Playing the role of Caribbean Coronavirus Cassandra in the past couple of weeks has been less about a backslide into more negative-thinking periods of my past, and more about a sustained effort to join up my thinking as it relates to a world that changes faster than the dappled light in the avocado tree outside the kitchen door of my ‘home office’. Circumspection has become a way of life this year, because knee-jerk reaction just doesn’t cut it any more.
Neither does consulting Nostradamus for prophecies that loosely link up with the truly stomach-churning global dystopian reality we’re navigating in the second six months of this year of two halves. Projecting, not prophesising; extrapolating, not excoriating; this doom-monger was commercially trained by the best in the Caribbean, expected to drill down numbers, interpret trends, quickstep past economic crises and maximise profits with every single professional decision.
So my gut instinct that Saint Lucia should not rush to open our borders to its biggest source market has constantly been tempered by the knowledge that if we’re closed, we’re economically screwed. Suggesting that we reciprocate travel only with countries with a better R-rate than our own has been at the core of not making this a ‘personal matter’, reflecting my openly communicated fear that the exploding numbers will not match up to the PR promises.
So far, the US has recorded more than 3.4 million cases of the virus and nearly 140,000 deaths.
According to the BBC: ‘The University of Washington predicts the death toll could hit nearly 210,000 by early November – though it says this could be reduced to about 160,000 if 95% of Americans wear masks in public
There’s also an overstretching confidence in a combination of the island’s state of emergency laws and responsible goodwill of early visitors to control a species-wide propensity for humans to take the piss whenever possible.
Saint Lucia has seen the effects of our own culture divide in the Covid-19 pandemic, with sections of the population howling like banshees at every mask slip by an official in a Facebook photo. Harsh things have been said about young people who didn’t care, poor people who didn’t know, and destitute people who in reality couldn’t give a thraneen whether they live or die at this point.
While upper echelons of our tiny society groaned about the alcohol ban and secured black market stocks by the case behind the walls of their gated communities, they shamed the Looshan mentality for breaking curfew, illicit partying, disrespecting the police and ‘business as usual’ behaviour. Turns out there are selfish assholes in every country, who can be whipped into all sorts of lockdown-busting frenzy as soon as the novelty of Netflix has worn off. Not that there hasn’t been the constant presence of generosity, empathy and practical support from citizens, non-profits and charitable organisations, in the form of feeding programmes, basic food hampers and the like.
But that was early o’clock, when the country was completely shut down, and some had salaries coming, a few dollars saved or family members to support them financially. Four months later, desperation is setting in and unreported by the pathetic bastion of PR that purports to be Saint Lucian media, our island is being raked by increasing petty crime, domestic violence and turf war casualties. Another wave in the crime tsunami that has swept our nation for the past twenty years. Does anyone doubt it’s about to get worse?
All of which underpins my point: Without tourism, we are broke and we are screwed.
But how much more screwed will we be if Covid-19 finally gets a foothold on our island, or any of our Caribbean neighbours? After all these months of public effort, however imperfect; after all these dollars lost to businesses and employees, families and friends; after everything we’ve praised the Saint Lucia government for achieving. What if all our regulations aren’t enough to police visiting foreign nationals who have a problem even believing there IS a pandemic? Will reopening in the 2020 ‘off season’ put us at risk of losing 2021?
It’s only mid-July and the arrival of the first set of tourists from Miami has not turned out as well as it should have. Meanwhile every 24-hour news cycle is more terrifying than the last, with hot spots surrounding our other source airports, Atlanta and Dallas. Perhaps New York will offer a less risky airlift soon, and our trusty Torontonians will hopefully return in numbers, but for now, it’s starting to feel like that scene in Jaws where the mayor insists on keeping the beaches open, despite purple-faced pleading from the scientist who knows his stuff.
We all know what happened next? [Duh-duh, duh-duh, duh-duh, duh-duh, she sings quietly.]
Some of our resorts have scheduled reopening for October and November, ahead of projected increased demand in December. I like that scenario, which gives our American neighbours time to pull their collective masks up and get on with lassoing their ever-growing Covid curve.
If we rush to judgment on opening up, we may face a second disaster later in the year by having a repeat of lock down when other, safer, markets are travelling again. By observing the daily figures [which have in the last 24 hours been hijacked from the CDC by the White House for seemingly nefarious purposes] and keeping an open mind to closing back down sooner rather than later, we have a chance to safeguard our Saint Lucia product from an even longer, more devastating situation that will extend into the potential recovery season of 2021.
As we’ve always said, when America coughs, the Caribbean catches coronavirus.
So what now? Just four days after the first AA flight from Miami bore around 150 intrepid travellers to the super-sanitised set-up at Hewanorra International Airport, multiple reports describe tourists wandering around Gros Islet looking for jet skis and bar opening hours.
I’m not sure what we were promised, but the stunned ripples across the community indicate that’s a widespread condition. The returning Saint Lucians went straight into the state-enforced fourteen day quarantine, featuring a room service diet of lentils and ground provisions delivered three times a day. The visitors to an all-inclusive somehow wandered off unnoticed, claiming they didn’t know they weren’t allowed.
Sounds like Floridian logic to me, but I’m just jumping to conclusions. Perhaps these fleet-footed travellers aren’t from the same state that produced a record-shattering number of Covid-19 cases just yesterday – a Sunday, for the love of god. Perhaps the fact that the Miami-Dade area is is the worst scenario in the state is just more fake news, as the Unmasked Self-Avenger would have us believe. Perhaps not a single passenger will test positive in the next ten days.
Or perhaps the worst case scenario will occur. A non-symptomatic carrier will saunter off to a local bar, mask and much-needed US dollars in pocket, where the local lime has already evolved to a new-normal and there’s a predictable complacency due to our hard-earned Covid-death-free status. It’s the return of the tourist dollar, so the laid-back desperation of micro-businesses in the fourth month of little or no income is undeniable and understandable, but the results for our public health sector may be shattering.
When the government expeditiously shut down Saint Lucia’s borders, I was happy to scrape through the almost-closed gate into quarantine for two weeks. I concur with many who say ‘we’ve handled the pandemic very well’, but my observation is that they are referring to the shutdown, and not the reopening.
For that, we have no data as yet, other than hearsay that the virus could be replicating exponentially as we speak, emanating from badly-managed enclaves hosting visitors who neither know nor care what effect their walkabout may have on this rock of ours.
For our dedicated hospitality front-liners, that Sword of Damocles swings heavy. They take a massive chance by re-entering their resort to look after the first guests to take a chance on Saint Lucia as a safe place to travel, even if their very presence threatens to erode that reality. Families must be fed, school starts in six weeks and without tourism, the near future is bleak.
Sandals was always going to be the corporate canary in this Covid-19 crisis, so it’s particularly easy to throw mud at what’s being described as “fixed” in the local media by a slightly embarassed-sounding Ministry of Tourism. I say let that one ride, and let all citizens be on the lookout for clueless wanderers straying into our midst, so that we may assist them back to their quarantine zone, I mean resort.
If the travel gods are smiling on us, my mission as a Cassandra will be in vain. Thankfully, I love to be proven wrong. But joined-up thinking shunts me forward to a point in time when, just perhaps, Covid-19 will be back in the community, and our achievement since March 23rd will be wiped off the scoreboard.
So let me ask you one question, my friends.
Are you ready for Lucian Lockdown 2020 – The Sequel?
Predictably, Allen Chastanet’s May 17th announcement that Saint Lucia’s borders would begin opening on June 4th raised more questions than it answered, while streaming online to a viewership ranging from the genuinely interested to the authentically dunderheaded. More than a month later, the reality continues to frustrate tourism stakeholders at every turn, while thousands prepare for the worst tourism off-season in Saint Lucian history.
As they got wind of an early June opening, to paraphrase my favourite – slashingly erudite – local social media commentator, people got their kalson in a twist about the imminent potential for a new wave of Covid-19 to swoop down on the island and attack the local population like something out of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’.
Reading the comments on any political posting by the GOSL is a soul-destroying pastime, which I don’t recommend unless you want to blush at unadulterated extremes of stupidity, sectarianism, sycophancy, subjectivity and literal blind faith that populate the Looshan Facebook experience. It’s tempting to ignore it and feel a bit superior moving on to a more uplifting post of dancing babies or someone’s latest home-gardening achievements.
But increasingly in life, I’ve discovered it’s important to know “how the other half think”, especially when that opinion is diametrically opposed to one’s own. Switching channels to avoid watching the hopelessly hapless Hydroxymoron-in-Chief [thanks, Jimmy Kimmel] helps keep the blood pressure from rising, but it doesn’t help you understand just how mind-blowingly huge their problem is, up where the buffalo roam and testing is as rare as the California Condor.
Keeping a low profile from the initial OMG-we-all-gonna-die-lord-put-a-hand tsunami of Looshan reaction, I was glad to see the next set of changes soon posted on the GOSL website, so that at least people could read for themselves what was being proposed and start asking the increasingly specific questions proliferating from every sector of commerce and society. If there’s another thing I’ve learnt through the sociological study of coronavirus response, it’s that it affects people so subjectively that I’m constantly floored by questions that make me go “ooooh! Never thought of that!”.
Tourism, however, is the only driver of substance in our economy, and in the Caribbean, Saint Lucia is just one of dozens of countries that are in precisely the same predicament, albeit with individual, localised realities – and forward-thinking adminstrators – in play. Mr. Chastanet’s bold moves to get the border-opening ball rolling are still undoubtedly controversial, but were they well-thought through? Is our government truly balancing the risk between releasing the grip of national lockdown to allow for the reignition of the economy, and safeguarding a tiny, highly vulnerable population to a more threatening public health scenario?
A sword of Damocles for our time.
Stephen Covey would ask “did they begin with the end in mind?”
Given the global focus on a path to the ‘new-travel-normal’, Saint Lucia’s ballsy move to open borders early gained immediate traction in the media, despite seasoned industry practitioners having serious concerns about the operational practicalities needed to achieve the evolving requirements. Despite the fact that the PM clearly stated that tourists would NOT be pouring through our ports in Covid-contaminated hordes, some [who have not read a word of those statutes] continue to whine why-what-when-who-woe-is-we. Conspiracy theories abound as to just whose guests will be knocking our doors and how they’ll get here, but despite the knee-jerk temptation to weigh-in on the wailing, such musings do not bring real value to the discussion.
Real value is bringing a pragmatic approach to figuring out where you stand in the maze of new protocols, rules and regulations. Business owners with good instincts and an eye for projecting have been strategising since day one, and some are now forging a new path online or in another socially-distanced format.
Lucky for them, because now they have to write their own protocol and get it stamped by the ministry and have a site inspection and get approval before starting to trade with the public again. For those who source their information from covidiot conspirators, shame on you, and don’t cry to me if you end up with a fat fine.
But of all the economic opportunities the Saint Lucia Government could miss, bringing back the yachties to our marinas and bays is the one that still has me spitting filthy epithets in the privacy of my self-imposed semi-lockdown. Joined-up thinking had my head full of the potential for swiftly unlocking the sea ports of entry so that our liveaboard friends would have a safe place to head to for the next six months of Atlantic storm season. It’s such a screamingly obvious strategy and I’m not alone in believing wholeheartedly that yachting should have been better managed by government in a pandemic than Saint Lucia has done.
Grenada opened to yachts on May 25, and have signed up 700 boats to a scenic floating quarantine programme through the hurricane season. We, despite having one of the Caribbean’s safest hurricane holes and the largest marina in the area, remain closed to boats. [19/06]
It continues to baffle all concerned, and implies a deep lack of knowledge about the nature and needs of the marine industries sector by the politicians and government practitioners in charge. There just aren’t enough cons to outweigh the pros, and I’m not the only one with that opinion. That’s what happens when you get obsessed with big shiny hotel projects and dreamy videos telling the world of our ‘safe harbour’.
As for deeply illogical suggestions made by disconnected tourismocrats yesterday that after paying through the nose to fly here and stay in a hotel, visitors will be happy to get on a pleasure boat, footle up and down the coastline despite being prohibited from swimming in the sea. What a doozy!
Understand, guests can swim in the sea on their [private] resort beach, but no cannonballs into the blue will be allowed. Guests can choose to wrinkle their flesh by paddling in the petri dish resort pool for twelve hours a day if they so desire, but they will not be allowed to jump off the deck of a boat moored in the island’s most famous snorkelling bay.
If this makes sense to anyone, please give them my number so they can explain it to me.
Every seasoned marine operator I’ve bumped into tells a similar story. The unanimous verdict is that we’ve missed a massive opportunity by keeping our sea ports closed, and that for now, the pleasure boating protocols being suggested by government will shoot the ‘new-normal’ industry in the foot early on.
So were all those live-streamed opening interviews and promises to welcome the first AA flight on June 7 a PR game of smoke and mirrors? Our brand is worth more than that.
Make all the snazzy videos you like, but those who know, know we’re not ready to open this month.
I must have watched a week’s worth of this British ‘reality TV’ gem, that packs more of a health education punch than you probably think from the name. If you haven’t seen it, there are umpteen episodes on YouTube from half a dozen seasons, all of which revolve around a very tight formula: Two obese people want to know why they are obese, and a chirpy, weight-obsessed hostess sets about figuring out the mystery for them.
It’s the same rigmarole every week, with only slight elements changing in the rigid donut of a storyline. Husband/wife | girlfriend/boyfriend | brother/sister | sister/sister | mother/daughter are filmed whining about their weight, mourning their metabolism, and claiming to eat the calories of a canary. The empathetic hostess mugs into the camera as she reiterates their dilemma: “So you only eat kale and coconut husk, walk five miles to the gym and back nine times a week, and you’ve gained four stone in a year. How can this possibly be?”
The willing victims agree to have hidden cameras installed at home for five days, so that agreeable Anna Richardson can find out just how indeed it can possibly be. What the poor schlubs don’t realise is that she also unleashes a pair of perceptive private eyes to invade their privacy 24/7 by following them around incognito, watching for any sign of mystery mastication or baffling bingeing. Then the big reveal is sprung, leading to one of the most humiliatingly cathartic concepts I’ve ever seen in reality realms, that genuinely shocks both subject and viewer into the realisation that we all eat and drink wayyyyyy too much.
Every. Single. Time.
Every episode runs along the same lines. The same people who “get fat just looking at a Mars Bar” turn out to be stuffing themselves day and night with frightening mountains of fish and chips, doner kebab and chips, pizza and chips, fry-up and chips, big cream buns, multi-sacks of crisps and bricks of chocolate. Then they wash it all down with diet drinks – of course – by the flagon. Some of this videoed gorging might involve them sneaking off on purpose to avoid the Secret Eaters CCTV at home, but mainly these famous-for-forty-minutes stars simply had no idea they were eating so much so much of the time. As if food at home was the only kind worth putting in the diet-diary, and ‘outside food’ – or meals you didn’t prepare yourself – didn’t count.
And the booze! In some episodes, the good time guy drinks his month’s recommended alcohol units in five days of surveillance, but doesn’t realise there are any calories in his pints and shots. One woman could have floored a rugby club with her Prosecco consumption, but was visibly astonished to find out that every bottle she waved around her head before guzzling was adding 500 empty – if enjoyable – calories to her day.
That’s 20% of a healthy woman’s daily recommended eating allowance and it has been for years.
The recurring lesson is that in Britain – where alcohol is deemed an essential supply these days – a big slice of the population thinks that drinking a bottle of vodka is like slugging down a pint of water. Or has no idea that five cans a night amounts to “a whopping” 150 cans and 2000-plus calories a month around their belly.
It’s just social drinking. No calories. No impact. No fucking clue!
I’m not going to fat shame anyone in this world, because I’ve been there, carried around the pounds, and passed my own food mistakes on to my kids. I still know the basic “calorie-controlled diet” rules my mother taught me at age eleven, but I’ve learned they only work if you apply them for life. I still don’t have a handle on my relationship with food otherwise I’d be able to eek a solitary pack of dark chocolate digestives out for five days instead of snarfing them down in two gos. But I’m working on that for all the reasons being thrown around in this treatise, precisely because I’ve already lived an obese existence, and I don’t think going back there in my fifties is a good life choice. If only I could apply it on both my weekly lockdown-shopping excursions.
I’m not shaming the Secret Eaters programme either, because it became a favourite compulsion to watch it when I myself was actively preparing not to eat every shred of yumminess laid before me on extended-vacation in Belfast last summer – to gird my sweet-tooth, as it were, against the home-bakery hordes. More recently I’ve been brainwashing myself through lockdown, resulting in a decrease in chocolate consumption replaced by mango and papaya over-consumption. In fact, that’s why I started watching again.
Now I’m putting on unwanted weight after eight years, so this blog isn’t about shaming. It’s about knowledge being power.
It is also about the incredulity that forty years after my own secondary education, people in Britain know so very little about the food they eat and the effects it has on their health. Each one of the participants in Secret Eaters is already suffering from an obesity-related ailment like knee pain, diabetes or high blood pressure. But they know little about nutritional needs and fresh food – choosing it, cooking it, understanding how important that is in living a healthy life.
It’s not a ‘lifestyle’, because not having that knowledge can lead to death, and death is never in style.
Wrapped up in a reality format, Secret Eaters and its graphic predecessor ‘Supersize / Superskinny‘ are actually very poignant pieces of public health programming for our time, because these stories of average people make clear that the easy availability of fast food, pre-packaged, processed, refined and ridiculous, has become the source of a different pandemic than the one that preoccupies us right now. And for whatever reason, three generations of Brits know nothing about the basics of ‘Food & Nutrition’ that were taught to me as a module of Home Economics ‘O’ Level in 1980. Now many kids have no idea of the names of common vegetables like courgette and aubergine. Many young adults haven’t the cooking skills or motivation to boil an egg.
A favourite boss of mine used to talk about “joined-up” thinking, and I’ve tried to apply it as a regular habit ever since.
Joined-up thinking usually leads to the next stage of conclusions for any problem. We are what we eat. We eat a lot of garbage that contributes to other, more deadly conditions in the human body, which never evolved to cope with sitting in a recliner consuming humongous amounts of saturated fats and refined sugars on an hourly basis. We are pandemically lazy, with exercise scratching a low priority for the many.
The human body was never meant to weigh half a ton, and the impact of obesity is already a devastating public health disaster.
Joined-up thinking …
Obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease. They are already the world’s biggest killers.
And they are non-communicable. Some science points to the role of DNA, but most scientists underwrite lifelong nutrition and exercise habits as having a significant impact on the probability of not developing a laundry list of NCDs. Now there’s evidence that such globally prevalent pre-existing conditions can cause increased vulnerability to Covid-19 coronavirus, which makes sense, simply on the basis that the immune system is under attack via these very same diseases.
Neither should this be shocking news to us. The World Health Organisation reports on key statistics every year, although the accuracy of its data depends on that of the countries submitting reports. Currently, under ‘Obesity‘ as a topic, the latest thumbnail on this worldwide problem states: “Rates of overweight and obesity continue to grow in adults and children. From 1975 to 2016, the prevalence of overweight or obese children and adolescents aged 5–19 years increased more than four-fold from 4% to 18% globally.”
About Diabetes: “… 422 million people worldwide have diabetes, particularly in low-and middle-income countries, and 1.6 million deaths are directly attributed … each year. Both the number of cases and the prevalence … have been steadily increasing over the past few decades.” This of course, does not include the hideous toll diabetes can take on the living: Cataracts and blindness; limb loss and disability.
About high blood pressure, or Hypertension: “A serious medical condition [that] can increase the risk of heart, brain, kidney and other diseases. It is a major cause of premature death worldwide, with upwards of 1 in 4 men and 1 in 5 women – over a billion people – having the condition. The burden … is felt disproportionately in low- and middle-income countries, where two thirds of cases are found …”
That’s the global outlook. Percentages in the Caribbean are worse than average, as evidenced in January 2017, when a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) stated that Obesity was on the rise throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, particularly among women and children.
In the study, it was reported that close to 360 million people – around 58 percent of the inhabitants of the region – were overweight, with the highest rate observed in the Bahamas (69 percent). Pre-obese, they call it.
The report also noted Obesity affected 140 million people – 23 percent of the region’s population – and that the highest rates were found in the Caribbean countries of Barbados (36%) Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda (31% each).
Strikingly, the Obesity trend back in 2017 was disproportionately impacting women. In more than 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, the rate of female obesity was 10 percentage points higher than that of men.
Need I go on extrapolating? When I wrote about this report in a SHE Caribbean Magazine women’s health article around the time it was published, those numbers screamed danger for our big and beautiful community. No shame. No judgement. Just the facts. I’ve remembered that particular piece often, even if I can’t find my copy.
So what’s the joined-up thinking between Obesity and coronavirus? Well, it goes something like this:
Obesity causes health issues like heart disease and diabetes;
which cause the immune system not to work properly;
which reduces the body’s ability to fight off infection;
which leaves the body vulnerable to Covid-19 [and a plague of other transmittable diseases];
Which means to protect our truly vulnerable people of all ages, genders and socio-economic levels, we really have to evaluate the moves we take to reopen our borders. Without politicising, proselytising, procrastinating or prevaricating, we must admit the scale and numbers of the already vulnerable community, here in Saint Lucia and across the Caribbean, then make a plan to avert a different level of public health catastrophe that is based on our collective pre-existing conditions.
I swear there are days when I slap my own head to make sure I’m not imagining the covidiocy streaming in from the outside world through my tiny cocoon’s ten inch tech portal. There’s no other way to describe it, I’m afraid, despite the fact that particular trite pandemicism was coined less than two months ago, so should already be outta style.
‘Full-on fuckery’ comes to mind, but I hate to offend.
By now, keeping abreast with pandemic facts has become part of my working day, which I believe is the responsible approach to take. But man, it’s difficult to find only the facts, the real truth and nothing but, in a world where opinion reigns supremo. Literally. Check the live-streamed daily circus conducted by the Pandemic Pumpkinhead himself, who’s Dunning-Kruger rating is at least a Level 4 – “Sovereign of Stupidity”, if not a full throttle Level 5 – “Fuckwit King”.
In hope of conserving my IQ points, I don’t go near the daily feeble-minded task farce. I wait for the funny guys to rip it apart overnight and give me something to smile ironically at in the morning with my coffee. The filter I choose is humour, although it helps that they’re all on the same page as me in terms of a general world view. They’re also – sad to say – not as funny as they used to be. A syndrome called Late-Night-Host Burnout started to set in three years ago with the election of a monomaniacal manchild, and now they can’t find enough ways to say “I feckin’ told you so!” from the comfort of their own homes.
After getting away from the big-screen luxury of hotel quarantine, I started off watching two official briefs every day – the first was Governor Cuomo’s from New York around 11am [same time zone as me] and the second was from an ever-growing cast of UK government spokespeople a bit later [five hours ahead of me]. My quest for solid information was taking more than two hours every day.
For two weeks, my usual working-at-home habits were perforated with lengthy live streams of death statistics, testing needs, wildly differing models, cheesy slogan mantras and undistinguished Powerpoint 101 presentations in a “political-but-trying-to-sound-not-at-all-political” tone that eventually started sounding too much like marketing.
The commentary around the daily UK brief became dense with explanation from numbskullian newsreaders that these numbers were the UK numbers but not quite because Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland number counters count theirs differently, on a different schedule, therefore mucking up the whole credibility and concept of a daily brief. Why England’s numbers still don’t include care home deaths is beyond me, and sounds like more marketing. Why they can’t just make one accurate collated statement a day is symbolic and shambolic.
The trouble with cable TV news in a pandemic is that you end up knowing a few things very well, because they are delivered 10 times x 24 hours a day in biteable chunks – if you get obsessed with watching for hours like I did in my quarant-otel room. You only know those ‘facts’ through the filter of the news corporation on screen at any one time: CNN, BBC, EuroNews being the limited options on Flow’s shitty basic package. One ‘fact’ can generate ten minutes of passionate coulda-woulda-shouldaing from talking heads who all this time have essentially been just faces in boxes on talk shows masquerading as news.
Verified truths unskewed by politicism, emotion or opinion.
Who thought it would be so difficult to feel confident in ‘facts’ delivered by elected governments ‘live and direct’ across the internet, at a time when we need to trust those facts for our personal survival?
Choosing which filter you watch the news through is a reasonably young phenomenon for 50-somethings like me who grew up with two TV options: BBC and ITV. In Northern Ireland around tea time, we had the local news, then the national news, and you watched your loyal parents’ channel of choice religiously. Well, the adults watched and there was only one TV set. The kids were expected to shut up or disappear, and the latter was preferable to me and my primary schooler siblings. We’d bolt into the sitting room to play Monopoly or run around outside if the brighter evenings were in.
Anyway, around 6pm on the streets of West Belfast, you’d rarely see any adult on the street gossiping because they were ensconced on the sofa – with a tray of dinner if they were lucky – watching the Evening News like their lives depended on it.
Years later, we discovered just how much that daily fix of “news” was biased and twisted by self-interested journalism, political corruption and worse. Just watch Netflix’s affecting documentary about the community-shattering slaughter of the Miami Showband if you want an insight on how it is to relearn the “facts” of your past.
That’s just one of thousands of of stories created by 40 years of ‘political struggle’, in which 3637 people lost their lives through violence.
So here I am, with a world of internet news feeds at my fingertips and all the paranoia of a conspiracy theorist on a bad acid trip, at which point there’s a brown-out in my melted brain and I ask myself why the hell it matters at all, what’s going on hour by hour in the world outside these 238 square miles of Saint Lucia? And off I go to watch something to remind me of “the old normal” for an hour or two – like Shrek or Finding Nemo.
Of course, reading is the answer. Watching and listening to “facts” spewing forth from some horses’ mouths, can [allegedly] cause mental anxiety and high pressure, leading to increased alcohol consumption, spontaneous episodes of Tourettes directed at the TV and other unusual symptoms deleterious to your already threatened health. Reading is this writer’s preferred method of taking in data – although I do love a great bar chart thrown in for the edification of my inner science nerd.
More accurately, the Covid-19 forecast models and relentlessly changing numbers scratch a corporate memory itch, a reminder to flex the same neurons that once allowed me to apply acrobatic mental arithmetic to the nuanced trends of six different countries’ merchandise sales performance v budget on a weekly basis. And an OECS one of all that! To say nothing of being conversant in EBITDA…
My left brain had a daily workout for almost thirty years in a career that evolved from computer operations in Brighton to retail buying in Saint Lucia. Wordsmith came about when my whole brain disintegrated under the pressure of a director-level corporate job that required me to care more about cents on the dollar than any human being or their wellbeing. But that’s another chapter in my story.
I don’t know about you, but some days I don’t know whether I’m coming or going. You’ll know what I clumsily mean, despite realising that I’m neither.
It’s that time vacuum feeling that used to be a feature of holiday planning-going-coming-home, when the months before departure were rich with hare-brained schemes and endless listing of what to pack for a three week adventure that was over-too-soon, once our bums were back on the sofa getting ready for the next school year.
My melted head hurts like a hungover time-traveller from the full awareness that it’s only been forty-two days since I landed back in Saint Lucia and the evolving national Covid-19 reaction plan. That was on March 23, the very day they closed the borders and checked three hundred arrivees into quarantine-hotels.
Only forty days ago, the PM surprised us all by imposing a 24/7 lockdown without warning, catching many people by surprise and resulting in a little bit of terrifying behaviour from an unimpressed public. He also took away our booze but as Rick Wayne would say, that’s for another show.
Just twenty-eight days ago I was deposited back to my flat and went into Marisule Martha mode for two whole weeks. That felt like the real start to my lockdown after fourteen days of all-inclusive quarantining. The adrenaline rush of familiarity and nesting kept me going from 5.30am until collapsing to sleep at an old-fogeyish nine o’clock.
With domicile cleaned like there were visitors coming, every available receptacle sprouting with tomatoes, basil and pumpkin, and several blogs a week posted for my wonderful resort client, the blues came along after about eighteen days home alone. They didn’t sweep up with a dramatic slap, but as the manic level of activity ramped back, the time became filled with a slow-gathering feeling that doing my civic duty was an excuse to indulge in some of those depression behaviours that were a major feature of my past life.
In the early days, ‘not going out’ was like a game more than a challenge to my single-work-at-home self and in my head I had leveraged that game for days: Move the bed and have a rationed rum and coke at sunset; sweep the balcony while the kettle boils for a coffee; generate an interesting and informative four hundred words with six images for Marigot Bay Resort and Marina before watching Shrek or whatever denialistic movie takes my fancy on Netflix.
New habits form in twenty-eight days, so despite knowing full well that it’s not a good thing, my fixation with watching daily live feeds of coronavirus updates from London, Scotland and New York became almost an obsession and will probably need some weaning. My one thousand, one hundred and fifty-nine Facebook friends were a great comfort, despite rabid unfollowing every time I discovered an eejit among them. Far less a pandemic political proselytiser.
Just as I became almost completely dependent, a four day enforced break from wifi taught me that priorities change, and pandemic news definitely moves at a crazier pace than you’d even imagine. That long-weekend disconnection from the internet was probably the straw that broke the gathering gremlins’ back, requiring me to hang on by the skin of my nails to another type of awareness I’ve been learning about for four years.
Where was all my “gotta-be-grateful” malarky when the constant presence of social media, free messaging and YouTube were suddenly removed from my lockdown reality? How would I cope without my bi-hourly check on the news sites and evening roundup from PBS? What would my diasporic family think when my beautifully-composed photos of baby basil plants disappeared from the WhatsApp chat? Who would know if I fell and broke my neck in these socially-distanced days and nights?
Well, that’s easy. My lovely landlords are just a holler away and have been great in a previous crisis. The what-ifs of living alone are not a route I allow my general musings to take very often, but it would be a lie not to admit that as a women of certain years who considers herself a born-again lone ranger in life, there’s a time to reflect in the right way.
But it was really hard to halt the slither of invasive, self-pitying thoughts until The Universe took me out onto the balcony to look at the calm blue sea of Choc Bay and listen to the singingest set of birds ever to live in an avocado tree. That view alone has made me happy every day that I’ve lived here, and the pears are already popping all over the branches I can reach. There are dozens of classic movies on my laptop and two orderly shelves of books I promised myself to read once the tiny-interior redesign was complete.
Once established, Gratitude-with-a-capital-g is the hardest good habit to break. In my own experience, the more you remember to practice, the more mental health benefits accrue. At this unprecedented moment in our collective existence, some points in our day are bound to be mentally challenging. For some, the stresses of close confinement and home-schooling are a real thing. For others, loneliness that already existed is amplified under these public health restrictions. Others still are without a comfortable place to stay safe, far less stay home. So many people are vulnerable in ways unimaginable, and that’s always a healthy thought to keep in mind.
During those four disconnected days from my seaview perch on the hillside, I remembered to be grateful for:
Being the mistress of my own domain with nobody to annoy my peace and quiet;
Having ample food in my cupboard and fresh produce in the fridge;
Having family and friends who will seek me out anyway, because I matter to them;
Being able to continue filling my days with productive – and mindful – activities while the lockdown continues.
And mostly I felt the deepest gratitude to my friends Marise and Wendell, for teaching The Art of Living principles that brought me to this and other practices that helped anxiety and depression become a manageable element in my life, rather than the dread hand that governed my existence in previous decades.
But what happened on Monday morning at 9am when my phone exploded to life with a cacophony of bings?
Oh yeah, I was all over that laptop like white on rice!
Less than four months into 2020, it’s become dramatically clear that world has gone insane, and lunatics have taken over to lead us into what history will no doubt speak of as ‘The Age of Dunning-Kruger.’
In the technologically developed world over the past decade, sufferers of this challenging psychological condition have presented in ever greater numbers, in all walks of life, and at various levels of delusion. Anecdotally, it also appears that a more potent strain of Dunning-Kruger has developed since mid-2016 that now threatens to reach pandemic status in its effects on the rest of the planet.
Discovered in 1999 by two switched-on social psychologists, David and Justin respectively, Dunning-Kruger effect is “a type of cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are.”
According to VeryWellMind.com: “Essentially, low ability people do not possess the skills needed to recognize their own incompetence. The combination of poor self-awareness and low cognitive ability leads them to overestimate their own capabilities. The term lends a scientific name and explanation to a problem that many people immediately recognise — that fools are blind to their own foolishness.”
Basically, you’re too stupid to recognise that you’re stupid, which at some twisted level of logic is a happy mindset to inhabit, maybe even the very essence of zen. The problem arises when stupid becomes the rule rather than the exception, which is, I suggest, what we’re now witnessing now, twenty years since the definition of this very 21st century condition was coined.
Nationalised Dunning-Kruger effect can be observed in the recent evolution of several of the world’s former geopolitical superpowers, sometimes to the point of sufferers attaining high status in government by debunking the very real scientific achievements of their own practitioners and institutions of the past hundred years.
Forget the seemingly vast impact of social media on the virulent spread of Dunning-Kruger in the last decade: The root of this particular disease of the mind goes back to the 1970s with the dawn of comprehensive secondary schools and mass media.
The proliferation of the disease started with the “dumbing down” of society via eroded public education systems, and the proliferation of television, like an unrelenting tsunami, becoming the social centre of every household. If you saw it on TV it had to be true, right? Forget school-learning, when would you ever use Algebra or Trig or USA Politics in your foreseeable future?
Dunning-Kruger continued its virulent spread with the genericising of populations by insistent, corner-officed Mad Men flogging uniforms to consumers in segmented demographics, generation after generation: Dayglo spandex and big hair; sherbert tracksuits and big sneakers; grunge chic and big sweaters; skinny jeans and big asses.
Another year, another season, another trend to make you spend.
This psychological virus was an equal opportunity disease, and throughout the 2000s, Dunning-Kruger climbed the social ladder to big business, led by aspirational brand marketing. Everything was logoed and labelled – real or fake – to create an illusion of keeping up with the celebrity Joneses. Even when it broke people financially and spiritually. The Beemer outside the shack was a reality on my patch.
When the market value of teenagers was discovered in the 50s – along with their gullibility – selling to the herd became the marketing strategy of choice. Creating a worldwide trend became the grail for every executive in search of a profit and before ‘going viral’ was a marketer’s aspiration, there were other ways of selling.
As a late boomer/early Gen-x type, I’d characterise the contribution of mass media to the ascent of Dunning-Kruger thus: In our grandparents day and when our parents were growing up, radio was the go-to media method of getting messages into the public domain. In the 1960s and 70s, network television developed with maybe three or four options to fill eighteen hours a day.
By the Eighties, cables were being laid across the planet and the number of channels proliferated exponentially, as did their availability in every corner of the globe. Unimaginable quantities of marketing time became available during an economic boom decade and the real fight was on for every consumer dollar.
Kids programming became peppered with long neon-coloured chunks of loud-hard-selling slapped between a few minutes of cheap animation. Daily soap operas flogged household products and arthritis medication breaking up the loosest of storylines. Sleepless night times were filled with fascinating infomercials that could fool even the most canny of us into believing that melon extract would make us look like a supermodel, or some air-dry-radiowave-with-knobs contraption would cook your turkey in half an hour.
Every ten years since then, newly-monikered generations of people have been bombarded with not-too-subtle sales pitching, memorable cinemascope-worthy theme tunes, non-perfect-everything-shaming and style-or-die propaganda designed to lead them like lambs to the slaughter of regimentation. And corporations to uber-profitability.
No Playstation/X-Box/Gameboy? No friends, my yoot.
No Louis Vuitton handbag? No class, my girl. No Nike tracksuit? No hope you’ll ever win, my boy. No BMW? No thanks, I’ll walk in my designer sneakers.
Social media helped marketing evolve as the nerds knew it would, amplifying messaging in ways we could never have imagined, with knowledge freely available to all who had the will to learn. I remember when the internet came to my little rock in the mid-90s, and how we were gasping at how easy life and business would become. Fast forward to 2020 and experts will tell you just how much has changed since we all logged into the world wide web and never logged out.
In terms of the stupidity virus, if the 2000s was the decade in which symptoms started to present, the Teens were the years when social media took Dunning-Kruger’s biggest carriers under its wings and encouraged them to sweep the infection across platform after platform until it seemed much of the world population was suffering from early symptoms.
Now these monumentally dense wannabees were called ‘influencers’, and some of the most clueless, least educated, most narcissistic, least knowledgeable, most self-involved, least empathetic characters ever spawned by the human race were left to run rampant across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, selling snake oil, half-truths and plain old steaming piles of bullshit to an avidly following public.
As the latter part of the Teens unfolded, the power of the internet was fully behind the exponential spread of Dunning-Kruger in ways perhaps only the keenest of conspiracy theorists would have considered possible. Millions of church-goers handed off billions of their income to fake preachers with their own channel to the Big Man. Fat people spent bajillions on weightloss inventions only to end up obese and diabetic. Aging women ploughed credit-card loads of cash and bagfuls of silicon into their bodies only to end up looking like ancient clones.
Elections were interfered with by auto-didactic hackers now earning big bucks for using millions of data points against voters who had the attention span of less than the average goldfish, and less desire to seek the truth than have their thoughts delivered by private message by a far off bot.
Perhaps in future, historians of public health will identify November 8, 2016, as an auspicious date in the spread of Dunning-Kruger, offering unshakable evidence that the virus of stupidity had spread so far and wide there was nothing holding back its most crushingly imbecilic carriers from holding the highest public office in the land. In several functioning democracies, legions of undiagnosed sufferers came out to show off their thick-headedness by voting for the rich candidate that did the best job of influencing them by spreading a bunch of lies and hatred.
So started a three year period during which it became increasingly more difficult to tell what was real, what was fake, what was news and what the feck was going on. Watching it unfold from afar, day after day, one’s compulsive reaction was to yell at the [TV/laptop/phone] screen “are you underestimating my intelligence?” in my mother’s most annoyed voice. The national vocabulary shrank with every passing month, as did the size of the national media’s cohones for calling out Dunning-Kruger fuckery going on at the highest levels of government every day.
For the media themselves were showing a range of D-K symptoms, regardless of what the colour of their political leanings. Liberals spent twenty-four-seven asking if the spreader-in-chief was a liar, was lying, was telling lies, was not speaking the truth, was untruthing. It was more than their advertisers were worth to actually answer the burning question and besides, keeping an ever growing cadre of talking heads discussing it filled the twenty-four-seven cycle. Not answering that one question was also a sign of the underpinning stupidity that was bringing the credibility of many news agencies into sharp focus.
On another side were the official channels of nitwittedness, for whom the Dunning-Kruger virus had become an editorial standard and way of life. Their viewers were treated to an-all-you-can-eat buffet of ignorance, idiocy and ineptitude wrapped up in a bland, blonde bundle of bigotry, creating a new news reality that a certain strain of D-K sufferers could really get their teeth into. They perched smiling on couches, spewed their own facts, spat on science and sucked up every stupid word spouted by their king as he unleashed his lack of knowledge on a baffled political world.
Three long years of being governed by leaders with “poor self-awareness and low cognitive ability lead[ing] them to overestimate their own capabilities” seems like a lifetime. Hundreds of steps backward in terms of legislation for the environment; slicing and dicing of social programs and arts funding; institutionalised racism that was always there; hiring and firing of key staff over and over until every seat is empty or filled by a related-by-family Dunning-Kruger sufferer.
The nationalisation of stupidity looked to be almost complete when a majority of government decided to ignore all the evidence and find their D-K King not guilty of impeachable charges that Hollywood would have declined as way-too-obvious a plotline.
As Charles Darwin wrote in his book The Descent of Man in 1871, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” What could possibly stop the relentless march of Dunning-Kruger into the 2020 decade, before more lunatics succeeded in taking over the asylum.
It seemed there was no end to the pandemic of stupidity sweeping across Mother Earth.
But just as she decided to complain vociferously about the treatment levelled at her for the past few hundred years, by throwing back all that garbage we’d been hurling indiscriminately around her blue seas, the planet awoke to protect herself. Just as she took back precious species that man had ceased to care about and threatened others with similar extinction, Mother Earth conspired with The Universe to create a diversion from the politics of Dunning-Kruger.
At the end of 2019, in Wuhan, China, a pneumonia-type flu cluster was reported and started to be monitored by the world Health Organisation.
The novel coronavirus was named Covid-19 on Monday, February 17, 2020.
WHO declared Covid-19 “the first Coronavirus pandemic” on Wednesday, March 11, 2020.
As of today, April 21, 2020, the numbers are staggering.
So what to do? Well, Dunning-Kruger is just a type of cognitive bias, even if it has grown into a global pandemic. According to Intelligent Speculation, there are a number of ways to minimise the effects of this bias on yourself and the wider population.
“For this particular bias, it is important to stop and try to gain a more holistic perspective of the situation, wrote Jonathan Maloney just about a year ago to the day. “That is, you’re going to want to seek out as much information as possible about the particular topic of concern in an attempt to understand the bigger picture.”
In what seems now like a prophetic “how to fight Covid-19” advisory, Maloney continues: “What is more, it is important to seek out the science if it exists and seek out multiple, credible scientific authority figures who are informed about this particular topic. These scientific authority figures act as a conduit for the information coming from the community and will be able to tell you the conclusion(s) reached from all of the scientific evidence gathered to date on the topic. Instead of relying on first impressions or doing what your ‘gut’ is telling you, it is important to take these steps before making any decisions.”
Now who’s going to tell that to the Dunning-Kruger Dunderhead before they all die of a different pandemic altogether?
Staying at home twenty-four seven is a breeze, isn’t it though? Not at all like Quarantine-with-a-Capital-Q !
After two weeks semi-self-isolating in Belfast, followed by two of all-inclusive non-Covid-Certified hospital[ity] courtesy of Saint Lucia government, I’m just effervescent with enthusiasm for staying home, back in my little pad-with-a-panorama where, as it also turns out, there’s so much to do!
Of course, at this time of year, my vista of glory cedar and flamboyants is a little frazzled under the hot sun of the kawenm, helping far-off neighbouring houses to pop even more colourfully off the hillside. There’s barely a vehicle to be heard clambering up or down the disgracefully bumpy road that passes at a forty-five degree angle outside my building. But that’s usual enough in my quiet corner of Saint Lucia.
Choc Bay is still glistening and changing colour every hour around LiletWalcott-la. Day and night, clouds roll by – or don’t – in a constantly evolving skyscape. Flish-flashes from the Sir Richard Peterkin Lighthouse are still a mariners’ guide and reassuring landmark on my after-dark horizon.
The big avocado tree outside the balcony is throwing out little bud bouquets that will soon begin flowering to attract dozens of hummingbirds every day. By August, as with every year for the last fifty or so, she will bear dozens of head-sized, purple-skinned, butter-sweet zaboka. I’ll ask my landlord more about her history one of these days when he comes out of isolation.
In the pinky grey dawn, the same operatic birds wake me up as did before that crazy month separated me from this humble space. Is it just another stress-hormonal rush of affection for familiar surroundings and the squidgy cocoon of my own bed? Or maybe I’m really grateful for the haven of my home.
Perhaps the audible sigh of desperate relief is because, in another twist of The Universe, I’ve been in training for this Covid-19 pandemic for the past four years, living alone and working mainly from home. We were already growing club among my circle of friends in Saint Lucia and it was a great lifestyle for those of us who embraced the opportunity to set weird working hours against a fickle exercise schedule and demanding social life. Now literally half the world is doing it.
The first four days of my personal #StayHome #StaySafe campaign has been a liberty-fuelled, ergonomic-space-making, feng-shui-infused whirlwind of activity that would have made Martha Stewart’s maids turn chartreuse with envy, interspersed with big, snort-happy sleeps that don’t miss the background noise of that hotel TV. I have to say, so far so good in the chapter entitled ‘Cheer Up Sleepy Zen Homecoming Queen.’
It’s always dusty this close to the beach and after all, it’s been a whole month! Did I mention my wee nest is three minutes from the highway and three minutes from a beautiful little cove that’s almost always calm? Another reason I originally took the tiniest rental ever, when setting out at fifty-two to live alone for the first time.
About eighteen months ago, I literally went up in the world when a first floor flat was finally finished by my hard-working landlords. For a while I’d been sneaking past the building-supplies-barrier to maco it, smitten with the view as well as the opulent size, compared to the tiny-living I’d been practising downstairs. It was mine within the month and over the course of two days I single-handedly carried everything except the bed and desk upstairs .
Since then it’s become more of a sanctuary than I could ever anticipated. Restorative, productive and well-rooted with many friends and neighbours.
Except that all this week I’ve had a pervasive feeling it must all be written about in palatable chunks of quirky language, describing every detail of my escape from Q758 into 24/7 curfew, peppered with Looshish humour and ridiculous examples of human nature under extreme pressure. Something that sounds like me and around which even my wonderful boy can wrap his rare-reader’s attention span.
By Wednesday, my inner monologue was more annoying than an atrium full of animated Alexas, so I started to dismantle my ti kaye‘s two rooms and recreate the space with a plan that focused more on a permanent yoga space and less on the hot-pink blanketed bed-and-fourteen-pillows.
Inside my head, more #Quarantine #Team758 tips came tumbling to mind as the hours passed at the speed of a Whirling Dervish. Every good decorating idea was a paragraph in my ever-expanding-blogiverse. Every old photo invoked yet another welcome rush of memories and a family gallery wall was born.
Every new #MalletMeal [yep, my new favourite hashtag] was a source of proud amusement and re-purposing NEMO groceries was becoming a fine dining art. Every unearthed craft supply released a little shout of praise to Jah as another time-constructive, functional-art project was unleashed unto The Universe.
I realised the surreal newness and structure of being quarantined at a hotel had propelled a level of sharing unprecedented in my career. Trying to tell the story – as well as think things up to amuse myself – was part of the routine that sustained me for fourteen days, but now there was no reason to foist every domestic brainfart onto a corona-meme-exhausted public already at home for two weeks and more.
Taking steps to control any living-in-my-head-and-over-sharing tendencies, I put away the blog and threw everything behind the driving impetus to make a fresh start in this physical space. Suffice to say, since then there has been:
An absurd amount of Olympic-level cleaning and tidying for an apartment this size;
Rearranging of furniture and personal treasures to reflect mood in this new life episode, up to seven times between dawn and dusk;
An astounding level of creative cooking with cans, suddenly enhanced by the arrival of Big Chef multi-grain bread and fresh produce on Thursday afternoon;
Somewhat successful plant resuscitation strategies resulting in the Miracle of the Easter Bromeliads;
Demolition of the vertical cactus garden and reconfiguration as balcony allotment, starting from seed with spring onions, basil and sweet peas.
So now on Good Friday, April 10, 2020, it’s down to work, recalibrating my thoughts on life spent in isolation at home.
For about the past year I’ve been working from here most of the time, bar visits to multi-million dollar real estate investments or stays in a five-star luxury resort or conferences packed with the Caribbean’s brightest corporate directors – when I have to actually put on ‘outside clothes’ and show up.
Living alone and working at home is my speciality, so I guess I’ve got a head start on folks for whom it will offer challenges. Writing about it is new to me though, so what is my first piece of real advice for weathering the Covid-19 quiet storm as you #StayHomeAlone?
Be grateful for every little thing, every single day.
They say home is where the heart is, and for now we have no choice but to [re]discover the joys of our own private bolt holes, whether tiny-living or in spacious style. Imagine how many souls have no safe home to sleep in tonight, or any other night of their disenfranchised lives? Or the key workers who have to go about their business, risking their lives to keep us safe. Or the Saint Lucians stranded in other parts of the world who would give anything to be right here, right now.
There were two dark days among the fourteen. It would be a lie to pretend it was a breeze from end to end, and I stopped lying about my mental health a couple of years ago. On day nine, things started off with my favourite ritual of sitting on the balcony watching the pink, fluffy, post-dawn skyscape with coffee and a sense of wonder. I put everything into an early hour of Sri Sri yoga and followed up with his twenty minute guided meditation called, ironically as it turned out, ‘Contentment’.
Room service was bang on time and the chef had been particularly creative with the veggie breakfast, so I snarfed down the couscous-stuffed baked tomato and broccoli accras with relish – well, actually with the Baron’s pepper sauce that my lovely young friends had delivered early on. A daily dose of 100,000+ Scoville units was exactly what my tastebuds needed to remind themselves of their purpose, even if the searing scotch bonnets made by nose run every now and again.
The Nurses came around and declared another encouraging 95.7, admired my newly-gifted Saint Lucia t-shirt – the silky-soft blue one with that matched my newly cut-off jeans shorts so well – then continued on their morning round of knocking doors and pointing that super wee gadget at a hundred foreheads. For the nineteenth time, I was thankful not to have to stand there with a glass thermometer under my tongue, waiting for the mercury to slide into place. Even more so, not to have to bend over for that other type of temperature testing.
A bout of OCD room-cleaning came next, or at least a good wipe down with a damp handtowel to remove the layer of dust that seemed to settle every day on the wooden furniture. Where it came from was a mystery, but removing it gave me a sense of purpose and an insight into what our national cadre of room attendants dealt with on a massive scale during their crucial but under-appreciated careers.
Then I made the calamitous mistake of flicking on my phone and checking the latest social media malarkey. It was day one of Saint Lucia’s national 24/7 curfew, announced the previous evening in the PM’s address to the nation – or at least to those citizens who could be arsed to watch it. After the brutal news was delivered, a few of the quarant-inmates had made some noise from their balconies and broken the rule by whacking up the Dennery Segment decibels until late. I could hardly hold it against them, given the mostly stellar behaviour being exhibited around the block by then.
So it should have been no surprise to find the avalanche of polarised posts – swinging from appeals for god’s blessings on government to the poison-pen trolling that characterised Saint Lucia’s sectarian approach to politics. Clearly, many people were taken aback by the abruptness of the announcement. Just as clearly, some of them had had their dunderheads in the sand for the past week, since curfew had been introduced and swiftly extended due to the stinking anti-social behaviour of some of our citizens. Just as he’d promised on Sunday, March 29, such selfish acts of lawlessness would be the driving force for clamping down further. The man had just stuck to his promise.
The anxiety started ratcheting up notch by notch as I broke my own promise not to take ‘them’ onboard, then erupted full pelt as I speed-read a few of the lectures and homilies from the coulda-woulda-shoulda crowd. It’s one thing to accept that many prolific posters showed a lack of education and emotional intelligence. It’s another to swallow the self-important intellectual and political jousting of those who really do know better. In the USA, politically partisan covidiocy reigned supreme, with dire consequences already obvious to anyone who understood the term “exponential”. For their electoral sins, that didn’t include the Petulant President, who was still struggling to understand the scientific predictions in full view of the world.
At least our PM had a good grasp on the reality of the threat, even if he wasn’t quite fluent enough yet to convey it without notes. Our CMO was even more impressive and reassuring in her delivery, but the story was the same dire prophecy. This full lockdown was the plan for now, whether one hundred percent of the population agreed with the rationale or not. There would be a time for the naysayers to take retribution – at the ballot box, whenever that may be. For now, I wished wholeheartedly for some of my better-educated and influential online friends to find a different way to communicate for the duration of the next few weeks, when this little island was about to be slapped in the Pitons by something worse than a hurricane.
The tsunami of negativity broke me down and I gave in to a long bout of noisy, snotty sobbing that left my eyelids swollen like a busted boxer and did little to alleviate the anxiety. Thoughts of my ‘logical family’ in Gros Islet and Marisule sparked more internal churning and I inwardly cursed out the well-off ignorami that were up to their necks in self-absorption, while many poor people – who didn’t always have one meal a day in normal circumstances – were about to fall through a loose safety net being tightened in real time as new lessons were being learnt.
Messages came in that pandemic pandemonium was rife on our streets, and another level of anxiety formed around my feelings of relief that actually, it was easier to be stuck in this lovely hotel than if I were at home right now. As I howled into the clean, white-cased pillows on one of my two comfy beds, the result of a sleepless night came to my rescue, knocking me out for an hour of deep sleep before room service delivered lunch.
But even the normally-welcomed food seemed to be a trigger today. Rice and peas had been a regular repast from day one, and my Zen Queen self had joked about it while accepting that quarantiners couldn’t be choosers. One look at the boiled rice and yellow split peas set me wailing again, despite being disgusted at the shallowness of my reaction. Two spoonfuls sealed the deal by sticking in my throat. Today I will fast, whispered the Queen, because every disappointment is a blessing.
At which exact moment there was a knock at the door. With no option to ignore it without setting off a ‘missing inmate’ search party to hunt me down, I leapt to answer, copping a glimpse of myself in the mirror looking like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Bel Jou’s General Manager, Dean, was standing outside, eyes full of concern above his mask, asking “Miss Dee, you ok today? I haven’t seen you.”
There’s nothing like a little empathy to push me over the edge, so I let the tears flow and admitted it wasn’t a good day at all. I even shared my current inability to eat another split pea or grain of rice, despite understanding that the chef was working with limited means. He spoke a few simple words of comfort, pointing out that everyone was bound to have a dark moment or two. Then he asked what I would like to eat, and minutes later returned to my door with a huge green salad dripping with dressing, and I smiled for the first time since the Sri Sri yoga voiceover made me do it.
That gesture of thoughtfulness became the pivot I needed to get back to a better headspace, and the rest of the day was saved from being a blubfest of monumental proportions. When all this is through, I’m going to throw a party for the people at Bel Jou, and Dean will be the guest of honour. When he came back next morning to check on me, he found the Zen Queen had returned, and we had a wee laugh about the pressures of Quarantine-with-a-Capital-Q. Another lady had been having a bad day too, he admitted, so I gave him a bodice-ripper of a novel to pass on in the hope it would help.
Sure, what was there to cry about? Well, everything really, but it wasn’t going to work as a long term coping mechanism.
One of my favourite feels is arriving at a new destination in the dark and discovering what it looks like in the morning. I realised asking the receptionist for a room with a view had been a wasted joke. The carpark crowd that had been so tired, anxious and hungry were now waking up to a glorious vista over Bel Jou gardens and west to the familiar blueness of Caribbean sea and sky. Granted the first reaction of a few vocal locals was to stand on their balcony hollering their frustrations at the world in general, but we were all finding a personal strategy for coping.
It was Tuesday, March 24, and now I had an answer to all the wondering and worrying about what ‘Quarantine-with-a-capital-Q’ would look like. Let’s face it, two free weeks gazing at the ocean from a hotel room in Saint Lucia is on many people’s bucket lists, and here we were getting the full treatment courtesy of Covid-19 and the government. I decided to throw the full force of my Positive Pollyanna vibe behind every effort, and knuckled down to making this another life-learning experience, while regularly entertaining the folks on Facebook who had been / were still worried about me. Friends in the real sense, not just the social media type.
For the ninety-ninth time in a week, I praised Jah for internet, although the hotel wifi was already staggering under the weight of a hundred or so smart phones all trying to reach out to family or catch up with the news. Photos of my spacious room with its two double beds and private balcony-with-a-view were sent to the family Whatsapp chat, and their collective sigh of relief could be felt from the Dominican Republic to Belfast to Brighton and back home. Yes, there was a kettle for all that tea and coffee I’d been carrying and a fridge for Horley’s best grapes and cherry tomatoes. Yes, there were toiletries enough to keep me smelling sweet. Yes, there was definitely a TV but it would be rationed because I’d already overdosed on Corona-coverage for 48 hours in the UK and knew that watching the news would be an anxiety trigger to manage carefully. Especially here given that most of the news channels were CNN and couldn’t be relied upon for facts.
New routines would evolve around the room service schedule laid out in the official “welcome-to-quarantine’ letter that slid under the door. Breakfast around 8am, lunch around noon, and dinner around 6pm would become the high points of the day, or at least a time to speak to other humans from a safe distance. The staff were masked and gloved, efficient and friendly, despite having to put up with the odd tirade of expletives from a few ungrateful quarant-inmates who felt their human rights entitled them to the all-inclusive luxury package. Day one with no rum was not going well for some.
Room service arrived with eggs, bacon, sausages and a pile of toast. Outside I heard them yelling “what kinda [insert Patois curse here] breakfast was that?” while I rustled up a spare sausage sandwich to keep in the fridge for later. Hoarding would become an obsession – in a good way, because three massive meals a day was way too much for my travel-shredded digestive system to contemplate. It was another mind game to engage in, and games would be important if the two weeks were to be tolerable. Saving something for later would also mean I wouldn’t end up hungry and miserable at random times of the day or night, and the strategy led to some very creative snack options over the course of the first week.
I spent the first morning relieving my wheelie bag of a small pile of winter clothing, one t-shirt and a pair of old shorts I’d left in Belfast on a previous visit. Obviously ‘Hand-washing with Mindfulness’ would have to be on the regular itinerary, otherwise I’d end up living in jeans and woollies with the AC turned down to glacial. Exploring the amenities, I had to admit that life would be just fine in this space, as long as I continued rationing supplies and accessorised the room with scarves and personal artwork from my 5 year old nephew. I hadn’t seen my tiny-but-surprisingly-loud bluetooth speaker since arriving, but there it was, stuck in the wrong corner of the bag just trying to give me a heart attack. Drowning out the human noise outside would be key for my sanity, that much I knew.
Knock, knock. Who’s there? The Nurses. The Nurses who?
The Nurses who would be taking our temperature twice a day, every day for the next fourteen, that’s who! From here on, in my mind and written content, the term will be capitalized out of deep respect for every medical professional in this world at this time in history. They waved their gadget at my forehead, declared the number to be perfectly normal and exchanged a few kind words of assurance. They even got my sense of humour, and over the next few days felt like family, or at least close friends. By day five I was being called “behbeee” so I knew they liked me too.
The next visitor was bearing lunch, and that started another ritual of taking a photo of every meal, just in case I’d forget. Yeah, irrational, but when I line them all up at the end it’ll probably blow my mind. Five hours later there was dinner, and other than that I can’t remember those first twenty four hours in any detail now that we’re ten days into the vacation, I mean quarantine. But my routines evolved quickly to include morning yoga and meditation with The Art of Living community online, strategically timed cuppas, OCD-style tidying up and an hour of news in the evening to stay informed on the terrifying numbers coming in from around the globe. It wasn’t my favourite part of the day, but it felt like a responsible thing to do. Daily showering and skin care assumed spa session proportions – it’s amazing how long you can take washing your face and slapping on serum if there’s nothing else on the agenda.
So the first day was done and the great unknown was less unknown, which I find is always a better headspace. Of course there were a few things I hankered after, like real milk in my tea and cute nail polish, but those could wait a while longer. After all, every disappointment is a blessing and delayed gratification is good for the soul.