What's in a name?
I type into my browser ‘La Gare, St Lucia’ I get The Electoral Board of St Lucia announcing on its website that Voters’ Lists are posted at the La Gare School, which is not far from Babonneau – I added the Babonneau bit for the edification of those who might be unaware of the location of La Gare.
Somewhat cutely, the next posting under the heading of ‘La Gare, St Lucia’ does not in any way refer to the island of Saint Lucia. Instead, we are told, “The Venice Santa Lucia Train Station is the main train station in Venice. This modern station is conveniently located and provides direct access to the Grand Canal. The station is a perfect entrance to this unique city of Venice.” How surprising!
Now strangely enough, whilst officialdom in the form of the Electoral Office of St Lucia and the Castries Council refer to the community as La Gare, others prefer to refer to it as La Guerre. The Ministry of Education has a school at La Guerre, while the map of 1965 names the same place La Gare.
Now, as far as I know, the French noun ‘La Guerre” means ‘The War’ while the equally French noun ‘La Gare” means ‘The Railway Station”. And incidentally, the French imperative ‘Gare aux serpents!’ happens to mean ‘Watch out for snakes!’ which might, once upon a time, have been quite a common expression out in the wilds of Babonneau.
Unfortunately, the Creole rendition of the community’s name, La Gè, offers no assistance as it seems not to carry any particular meaning. ‘Ladjè’ is the Creole for ‘War”, and as far as I know, the Creole Brigands had no railroads up in the hills surrounding Babonneau.
Faced with such a ‘cavalier’ approach to the spelling of the names of our communities, I am amazed that our Prime Minister has not yet called in consultants to serve on a Commission headed by a favourite son or daughter to record, catalogue, regulate, and legislate on issues related to the National Orthography and its effects on the country’s Vision and Productivity. Surely, this is an opportunity going begging! The issue might even be considered to be of such ‘dignity’ to warrant the attention of the Senate or House of Assembly … you never can tell! I mean, imagine growing up and never knowing whether you had your roots in a railway station or a battlefield; it could be quite traumatic.
I have very fond memories of the school at La Guerre (I’ll stick to the Ministry’s spelling) that stretch back to the early 1990s when Ethelyn, now the principal at the Dame Pearlette School at Union, was the boss lady there. When my wife and I first visited the school we were met with the usual polite interest tinged with wariness and not a little scepticism – after all, foreigners bearing gifts were nothing new, and in any case, we were most likely fly-by-night-shipspassing-in-the-dark-type benefactors. Little did they know then that we were in for the long haul, and what a long haul it has been.
The school itself was pretty derelict even in those days. Two buildings formed a sort of L; the longer perpendicular was made up of the primary school classes, the administration offices and a sort of library that never really became a real library. The partitions between the classrooms were rudimentary, flimsy and quite ineffective as far as keeping out neighbouring noise was concerned, due I supposed to the old custom of having the school double as a place of assembly for the community or church, much to the detriment of the children who were supposed to be learning there. The horizontal bit behind the school housed the infants. We painted the walls of all three classrooms with bright scenes one summer and provided children with racks for shoes, books and bits and pieces.
The teachers, on the other hand, were a fantastic group of people – the best, the very best you could imagine. We became regular visitors to the school. With the help of the Rotary Club of Gros Islet, my wife Inger organized a competition among the 11 schools in the north to beautify their environment and help kids better understand the need for preservation and conservation long before everyone else jumped on the climate change wagon. She ran a 4-year programme that lowered the incidence of cavities from a whopping 8 per child to zero per child; she ran school gardening projects; she arranged sewing classes for teachers and provided industrial quality machines to the schools; she conducted flower arrangement classes and art classes for teachers; she did so many things, and now, totally disillusioned by the lack of support for all we have tried to do, she has left St Lucia for good, never to return, and has set up our new home in Sweden after almost a quarter of a century of devotion, or as Rotary puts it, “Service above Self”. It’s quite sad really, or could have been – you see, we enjoyed ourselves immensely while it lasted!