Da Bird Man’s Hands (and economics)

Sufre, Saint Lucia, Caribbean. June, 2010. As a teacher, one of the best perks is the months and months of summer vacation. This past summer I did quite a bit of traveling and the first stop was with my beautiful sis in the small Caribbean island situated between Martinique and St. Vincent: Saint Lucia. The vibe in the Caribbean is mellow, the spiced rum along will the sun will burn you if you’re not careful, the culture is vast and the locals are resourceful.

Coconut men are the best men in the world. My sis and I had just finished a lunch of Roti, not unlike a Caribbean burrito, when a middle-aged man wearing a worn mesh wife beater and a friendly smile on his face approached us and introduced himself as da Bird Man. The Bird Man exposed his hands and revealed a razor blade. He hopped to the side of the street and scooped up a coconut husk and his hands became a flurry of movement: an artisan pouring his soul into his craft. Slivers of husk jumped all around us, slicing and refining with his expert eye, after a few moments the coconut husk was transformed from garbage to a pair of hummingbirds, perched on toothpicks, with pointy beaks preparing for a kiss.

I’m an English lecturer at AUI-S, a university in the Middle East. This past Spring semester I took an Economics class in the MBA program, and material from the course seeped into my brain and ever since it has permeated into my view of how the world operates, how the bird man operates. To begin with, he is taking trash and making it in a work of art. An economist would say he is displaying one of the main principles of economics: trade. He is taking things from a low valued use to a high valued use, simply by shaping them into an appealing product.

I used to have very mixed feelings about what to do with people asking for money. Is the pocket change going to help them? Are they going to drink it away? Beggars. Panhandlers. Street performers. Bird men. I’ve come to the conclusion that if the money-asker is making my life even slightly better, I’ll do my best to help him or her out a bit.

The coconut hummingbird souvenir was nice, but what intrigued me more was the resourcefulness and innovation employed by the bird man. I enjoyed the experience. I enjoyed chatting with him afterwords. I enjoyed taking this photo of his hands at work. An economist would call that a positive externality. My life benefitted from interacting with the bird man, and in order to tweak the balance of supply and demand, I should compensate the positive externality accordingly. Thanks Dr. Hill for the schoolin’.

I love the texture in this photo. The deep cuts on his thumb, the shine of the razor blade, the raw, rough truth of the scene is beautiful to me. I chose to show it in black and white because it removed the possibly distracting color and turns it into nothing but unadulterated contrast and texture. This is one of my favorite photos from Saint Lucia.



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