back. It’s only by going away “not far, to a perfectly friendly space
in another paper” for less than a year, but far enough to realise that
we each inhabit a space that is not just physical, but mental.
columns in the Trinidad Guardian forced me to be an active witness to life
in Trinidad from the mid-nineties into the 21st century.
battle now is over the Budget, to put it bluntly. How will the pie be
divided up? Will poor Africans be “given” more than poor East Indians?
battle is not for promoting literacy—a shocking 40 per cent of our
population can only read and understand headlines, and over 300,000 people
are totally illiterate—not my figures, ask ALTA, the adult literacy
group, or researchers at UWI.
battle is not to push more young people to attend university. Our tertiary
education figures are among the lowest even in the Caribbean so we can
stop our superiority complex now. We have the oil bucks but our brains are
going down the drain.
battle is not about making every poor, illiterate, person become self
reliant, or to provide decent health care for ordinary people.
each political side is fighting to throw crumbs at people as if we are
mindless dogs with one beady eye towards the next elections.
recent issues this paper has been holding up an unmistakable mirror to our
society—photojournalism at its best, one face with the map of four
continents—there is Chinese, Spanish, African, Syrian. Another beautiful
face, a blend of India and Africa. You can separate people with party
cards, but try and divide this face up, try and apportion this feature to
this race, and this hair to that. Their existence should shame those who
sacrifice nationality, patriotism to race.
get one thing clear. Whether it was of their own choosing or not, the
Africans and Indians who came here generations back, then mingled with the
Europeans, and Asians severed roots when they dropped their languages, the
core of every culture. But they did come with memory, and that was used to
create separate valid necessary cultural identities but also a collective
to take people of the new world with a mutating, distinct identity (mother
India, mother Africa are little more than a dream-memory isn’t reality)
and pitch them into an African/East Indian battle is a Machiavellian grab
me go back, before I move forward to show you the circularity of things,
to convince you of the enigmatic truth in the idea that more things
change, the more they stay the same.
a 2002 column written in this space, a mother travelling from India to
Trinidad is speaking to her child.
are going to a place which, though small, is the gathering place for
peoples of the world. You will see the elderly Chinese man sitting under
Poui blossoms in the Savannah, the Syrian who handles brocades lovingly,
the blonde French Creole and the dark African noisily cheering for an
Indian player at a cricket game, jhandis swaying in yards, blanched
petticoats worn by Baptists ballooning in shaded water.
place so free you can wear salvaar khameez at the Temple, walk bare feet
on its cool parapet in the morning and wander around in bikinis on hot
beaches in the afternoon. You will hear strains of pan mingle with the
power of the Azaan on loudspeakers from mosques during Ramadan; and in a
pub not far from either, dance to calypso music.”
this Budget going to be about sacrificing people for power? The more
things change the more they remain the same.