On the Taste of Sand

The ostrich is a lovely bird. Big. Flightless. Beautifully feathered (as we should know, as many of their feathers adorn Junkanoo costumes). Fast.

And much maligned.

Ostriches, according to legend, ignore danger by burying their heads in the sand. (The fact that they do not do this in actuality is neither here nor there; what matters today is that people think they do.) So, according to legend, instead of running or fighting when they’re threatened, they simply stick their heads underground and wait for the problem to go away.

The ostrich, not the flamingo, should be our national bird.

I’m not talking about the size of ostrich eggs, or the fact that an ostrich can outrun even Tonique Williams-Darling (they can apparently clock up to 31 mph in speed), or even the fact that an ostrich could be turned into a great Junkanoo costume. I’m talking about the head-burying thing.

We Bahamians could beat the ostrich at its own game. And I’m not talking about politicians here. I’m talking about us all. After all, politicians these days react far more to interest group interests or public pressure than they initiate great things. So the more we dig little holes in the sand for the heads of our leaders, the deeper they’ll bury them.

Let’s just list some of the issues that are pressing our nation today. Perhaps most urgent is the question of what we call euphemistically “the immigration problem”, but which we all know is really the massive presence of Haitians in The Bahamas. They have changed the landscape of our country, we complain. They’ve changed the personality of our people, who are imagined by Bahamians older than me to be passive and non-violent by nature (though I’m not so certain about that). They crowd our public services, they use up our taxes, they’re eroding our culture.

Now I am not at all convinced that the issue is as simple as all that, but for the sake of this article, let’s just say it’s so. What’s been our reaction to this problem? We haven’t changed our solution in almost forty years. And the problem has not only not disappeared, it’s got worse, far worse. The reason for its worsening is not that Haitians are bad people. It’s that we have not accepted, or implemented, a solution that will actually work. Our heads are firmly planted in the sand here, and our tails are waggling in the air.

But that’s not the only issue that affects us. Another one is the question of world trade. Whether we sign treaties or remain isolated, we have to deal with it — not simply at the Ministry of Finance’s level, but at the level of every vendor in the nation. And in fact, it’s rarely the vendors who have to be educated about world trade; after all, they obtain their wares, most of them, from all over the world. It’s the bureaucrats and lawmakers who need to be inserted into the global context so that our laws and our regulations become relevant again.

But are we engaging with the issue and struggling with it and talking about it and carving out a solution that will ensure that we will remain as prosperous in the next fifty or so years of our history as the mid-century Sands-Christie economic model allowed for the last half a century? (If you don’t know which Sands and which Christie I’m talking about, go read up on Bahamian history of the twentieth century and find out. Hint: Not Michelle; not Perry.) No. We’re digging holes for our politicians’ heads, and sticking them firmly into them. Don’t look at regional affiliations, we’re shouting; we don’t want no foreign workers. And so: heads buried, tails waving, we stench in the mid-twentieth century, with the millennium racing past us.

I could go on to talk about Junkanoo, which has reached a crisis of its own — desperately in need of a new model of governance, but stymied by the reluctance of politicians, civil servants and Junkanoo leaders alike to let go of even a little of their power, and sponsorship and public support eroding . Or I could talk about Bahamian culture in general, which is in dire need of some kind of statutory, institutional body to oversee its development. In a world in which our children have been enculturated by television and film to be fractured North American clones, we continue to believe that it is possible to administer cultural activity from an understaffed division in a ministry whose first interest has, from its creation, been sports. Or I could talk about the cumbersome and ineffectual nature of our educational system, which was created by duplicating the worst of the colonial model and which eradicated the best. Today, we choose rather to assign police officers to high school campuses instead of seeking fundamental reform.

Our collective heads are buried so deep in the sand that we are blinding ourselves with the sediment.

It’s a myth, you know, that ostriches bury their heads in the sand. Ostrich lovers decry the myth as a slander of enormous proportions.

But not to worry.

We Bahamians can bury our heads with the best of them. Our heads are so firmly planted in the dusts of the desert that we had better learn to love the taste of sand.