All Maine Matters

February 2006



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By Kathy Gagnon

The first time I voted, I was 18 years old. I chose to exercise my right to vote only because I could. Politics did not interest me at all. It was twenty years before I chose to exercise this right again. I assumed that the people who were interested in politics would "take care of things."

What moved me to take an interest in politics those twenty years later was a trip I won in an Internet sweepstakes to St. Lucia in the West Indies. It was the first time I had ever flown on a plane or left the U.S. The number of times I had actually left the state, at that point, could be counted on one hand. It was leaving this country that made me realize, as Dorothy said, "There's no place like home." We take the simplest of things for granted here. Even with all that has happened since 9/11, we still have freedoms that others will never see.

While St. Lucia is the most beautiful place one could ever imagine, life for the local people is not easy. My husband and I were fortunate to be staying at a five-star all-inclusive resort where every whim was catered to and life was so good in our private little paradise.

Life outside the resort was much different. Most of the local people worked service jobs at one resort or another. Their social and economic standing was based on which resort they worked at, and what their position was. They basically lived to make the lives of resort guests carefree and wonderful while trying to make a living from their meager wages. Their homes are not even as nice as what we around here would consider a very basic camp or shack. Even their culture is a commodity in the quest to earn a living.

The only car dealership on the island had a grand total of five cars on its lot. This was not odd to them because only the people with management level positions were able to afford a car, though some were owned by people who used the vehicle to earn a living driving tourists around the island.

We met many other guests at the resort from all over the world. One entire afternoon was spent "having tea and crumpets" with a retired couple from England. The had both been university professors and were spending their retirement traveling around the world. They were so fascinating, the several hours we spent talking with them felt more like minutes. They were "resting" from a trip to the Gaza Strip. The things they experienced and saw there are unimaginable. They felt we Americans were fortunate to live in the U.S. and have the country and educational system that we do.

Another afternoon was spent with a different couple from England. They were middle class people with a daughter the same age as ours who was also attending college. He was a carpenter, like my husband. Our lives had many similarities, yet many differences. They asked us about Clinton and told us stories about "the royals."

Late nights, we had great fun socializing with the locals who were employed at the resort, after their shifts were done. They hadn't met anyone from Maine before and were very interested to hear about our winters and snow. They also believed that all Americans were rich. In return, for our stories about Maine winters and below zero temperatures, they shared with us many things about life for locals on the island. We even were invited to a birthday party one night which was a great time.

We had a temporary layover in Barbados on our return home. All aboard the plane were required to disembark for reasons I'm not sure of. The airport felt desolate and had armed guards patrolling that took a dislike to my husband’s long hair. Though we were on an island in the middle of nowhere and the guard had seen us disembark, my husband was interrogated as to why he was there and asked to show his passport. He was the only person on the plane required to do so and the guard then followed us around the airport. By the time we were allowed to board the plane again, I was literally feeling ill from fear. It was a huge relief to feel the plane lift off the ground even though I am definitely not anyone who will ever be a "frequent flyer."

By the time we landed in the good old U.S. of A. I was ready to kiss the ground.

I began to take a closer look at politics after that. I realized that we have something unique here. We have rights. We have choices. Two years later, I won yet another trip to the same island. This one was to a four-star all-inclusive resort.

Things had changed in those two years. The attitude towards Americans had definitely worsened. Especially at customs entering and leaving the island. We met many more new friends from England, Australia, and Brazil. The locals employed at this resort were not quite the same as they had been at the other resort. Though they treated us as required as guests, we definitely felt like second class guests because we were American. We had a discussion about this one evening with our new friends and they told us that they did not dislike us for being American because they had gotten to know us, but that in general, the mood towards Americans was not good anywhere because of American politics.

The layover for the return flight home was in Granada. This time we were not allowed to disembark. We sat on the ground for almost two hours because there was a discrepancy about a passenger who was supposed to have been on the plane. Numerous armed guards milled about outside the plane while a head count onboard was taken over and over. The luggage in the cargo hold was all removed and the area searched while we passengers sat uneasily and uncomfortably wondering what was going on. This caused us to miss the connecting flight we were scheduled for out of the airport at Puerto Rico and the connecting flight from there to New York. As uneasy as I was about the hustle and bustle of New York, I was again thrilled and immensely relieved to be back in the states.

These experiences were like an epiphany. I finally realized that we all need to be involved in the politics of our country because whether we chose to be involved or not, we all have "ownership" for American politics in the minds and eyes of the rest of the world and politics effect all our lives whether we chose to participate or not.

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