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Category: Trinidad Society Date: 10 Apr 05

I have always been fascinated by perspective. The way four people can be present at one event, or one country and experience it in an entirely different way depending where they are coming from. Lawrence Durrell does it beautifully in the Alexandria Quartetís weaving the voices of four friends in the sultry musky sunshine of that ancient city.


A quartet of sorts unfolded around me, with the glittering serendipity you occasionally stumble on in the rich jumble of this country, (not unlike Alexandria of the mid 20th century) with its extreme passions and bright colours, and sudden deaths, shocked weeping and laughter, with non-stop crashing of waves around us.


In the lovely casual way we have of striking quick intimacies with people, going from hello to the state of oneís soul in five seconds, encounters with a house painter a businessman, a real estate agent and a marketing professional, gave me varying perspectives. I was able through their honesty to inhabit separate lives for those few minutes.


Quartet 1 

The 28-year-old house painter from Laventille is a sweet-natured hard-working handsome young man with a girlfriend he adores and plans to marry:

ďI am one of five children. My mother is a single parent. I grew up without a father. He went to the US and I never saw him. I was once part of a gang. I left when I fell out with them and escaped a bullet to my head. Every morning I leave a street full of young men who will sit in one spot for the whole day, like itís a job. They live from day to day. Most of them donít have money to travel out of Laventille but they own a gun. How you think that happened? They are controlled by the real big boys in society. Most of the boys in my original gang are dead. Crime is the mentality that comes from years of neglect and ten-day jobs. Training centres have opened in Laventille but we need proper jobs, roads, homes. If youíre poor all you think of is money.

Low paying job

ďCrime gives men a certain lifestyle and rank. They get cable TV, cars, jewelry, phones, brands. They will not give that up for a low-paying job. They would do a contract killing or shoot a man in the back for his car without a care because they themselves feel they donít have anything to live for. People are afraid to hire you if youíre from Laventille so you have to lie about your address but good people live here too.

ďThe boys in my block watch me as I leave for work but I feel proud of my skills, of filling my pocket honestly. I have a lot to live for, a lot to offer society. That bullet flying past me taught me that.Ē 

Quartet 2 

A 51-year-old Syrian-Trini who migrated to Europe after the surge in kidnapping and violent crime: ďI just got off the phone from a friend who said his son escaped being kidnapped. The relief I feel when I am abroad, at my children being able to walk on the streets and know they are safe, to go to a corner shop by themselves, to sit with the front door open in a garden, to use public transport, to go about my business feeling safe is worth living in exile.

I left my entire family, friends and business associates of a lifetime, my country that I love, for that peace of mind. Itís expensive, itís lonely, and itís cold and dark for months, but if thatís what I have to do to make sure my children are safe Iíll do it. When they are settled in university in a few years, and if the country is safer maybe weíll come back. This is our home, always will be, our navel strings are buried here but our choice was either to live like prisoners or leave. We left, with heavy hearts."


Quartet to be continued


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur