St. Kitts Fieldnotes: July 7-11

(cross posted on Peter Marina’s blog)

The plane makes its way over tall mountains and picture-perfect beaches. St. Kitts dwarfs the size of many other islands in the Caribbean at 68 square miles. The plane lands near the capital of Basseterre. One road that hugs the coast takes you through the entire island. Starting from the capital, the bus (another maxi-taxi or Mexican style collectivo) goes bump bump vroom vroom traveling Northwest through Bloody Point, Brimstone Hill Fortress, Sandy Point Village, Newton Ground, St. Paul’s, and finally to Dieppe Bay, the northernmost point of the island where the Caribbean meets the Atlantic. The bus returns the same route back to town. From Dieppe Bay, a short walk takes you to the road where buses begin to travel the Atlantic Coast side of the island in the East through the village of Sadler’s, the plantation estate Ottley’s, and the village of Cayon until finally reaching Basseterre. A taxi takes one to the more touristy and commercialized South Friar’s Bay.

The plane arrived early at about 7:30 AM before St. Kitts had yet to wake up. A taxi man awaited outside the airport in a real clunker an SUV, small, bright red and looking like a beat-up Nissan. After negotiating the price, we agreed for him to drop me off in the center of town at Independence Square where I would look for accommodations. For a somewhat reasonable $75 USD a night, I found a hotel that offered fast internet service, running and hot water, and a clean bed. Time to get to work. The first step now is to get in touch with my contacts.

And none of them worked. Bishop Bartholomew was no where to be found. I had his contact numbers from his native country of Trinidad but nothing of his new numbers in his now new country. I contacted Apostle Andrew’s Church back in Antigua for better contacts but those numbers did not work either. For some reason, I did not panic. Actually there was a reason, things always work out. After my experiences in Dominica, I know that I will make things work one way or another – I will accomplish my research goals. Time to get to work, tap in to dat ethnographic charisma – As we say down in the dirty, Ya you right.

I walked down the street, entered into a random store, asked an old lady if she knew where “Christian Life Assemblies” was located. She pointed the way with the usual vague and unclear directions common in the Caribbean – but also common in the Caribbean, it all works out (at least sometimes), “Ya mon.” I walked towards the church about fifteen minutes from my hotel and knocked on doors until someone finally answered. It was an older gentleman with teeth sticking out in many different directions. I asked him how to locate Bishop Bartholomew and confirmed that this was indeed his Church. He looked at me with the “Sin Carne” look of confusion and aggravation while I pleaded my case. After some initial distrust, he began to open up. This man has been a part of this church for many years. He was close to the old pastor who moved to Florida not too long ago. In fact, Bartholomew has only been living in St. Kitts and pastoring the PAWI church Christian Life Assemblies for a month and a half. The man gave me Bartholomew’s phone number for me to call. The phone went straight to voicemail. The man told his daughter of about ten-years old to fetch the keys from the living room and began to tell me all about himself and the church. He told me not to tell the new pastor the current sentiments he holds. And he did this while driving me straight to Pastor Bartholomew’s apartment.

He told me how he had the respect of the old pastor – who still might return. He showed me a set of keys and proudly explained how he had all the keys to the church — like keys to the city. He also had keys to the church van, which he apparently could use freely. One of his church responsibilities is to pick up people for church on Sundays.

This man explained some of the problems associated with he transition to the new pastor. He liked the old pastor who seemed to give him a great deal of respect and responsibility. It was obvious from his conversation that he did not feel he had the same respect with Bartholomew. He even stated, “All I can give is my best. If that is not good enough then I don’t have to do anything,” meaning he would give up his responsibilities.

The main problem seems to be that the new pastor Bartholomew is putting too much of a “stronghold” on the congregation — especially in making the church a PAWI church. In fact, he is teaching the church about the principles, history, rules, and organization of PAWI, along with its structure. This man expressed that this stronghold is making people feel less comfortable. Although the church was a member of PAWI with the old pastor (both the man and Bartholomew confirmed this), the old pastor did not seem to conform to the organization. So this transition is not just a change in pastors, but also bringing the church closer in line with PAWI — which drifted from the previous pastor.

The man also stated that the seventy-five plus member congregation has been losing members with this transition, about a twenty percent decline he says.

Recently, while in Antigua, Reverend Nigel explained how Bartholomew is struggling getting things started in St. Kitts; however, he remained vague. Now it is obvious why the it struggles.

The man drove me to Bartholomew’s apartment located in a neighborhood called Bedrock. The pastor was surprised, wearing shorts and no shirt, when we unexpectedly knocked on the door.

Once dressed, he invited us in and we took seats to talk. He knew of me from Collette – Stephen Andrews’s secretary who provided me with the contact. PAWI’s constitution of rules, structures and organization was laying on his table along with a copy of Ablaze on his bookshelf. He explained that he is using these books to educate the congregation on PAWI to make the church stronger with its organization.

Again, the man thought this put too much of a “stronghold” on the church and that the pastor was too inflexible with the new congregation he inherited.

The pastor, in turn, explained that there were some problems with the prior pastor who became too independent from PAWI. Bartholomew is here, in part, to fix this.

We agreed to talk the next day (Tuesday) at 4PM and for me to attend the 5:30 Believers class and the 7:30 Bible Study. He also provided me contact numbers for Reverend Kenneth Francis of Abundant Life Assemblies in Sandy Point. I later called Francis and we agreed to meet on Thursday.

Central point: forcing PAWI on church that was part of it but knew little about PAWI.

Adventure time in St. Kitts:

No work until late afternoon tomorrow, time to explore this new Caribbean country. My goal was to travel the entire island, see the whole thing. I walked to the bus station and asked for the bus that would take me to the farthest point, which turns out to be Dieppe Bay town. The bus rushed Northwest bound passing through small villages and hugging right on the genteel Caribbean coast. Around the village of St. Paul’s, I saw what seemed to be a decent sized island in the distance and inquired about it to a nearby passenger who informed me it is the country of Sint Eustatius which the locals refer to simply as “Stacia.” Looking at the tallest mountain on the island called Mt. Liamuiga, the bus soon dropped me off at the final point Dieppe Bay town where the calm Caribbean meets the more frantic and brutal Atlantic. The passengers in the bus seemed confused that this was my final destination and offered a warning to take care.

I walked down the road and saw a side road that seemed to head toward the water. Once at the beach – one where few if any locals have ever got to see – I saw the exact locations where the Caribbean and Atlantic kisses and I saw the fishermen boats that await their next journey to sea while. In the distance, “Stacia” could clearly be seen. I looked at the small fishing boats and looked at Stacia, my eyes darted back and forth from Stacia to the boats when a daunting revelation occurred to me: Perhaps one of these boats can take me to Stacia! I now had a new mission! I walked the beach towards the boats where fishermen from the village fiddled with their nets and equipment. I approached an articulate, shirtless fisherman and asked how much for a quick ride to Stacia. He smirked and pointed to a boat a few feet away, a boat that belongs to a Rasta Man named Shiloh. The fisherman told me to head to the village ahead to inquire about the whereabouts of Rasta Man Shiloh. Now my mission was to find a Rasta Man named Shiloh somewhere in Dieppe Bay Town. I walked up the road into town asking random people sitting in front of their houses if they knew Rasta Man Shiloh and how to find him. Finally, I entered a store similar to a Mexican tienda or Brooklyn Bodega to buy water. As is the usual in small villages in remote country areas in the Caribbean, the locals found my presence curious. They questioned me as I questioned them about the Rasta Man. As luck would have it, the man sitting outside the small store new both Shiloh and his phone number. He explained that Shiloh was in Basseterre at the moment and would not return until later. I told the man of my plans and he offered Shiloh’s phone number. I returned to the apartment and left the Rasta man my phone number though voice message.

Still with part of a day to adventure, I taxied my way to South Frigat Bay to find two beaches, one on the Caribbean side and another on the Atlantic, that cater to gringo tourists complete with beach bars, resorts, crackerjacked restaurants, and so on. It was all goofy gringos on their vacations, about as exciting as my new boxer-briefs.

Since I was in “gringolandia,” I decided to see what the tourists were up to and walked to the huge – crazy huge for many blocks long – Marriott Hotel. The resort Marriott has a huge wall intended to keep the locals away from the tourists. Security guards make sure the tourists with cash are kept safe from locals who do not benefit from the tourist industry – especially the foreign corporation Marriott. It is interesting that a poor person who migrates to another country is considered an immigrant, undocumented, or alien (even criminals and terrorists) while wealthier migrants are considered guests, residents, and especially expats. What is more, foreign corporations, on the other hand, are given much more honor than even wealthy migrants. I ordered a beer at the bar where everyone was white and there were no locals (except for the servants, who are never actually called servants but are always the ones serving white people) and the bar overlooked sandy beaches as white as snow. Though the sand was as white as their skin, many decided to swim in the (at least in my head) pee pool water where I imagine young children release their urine. I will never understand why tourists swim in pools next to pristine and pure beaches on the Caribbean.

The servant at the bar offered the check totaling about $10 USD (St. Kitts uses the Eastern Caribbean Dollar). Without noticing the bill referred to USD not EC prices, I offered a $10 EC bill and thanked the resort servant. The woman quickly responded that the price is not in ECs but United States dollars. I told her that she was mistaken, an unfortunate confusion on her part – and a very embarrassing one. I explained gently (and perhaps condescendingly) that this is not the United States, that she lives in St. Kitts, which, reminding her, is not the United States despite the fact that the resort that employs her tries to keep the appearance of the U.S. through, partly, keeping the locals out of their own land. She corrected me with authority explaining that this was not St. Kitts but rather the Marriott, which is a United States company. In essence, this is the United States. I asked “And you let this happen? How do you let a foreign corporation take over your land and deny your county’s currency?” I explained that her country needs to save her people from American Neo-liberal policies, from American corporations that will destroy their local economy, destroy the natural beaches, undermine their currency and culture. I explained that her people need to revolt before the American corporations take over their land, economy, currency and way of life. When she said this is the Marriott and they own this land, I replied, “And you let them? Why? You need to stand up to this post-colonial oppression, the continued subjugation of your own people.” She looked at me crazy but somehow seemed to agree. She laughed, I smiled — wink, wink, life goes on. As Vonnegut says, so it goes.

Walking towards a road that I hoped would eventually bring me back to Basseterre, I thought about the prospect that many of the owners of United States and European hotels and resorts probably have lineage to ancestors that owned slaves. If this is the case — and I believe it is — then the owners of the Caribbean resorts keep native black people out of sections of their land for the conveniences of mostly white people while also employing black people to serve white people. Further, most local black people do not prosper from the prospering tourist industry; in fact, it creates increased relative deprivation that intensifies experienced inequality. In short, the same blood family that enslaved black people continues to enslave them in a post-colonial world – a token of American democracy. This is worthy of investigation that I fully intend to research.

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