Renewing marriage vows to my paradise island


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Category: Trinidad Society Date: 02 Apr 98

I have found that in order to enjoy this tropical paradise of ours we need to look at it with a fresh eye. A relationship with a country is like being married. Every now and then you need to revive the excitement, remember what made you want to live here anyway. Ok, so it's more like an arranged marriage because most of us don't have a choice but still it doesn't mean that we canít have a proper love affair with our country rather than just inhabiting it.


When you've lived here a while, the combination of the low fever of domesticity and the ordinariness of everyday troubles make you sometimes angry, sometimes indifferent, sometimes wary, but very rarely excited and happy unless something unusual takes place. Additionally, when you think how short our lives are - one spin and we're gone - you've got to make an effort to make your country into your true love, your valentine again. As tacky as it sounds, you are only truly alive when you are passionate about your life and your country and the people you live with and are surrounded by.


You can bring back the passion in several ways. One, you can go away, to some cold place with impressive concrete buildings and landscaped parks, and efficient clerks, until you are sick for the sight of the mid-afternoon sun, cool shade and breeze playing havoc with rows of coconut trees. Until you pine for the smell of the sea and fish, the sight of hot, sweet, chocolate faces and the languor of a shop assistant saying "just now" and making you wait 15 minutes to pay for a pair of shoes. So you take the next BWIA flight home to your love.


Or you can fall very ill. Lie in a soporific torpor for weeks, with the curtains drawn, and shut out the sounds and colours of the street. You lie there feverish, burning hot, then cold, with the fan on, or swathed in a blanket and shut your eyes for days, only dimly aware of the sounds and colours of the streets. Then, emerge to convalesce to the rhythm of a tropical day. Sip your morning tea in the green cool of the morning, retire in the afternoon heat to your bedroom, flooded with yellow light, and emerge into your garden when the shadows are long, and the air dusky, and sit listening (sensuously dizzy from illness) to the noises of birds and insects and cars on tar, until the orange sun has dipped into the sea.


When you are quite well, and driving around again, you observe with pleasure whitewashed earthen pot plants, and baby bougainvillea on the roadside. You roll the glass down and gulp in the heavy warmth of the air, tinged now with smoke. You stare at the hills thinking this is awful, but also awed by the beauty of this orange fire on yellow hills.  You blink (for your eyes are still not used to the glare) at the blue, green, peach, white yellow colours of buildings - at red and neon signs. Your eyes follow the lines on a blue, spinning, murky green sea frilled by a jagged line of frothy waves.


You marvel at the landscape that no renaissance artist would have been able to emulate. Gardens, roads and houses flanked with the brightest white, purple, bougainvillea, at yellow blossoms and shades of green in trees, in plants everywhere you look.


However, by now you must be saying but why this obsession with wanting to see the place through the eyes of a tourist? We like it as it is. You know the reasons well enough. Not to mention, itís boring to go through them again, but for the record I must do it.


In recent weeks, maybe months, I have been unable to eat breakfast, leaving me hollow and weak all morning. The newspapers which are presumably a reflection of this country, especially the daily tabloids, made me gag over my toast almost everyday with the image of dead bodies in various positions. They were drowned, shot, decapitated, run-over.  I'm as puzzled as you as to the precise purpose of these photographs, and more than a little ashamed when a Canadian friend smugly informed me that "these would never be published in Canada in daily newspapers.Ē


What do they do except to reinforce our sense impotence as citizens of this country? All it does is create a public gallery - whet our appetite for the morbid, human meat, meaningless as the dogs on the highway, while deadening our sensibilities to the horror of violent, or tragic death.


Then, there is the whole tiresome round of life in the tropics everyday. Read Naipaul and you find that much of the same was going on 20, 30, 40 years ago. A taut rubberband tension between those who have and those who don't, manifested in strikes and crime and corruption. As for the racists, they thrive still.


The "letter to the editor" that did at least give me a shout or two of laughter was the one which said that this Government wanted to reinforce the death penalty so that fewer Africans could vote in the next elections! As far as I know violent crime is not restricted to any one race in this country. The issue of whether you think capital punishment is humane and a useful act is entirely different from this weird logic.

Then there was the "scoop" about the poor, young woman with outlandish breasts which needed to be fully displayed at every opportunity. Never mind her embarrassment, for aren't we helping her. We too will extract a pound of her flesh, better to sell newspapers. What better way to sell them than to arouse people's interest in the burlesque and macabre. People don't want to think, they want to gape. Gaping sells. Anyway, that's life in the tropics. There is simply no escape from the dark side of life, if itís not in the newspapers, the tragedy is on the streets, in the eyes of neglected children, unemployed men, single mothers. It is in all the television channels you flick. Same thing, crime, violence, sorrow, illness, inevitable old age, neglect, abuse.


I was desperate for a way out. Unfortunately, I don't have the money to fly off to Florence or walk the cobbled streets of Prague or mingle with the throngs in Delhi, but I did have a third option. Itís called denial. Here's how I did it. First, I stopped reading tabloid newspapers with dead bodies on the cover. Then, I began watching the cooking channel, specifically desert. So soothing, the whipping of eggs, the little red flare as rum is poured over bananas and butter. Mounds of jams, and fresh cream, and light flaky pastries tossed here and there, were balm to my soul.


Next, anytime any dark thoughts come over me, I look with some sort of religious fervor to the hills. They are burning now, in the shape of an aeroplane, terrible and beautiful orange red sending the smoke and charred cinders into our eyes, and lungs. It's a distraction. So are these little children of mine. When I worried with and about the world, I dealt with them with a heavy heart, thinking how can I protect them from this?  Now, I become one of them. I roll on the ground and play leap-frog, make up wild stories, get absorbed for hours with Lego. If they are mad, they cry, if they are happy, they laugh. No subterfuge, no lies, no covering up, no hypocrisy. Simplicity is such a great escape.


Yesterday, I concocted a delicious soup, or was it a stew?  First, I basted lamb in olive oil, garlic and oregano, added water until the meat was tender, stirred in some lima beans. When it simmered gently, I added a tin of creamed mushroom soup and, as a defiant act, a huge chunk of butter and watched it spread and melt, golden across the soup. I spent an hour stirring when stirring was not necessary.  In-between, I leapt about to a popular Indian film soundtrack, and then when I felt lighter, switched to Beethoven, and when I felt wild, to Edith Piaf. In-between I flew Lego planes around the kitchen with the children.


Today, the colours of the bougainvillea are even brighter, as if a lensman remembered to bring them into sharp focus. Biting into watermelon and paw paw so sweet, as if someone had poured a gallon of sugar in it, I thought nature has its compensations. Fruit is so sweet in the dry season. The green hills are wounded and ashen, the poui trees are bare beauties, the fires rage on. This is paradise. What? You say its belongs to fools? Tough, I've just renewed my vows.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur