Heads in our island sand


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Category: Trinidad Society Date: 28 Jul 02

As an island people, we’ve discovered the sand is a convenient place to hide, a safe place to bury our heads not just from other people, but from ourselves.


Mankind can’t bear too much reality, as a poet once said.  Burying our heads in the sand is often our only option.  Clarity can be ruthless, intolerable, pointless.


For instance, just this morning I buried my head in the sand, with the morning’s papers.  Like a puppet, my mouth opened disbelievingly, not knowing what to make of a second kidnapping in as many weeks, of missiles and cocaine being found in an Ex-Minister’s home.


My eyes glazed over as I read of the soap opera of the investigation into the airport and more on the million-pound bank account; on the tennis ball salvos of voter padding being hit back and forth between our two main parties.


These events with their panoramic impact - voter padding, an over-priced airport, unnaturally rich public officials - are everybody business, since these funds and freedoms, if they have been appropriated, belong to the taxpayer.


The kidnappings and drug-related crimes send warning flashes to us as they always have, that our economy is partially run by the underworld.  That ordinary people are emulating the new (anti) heroes of our time, smart men, politicians and businessmen who would be insulted at the thought of actually having to work for their money, since slick talk and subterfuge is macho, does the trick in no time.


The consequence of a non-functioning Parliament, a government gearing up for the inevitable election, our country  being run as carelessly as the garbage that flies from trucks onto our weed and grass boulevards.


It took an 11 year old boy whose questions, while we were driving on the highway from Port-of-Spain to San Fernando, caused me to briefly pull my own head out of the comfortable darkness into the blinding glare of our world, and take note: “Why,” he asked “do we have such a ugly harbor?”  Why do we have to have a dump on what was formerly an eco-tourist site, and that, too, up wind, so at any given point Port-of-Spain stinks? “Why?” he asked as we drove, “is our highway strewn with garbage, untidy bush and grass?”


“Why,” he asked, “can’t we landscape the way they do in Barbados?” “Why,” he asked “are our beaches so dirty?”


I had to tell him the truth, “Because nobody gives a damn.  Anyway, for decades, the money required for that has been stolen and pocketed.”


Reluctantly, I pulled my head out of the sand.  I saw, the highway with its garbage, scattered, ugly bush, its smell of the dump and desolate buildings.  Shabby Government Offices, where we sort out our taxes, certificates, driver’s permits (some condemned, all needing urgent refurbishment) where the air is stale and the workers so neglected and dissolute, that they appear to be in a semi-stupor, barely able to nod their heads when interfacing with the public.


(The Ministers’ Offices are plush, of course, with their leather chairs and their mini-bars.  They’ve given themselves the vote to fix themselves up nicely, thank you very much.)


The hospitals, with their sad equipment, their terrible systems for out-patients, their lack of bed-space for seriously ill people, their long waiting lists where people die waiting for surgery.


Overcrowded, crumbling schools, absent teachers, foul toilets which children train themselves not to use.


Young people who, because they don’t read, are inarticulate and ignorant of the world they live in, who, because their minds are fed with a diet of video games, television and bad-john stories (where its macho to be a thug), are without humanity.


It was not just the boy who made me see.  It was a nun.  Improbable, but true, for a cynic like me.  In responding to one of my columns, this nun pulled my head out of the sand, and forced me to look at the reality of a country where girls are willing to sell their bodies for a box of KFC, of incest victims, of teenage pregnancies that mean dropping out of school, continuing a cycle of poverty, illiteracy, dependency on exploitative men, producing more underprivileged children.


The glare is blinding.


But now my head out of the sand, I see on one end of the specter, people drinking the blue label scotch off the fat of the land on their leather chairs, on the other, the underworld, who (unlike pretending politicians and businessmen, are at least open with their demands of wanting something for nothing), and sandwiched between them, us.


The vast majority of ordinary people who work to pay their mortgages and keep their jobs, whose eyes are daily assaulted with garbage on the road, who are held up, mugged, raped, whose time is daily wasted by slow Government offices, who are afraid of public hospitals, who wonder when will have a properly functioning Government.


It’s easier to shove our heads back in the sand, where we try not to worry about things we can’t do anything about.


See how far we’ve come? A limp democracy, a powerless people living from diversion to diversion.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur