In a few short days, 2019 will be in the books, and bells will peal at many houses of worship to usher in 2020. This year is gone, never to be repeated. As in years past, 2019 had its fair share of risks and rewards, its moments of agony and ecstasy, its joys and its sorrows. In the spirit of giving thanks in all things, we can truly say, O God, our help in this year past! Of course, as the sands of time leak out on 2019, it is useful to take a backward look at the triumphs and failures. It is instructive to see what worked and what did not. What strides were made, and what were the stumbling blocks. And why were our spirits cast down?
Perhaps more than anything else, this year will be remembered as a year in which so many of our loved ones transitioned to the Great Beyond. With hearts burdened with grief, even as we return thanks for their lives and legacies, (and in no particular order) we think of Hiram Warner, Judge Albert Redhead, Vincent ‘Tubby’ Derrick, Freeston Thomas, Carissa Chandler, Mary Quinn, Edris Michael, Cecil George John, Rolston Edwards, Marjorie Edwards Abbott, Helen Edwards, Baldwin ‘Bambi’ Bell, Taitu Goodwin, Ephraim John, Jill Davis, Reverend Uriah Sheppard, Violet Sheppard, Sylvester Edwards, Dr. Prince Ramsey, Joseph ‘Sympo’ Josiah, Dagan Shield, Vaughn Walter, Ivy-Jean ‘Sandy’ Rose, Cyril ‘September’ Christian Linton O’Marde, former MP Henderson Simon, Dame Yvonne Maginley, Winston Phoenix, Cicely Davis, Peggy Arrindell, Carlton Samuel, Jose Samuel, Innocent Gotha Edwards, John Edwards, Ricky Nanton, Stuart Griffith, and so many others whose names we fail to mention. Nonetheless, we mourn with the bereaved families and celebrate the moments that they spent with us. They’ve left a void in our hearts that can never really be filled. To be sure, “They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. To the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them!” [FOR THE FALLEN by Laurence Binyon]
Notwithstanding the number of persons who went on to their eternal reward, there were many who were touched in a real way by our good Lord, and mercifully, they are still with us. We can think of our dearest Ava ‘Sassy’ Mckenzie and Denise Francis. Seems, much more is wrought by prayer than this world dreams of. And speaking of prayer, let us ever keep our stricken Calvin Southwell in our fervent thoughts and prayers. We must also bear up the family from the Villa Area whose home went up in smoke a little over a week ago.
Switching gears, here are some of the lowlights of this past year, many of which were the result of egregious faults of our own. Here goes:
The recovery effort on our sister isle continued at snails’ pace, so much so, that the Chinese Ambassador to our blessed land, Mr. Sun Ang, lamented the unacceptable and unconscionable morass in Barbuda, and he as much as scolded the central government According to our DAILY OBSERVER report of November 14, 2019, “Ambassador Sun told Observer media that he is a bit bemused that there were so many donations given and agreements signed, yet there were also many reports of a lackadaisical approach to the execution. This he says is reason for concern.” He also pledged to visit Barbuda on a fact-finding mission to ascertain the progress of the recovery effort, or lack thereof. We submit that he will not like what he sees, and we trust that he will continue to be outspoken with his displeasure. After all, there is nothing to concentrate the mind of an unfocused, yet Chinese-dependent administration, like a threat from the Chinese.
The woe-begotten YIDA project with its callous desecration in the North East Marine Management Area (NEMMA), continues to be a sore point for environmentalists and many Antiguans and Barbudans who remain troubled over such issues as restricted access, sovereignty and environmental conservation. The YIDA project, as well as the infamous illegal sand-mining off Maiden Island, are major blots on the pages of this year. We also suggest that the dastardly Global Ports agreement, and the official handing over of our patrimony and sovereignty last week, is a sell-out that will long live in infamy.
The excruciatingly slow debacle on the Sir George Walter Highway and the Friars Hill Road was also quite vexatious to Antiguans and Barbudans. What an unadulterated mess! Based on the bumbling and fumbling by Bahamas Hot Mix, it is safe to say that this unfunny comedy of errors will be with us well into next year. It is not a happy prospect. Neither is the prospect of the dreadful water shortages. And the recurring electrical outages. We had more than our fair share this year. The routinely late payments of salaries and pensions was also quite annoying, and the inconveniences provided Antiguans and Barbudans with much agita.
Of course, it was not all doom and gloom. The opening of the fourth landed campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) at Five Islands was certainly the highlight of the year. Many thought that that dream would never become a reality, but Prime Minister, Gaston Browne and his team persisted against tremendous odds, and university education is now more affordable and more readily available to Antiguans and Barbudans, and others in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States. To those who made it happen, we say ‘Bravo!’
The safe and triumphant return of TEAM ANTIGUA ISLAND GIRLS after a three-thousand-mile rowing trek across the treacherous Atlantic was also one for the ages. Kevinia Francis, Christal Clashing, Samara Emanuel and Elvira Bell bravely went against the odds and retraced the involuntary steps of our ancestors for a worthy charity, the Cottage of Hope. We salute them!
We also salute Rahkeem ‘Jimbo’ Cornwall who also defied the odds and the ‘nay-sayers’ and did us proud in international cricket. His victory is ours (we all rooted for him; at least, most of us did), and it speaks to our ‘can-do’ spirit. It is an inspiration! And we certainly cannot forget Shawnisha Hector who became the first Antiguan female to play for the West Indies. You go girl! And you too, Haley Derrick and Selah Wiltshire who broke all sorts of records in swimming. And speaking of records, Leyton Martin and Noah Mascall-Gomes also distinguished themselves at this year’s swim meets. Cejhae Greene also lifted our spirits when he won bronze at the Pan-Am Games and broke the Central America and Caribbean record in the 100 metres dash. Oh, and there was Bernard Percival Jr. who became the first Antiguan to compete in the Arnold Classic bodybuilding competition, and was the first to win a professional bodybuilding and weightlifting show in the United States.
Then there was Shannakisha Francis, our Antiguan beauty who snagged the local and Caribbean Queen crowns. There she is, Miss Antigua and Barbuda, and Miss Jaycees Queen! Clearly, Antigua and Barbuda ought never to be counted out because we have a remarkable ability to rise to every occasion. We have it within us to do great and wonderful things!
Meanwhile, the installation of new handsome compartmentalised trash receptacles in St. John’s proper was also a quantum leap forward this year. As was the continuing effort against single-use plastics and dining and drinking accoutrements. The historic PLAY IT OUT TO PHASE IT OUT concert was also a huge plus, and Antiguans and Barbudans, after some initial criticisms, have taken to the new environmental thrust and ‘pitching in’ nicely.
The Emancipation Watchnight event by the Antigua and Barbuda Reparations Support Commission (ABRSC) at the Botanical Gardens was also quite an uplifting and moving celebration of our ancestors. So too was the historic one-day Reparations symposium, WESTERN BANKING, COLONIALISM and REPARATIONS, hosted by the ABRSC, with stirring addresses from PM Browne, Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice Chancellor of the UWI, Professor Verene Shepherd, and other scholars. Kudos to the ABRSC! The struggle continues . . .
Clearly, it was a year with much to celebrate, even as there were some distressing lowlights. But we press forward. Our fight for a fairer and brighter Antigua and Barbuda will continue in 2020. Here’s wishing all Antiguans and Barbudans a most delightful and productive New Year. May we use the failures of the past year as stepping stones to success! And of course, may God ever bless this land so dear to us!