Where life is hopeless

 

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Category: Children/Teenagers Date: 13 Apr 03


It was one of those balmy tropical nights, when the twilight faded reluctantly, lingering on the parched brown landscape, lit up dust particles scattered by bush fires in shades of rust. A strong welcome breeze sent the branches of trees this way and that, moonlight and lamplight mingling — making patterns of shadow and light.

 

I was thinking how much sweeter the mangoes are, how quickly the papaya ripens, how heady the scent of jasmines and ladies of the night is, of the abundance of bougainvillaea (the colours are fiery and deep – crimson, burgundy, yellow, pure white absorbing and reflecting light) in the absence of rain. Nature mocking herself, scorning the stubborn skies saying all water does is dilute.

 

The raw beauty of “dry season”.

 

The woman who came to my porch had the kind of face that defies nature with soft rounded contours, and eyes that glittered with warm intelligence.

 

She said, “I saw a hearse today, the streets lined with people who came to pay their last respects to Commodore Williams and suddenly for the first time ever, considered my mortality.” She paused and added. “I was frightened.”

 

We stood under the stars and spoke of death. For ages I argued childishly it can’t be so bad to die because you’re alive and then well, you’re not, but you can’t know you’re dead and besides I’d seen people I’d loved just after their death and although we wept for ourselves, they seemed to be relieved – their care lines disappeared with their worries and they looked calm, even smiling.

 

Perhaps we’ll die when we are just too tired of life through the final corridor, be it consciousness or nothingness or somewhere harpsichords play all day long and angels sing, but that would drive me nuts after a while. Better to float about or just mingle with the earth and be part of the grass.

 

Naturally then we turned to life and I told her how my 71-year-old father does aerobics everyday, keeping up with 20 something’s; undertook an expedition against all advice up Mount Kailash in the Himalayas at 69, and always has plans — to visit this country or that, write his third book.

 

Perhaps I suggested, the main thing about life was to remain excited about it as my father — about an idea, or the people about him and part of that is making plans which he does perpetually, projects of leisure, travel and work that make us look forward to everyday.

 

We ended our conversation by saying she loved life, and perhaps the main thing was to inhabit every moment, revel in it. I stood on the porch long after she’d left and couldn’t help thinking that to have this kind of philosophical exchange in a place where I felt relatively safe, had a roof over my head, a job, a healthy, happy family was an outrageous luxury.

 

While we were speaking thousands of refugees and prisoners of war crouched wounded and displaced in Iraq. Mothers, daughters, fathers, sisters, mourned dead fathers and sons. Orphans roamed bewildered in a blank state.

 

Why look as far as Iraq? This place is hell to so many young people in our country that we should be grateful that crime levels are not higher; thankful it isn’t total anarchy; joyous that our murder rate is so low. CSO statistics tell us of a population of approximately 1.3 million people in T&T, 200,000 are considered officially “poor”.

 

Some 82,000 people are unemployed. Each year some 26,000 people enter our workforce but only 17,000 complete the CXC O’level exam. Out of that 17,000 only 30-40% come out with 5 CXC passes. Out of the 2000 children who sat the basic English exam last year only four children, one boy and three girls came through with a “one” equal to an “A” at O’level. In Basic CXC only 600 out of 2000 children passed.

 

So here we have thousands of functionally illiterate youth. Where do the thousands of teenagers who don’t have basic education – the 70% who fail every year go? How do they survive? What hope do they have?

 

Thousands of them are annually falling out of the loop, are set up for a life of poverty – of inarticulate rage, and when they come of age will join the ranks of the tens of thousands who can’t get jobs.

 

So what does Government do? In some ways it’s as criminal as bombing Iraq because they create hopelessness. They put children through a rubbish school system where toilets reek and roofs leak and teachers are absent, not paid properly and often don’t have sufficient training.

 

Then they create more mind-numbing 10-day jobs for these young adults. Instead of looking at the source — the school system when crime levels rise, they varnish the police force. But most brilliantly, they come up with the concept of another University in a country where a disgracefully tiny proportion of students attend an existing University.

 

Now tell me, how much time will any of our already felled young people have to ponder the stars and the universe – a right which should be theirs as human beings?

 

What plans will they make? How will they feel as teens who can barely read and write, shut out of the gates when a spanking new University goes up? Will they see raw beauty in the grass or just despair?

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur