Confessions of an Expat – Return of the Unwanted

This is a true story, or at least a small part of it. It's about Grand Turk, the struggling capital of the Turks and Caicos Islands, just south of the Bahamas. Scandal and corruption led to an interim government being imposed - and the locals didn't like it one bit. The neighbouring island, Providenciales, is where the action is now.
Governor's Beach
Governor’s Beach, Grand Turk. It’s deserted because the island is virtually deserted. It is struggling but doesn’t know how to help itself.

The atmosphere at the Parade Ground is like a special Saturday in a public park in south London. But here the green they walk on is not fat, overnourished British grass struggling to keep its head above water, but artificial turf, because around here grass is only periodically drowned: it hardly gets started in the barren, sandy soil that rarely sees rain.

The green mesh fencing around the perimeter is there to keep cricket balls and footballs in. Along the western edge of the ground are two plastic gazebos, sheltering the crowd from a sun that is heading for the sea, but with bloody-minded sloth, blazing still because it is now June and what had seemed like a hot but bearable climate only a few weeks earlier has now been turned up a notch. Children, their bodies but not their heads shielded from the rays by a four-foot wall, jostle for position in the shade of telegraph poles and speaker cabinets to protect the top of their head. This is what they have grown up with, what their African heritage says their ancestors grew up with, yet they are not immune. An older boy uses his PC tablet alternately as a fan and to shield his face. In the gazebos, groups of 20-30 black women huddle on white plastic garden chairs, some smartly attired in shiny dresses, others squeezed into American jeans and t-shirts.

There used to be life here, but no customers means no need for a gym

Between the two huddles is a more elaborate shaded area with tiered seating, a makeshift grandstand, and here sits a group of largely middle-aged white men. In front of them, on a small daïs in front of the grandstand, a grey-suited white figure in a smart straw hat stands doggedly, arms at his sides. His Excellency the Governor. The crowd in the grandstand is composed largely of members of his interim government and advisors brought in on short-term contracts to oversee the process of establishing a functioning government for this British Overseas Territory, the UK government having stepped in to protect the interests of its far-flung citizens after a monumental scandal of corruption which had seen tens of millions of US dollars flying into the bank accounts of the disgraced premier and his cronies. The Governor can see from the corner of his eye a group of young men carrying placards bearing slogans such as “Bring back democracy” and “Corruption is still wrong, even when the British are doing it”.

GT horses
Homeless horses roam the island, along with cattle and donkeys. That’s not snow on the ground, but blindingly white sand

Out in the middle of the field, the spectacle revolves around the Police band, who, dressed in white uniforms and caps with bright red and green bands, have been playing Lean On Me for at least ten minutes. Somehow they now find their way out of the loop and embark on a tune which unfamiliar, although it sounds vaguely churchy and a bit military. Orders are barked and the leader, brandishing a long ceremonial baton, takes the parade on a slow march over towards the cricket scorers’ box, where long-limbed youths lounge up in the sky, and then, changing to quick march, the parade swings around towards the dignitaries.

GT sunset
A distant cruise ship heads into the sunset

The band is followed by the country’s second-finest quasi-military body, a group of prison staff and, judging by the un-Cellblock-H-ness of some of the young women, ancillary workers. Behind them come the Boy Scouts, then the Cubs, the Girl Guides and the Brownies. A chubby young Scout, regretting his failure to try it out in advance, is swinging his right arm with his right leg, his left with the left and wondering how people don’t fall over doing this, because he is sure he is going to. And behind the Brownies, whose little heads are dressed cutely in cornrows of black hair, scalps glistening, the placard-brandishing protestors sneak along, slouching beneath their dreadlocks. A ceremonially-attired police officer marches aggressively towards them but abandons his mission in the face of shrugs and smirks and the knowledge that the media are in attendance. The protestors, not blessed with an official to command ‘Eyeeeeees…. right!’, nevertheless flick a communal sneer at the Governor as they pass, before realizing they are now in front of the cameras and that their placards are facing the wrong way. There is a flurry of flailing cardboard as they get in each other’s way before they conclude that they have done enough and don’t so much ‘fall out’ as deflate and resume their loitering.

The legitimate parade goes back to its original position in the middle of the field while presentations are made to long-serving officers, the polite applause stirred up by whoops and heyys from the women, as the fathers of their children get the recognition they deserve for keeping the country together before the hooray henrys arrived.


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