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Dialect Commentary, Cricket Controversy and Turquoise Waters A Letter from Barbados


It was a blow to Barbados tourism when the U.S. State Department issued an advisory notice last month about the dangers of rising crime in that Caribbean island, but Lickmout' Lou had a characteristically snappy riposte.

"Tell yuh," said she, " -- um is a good t'ing Buhbayduss don' warn Bajans 'bout crime in de United States, 'cause de crime 'bout hey like a Sunduh-school picnic when yuh compare it wid de kin' o' t'ings dat does happen over dey, 'cording to de statistics!"

Lickmout' Lou is a commentator for the newspaper Barbados Advocate. She could not exist in a country like the United States, where her exaggerated dialect and the caricature portrait that adorns her column would be regarded as racist stereotyping.

But Barbados -- population 260,000 and independent of British colonialism since 1966 -- has a mostly black citizenry and a

black-run government. So Lou's brand of commentary passes for satire.

She was in good form recently, lampooning Prime Minister Erskine Sandiford, who had appeared on a television news clip innocently relaxing at a picnic. "Yuh should see Sandi," crowed Lou, "happy as a lark, layin' down 'pon 'e back, huggin' up a constituent an' grinnin' from ear to ear."

Lou also teased us with the broad outlines of a financial scandal. Apparently, "one of de big-ups in one o' dem well-known churches dat does specialize in altar-calls" had used church funds to build himself a house, said Lou, "an' de church-board done haul 'e up Tuesday night and ban 'e from preachin' fuh life."

But on The Great Cricket Snub, Lickmout' Lou was silent.

Incredible! The Great Cricket Snub is the paramount issue this spring in Barbadian civic discourse. Barbados, though it lies only a couple hundred miles from Venezuela, has been called "Little England." The centrality of cricket is the only possible reason for this sobriquet, unless you think that balmy weather and spicy food are quintessentially British.

For Lickmout' Lou to have no wisecrack about it is the equivalent of Justice Clarence Thomas' claim that the abortion arguments are all new to him.

Well, then, here's what happened:

Anderson Cummins, tall, lanky, young and gifted with a whip arm, is the Ben McDonald of Barbadian cricket. That is, he is a raw, unproven talent, but everybody knows -- at least everybody in Barbados faithfully believes -- that he is cricket's next BTC superstar. How could, then, he have been overlooked when an all-star team representing all the islands of the West Indian archipelago was chosen to play a special match against South Africa?

Mr. Cummins himself made becomingly modest statements to the effect that he would redouble his efforts in the future to be a credit to his island.

The great, the near-great and the sportswriters of Barbados were less gracious. Cricket selectors, they agreed, were notoriously stupid, yet simple stupidity could hardly account for so monstrous an injustice as this. More likely, (the great, the near-great and the sportswriters agreed) it was yet another act of overt anti-Barbados bigotry. This alleged bigotry, it must be noted, could have no racial component, since the cricket-playing West Indies is almost exclusively black. It is island chauvinism; the cricket team as presently constituted, one Barbadian complained, has "too many Antiguans."

Various remedies to redress the outrage were advanced.

Immediately, there was a boycott of the South African match, which ended up costing sponsors several hundred thousand dollars. For the long term, a quota system was proposed -- allotting places on the West Indian team by proportional representation of the various Caribbean islands. Saner voices pointed out that since Barbados is blessed with more than its share of brilliant cricketers, a quota system would only serve the interests of the less-favored islands.

One commentator hinted darkly that the cricket selectors were in cahoots with the International Monetary Fund. This suggestion was intended facetiously, but it did neatly yoke two supreme villains. Barbadians (Bajans for short) despise the IMF almost as much as they do the cricket selectors.

That's because the IMF won't lend Barbados money unless it has some confidence that Barbados will repay it. This means that Barbados must satisfy the IMF that it is running its economy according to the IMF's favored free-market principles. And that means some austerity in the domestic economy, which, of course, is politically unpopular.

But "Sandi" -- that is, Prime Minister Sandiford -- is sanguine, according to Lickmout' Lou. He is leaving the worries to "de Central Bank guv'nor, Kurleigh King," she says: "Sandi en got a wrinkle in 'e face."

Barbados tourism already was suffering from the American recession. Tourist visits and dollar receipts remain well below the 1987 peaks. Some restaurants, in the interests of bringing in trade, have relaxed their stuffy coat-and-tie standards. Others have pretty girls working the streets as shills, waving menus at tourists to lure them inside.

Thus the State Department advisory about crime in Barbados was a considerable blow. There have been a couple of spectacular recent incidents. In one case brigands set up a roadblock to stop tourists and rob them. Another incident involved a shootout at the home of an American diplomat -- the kind of thing that gets the State Department's attention.

Still, one can question whether Barbados is really more dangerous than, say, Ocean City. There, too, you would lock your hotel room and you wouldn't leave your belongings unattended on the beach -- the sort of precaution the State Department is recommending to tourists traveling to Barbados.

Everything else about the island remains delightful. The white coral sand of the beaches is easy on the eyes and soft on the feet. The vegetation is lush and the waters turquoise. The sun is said to shine 3,000 hours a year. That means nearly all day, every day, even in the summer rainy season.

That sun is strong enough, only 13 degrees north of the Equator, to damage all but the most cautious of tourists -- Bajan natives carry umbrellas as sun-screens when they walk by day -- yet the climate is not hot. The gentle Trade Wind breezes keep the tempteratures year-round within a half-dozen degrees of 80.

In George Washington's day the salubriousness of the climate ++ was so highly regarded that he took his tubercular brother Lawrence to Barbados for a cure. (Lawrence improved; George got smallpox.)

And the cricket is the world's finest. The match against South Africa was one of the most thrilling tests in years, with the West Indian home side snatching improbable victory from the jaws of apparently certain defeat. The heroes, awkwardly, were two players selected in preference to the snubbed Barbadian hero. Alas, because of the boycott, only 400 fans (in an arena that holds 12,000) watched the miraculous finish.

MA Oh, well. As Lickmout' Lou says: "Till nex' week, God bless."

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