The lean season



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The season here in Antigua is long. It starts with the Charter Boat Show at the first week of December and lasts to the first week of May. A good 5 - 6 months. When Antigua Race week is over in May the boats head for home in Northern America or Europe. Some on their own keel others opting for the less sporty alternative being carried across the ocean on a purpose build ship. With the boats gone most of the work disappear and the islanders are left to themselves. Restaurants close down for the summer, the varnishers and day workers don't come around anymore and the laundry ladies doze most of the day under a favorite tree. It is the lean times. Only the diehards are still around; a couple of cruising boats and the locals, black and white.  The rest follow the herd or travel to a safe hurricane hole further south where beer is cheap and there might be some work to be found.


Antiguan economy

Antigua is an expensive island. The cost of living here is comparable to Northern Europe. This is caused by the fact that most things have to be imported as there is not much farming here, and that the EC Dollar, the local currency, is pegged to the USD. I am no Economist, but it seems to me that locking the ECD to the USD inflates the cost.  The locals in the yachting industry are left with a few months to earn enough to live the whole year on a high cost island. My friend Speed worked two weeks last year and maybe a little more this year. Maybe not typical but not so far from reality for many. So how do they survive?


Most of all it is the limited expectations to material things. Islanders are used to a simple life. Having a car, a house, a cabin, a boat, holiday, PC, .... is not really an option. You can do without. In Norway I find it sometimes rather shocking what people have. Our houses, lofts and garages are full of useless things, things we never use and never needed, some of which we are completely unaware that we have in the first place.


But it is also easy to be fooled by the two price system on the island; there is one price for the locals and another for the outsiders. What is at first glance prohibitively expensive might not be as bad when you are inside the system. If you live here you know where to get your vegetables or groceries for a more affordable price.


Where the two price structure is very obvious is in property. I spoke to a local entrepreneur this other night at the pub. He said he could build a house, tear it down and rebuild it if the owner did not like it, and still earn good money. Houses here for outsiders are sold for a million dollars or more. Building cost are only a fraction of that. Locals however do not live in large houses. They are happy with something small as long as it has a veranda and a bit of a breeze. In this climate who could ask for more? They are also largely self sufficient and build their own homes when the time comes. Just as the tradition used to be in Norway not so long ago.


We where invited home to a friend, Cassandra, this other day. I have known her since 1984. She had just build herself a new house with her husband. It had two bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room. Maybe 40 square meters. It was situated high up on the hill with stunning views of the harbor and the hills. It was built of wood painted in bright colors. We can see it from the boat where we are anchored in Falmouth bay. They had built it themselves even the furniture. They where justifiably proud of it, especially their bed and cabinetry with wood carvings and ornaments. The workmanship was of a high standard. We felt honored to have been invited in.


There is also a parallel economy at work here in Antigua. Many grow a bit in their garden, on a empty hillside or pick fruits in the forest. Some do a little fishing either to fill the larder or to barter for other things they might need. Antigua still offers the freedom to do these things. Our friend Speed visits every now and then. Sometimes he brings an avocado or a mango or something else that might be in season that he has picked on the way. He is as many of the Antiguans we have met very generous and shares the little he has. Even Byron the local begger gives us a fruit he has picked sometimes as a gift. Sometimes I feel Speed to too much for us.  He even washed our boat before I came home from a business trip in Norway last. He wanted it all to look ship shape. To be paid for it was out of the question; we are friends are we not?


Ambitious people here work hard to better themselves like anywhere else. Sandra at the coffee shop has two jobs. One at the coffee shop and one in a high end restaurant at the other end of the island. She works every single day, Saturdays and Sundays included. She says those who have should share with those who do not have, and drives us to school every morning. She has a car, we do not.

The Baily family is another example as they run a boat yard, a supermarket, a Jam factory and a super yacht marina among other businesses. Another local lady understood the lazy attitude of Europeans ( in contrast to the locals?) and saw a business opportunity. She delivers West Indian Roti (a pancake filled with curry) to all the boats at lunch time. She sells everything she can carry. It tastes great.


It is true however that many have ambitions but not that many possibilities as the economy is very small. Antigua only has app. 65000 inhabitant. Cassandra has a degree in psychology and used to work in counseling on Jamaica. Now she works at the supermarket. There just isn't that many jobs around. She still does not feel her degree was a waste and her daughter is now ready to start university. She aims for a major in clinical psychology. She will study at the University Of The West Indies in Trinidad. The willingness to move around is great if the opportunities are better somewhere else.


Antigua has many parallel realities living shoulder to shoulder, also economical ones. You have the filthy rich and the utterly poor, the mega stars and the down-and-out crack heads. The interesting thing is that we all co-exists and interact.


Rasta man Georgie is a true Rasta. He lives of the land in harmony with nature and the people around him. His message is Love to all. At the end of the season he found work. Something many would have grabbed with both hands. Not so for Rasta man Georgie as this represented a moral dilemma for him. As a true Rasta he is not to be part of the capitalist system. He is to live of whatever the land has to offer. So when he rushed off to work the first morning he had a strong need to explain himself. There was nothing wrong in honest work was it? The following days he did not have time to chat at all as he rushed off to work early in the morning. He was notably proud of his work and passing the boat he worked on during the day I witnessed what an effort he put in. I do sense however that he is more relaxed now as he has time for his beloved horses again. He keeps five race horses, and lives on one of the best properties in English Harbor. That these assets could be converted into hard cash does not even exists as a faint possibility in his world.


News letters

This site was last updated 31-05-2006 18:58:21