Bright sands and sparkling waters, this is Anguilla. When I was nine years old, we learned this and other lyrics. We were given little Anguillian flags to wave. Our teachers brought us out in dutiful lines. Everyone was in their firmly pressed school uniform; boys’ hair cut low and neat, girls’ hair coaxed into pleasing plaited rows. We rowed the road and the Queen of England drove by.
I remember her hand cupped in the half offering of a trained wave. I reverently held my tiny flag up as high as I could, my pigtails waving in the wind that caught both my flap of patriotism and the regal air. The Queen of England looked like she was made from porcelain. Her clothing starkly carried out its duty. She had worn something vaguely vibrant; I suppose it was a well-planned coifing. Her hair was strictly layered in the tight rolls of curls unfurled. She smiled artificially. There was a smear of lipstick on her right incisor. It looked blood red against the pale ivory veneer of her teeth.
As an adult, whenever I see lipstick on my own teeth, I think of the Queen of England. For all her careful and strategic planning, someone missed that. On that day of such pomp, a failed stylist didn’t see the bright red talisman of imperfection.
So much energy went into that day. Buildings in town which were originally flaking cheap chalk-based paint were redone and stood almost as proud as us school children to allow the shadow of monarchy to touch us ever so briefly. The Queen of England came to Anguilla and it was an honour. We were excited to show that relic of colonial rule her tiny 32 square mile dependent.
The photos from that day make us look hungry. Photographers composed the images with the Queen bent halfway, smiling down at the shiny brown faces careening up at her with the glossy eyes of children allowed out of school for a special occasion. Only the best behaved were allowed to come see the Queen of England. It was an honour.
When you see images of white saviours visiting third world countries to hand out precious bottled water to needy blacks, they look the same. The white person is in the middle, the focal point of the image, and the little black children surround her with thankful smiles.
We are raised like that, though, in the third world. We are raised to revere the white person because they represent the vast majority of visitors to the island– don’t talk about negative things because it might frighten tourists. Let them think our island is crime-free so that they are lulled into a false sense of utopian safety. No violence in Anguilla, not like those other islands. So we keep the headlines muted and our newspaper becomes nothing more than a collection of press releases. Following the hurricane in 2017, neighbouring St. Barths kept images of their destruction filtered and quieted lest they shock travellers into rerouting their vacations. They tried to do that here, too.
Part of the problem with this narrative of a Perfect Getaway is that it creates a fictional world which juxtaposes itself over the pixels of real life. Somewhere in the muddled middle of this, tourists begin to feel the sinewy strength of their pale power. They flex it gently when they complain about physical development, population growth or (most ironically) that too many tourists know about Anguilla.
Is the tourism industry an echo of the plantocracy of the past? I would venture to quietly propose it could be. This post-colonial experience is something to which we have little ability to rise against. We stopped picking cotton, sugar, and tobacco. Instead we pick up cotton sheets and crease the corners over California kings in rooms that are $7,000 a night. We stir canadou syrup into technicolour cocktails with tropical names. We display humidors containing legal Cuban cigars and don’t cringe when the white smoke is blown back into our black faces. The plantation may be gone, but it has been replaced by what could very well be a 5 star monster.
The freedom of the Perfect Getaway is something we have worked hard to market in Anguilla. Tag lines, hashtags and carefully selected images have done what any good campaign does: sell. Except now the viewer has created such a superimposed iteration of a nation that they don’t expect to meet real-world blemishes. No messy, unphotogenic first world issues in the third world. There was a recent post in a forum where someone called this to the forefront remarking on the speed of drivers in Anguilla. For a little while, the thread was pretty harmless, but then someone said:
“Too many cars anyway! Liked it when people walked and we could give lifts!”
What a lovely little Perfect Getaway we must be. Imagine arriving somewhere in the year 2019 (a foreign country no less) and picking up strangers on the side of the road. We should certainly halt our progression so as to offer tourists the opportunity to experience this. #LocalUber
“Where are they going so fast anyway?”
Probably to work at the hotel and serve you a colourful refreshing daiquiri adequately garnished in clichés.
Still another took time to type:
“So ironic that an island nation that leads life in slow motion has somehow become proficient at doing this one thing fast!”
Bright sands and sparkling waters. This is Anguilla. No matter how carefully we get done-up. No matter how diligently we paint the buildings. No matter how gingerly we select the best behaved, there is still the possibility that we emerge with the marred truth of our real lives as apparent as lipstick on our teeth.