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JUST LIKE IT IS – More kudos yet

Peter Simmons

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The front page picture in Wednesday’s DAILY Nation of international superstar Rihanna viewing herself in wax at the famous Madame Tussauds Museum in Washington, DC, brought to mind the comment by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan that Barbados consistently “punches above its weight”.It captured the fact that another Barbadian from our 21×14, famously described by former French president Charles de Gaulle as one of those “specks of dust in the ocean” had achieved international iconic status and covered herself and country of birth in glory.In these days when uncertainty, gloom and doom seem all-pervasive, it should be a timely tonic for the psyches of all Barbadians that a young lady from humble beginnings in Westbury Road has by sheer God-given talent and skilful management made it to the top of the R&B musical world and earned a place in one of the most prestigious halls of fame.Rihanna joins National Hero Sir Garry Sobers whose exploits earned him the accolade of the greatest cricketer the world has ever seen and a place in the more famous Madame Tussauds in London. These are immense socio-cultural achievements which I hope teachers in our schools will hold up to their young charges as shining mentors and exemplars.In a world dominated by negativity and the allurements of so much that is unwholesome, the emergence of our own home-bred as an international icon is always good for the collective national psyche. I remember well the groundswell of pride earlier this year when Patrick Husbands won our top horse race, the Sandy Lane Gold Cup, with a masterful ride, defeating a leading European jockey. Patrick, like Sir Garry and Rihanna, has risen from humble beginnings to international dominance in his chosen field of endeavour. He was born and grew up in Hart’s Gap a couple furlongs from the Garrison Savannah, and for years has been top jockey at Woodbine, Canada’s leading track, becoming a much admired but still humble multimillionaire.            He has been a pathfinder for numerous Barbadian jockeys who have gone to Canada and become top riders across the country. I am sure they are others riding at the Garrison now looking forward to follow in their footsteps. In addition, a number of Barbadians have found employment opportunities as trainers and grooms in Canada.Across the pond in England another Barbadian who grew up in the shadow of the Garrison, Sir Michael Stoute, continues to be the top trainer of race horses, raising the bar to new levels. Having saddled the first three past the winning post in the richest race on the British calendar (unprecedented) last year, his horses also collectively won the most prize money in the history of the turf in that country.This year for the fifth time he has trained the winner of racing’s blue ribbon event, the Epsom Derby, and repeated the win in the richest race. It is always a joy to read the unbridled commendations of aficionadas and writers in the British Press, seldom failing to mention the fact that he was born and developed his incipient love for horses on this 166-square-mile rock. We need to recognise and honour our local and international icons, and I look forward to the University of the West Indies’ awarding him an honorary doctorate as a global master of his craft and living proof that small physical size is no hindrance to our sons and daughters going forth and conquering the whole wide world through natural talent, commitment and hard work.In my lifetime there have been few things commensurate with hearing or seeing memorable things about Barbados or Barbadians, and I could not leave this subject without mentioning two special comments coming out of my time as a diplomat in Britain and South Africa.It warmed the cockles of my heart when President Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest men to walk the face of planet Earth, told me that before he died he wanted to visit Barbados that had produced such an array of distinguished cricketers, had had an enviable literacy rate and had provided its citizens with free health care and free education from primary school through university.Two areas of national life which so many Bajans take for granted and often rush to criticise, attracted the admiration and kudos of this universally admired leader thousands of miles away and only freed from jail in the early 1990s. Unfortunately, failing health has stood in the way of his fond hope of a visit becoming a reality. The other comment came in the mid-1990s after then Prime Minister Owen Arthur led a small-states mission to meetings with the major international financial institutions in Washington: the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank. On their return to London he asked me to organise a luncheon in their honour.At the luncheon, New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Don McKinnon, who later became Commonwealth Secretary General lavished praise on Prime Minister Arthur who, he said, led the mission magnificently and had the finest mind he had ever encountered.He was dumbfounded that a country of 260 000 people could produce a leader who took on and bettered some of the finest technocratic brains in Washington’s renowned institutions. In an unforgettable simile, he said “it was amazing that every time their heads came up above the parapets, he shot them down as if using an AK-47”.  All of which is proof positive that Barbados and its people indeed punch above their weight to worldwide admiration and acclaim.
• Peter Simmons, a social scientist, is a former diplomat.