Published On: Sun, May 3rd, 2020

Outside St. Maarten

Same dog - different hat - Hilbert Haar - 20180912 MJGHBy Hilbert Haar

It’s been two years since I left St. Maarten. Yeah, I left because I never wanted to experience another hurricane again, so if you want to interpret that as a lack of stamina that’s just fine with me; I don’t care.

But while I have left the island, the island has never really left me. That’s probably because I spent a significant part of my professional career there – more than ten years. Among all the places where I have lived during the past seven decades, St. Maarten will always remain very special.

The other day, traveling in a Grab taxi through the southern Malaysian town of Johor Bahru, a place more than ten times the size of St. Maarten, I suddenly spotted the name of a bar: Back Street. You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought, St. Maarten is everywhere. Just imagine the images that popped into my head at that very moment.

I spent my days in St. Maarten following politics, reporting about crime, corruption and political impotency. Not an environment that produced a lot of happy stories I’m afraid. And from a distance – Johor Bahru is 17,415 kilometers and 770 meters apart from St. Maarten (I didn’t know that of course, I Googled it) – I still follow what is going on in local politics.

These days the focus is obviously on the coronavirus crisis, also a topic that is not going to produce a lot of happy stories. From far away, I feel the pain of all those people who are out of a job, without income, without anything meaningful to do, locked up at home without any real perspective.

What I read about St. Maarten resonates elsewhere in the world as well. If you’re a foreigner – wherever you are – you are the underdog. In St. Maarten, at least one politician saw fit to say that food on the island is for the St. Maarten people and that there is no food available for – for instance – the 500 Venezuelans that were stuck on the island in April. In Johor, pharmacies refuse to sell facemasks to foreigners: they are only for Malaysians. Quite some countries only allow their own people to return home, if they allow them to come back at all.

And then you read that we are “all in this together.” But these two examples show that we are not all in the same boat. Some boats are more comfortable than others, or so it seems.

Come on people, show some real solidarity and think about what you are saying. If you say that the food on the island is for St. Maarteners, you imply that there is no need for other countries to feed St. Maarteners who are stuck there. (Remember: solidarity is a two-way street). The food in America is for the Americans, in Brazil for the Brazilians and in Venezuela for the Venezuelans. Really? Is that how we want to be remembered once this corona-nightmare is over?

Help yourself, I am okay with that. But once you’ve done that, help others to the best of your abilities. That’s one way to create happy stories in a world that is teetering on the brink of total collapse.