Our Readers' Opinions
March 28, 2013

Back ‘n neck chicken: myth or reality?

Thurs Mar 28, 2013

Editor: When the “Professor” sang the song “Big Belly Urmin”, at one point in between verses he was mockingly referring to that fictitious individual as back ‘n neck chicken, in a derogatory intonation. But one’s loss is another man’s gain. In Jamaica, it is called “ghetto stake”. And, with the introduction of the General Consumption Tax, it was exempted from such, the view being that all Jamaicans must be able to afford some intake of protein.{{more}}

Recently, someone confronted me asking my views about the comment that was made abroad by one of our political leaders to expatriate Vincentians in New York: “Vincentians can only afford to buy a half a pound of chicken back”. I said to that person “it may be an exaggeration to reinforce a point relating to the veracity of the financial plight faced by the vast majority of Vincentians, as they grapple with the high cost of living – but it is not too far from the truth”.

I can’t understand why such a comment would arouse the sensibilities of Vincentians who have become the laughing stock of the whole region, to the point where a former Prime Minister of Jamaica had to make a passing shot: “Jamaica do not believe in this begging bowl mentality”.

It is incredulous to hear even educated Vincentians making such backward statements, that they in the opposition cannot run this country because they cannot beg. Where in any International Relations journal or textbook has begging become a diplomatic strategy? It may be so in St Vincent, because when you walk the street of Kingstown, someone must beg you. One Grenadian, sometime ago, made the comment “he wonder why Vincentians beg like that”. Begging has become an integral part of our culture and the question is why? It is simply because of the hard economic conditions facing the majority of the populace.

More so, why should such a comment be viewed as a dishonourable act to this country, when the reputation of this country has already been sullied by that alleged allegation which went viral and global? Then there was the protestation of the “middle finger” to a heckling bystander, or leaving a vehicle to argue with a cleaner of a school because of her gesticulation. Even a porter, a lecturer and several students could relate to you incidents of a lesser degree with females from other regional countries. Every person in Kingstown can also relate a story of a female when they encounter or engage that individual in this country for assistance of a varied nature. If all those things are not shameful beyond comprehension to this nation, then Vincentians, as one previous prime minister said, “we only remember our last meal” or more apt “we have a breadfruit mentality.”

It is so disheartening to see Vincentian women with children from all walks of life and in all kind of civic institutions turn a blind eye to such unbecoming behaviour by our political leaders.

The comments made by our political leaders concerning “chicken back” may be repugnant to some because they don’t have a sense of the plight faced by ordinary Vincentians on a daily basis, simply because they do not mix with the masses and they are too busy “eating ah food.” The mere fact that these people throw their morals out with the bath water just to “eat ah food”, shows the depraved situation that beholds this educated and opinionated elite also, as they live from month to month on a salary.

I personally can attest to the fact that the vast majority of Vincentians can only afford to buy chicken back, unlike a minority of party acolytes. I lime by corner shops. In Diamond Estate, the vast the majority of the children who come to that shop on a Sunday to make errands for their parents buy chicken back. I used Sunday, because it is assumed that Vincentians eat anything during the week, but on a Sunday you eat the best meal for the week.

Some months ago, I offered to buy some shoes for a friend with a corner shop in Paul’s Avenue to resell. Her response: if she has to “sell them for EC$ 50.00 and above, Vincentians can’t afford that – they will just trust them and she would have a rough time collecting her money.”

I have taught “Evening Classes”, and to my bewilderment, a lot of students can’t afford to pay you. A situation unlike Barbados, Jamaica and especially in Trinidad and Tobago, where a teacher can make more than their salary of TT$10,000 by teaching after class hours.

The SVG Country Poverty Assessment 2007/08 would bring home the high incidence of poverty in this country. The poverty rate in that survey was 33.1, where the indigent (questionable) was 2.9 and the poverty headcount 30.2. What is more important to note is that 48.2 of the population was classified as vulnerable, meaning that they could slip below the poverty line as a result of some exogenous shock. An external shock did occur. The Poverty Assessment report was conducted before the global economic recession in mid 2008. More so, this country suffered four years of continuous negative economic growth. So, one can surmise that that the percentage of the population below the poverty line is way above the 50 per cent mark.

The two main drivers of the economy, tourism and agriculture, suffered drastic decline, compounding the economic hardship facing the people and nation. Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and St Vincent suffered double digit decline in tourism arrivals between 2009 and 2011. Bananas, on the other hand, virtually ceased to exist. During the period 1997 to 2001, the revenue generated from banana cultivation was EC$31.02 million, 39.89m, 37.38m, 42.34m and 33m respectively. Today, banana revenue is just over EC$1 million. The decline of banana production is more remarkable, given the fact that Belize and the Dominican Republic are expanding production.

All this seeks to show is that the economy, and by extension, the vast number of Vincentians are facing hard economic times and can only afford back ‘n neck chicken.