A Tragedy of Delay: I turned 18 in an election year…

Committed to Democracy

I was so excited!  My voice was finally going to be heard!  18 and full of opinions, full of optimism, there was nothing I didn’t know.  I was especially sure that I would put down my X where it would count.  I was as sure about that as I was sure that I wanted to one day be the first female Leader of Government Business.  Mind you, I hadn’t yet decided who I was going to vote for.  But serving my country was all I ever wanted to do.  My little X would mark the beginning of that journey and the end of it was limited only by the sky.  Me and Cayman, we were in love back then!

And then the General Election was called for… get this… 4 DAYS before my 18th birthday.  I was crushed!

Four years to wait and in those four years another election was called.  I had been overseas at University before the registration deadline but had sent my documents in to be registered in time. My dreams were not very different but I wanted to be educated.  I’d heard that world leaders throughout time had often been best prepared with a law degree.  And so I was off getting me one.  The officer who received my documents misplaced them for some or no reason.  I came home from University sure that I would vote.  This time I’d even gone so far as to say I know who I will vote for.  Only to find out my name was not on the list. And so I missed that one too.  As you can well imagine, I was disappointed.  When would I become a political adult?  A voice that would be counted?

Resigned to the realities, I settled myself to work for the Elections Office.  If I couldn’t be a part of the decision, I would at least be a part of the process.  It was the first election I worked and I’ve worked for every one since.  I was a poll clerk in Bodden Town and after the close of the polls I got in my car and made it to St. George’s Anglican Church from BT Primary School in five minutes to be a part of the count.  It was the first time I saw the ballot papers come to life and a decision that would change history and it was remarkable.  It was so remarkable I wrote about it in my diary… the experience had to be put into words.  The entry was shown to one of my parents who asked me to type it up.  It ended up in the Caymanian Compass.  It was a gorgeous experience that I will never forget and I’m glad that I had the presence of mind to write it all down.

Another four years came by and by this time I was living in West Bay.  When the time came to register I didn’t.  This wasn’t my district and I hadn’t become connected to the process.  It wasn’t about parties or personalities but I’d have loved to have cast my first vote in Bodden Town.  As it wasn’t possible without some false declarations I settled back and decided this time I would voluntarily pass.  It was the beginning of practiced indifference that has led to the entry of earlier today.  I now am part of a growing statistic of young and eligible Caymanians who have never voted.

In this year, however, I ran a polling station for the first time.  I wasn’t selected for the count but I was no less fascinated by the process.  It cemented in my mind a commitment to democracy as the system above all others, where those who vote cannot complain and where losers cannot claim that victors have denied them an opportunity to contribute.

I have today worked in several elections, including the Referendum of the past week as a servant to democracy.  Democracy itself, not politics.  The system itself, not the names populating the ballot or the parties that have waved their flags.

Yes, I have never registered to vote.  To be clear, it wasn’t for lack of trying – at least not at first.  I didn’t register in time for this Referendum, but I might have if I’d been paying attention.

It didn’t begin in an indifferent and irresponsible place, this question To Vote or Not To Vote.  It began with someone who really wanted to, a lover of country and of countryman working hard to do good.

What surprises me is that I am not the only one not registered to vote.  There are hundreds of my peers who have had a far more convenient opportunity to vote and never have.  I note with interest that there are near 15,000 registered voters in Cayman.  When you consider that my high school was near 1,000 and that we qualified at 18 years old over a decade ago, that number looks really small, doesn’t it?  The three graduating classes behind us were even closer to 1,000 and the three ahead of us… if all the persons I went to school with registered you’d be looking at just under 3,000 voters right there!

But we aren’t voting.  And I ask the question WHY?

The Power and The Vote: A discussion around voting and whether or not you should

Gimme somethin better than this!

As an introduction to this discussion, let me first introduce myself.  I am a single 20-something Caymanian woman.  I have no children, some tertiary education, a home, a decent job, religious beliefs, an interest in reading and a love of writing.  You will know from reading this that I have a blog, I am not short of words and I am not short of opinions.

I have never registered to vote.

This shocks many people and I have until now been very careful who I say this to.  But, you know what, I feel good about ME.  So there it is.  Near a score and ten I have never voted.

A few more facts before I get down to business and what this discussion is about – not only am I not short of words or of opinions, I am not short of friends.  Put an extrovert in a small town and you end up with something like me – I know thousands of people, have to cull my facebook monthly to keep it under the sweet spot of 800 friends, can hang out in any district in Cayman and about every level the society has to offer, and have a pretty good feel of the state of our society as a whole.  I say all this to say…

I have ONE close friend in the twenty-somethings who voted on Wednesday.  ONE.

 Now let’s talk about why that is.

I do not presume to have the answer to this question.  I cannot and will not speak for my entire generation.  I am inviting YOU, the people I know, to explain to me why you are not on the voters list.

I would also like to invite those who are on the list who strongly (or not) believe in the power of the vote to engage me.  Convince me.  Leave a comment on this blog or on this page and tell me why you choose to vote and why I should.  A little later I’ll put my own two-cents about my WHY of it.  Keep an eye out.

ONE RULE:  I ask that you respect the non-partisan nature of this page.  For those of you with a party to plug, plug it elsewhere.   I am not inviting the left, the right, the middle, the green, the orange, the red or the blue to sing the party songs on this page.  If you do it your comment will be removed – don’t be upset, you’ve been warned.  Save that stuff for those who are registered and we will be just fine thank you.

This is about the system and whether or not and if so how much one should participate.  WHAT DO YOU THINK?

On the eve of Referendum…

…I know that tomorrow I will not vote.  It is not something I yet care to do and have nought of an inclination to explain it to any man.  I understand the value of the vote and that so many died that I might have it.  But they didn’t have a clue as to what my X would mean at the time and so I am forgiven, armed with knowledge my forefathers and foremothers didn’t have (even if only by my own self).

Nevertheless, to honour them and the freedom I have to choose not to vote, I have worked for every election and referendum since I reached majority and returned to home shores.

What I have gained from working in the electoral system…

  1. …a knowledge that, in spite of popular belief, there are servants of the people who really believe in what they do and do it selflessly, evenly, ploddingly, thoroughly, efficiently and well in the Civil Service.  There is pride in our team, in our integrity, and it is an honour to work with this group.  We are banded together from all parts of Cayman society, not all of us publicly employed other than for this team, but we are led by seasoned old vets of the Service.
  2. Nothing brings people together like public service.  There is a spirit of seriousness mixed with jovial Caymanian sense of humour that reminds me of days gone by when I knew nothing other than how to be Caymanian.  Now, a little more worldly and travelled, cultured, careworn and jaded, the reminder warms me as I work with many who will never know anything else.
  3. Civil Servants are expected to know very little about how my private sector world works, and I admittedly know very little about the realities of theirs.  I get a peek into the beaurocratic systems of management and almost socialist-smelling (and definitely socialized) rules like treating everyone the same and talking slowly with long pauses and a fear of the microphone for hours and I realize… this would never do in my office.  BUT I also realize that my swift decision-making and high-handedness would absolutely never do in their world either.  I tip my hat to the other side of the fence and am able to accept that our differences are what make them good at what they do and me good at what I do.
  4. There is a familiarity to the scenes around me- the shirts with the Coat of Arms, the smell of the public school walkways all rust and chewed-up red erasers, the government issue ballpoint pens that we write with, the obvious security presence, the monotone of the speeches in training, the class clown in the back (sometimes me) and the mix of people from all walks of life in this team that take me back to public school.  I left public school with loads of street cred, no less than 4 convicted murderers in my high school class, and loads of petty criminals and knocked up teenage moms along the way.  There is much violence in my memory that dwarfs the days of total normal and the people that were just regular joes that made up the majority.  This reminds me of the more ordinary days… with a bunch of mixed abilities and mixed backgrounds thrown into a room with just a few things in common and a lot to laugh about.  It really wasn’t all bad, my schooldays.  I wouldn’t go back, but I can now appreciate it with this experience like school days without age limits and without violence.
  5. I love when things are done right.  And so, even if I care not to participate in the content, I am happy to be part of the context.  Democracy fascinates me – not in a fanatical way that others find it fit to die for, but in the way a difficult puzzle fascinates a child with special abilities and keeps them in its thrall for hours.  I am under no illusions about its limitations, but I am pleased to be part of it.  And I am honoured to take part alongside a group of people who, for reasons of their own, are just as dedicated to doing it right.

Another time I will tell you of my scariest election moment during which I was sure I had seen a man die.  But for now I must have my rest.  I am just recovering from the latest drowning and have a full Referendum Day tomorrow.  I pray my Homeland stays safe, peaceful, and holds on to her integrity throughout.

A Gathering of Old Men

A Gathering of Old Men by J.A. Roy Bodden

Over the past few weeks I have been engrossed in a project.  I was asked to introduce and to review the newly released book by J. A. Roy Bodden, a man who has served our nation as a teacher, a parliamentarian, a Minister of Education and the president of our local university and who has served me as a mentor and a family friend.

It kept me up at night.  I encourage every person who shares in the Cayman experience, the colonial experience, the experience of the fight for justice, the experience of the battle for identity, or simply the human experience to read this book.  It tickled me with its brutally direct language and the depiction of the Caymanian sense of humor and it haunted me with its lament of values lost, land sold for three pounds an acre, and lives exploited.

I laboured to do justice to the book for the entire morning, chewing on how to present it and capture the flavour with authenticity.  I wrote out and re-wrote my speech.  Below is the final product with coloquialisms highlighted in the colours of the sea to be read in your head with a Caymanian accent.  After being introduced by education and profession with names of institutions and letters behind my name, I stood up and said…

“Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to introduce A Gathering of Old Men as an introduction to myself.  You will know by now my name, where I went to school, what I studied and where I work.  You may or may not know (and may or may not be offended by) the fact that I have never voted, and consider myself to be apolitical.  I do business with people all over the world.  I have lived in three major cities of the West.  I am the child of a Caymanian woman and a Jamaican man.  I hold a British passport.  I hail from Bodden Town.  And, as you may have guessed, I speak the Queen’s english.

That is who I am on paper.

In my granny’s hammock underneath her wild tam’rin tree in Bodden Town I am someone quite different.  I am Ninik, eldest grandchild and daughter prized much like Pearly in How Pearly Lost Her False Teeth.  My grandfather may well have sailed with Pompey and lived through the helpless exploitation of The Coincident. I am the Caymanian woman who in The Gathering Of Old Men Circa 1953 was predicted to live a life unprotected and demeaned by her countrymen in the coming – present – sale of our nation’s land and culture.

I, like Carolina in The Card Cutter, and probably every Caymanian woman my age, have lost a man to a “papaw-skinned, straight-haired woman” whose first language was not english.

Like The Advocate, Mr. Wilfred Agustus Conrad McFarlane, I sat my dinners at the Inns of Court in London, had regular Sunday drinks with Lord Justice Ward, and on returning home it was said of me that “You wouldn’t want to trust your money to that local lawyer”.  Worse still, I was told by a complimentary expatriate co-worker that I am Cayman Royalty because I can read and write.

One grandfather would have climbed the main mast on the Lady Lucy in the hurricane seas on the Voyage to the Miskita Cays.  He too was put to sea, much like the young Cleavey, at a tender age to support his newly widowed mother and siblings.  My other grandfather was Theodore Brown, given a slave name but sent off at his death in a Nine Night much like the one held at The Passing of Theophilus Brown.

I have borne witness to the struggle to marry up. which usually means blond and blue eyed like Pearly’s match.  In fact, an old woman in my district instructed me not to come home from University in England widdout a good white man.

This is who I am in my Granny’s hammockThank you Mr. Roy Bodden for re-introducing me to myself.

 It has been easy for Caymanians of my generation to become disconnected and to remove ourselves from the Caymanian story.  We are now citizens of the world.  It has been easier to step away than deal with the hurt caused by the antics and the displays of ignorance and opulence and the corrupt and self-serving behaviours of representative after representative of the Queen and of the people.  But it is only easy for people of my generation to do this because we have forgotten or we have never known WHO WE ARE.

This is the purpose of A Gathering of Old Men.

In preparing for this introduction I myself battled inwardly between the silent position of old Knowles who knew trouble was brewing with the Custus in The Death of Artimetra Johnson and McFarlane the fearles and undaunted Advocate.  It has been a fight between the well-bred colonized position of polite timidity and the bold rage that simmers in one form or another in every. single. caymanian. of my generation.  No exceptions.  One side is gracious and forgiving, taking people as they come and playin fool to ketch wise but the other side quakes livid as new stories unfold around old themes of racism, colonialism, entitlement, corruption and plain ole badmind and wickedness.

In reading A Gathering of Old Men I was confronted with my responsibility.  Registering to vote for instance.  It is not for us to wait for wicked people to die bad.  We have been doing this for generations – waiting for wicked people to die bad.  It is our duty to steer the ship the best we can where we are now and to write the next chapter of stories with the naked frankness that Mr. Roy Bodden has employed in A Gathering of Old Men.

Thank you Mr. Bodden for stirring the salt-water in our blood and thank you for listening to my reflections.”

Poke me if you would like to know how to get hold of a copy of this book.

New beginnings!

Welcome to the new and improved Singlestream!

This overhaul coincides with a few very important happenings.

  1. My dearest Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.  For all that I am nothing if not politically cynical and distrusting of Her dear Grace’s parliament (or any other pit of vipers for that matter) and about the worst subject she could have as far as my reverence for her *cough-outdated-cough* position, I do wish the ole lady a good one.  I hope she got to soak her feet and warm up with a hot toddy after that long haul of a river parade.  Wish I was in London to see those boats!
  2. One year since my holiday weekend in Turks and Caicos where I made some amazing friends.  We’ve known eachother for a year now and looks like we’re not going anywhere anytime soon.
  3. A GLORIOUS long weekend to spend on some beach somewhere (should be combined with #1 above, as it’s thanks to Madam Queenie).
  4. The first time I wore my sexy new six inch heels.

Enjoy the weekend as it continues, my fellow subjects.  As to the rest of y’all, doesn’t independence suck?