After a week on the island, I am heading back to the appropriately named V.C. Bird International Airport. There has been a nagging question lingering in my mind during the stay, and with the departure clock ticking, I need to get an answer soon. I reluctantly ask my cab driver the question, in spite of the name painted on the front of his taxi, Silent Michael.
“Silent Michael, can you tell me why people here pronounce Antigua without saying the letter U?” As I expected, I receive no response. Perhaps Silent Michael is a mute. Or more likely he may just be fed up with inane questions coming from irritating visitors like myself. After what seems an eternity of silence, longer than an island minute, the taxi driver finally responds, “I tink dat it is just our dialect, mon.” There you have it. When you come here don’t say ahn-TEE-gwa. It’s ahn-TEE-gah or Antigua. Or as Silent Michael might spell it, Antiga. After all, this is an island without a U.
But don’t think that Antiguans are adverse to letters. In fact, they are quite adept at forming words into fine descriptive phrases. Like other islands I have visited, Antiguans often label their cars with bold lettering that tells something about the owner. I see a tricked-out Toyota Yaris in black with a shiny silver script that shouts, Sexy Eddie. Then a smiling driver approaches in a beat-up pick-up with rust and bolts falling upon the road. That is Mister Bliss. No problem, mon. Keep on truckin’. And then there is a reverend-like motorist in an Oldsmobile called Give Thanks. But by far my favorite is a diesel belching work truck that roars past while I devour a delicious roti at the restaurant, Grace Before Meals. The loud beast of burden on wheels is called, Dem A Watchin’ Me. I was.
Yes, Antiguans have a way with words. No doubt about it. There is a curious hand-written sign at the entrance to The Rasta Shack, a bamboo and palm frond bar that pumps out ear-splitting reggae late into the night. It warns, Don’t Use De Illegal Drugs Here, Mon, or something to that effect. I can’t quite remember anymore.
I end a morning hike one day at Pigeon Beach, one of the 365 strands along the coast. Little do I know that a philosophy encounter is eminent. There on a pole are more Antiguan words. One sign says, Real Man Plant Tree. The other, Where There Is No Vision The People Perish. The latter really speaks to me. The former? I have no clue what that means. I shouldn’t be surprised. Such is life on an island without U.