island you didn't have many prospects apart from the civil service or teaching. Lots of us who were at school together came over at various times,” explains Shirla.

Her volcanic island home, only 18 miles long and 11 wide, was the largest island of the chain known as St Vincent & the Grenadines. The pace of life was slow in Colonarie, where she grew up, the village wedged between the Red Cliffs and the sea, so what was it like to arrive as a teenager in 1950s London?

“After the excitement of the ship, it didn't occur to me until I actually landed that I was alone. Standing there on the platform at Paddington for almost an hour, it really came home to me.”

It was enlightening what English folk did and didn't know. “We did the history of England and the empire, so we knew a lot about you, and we assumed you knew a lot about us! Then you realised that wasn't the case. People asked you odd questions: 'Did you learn to speak English once you were here?' And they spoke to you in this exaggerated, s-l-o-w way, because they assumed you didn't understand.”

After gaining her state registration in 1961, Shirla spent six months as a theatre nurse before moving on the following year. Older nurses had told her midwifery was a fast track, as British nurses didn't seem too keen on the role. Come to Scotland, they suggested; but Shirla didn't relish the cold. “They said 'If you don't go to Scotland, go to East London, because they drop babies like flies down there and you get a lot of experience!'”

After six months in Hackney she went to Kent, before returning to London. Next was a switch to health visiting - “that was where I felt I had found my niche” - followed by a management role with the health visiting and community services in Hampstead.

In the early 1980s Shirla joined the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association to manage its community activities in places such as Gibraltar and Hong Kong. The final port of call before retiring in the mid-1990s was the Department of Health, where she helped develop policy.

Shirla met her husband-to-be after moving to London - she's now Shirla Philogène - and has a son.

Nowadays she lives in the East Finchley/Hampstead Garden Suburb area. “When people are being a bit difficult [making assumptions] and say 'North London? Do you live in Tottenham?'” - known for its sizeable black population - “I say 'No, I live just off The Bishop's Avenue . . .' And they go 'Oh!'” Britain is, though, a tolerant place and generally welcoming, she says. 

Must be odd to spend your formative years in one place and then your adult life halfway across the globe . . .

“Yes. There's home, which is here, and my native land, where I belong.”

Shirla has recently self-published her autobiography. Between Two Worlds - A Narrative tells how she “left a world of simple pleasures, where the pace of life was slow and time almost stood still, and arrived in a place where my every movement was to be governed by the ticking of the clock. 

“In this new world I had no time to stand and stare, nor to sit amongst the flowers or to count the bees rather than the hours, and I've lived between these two worlds ever since.”

Looking back, she notices how that traditional style of life on St Vincent has been replaced “by twenty-four-hour television and gadgets imported from abroad. The old-fashioned, friendly buses that carried the people with their produce to the market have been replaced by vans that drive at great speed along narrow winding roads. 

“To pay for these new pleasures, the islanders have exported their brightest, youngest and most talented people.”

Britain, meanwhile, has lost the British Council's representatives' reassuring smiles of welcome at the ports, and back-to-back houses with their friendly neighbourhoods.

“Acres of land and fields have been given over to long, hypnotic stretches of motorways. Elegant Georgian and Victorian homes have been replaced by large estates, and the skyline is interrupted by high-rise blocks of metal and concrete.

“But there are many remaining joys that I cherish. These include the stoicism of the people and their humour, the easy access to places of culture, and the deep and lasting friendships I have made.”

Shirla pauses, a twinkle in her eye. “When I read the book, I thought 'You sound like a cantankerous old bag!'” And are you? “I think I'm rather nice!” 

Shirla's book costs £7.90 in paperback (ISBN 9781438911557) and £11.50 with hardcover (9781438911564).

IT'S strange how things come about. The Empire of Care exhibition was sparked by an unexpected message and put together in just a few hectic months.

Ciara Canning, curator of community history for Colchester and Ipswich Museums, explains: “The idea actually came from an email I received. It was very, very random! It came from someone in London who I didn't know - a heritage officer in one of the London boroughs. He'd been contacted by Shirla, who was publishing her autobiography and, with the connection with Colchester, he thought it would be a contact I'd like to have. 

“Half of my job is to do projects that work with human histories: any group that is under-represented in the museum. We'd not done anything with black history before, so it was something I wanted to do this year.”

She met Shirla, was put in touch with a white nurse from Coggeshall who started training in 1948, and one contact led to another. Ciara spoke, for instance, to a lady involved with a scheme started by St Botolph's Church in 1969, where families befriended the newcomers to help them feel more at home.

Nursing was “sold” to potential trainees as a good profession, says Ciara, “but they didn't really know what they were coming to. All Shirla really got was this little pamphlet from Essex County Hospital. There's a photograph in there of nurses playing table-tennis in the nurses' home, but Shirla says 'I never saw that!'”

Empire of Care runs at Hollytrees Museum, High Street, Colchester, until March 1, 2009. Hollytrees is open 10am-5pm, Monday to Saturday, and 11am-5pm on Sundays. Entry to the museum is free.