I have had the fortune to be born and raised in one of the planet’s “paradises” – the beautiful island of Antigua.
Our mainstay industry of tourism has been affected in recent times not only by negative press and hurricanes, but by the recent world economic crisis and added air passenger duties. But we struggle on.
Every tourist is welcomed, every tourist is needed – and, with some exceptions, every tourist leaves us wanting to return.
On a gloomy Monday, the weather didn’t stop our perseverance to take our families down a nostalgic route of memory lane.
We started off with some old time favourites where our grandmother used to take us to buy, almost three times a week – items for tea.
At the Silver Streak Bakery we bought bun, butter and cheese, sausage roll, chicken patties, butter flaps, “currents” roll, and “bread puddin.”
To take in some history way before my time, we decided to go to Shirley Heights. The revelation of the school history book text that our kids now learn in Grenada started the questions. Who fought here Dad? What was this building used for?
One thing we forgot to buy this day were drinks so a stop at Shirley Heights Lookout was in order.
The closed door sign read a welcoming “Please Come In.” I have to say, it seemed like the bartender needed a vocal crow bar to get the words “Welcome to Shirley Heights,” out of her craw. We replied with a friendly hello.
My sister kindly asked for a key to the washroom, as the ones to the front were locked. The bartender once again, reached for the vocal crow bar but this time, with twisted lips and rolled eyes uttered something that needed to be repeated twice for the lack of understanding on my sister’s part.
She then realised that she was being told to use the washroom at the end of the building and not the ones to the front of the building.
My sister and I looked at each other, and with mental telepathy wondered what was wrong with this woman, really.
Another female employee came into the bar at this time and to the disappointment of my ears, I heard the bartender say to her, “Dem betta hurry up an arda cuz right now and so me ready fuh go home.”
Being in the service industry myself, it took me some seconds to process whether we really wanted to inconvenience her and spend our money here, so we decided that we really didn’t need this and walked out.
We strolled to the edge of the wall for the panoramic view to take some pictures as every tourist and local does.
I thought it was my duty to stroll over to the female employee who walked into the bar, who looked more senior than the bartender, and who was now on the outside, to tell her of my disappointment in the bartender’s attitude toward business. She apologised saying, “Oh my, I am terribly sorry, I am very sorry.”
The bartender who was putting away her cash in the office by now, carried on a conversation with someone that I could hear through the slatted louvers, saying that she wouldn’t be surprised that she would be reported.
As she walked back outside, she was taken by surprise that I was right there. She asked me politely now, if we got to use the washroom. At this point, my sister was en route whilst my wife and two of my kids were already at the door of the said washrooms.
All of a sudden a burst of extremely loud and demeaning colloquial jargon filled the air, “You must be crazy, suppose I just decide to lock you up in here. You think I going to wait until six o’clock for you to finish what you have to do? Look I ready to go home, I done finish clean up inside here.”
This female employee, who was changing her clothes, was now launching a personal attack on my wife for using the bathroom.
I promptly returned to the office to inform them of what was happening and that I was going to take the matter up with the Board of Tourism or specifically National Parks because this type of customer service can not work anywhere, much less a frequently visited historical site, a tourist destination on the island.
The verbal attacker brought the eruption to the middle of the place now where she turned to me and made the mistake to tell me that I couldn’t bring my American ways here. What ways was she referring to, a natural body function to rid the system of urea? Or maybe too, having something to drink?
Well at this point, I honestly couldn’t hold back my response, to which my unfortunate reply to her was that I was a f***** Antiguan, to which she responded, “Well yuh nuh look so.” Totally bewildered, I had to ask, so I shouted back, “Is it because I’m white?”
Don’t play the race card and not expect to get an impulsive reaction or retaliation! So it is at this juncture, I will ask, can you tell me what an Antiguan is supposed to look like?
My blood was boiling, I was shaking like a leaf, my voice trembled, I was so upset! As we walked off my brother-in-law, who too was insulted of his nationality was just as upset and told her too that she was f***** rude.
Thank God, that an American, tourist couple with their family had left this place just moments before. We take the opportunity now to apologise for cursing off this woman.
A telephone call to Lookout’s later that evening resulted in an apology from her. I was asked to put my 10-minute conversation to letter. For a relatively small establishment, this surprised me.
I thought that a simple telephone call would do. As an embarrassed Antiguan, I wouldn’t take valuable time to express my concern, if I didn’t think it important.
The restaurant and bar at Shirley Heights Lookout has been in existence with its present owner for over 30 years now and, in her own words, this classes her beyond a simple business but more as an institution, that must be doing the right thing for its success.
For the importance and sake of a leased National Park site, I hope that the “right thing” is done for the continuity of Shirley Heights Lookout and for the success of our island nation as a whole.
Editor’s note: We contacted Shirley Heights for a response. This is what managing director J Valerie Hodge said: “Every story has at least two sides. Mr Minors did telephone me offering his side of the story and I offered apologies on behalf of my organisation. However Mr Minors appears not to be interested in a solution.
“I too am grateful that the couple to whom he referred did not witness the exchange, since the language used by Mr Minors would not have spoken well of us as Antiguans.
“For Shirley Heights Lookout, this represents an unfortunate incident in a 31-year history of service excellence.”