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THE LOWDOWN: Unlocking the gate

Richard Hoad

THE LOWDOWN: Unlocking the gate

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If you want to know the difference between involvement and commitment, look no further than your morning eggs and bacon. The hen was involved; the pig was committed.
Cecil Frances Alexander wrote: “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin; He only could unlock the gate of Heaven and let us in.” Charles Wesley: “Amazing love, how can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”
At Easter we reflect on Jesus’ supreme sacrifice on our behalf and accept that He loved and was committed.
At another level, we Barbadians consider our little island an earthly paradise. With good reason.
We enjoy a standard of living way out of reach of our slender resources. Modern amenities, housing, education. We do overseas cruises and shopping sprees.
It wasn’t always so. In my youth, the plantation workers made do with wooden houses, kerosene lamps, khus khus beds, crocus bag mats. They cooked with scraps of wood and rotten cane, toted water from standpipes on their heads, depended on the mobile cinema for a rare treat, the manager’s radio to hear cricket or boxing, his generosity for a phone message.
We’ve come a long way, baby! But who unlocked the gate to our Barbadian heaven for the masses of black working-class people? Some say the activists. Some say the unions.
It doesn’t matter. My heroes will always be the old Bajan sugar workers. Even if they didn’t unlock the gate, they certainly built the heaven that we all enjoy. And the flipping gate. With blood, sweat and tears.
They lived St Ignatius’ prayer that we recited at primary school: “to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wound, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labour and not to ask for any reward save that of knowing that we do Thy gracious will”.
Does today’s generation understand the determination it took to dig endless cane holes?
To cut and head canes? To stack 224lb sugar bags mountain high? To pull a lighter oar? For two men to load a truck with sand using shovels? To head baskets of pen manure through uneven fields?
To work eight hour on/off shifts through the crop season?
These men and women toiled for little more than the satisfaction of being giants at their appointed tasks. They loved this island and were committed. And Barbados prospered. Built infrastructure. Achieved social mobility. Raised the general standard of living.
In return, Barbados kicked them in the teeth. Effectively crucified them. The unions and politicians made light of their pride in achievement. It mattered not to them that a man was a local hero based on the canes he could cut, the holes he could dig, the blocks he could lay. Their prime consideration became maximum wages for minimum work.
The Bajan work ethic was destroyed. Today’s “workers” are but a pampered parody of their proud predecessors. Bordering on unemployable.
Some young Bajans work hard picking and vending coconuts and other fruit. Collecting scrap metal, doing craft. But they will not take a job, pay national insurance or taxes.
So we have a problem. With a soaring food import bill and sometimes $24 for a yam, we yet have acres of prime agricultural land abandoned. No attempt was ever made to put our farm land into the hands of the labourers who worked, knew and loved it. Even when Government had control of bankrupt estates. Today unpatriotic speculators leave it in bush waiting for permission to “develop”.  
Now comes the final insult to those old sugar heroes. Our population is ageing; our career women don’t want children. So some propose to replenish our population with an influx of foreigners. Who will no doubt in time make these fields and hills their very own. Let Sabir Nakhuda’s book tell you how penniless East Indian traders transformed into prosperous businessmen.
In other words, we’ve lost the plot. They laboured in vain who sacrificed to build this paradise: their offspring won’t inherit it. Oh well, if a union can see Barbados on its back yet let thousands in potential foreign exchange rot in our fields and factories, maybe we don’t deserve to live in a paradise. 
Richard Hoad is a farmer and social commentator. Email [email protected]