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Off to work on an inter-island seaplane

By Vernon Khelawa,

With the Easter celebrations 2021 short circuited by the various COVID-19 regulations, as they were, is now history, we turn our attention to the upcoming festivals of Eid ul Fitr (Muslim) and Indian Arrival Day, being celebrated this year on Thursday, May 13 and Monday, May 31 respectively, both being observed as public holidays.

As citizens, we are still in the dark as to whether any of those stringent COVID-19 regulations would by then be lifted.

The thing is that there is much happening in our country that warrant a slew of columns or as we say, there are many events which provide plenty of fodder for columnists.

But would you believe selecting a topic on which to write is proving a mammoth task. Reason: readers are totally fed-up of hearing about the pandemic; the vaccine rollout; our ailing economy; our crime situation or the increasing cost of food and utilities and parliamentarians on both sides, looking all over for somebody to blame for our pandemic woes.

I’ll try something that’s much more soothing.

People use all sorts of transportation to get to work— bicycles, taxis, trucks, buses and even their own private vehicles. But have you ever heard of an employee travelling daily to work by plane? Unheard of, maybe, but hardly likely.

Well, I have done just that, way back in the early 70s while serving as managing editor of the St Thomas’ daily paper The Home Journal in the United States Virgin Islands (USVI).

Quite a few changes were made at the paper under my leadership and the boss thought it might be a good idea to try a startup sister weekly newspaper on neighbouring St Croix, the largest of the three islands which make up the USVI, the third being St John.

So off I went to St Croix to get cracking on the assignment, but to do this meant travelling every morning and evening by a 10-seater ‘Grumman goose’ seaplane and, depending on the situation, sometimes on weekends.

Most times, I flew upfront with the pilot, not as a co-pilot but as a passenger. For the first few months, the 20-minute flights were a novel and most exhilarating experience, but then it became quite boring and dull.

For the second time in two years, I had another culture shock. You see St Croix, as opposed to St Thomas, is heavily populated by Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans while St Thomas is dominated by a Black West Indian population. Anyway, I quickly learned to enjoy it and life was made easy and cool. I went through the usual startup pains and challenges but soon the weekly paper was off the ground. The Spanish-speaking population did not latch unto it – no Spanish— and after less than a year publication was stopped.

I was recalled to St Thomas, but I chose to remain on St Croix. That’s when I got into television. I was appointed as news director and news anchor with the ABC (American Broadcasting Corporation) affiliate on St Croix, WSTX.

It was a great learning experience because at the end of it all I considered myself a complete journalist—newspaper, radio, and television.

Looking back, it was a most eventful, sojourn-divergent yes, but most enlightening– working with different peoples and with different cultures. It made me a better journalist.