We all have a few things about us that we can complain about, but as soon as we hear an outsider talk negatively about it, we jump down their throat. Whether it is a family member or a random flaw in your life, it is something extremely sensitive to us. For example, I have a slight lisp and an all-around strange voice. I will make fun of myself and overexaggerate it in order to make someone laugh. Every once in a while, someone will try to do it too and I get super defensive about it. This is very similar to how Jamaica Kincaid feels about her hometown in her book, A Small Place. She doesn’t like to hear all of the bad things about it even though she knows they are the truth. There is a reason she is this way, and there is a lot that led her writing this book.
People always think they know all about a topic just because they read a few things on it. In reality, there are plenty of things you can’t explain or really understand without living it. There are travel guides and reviews all over the internet that are supposed to be explaining what it is like to visit Antigua. Most of them are just what they physically see. They do not know a lot of the background information for why things end up the way they are. Tourists can be ignorant when it comes to the reality of a lot of situations. That is why this book is different from a travel guide. It has a lot of real experiences that bloggers do not know about. These guides do not always show what people would probably want to know and that is shown many times in this book.
To begin, Jamaica Kincaid was born in St. Johns, Antigua. This is a ten-by-twelve-mile island in the British West Indies (Kincaid). Kincaid specifically titled her book, A Small Place, in order to put the reader in the mindset of a congested, tight place. She immediately tries to get into the shoes of the tourist to try and explain just how things would go if you were visiting her hometown. There is almost a sarcastic tone to her voice because she is trying to belittle the tourist for coming there on vacation when in reality there are people struggling to live there. Tourism is something that the city needs in order to survive, but at the same time it can be an issue for the city. Tourism helps the city because it helps gain money for the government. The negatives were something I didn’t notice until reading what Kincaid said. Her words show a hatred for tourism. She says “The thing you have always suspected about yourself the minute you become a tourist is true: A tourist is an ugly human being” (Kincaid 14). She goes on to talk about how we are probably very nice people and how we aren’t ugly every day. It is just shocking to me how she can say all of these things just based off her hatred for tourism. She has a lot of passion when it comes to this topic which comes out a lot in the beginning of the book. Kincaid says, “…since you are on holiday, since you are a tourist, the thought of what it might be like for someone who had to live day in, day out in a place that suffers constantly for drought, and so had to watch carefully every drop of fresh water used…, must never cross your mind” (Kincaid 4). This is something that doesn’t cross any of our minds. We always get excited when we see the weather report being hot and sunny for the week we are going away, but we do not think about what is actually going on to make it that way. We never think about the things that need to be fixed. It is like we are blinded by the parts we do not want to see. As a whole, people are worried about the ocean or the hotel they are living at when they go away. At the same time, it is very hard to convince someone to contribute to a city that they will only be for five days in their entire life. People save up money to go on these vacations so they don’t have to worry about stressful things like they do at home. We spend all of that money so we can kick our feet back and enjoy what we paid for. I understand both sides, but it is definitely something to think about every time you go somewhere. Her words will sit in my head whenever I go on vacation.
To continue, like I stated previously, bloggers as well as other people will write travel guides and reviews about Antigua through their own point of view. This view is often much different from those who live on the island itself. If you live there, you clearly have more knowledge on why things are the way they are.
The first thing brought up on The Ultimate Antigua Travel Guide by Wandelust Chloe is the beautiful beaches and water. She is reading up on this while on the plane (Chloe). She does not comment on the airport, but Kincaid has a decent amount to say about it. She says, “If you come by aeroplane, you will land at the V.C. Bird International Airport. Vere Conrwall (V.C) Bird is the Prime Minister of Antigua. You may wonder why a Prime Minister would want an air-port named after him—why not a school, why not a hospital, why not some great public monument?” (Kincaid 1). This is something I wouldn’t have noticed if she hadn’t said anything. I don’t think Chloe noticed it either or she would have commented on it. For Chloe, the week she went was specifically nice because it was Antigua Sailing Week. She said there was reggae music blasting all day to go along with all of the boat parties, concerts, and competitions (Chloe). This is just how Caribbean places are.
Chloe moves on to the history of Antigua. This is something specific that Kincaid gets defensive about. Chloe mostly gets into how the city was discovered by Christopher Columbus and how it was a former British colony (Chloe). She talks about how it was a big industry for sugar which meant a lot of slavery (Chloe). It seems like she missed a very big part of Antigua’s past. Kincaid says “Not very long after The Earthquake Antigua got its independence from Britain, making Antigua a state in its own right, and Antiguans are so proud of this that each year, to mark the day, they go to church and thank God, a British God, for this” (Kincaid 8). Kincaid talks about this earthquake so much that she refers to it as “The Earthquake”. The Earthquake is something that impacted this city more than anyone outside of the island realizes. The island destroyed many buildings on the island. This is a reason why Kincaid kind of wishes they were still part of Britain. The city does not have a lot of money to replace the streets and buildings so if they had never separated, it would have been fixed sooner.
Moving on, Chloe brings up how to travel around the island. She suggests the best way is by hiring a car for your trip. She says it is very cheap for a short trip (Chloe). This is something pretty normal on vacation. Something Chloe doesn’t bring up is how all of the cars are pretty much brand new. This is something I would not expect especially if it was a struggling city. Kincaid explains, “You are looking out the window; you notice that all of the cars you see are brand-new, and that they are all Japanese-made…You continue to look at the cars and you say to yourself, Why, they look brand-new, but they have an awful sound, like an old car—a very old, dilapidated car. How to account for that?” (Kincaid 6). This was because the government owns the two car dealerships on the island (Kincaid 7). They would also specifically make it so banks would give loans more frequently for a car than they would for houses. Most people on the island would have way nicer cars than houses (Kincaid 7). This is something that would confuse me a lot as well as everyone else. I assume this is something that would be brought up during the travel part of a travel guide. I would want to know whatever I could about where I am visiting. Kincaid explains that the reason the cars sound so bad is because they are using unleaded gasoline (Kincaid 7). This is horrible for the car. Those who live on the island don’t understand this is why they break down and make all of those noises. Most people have to get a new car way more frequently than they should. As you can see, the way Kincaid see’s things are very different compared to how Chloe blogs about it. This could have a lot to do with her trying to make the area look good, but it could just be perspective.
Finally, if you plan on sitting on the beaches, you probably need something to read. Well sorry to break it to you, but you would probably need to bring it with you. Ever since The Earthquake in 1974, the library has been out of service. There is a sign right out front of it that reads “THIS BUILDING WAS DAMAGED IN THE EARTHQUAKE OF 1974 REPAIRS ARE PENDING” (Kincaid 9). That sign is still there decades later. This library was never touched mostly because of the separation from Britain. The money has been going other places even though the library is one of the most important places on the island. That is where all of their books are. All of that knowledge and education is being stolen from those who want to learn. A lot of the history from that city is lost in that building. People can only learn from stories. It is not fair to those who want to educate themselves. This is not something that is brought up even though it is a huge part of the history of Antigua. Tourists probably just walk by and don’t even think twice. Sometimes people need to ask questions.
In conclusion, A Small Place is not a travel guide, but it is better than any review or blog you can read about visiting it. Tourists have an ignorance to them when they are vacationing here because they are more focused on enjoying themselves. That is understandable, but when you see all of these things that are abnormal, you should at least try to understand the situations of those living there. Jamaica Kincaid has a right to dislike tourists because of all of the reasons I listed. Those who live there are not being treated fairly by their government and it should be recognized.
Kincaid, Jamaica. A Small Place. Daunt Books, 2018.
McGuire, Lucy, et al. “The Ultimate Antigua Travel Guide.” Wanderlust Chloe, 14 Sept. 2018, www.wanderlustchloe.com/antigua-travel-guide-caribbean/.