My Poor Basseterre Market
I feel sorry for my Basseterre Market. It is a ready reminder of what happens in any society where people don’t know how to treat the once valued people and things among them. We cannot have a clearer reminder that history is not static; that social norms are shifty things. Norms change around the monuments and around the people who construct them.
The Basseterre Market ages as the people who built it or bought and sold in it also age. The flashing, red lights that blink over its metal gate facing the sea, very likely as a lighthouse warning to ancient mariners, signals its once prominent usefulness. But like everything else the Basseterre Market has faded from present era relevance, and the light of its contemporary social significance is going dim.
The market is now the home and passageway of cats, dogs and a tiny number of persons gathered for shelter from the heat of the sun, along with a little social banter during the course of each week.
It shakes itself into some semblance of its ancient self on Saturday mornings, or when a boat comes in from Dominica. Other than that the Basseterre Market sits lonely and dejected just as many of the people who remember its glory days have faded into the shadows just like the hucksters and turn-hands who once haggled over prices there are silently fading away, unnoticed by a generation that has forgotten that they are here because those people once fed the nation.
We have a propensity in this country to let things die. We think that nothing can be done to bring things to life. We permit things to fall apart as though their falling apart will not affect us. But they do affect us.
They either reflect or enhance our sense of pride and reveal detailed insights into our understanding of what or who we are- so that when a man allows his own home to fall apart around him, we marvel at his lack of interest in basic common decency, yet when our national landmarks such as the Basseterre Market fall apart before our very eyes we behave as though we are not like the man who allows the galvanize sheeting on his roof to bang against the rafters of his own home; after all it does not matter because we do not live there. We think that people are not going into the market to sell any longer, because people are no longer going into the market to buy, and so, like sheep we follow one another clogging up the sidewalks of Basseterre with boxes and trays of goods on offer for sale.
The market is too out of the way, we say, but there is no clearer indication of a nation’s level of civility and order than looking at where and how vendors of that country offer their wares to its public. People like order, and people like when things appear, even on the surface, to be ordered. A visitor, for example, does not care how rough the sea is below its surface, as long as the ship appears stable to him. We only have five senses, and these senses- among the most important being our eyes- determine to a large degree, how we feel about people, places and things. When a visitor or even a local in a wheel chair, or walking with the aid of a cane, has descended to the street because our sidewalks are cluttered, we have a problem whether we think so or not.
I am sorry for our Basseterre market because it was once a social giant, but has become a shell of its old self.
It does not have to be so.
It is a beautiful structure flaunting an historic architectural design that a nation could be proud of. With a little vision and care, the market could become a place where people are proud to enter and sell or simply relax without having to worry about sun or rain. But we build bus terminals in a section of city where people do not have to pass by it. We build kiosks- now sporting domino table- on the outsides of it. Restaurants are outside of it, because it has not dawned on us that it is possible to make it suitable for restaurants to be on the inside of it. The smell of the long dead pigs, cows and sheep once herded there, lingers like a smelly ghost on the market’s entrails.
There are no gardens there, not even a single flower. The floor is rough, unattractive and uneven. No artistic impression exists there, and none considered. The vending stalls still carry the old wire casings of the nineteen forties and fifties.
The colors are unappealing and the ambience sucks. But no one goes there to neither sell nor buy anything. And we are amazed at this. Makes me want to say like a little primary school girl to her friend, “Well, durrr!”