To inhabit the skins of the world


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Category: Trinidad Society Date: 12 Feb 06


The great thing about T&T is that we feel we are the world. Terrorist bombs go off in a train and bus in London one day and the next thing, we have bombs going off in our city in a garbage bin.


Angelina Jolie gets pregnant out of wedlock and admits it to a charity worker, the next week our own celebrity charity worker, former Miss Universe Wendy Fitzwilliam, announces her pregnancy at a Catholic girls’ school.


We are subject to a stream of advertised “celebrity” concerts and appearances from Madonna to Nicole Kidman. Only if you look closely you’ll find you’re being presented with the faux celebrity. Not the real thing after all. Still it’s in some way being part of the world.


Whatever it is, our talent is to weave with ease between worlds and time, recreating the universe thematically, beautifully personified at Carnival as Europe wines with Africa, India rubs with China, and the cross breed of continents shows up in a single lovely face, one after another costumed, partly masked, upturned to the sun.


Our exquisite imitation, dismissed by Naipaul as mimicry is simply our ability to inhabit the skins of the world.


That’s why the story of Isabelle Dinoire, the recipient of the first face transplant, blew me away. It’s our story.


Dinoire, a 37-year-old divorced mother of two, took “tablets to forget” her worries, passed out, woke up and tried to light a cigarette. She couldn’t. It was only when she saw the pool of blood and her face in the mirror that she discovered that her dog had gouged out her lips, nose and chin while she was asleep.


She had a cavity instead of a face. When the French woman faced the media for the first time she thanked her doctors who made medical history when they transplanted the face of a brain-dead suicide victim (she had committed suicide) on to Dinoire’s skull in a 15-hour operation at Amiens Hospital last November.


She recounted her accident with the dog and drugs: “I went to look in the mirror and I was horrified. I couldn’t believe what I saw, especially as I didn’t feel any pain. Since that day my life has changed.” Without lips, a nose and a chin Isabelle was a freak.


She didn’t leave her hospital room for six weeks because she was “afraid of other people’s looks.” She could not eat normally because she was unable to open her mouth more than three millimetres. After the operation, everyday human activities she took for granted were now miracles of science. “Now I have a face like everybody else. I can open my mouth and eat. I can feel my lips, my nose and my mouth,” she said.


A packed conference of reporters stared at her mauled image on a large screen and then her transplanted face “not perfect, but a human face belonging to a dead woman.”


This real life story raises pores, because now we are confronted with the fact that all our faces are masks. And these masks can be interchangeable. And a face can go on breathing and eating on another body after its original body perishes. The masks demonstrate too, that no matter which one you have on, yours, or someone else’s; it’s what is on the inside that counts.


A new nose or lips or chin will not change our lives. Our white, black, brown faces; flat, sharp, asymmetrical, ugly, old, young, beautiful, sick features are miraculous because they allow us to kiss, eat, smell, breathe.


Before the accident Dinoire was depressed and addicted to smoking. She still smokes and is still stressed despite her miraculous second chance in life. Now she needs to fix the inside. It was too late for her donor to fix the inside. But it’s not for Dinoire, and it’s not for us.


Maybe that’s what we understand “it’s the inside we need to fix, the real thing, as we blindly mimic switch, juggle, parties, religions, bands with such ease.”


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur