|Every Antiguan and Barbudan of a certain age would know the local proverb, “You done make (or grow), but you nah done spoil.” We chose to begin today’s column with this observation, because it is clear – to us, at least – that, in the words of a local artise, “when you nah know, you just nah know.” It is less clear to us, but maybe pellucid to the writer, that, godlike, he or she knows his or her future and has it squared away.|
We speak, specifically, to the recent story – full of inaccuracies though it was – carried in the online medium that broke the news that the Gender Affairs Minister and the first and only woman elected to the House of Representatives has been diagnosed with breast cancer. The story and much of the commentary that has since followed have caused us to wonder: “Is a person’s illness public news or private pain?”
Either way, the writer and hate-mongering bloggers have helped us to understand not only why politicians, regardless of their stripe, close ranks on occasion, but why so few women bother to enter political life at all. Their words, penned to sell news and sow discord, have shown us why some battered women do not seek counseling and why, even today, persons die of treatable diseases like HIV/AIDS rather than risk their business being bruited about by those from whom confidence and professionalism are expected.
It was about two weeks ago that the people of this nation – regardless of nationality, race, religion, or political affiliation – rejoiced upon hearing that two adults and two children had been found alive after their boat sank. The reaching out, whether through prayers, tears, or active participation in the search, warmed our hearts and reminded us of the biblical injunction to be our brother’s keeper. We believe we could be forgiven, then, for expecting no less when the news of our sister’s plight was forced into the national consciousness – and for feeling gravely let down since….
How has this nation of people, linked for generations by blood, marriage, association, and a cup of sugar passed over a fence, allowed what ought to have been a moment of shared humanity; a time to acknowledge that all of us are human, mere flesh and bone liable to disease and decay; an opportunity for sober reflection and gratitude that, this time at least, it is not “us,” to become cheap political, subhuman, diatribe? And at Christmas, no less… .
It was just the other day that a couple of our members, listening to the radio, commented that a politician’s life is a pitiable one. For whereas a dozen persons will cast the first stone, and the second, and the third at an MP for his shortcomings, his lack of competence or honesty, or his seeming indifference, not even those whom he has helped most will, in his defense, pick up a phone to say, “No, that is undeserved; no, that is untrue; no, that is unfair.”
It doesn’t matter how much money a politician has taken out of his pocket to help a constituent buy medication; how many times a representative has gotten a poor student transferred to a “Top 100” school; the value of the duty-free concessions a minister has granted a business owner; or the number of scholarships or plots of land he has helped a family to access…. When the chips are down, the Big Cheese usually stands alone, unless he has managed, somehow, not to have sacrificed his family – after five years of missing PTAs, school plays, trips to the barbershop, birthdays and anniversaries – to public life, or with the necessarily furtive support of his colleagues – on both sides of the aisle – who, all too well, would know what isolation feels like.
The “news article,” we noted, focused less on the minister’s diagnosis than on the fact that, seemingly, she had not sought that medium’s permission to be out of office, and significantly more on her alleged “huge and mounting” medical bills in the USA, with which she is being assisted by the Medical Benefits Scheme. That the minister is very much on island and not hospitalized anywhere, at present, suggests very much to us that this article was inspired more by malice than by any “right of the public” to know…. .
As annoying and unprofessional as assumptions are in the regular course of journalism, we believe that in matters of illness, the right of all persons to privacy and the comfort and counsel of their family is preeminent. And it has long been our custom, in Antigua & Barbuda, to lower our gaze respectfully, in the presence of sickness and death, and to intone, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Are we prepared to depart from that, our noble and Christian tradition, to sell “story” and “take sides?”
Are we, a people who have fried fish, barbecued chicken, raffled cakes, and walked scores of miles to raise funds for those whom we know and don’t know – whether they were born afflicted, had accidents, or fell prey to disease – now prepared to say to one whose navel string is buried in Antiguan soil, whose achievements are written in Antiguan stone, and whose employee number appears on the MBS rolls, “Not you?” We know, as all our readers would, that for every person who has been unsuccessful at receiving the assistance they seek, four have found relief, if not at MBS, then from the Treasury, via Cabinet, at great cost – as politicians of both stripes would attest if truth were as easily broadcast as falsehood.
… As an organization of women, for women, we have been encouraging women to get involved in political life, to serve not only as foot soldiers but to aspire to horsemanship and leadership, as well. Few have answered that call, and understandably so; hence, those that do, and do so successfully, deserve our support. Hence, POWA uses this medium to further extend our support for the Gender Affairs minister at a time when it counts most, as we have done, for 15 years, for the women of this country, whether they achieve or fall short; ride high or are brought low; are unempowered or stride the corridors of power.
Hence, we do not ask for whom the bell tolls, for we know it tolls for you, it tolls for me… .