Many miles from nowhere

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Miles from nowhere

I guess I’ll take my time

Oh yeah, to reach there.

                        Cat Stevens

By Tony Deyal

For a long part of my life, I was what Caribbean people, especially those from Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad call a “Nowherian”. Richard Allsop in his “Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage” says the term could apply to someone who is not connected to any church or lacks religious faith, a person who is not respectable or of no consequence, an unkempt looking ‘knockabout’. or someone of no fixed abode. When one of my Trini friends ran into me in The Bahamas, he exclaimed: “Boy, Tony, you is a real nowherian yes!” However, before I could say “Guilty on all counts”, a Bahamian colleague, either hard of hearing or of knowledge of the Caribbean, exclaimed, “But I didn’t know you are Norwegian!” I replied, “Actually, I’m here for the skiing and right now I am miles from nowhere.” What helped is that my response got smiles from everywhere.

Actually, when I worked in Antigua as the corporate secretary of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), one of the people I really liked was named “Miles”. He was the company’s “driver” so the name was appropriate and fitted even more tightly because Miles was nowhere to be found when you needed him most. He was miles away. Almost every time I saw him, the Cat Stevens’ classic, “Miles from Nowhere” came to mind from whatever nowhere it was temporarily inhabiting. Even though the song was released on March 31, 1994 (28 years ago), I still cannot resist responding to it.

However, I no longer sing my favourite opening lines at the top of my lungs which, like my shoes, are extra-extra wide size twelves. I have learnt after many “Shut ups”, threats and even obscenities, especially what to do with my “Nowhereian” rear end, to resist the temptation. The reason is that while today’s people accept the concept of a bus, train, plane or car coming out of “nowhere” to do them, their vehicles or other loved ones grievous bodily harm, to imply that they themselves have emerged from “nowhere” is considered insulting.

The Trinidad calypsonian, the Mighty Dougla, in his prize-winning song about the plight of “douglas” or Afro-Indian mixtures (“I am neither one nor the other,/ Six of one half-a-dozen of the other…”) sang about the little boy who, tormented by one racial group, ran to the other one for help and was asked, “Nowhereian what you come here for?”

Many years ago, miles away from Miles and high in the sky, or as high as a propeller plane can go, I was as many miles from nowhere as one could be. As I thought of my nowhere in status, I remembered what happened to Cat Stevens after 9/11. Stevens an extremely popular pop singer converted to the Muslim faith and changed his name to Yusuff Islam. Because of that, Stevens was on a “terrorist” watch-list. When US security found his name on the passenger list of a transatlantic flight from London to Washington, they diverted the plane to a remote airfield in Maine, leaving him many, many miles from nowhere.

While my flight was not diverted, I had to create my own diversions. LIAT left late as usual and as we made the tedious trip to Barbados, I felt literally miles from nowhere. Fortunately, the flight attendant, a young Guyanese lady named Sherree, made the trip comfortable for all of us. My wife Indranie, who is also Guyanese, insists that people from Guyana are the most hospitable in the Caribbean. I agree. Even in the midst of dire poverty, there are many Guyanese who, although lacking material wealth, will still invite you to their homes and try to press a gift on you before you leave. Perhaps Sheree’s Guyanese upbringing put her miles ahead of the others but in spite of her upbeat attitude, I continued to feel that we were all miles from nowhere.

I started to ruminate on the word “where”. It is essentially “here” with a “w”. “There” is “here” with a “t”. One hears of here, there and everywhere, whereabouts and wherewithal, wherefore, wherefrom and wherein, whereas and whereinto. But if there is no “where”, how can you come out of it, or be miles from it?  In that case, where the heck are you? Many adolescents seem to know exactly where nowhere is. When my son George was a teenager and I asked him where he was going, he always replied, “Nowhere.” I never thought of asking him where exactly nowhere was. Now the opportunity, having been missed, cannot be regained. I never got anywhere when I questioned him and now I am nowhere close to understanding.

Even the dictionaries are never clear on exactly where nowhere is. Essentially, it seems, “here”, “there” and “where” are determined by one another. If you’re not here, where you are is there.  If you are not there, where you are is here. And if you’re here today and gone tomorrow, where you’ve gone to is nowhere.

I have a nowhere story. It is an old tale full of racial, sexual and national stereotypes and those of you who wish can skip to the end. And those I upset can take me apart on Facebook. But I was miles from nowhere when I remembered it. Following a shipwreck, two men and one woman from each of several nationalities were stranded on some stunning deserted islands in the middle of nowhere. One month later they were still marooned on the same islands and the following events occurred. One Italian man killed the other Italian man for the Italian woman. The two French men and the French woman were living happily together in a menage-a-trois. The two German men had developed a strict weekly schedule of alternating visits with the German woman. The two Greek men were sleeping with each other and the Greek woman cleaned and cooked for them.

The two Englishmen were anxiously continuing to wait for someone to introduce them to the English woman. The two Bulgarian men took one long look at the endless ocean, another long look at the Bulgarian woman, and started swimming. The two Japanese men faxed Tokyo and were eagerly awaiting instructions. The two Chinese men set up a pharmacy, a liquor store, a restaurant and a laundry, and got the woman pregnant in order to supply employees for their stores. The two American men daily contemplated the virtues of suicide because the American woman complained endlessly about everything in and out of sight. The two Irish men quickly divided the island into North and South and each set up a distillery.

They never remembered if sex was in the picture because it got sort of foggy after the first few litres of coconut whisky. But they were both happy that the English were definitely not having any fun. And the two Trini men were constantly wondering whether there were Venezuelan women on any of the other islands.

*Tony Deyal was last seen thinking that if Russians were there, they would first conscript the woman and then invade the other islands.   

 

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