Lessons from Montserrat

 Recently, I had the privilege of visiting Montserrat for the first time.  Briefly, it is a small British overseas territory, just west of Antigua and because of issues with its active volcano, Montserrat has seen its population shrink through emigration, from 13 000 to about 4 700 now.  The volcano is on the southern part of the island and most of the population lives in the North-West in a ‘safe zone’.  Aside from the occasional ash cloud, which has not really happened in about a year and 3 months I am told, life continues as normal for this island which is said to resemble coastal Ireland.

After I finished my business for the day, I coincidentally met up a Trini who works there.  Ishwar Persad works with the Montserrat Tourist Board and I could not resist chatting with him on the differences between life in Montserrat and life in Trinidad.

Ishwar gave me a list of things he loves about Montserrat, but two jumped out at me.  Firstly, Montserrat is a time capsule in that it is among the very few islands that represent what a true Caribbean holiday used to be like (before massive cruise ships, casinos and hotels took over).  Ishwar explained that its people are warm, humble and crime is virtually non-existent.   

Secondly, Ishwar pointed out that there are no fast food chains, nor any traffic jams.  I would add to that, no traffic lights and no people rushing down the shoulder of the roads and trying to cut in.  Montserrat has no fast food chain restaurants, but among the local delicacies are sumptuous lobster burgers, fried mountain chicken (frog legs) or goat water (like an Irish Stew but with goat meat chunks).        

Unfortunately, I did not get to stay as long as I would have liked, but Montserrat reminded me of how I imagine life would have been in parts of Trinidad decades ago.  Yes, we in Trinidad have many more material things.  But have we surrendered our quality of life in exchange for material things?  Let me tell you just three things I liked most about Montserrat.

Firstly, I notice that people were not taking their keys out of their cars.  It was not just those people who left their cars running while popping into a shop or to quickly see a friend.  I saw cars parked and switched off but with the keys still in the ignition.  As I thought about it, I wondered about the process by which we as Trinidadians began to consider it normal when we heard about or witnessed someone taking something that they did not work for.  When was the exact moment in time when bars on windows or what we call ‘burglar proofing’, become the norm, rather than the exception?

Secondly, people were genuinely polite.  Not pushy or intrusive, but polite and respectful.  I was greeted with the three words ‘welcome to Montserrat’ by both the immigration officer in the tiny airport and the taxi driver.  But beyond those whom we assume have had some sort of tourism awareness training, even the lady selling food from a small road side shop, displayed common courtesy that is not as common as we would like here in Trinidad.
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Thirdly, there was very little, if any, visible litter.  I was looking for those plastic bottles that seem to have become part of our landscape here in Trinidad.  As I learned years ago as a student at Rosary Boys primary school, the way we treat our environment is only a reflection of how we see ourselves. 

A friend of mine here in Trinidad likes to remind me that tourism is really about making things attractive for locals first.  Once we are confident and happy about who we are and where we live, that is when we could properly and proudly host visitors.  Visitors would include locals and foreigners.  Until that happens, no amount of training or marketing would mask the deeper issues that continue to challenge us as we evolve.

We are still a young society and perhaps these are the necessary growing pains.  Only time will tell.  If however, you need a gentle reminder of how life used to be, do visit Montserrat.  All the information you need is available on a very comprehensive destination website – http://www.visitmontserrat.com/

My name is Derren Joseph and I love my country. As always, I end by saying that despite our challenges, we are so blessed to live in this beautiful land. Let us continue to have the audacity of hope in the future of our beloved country. 

Derren is a travel and tourism consultant. The views and opinions expressed here are solely the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of any company or institution affiliated with the writer.

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