I am sorry I was not there to pay my respects on the day journalist George
John was laid to rest. I thought of him though, on Monday, travelling to New
York with a planeload of West Indians some Guyanese, other Trinidadians, of
African and Indian decent.
As we took off I thought perhaps it’s a good thing I missed his funeral. My
last memory of him is his laughing eyes, shadowed by illness, reminding me
of how I included him in my column of “sexiest men in T&T.”
There was always something about him, as if he knew he could talk his way
into anyone’s heart. Even his laughter was intelligent. That’s why he was
sexy, I told him.
Six years ago when I met George in Barbados at a PAHO awards function my
husband watched bemused as we fell upon one another, posing like teenagers
for photos, talking about everything from Aids to literature.
I asked him then why there weren’t more like him, why we don’t read widely,
why we have such few inquiring minds amongst us. He was flattered but
neither of us knew why they don’t make em like George anymore.
About three years ago, I got a phone call from a visiting British
Commonwealth journalist, Derek Ingram, whom I previously had worked with in
He said George would like us to come to lunch. A man of George’s generation,
Ingram is a passionate advocate of developmental journalism. Naturally, he
was George’s friend.
In George’s porch on that golden afternoon, Derek and I met George’s
hospitable wife, whose table was heaving with delicious food, and VS
Naipaul’s intellectually magnificent and infinitely more accessible sister.
The hours flew. We spoke of everything, of Caricom integration, of CLR
James’ farcical state funeral, of VS Naipaul, of Sam Selvon’s unforgettable
tableaux, of West Indians, of cricket.
It took George to bring together this expat Indian/Trini journalist, Ms
Naipaul and the quintessential British developmental journalist. The fact
that our origins were continents apart was irrelevant. George held us up to
the light showing how connections can be seamless. He was a soul beyond
boundaries, beyond race, beyond politics.
No leaders left
The everyday shredding our politicians do, creating bogeymen, racism,
dividing to rule wasn’t part of George’s sphere.
On the plane there was some commotion, a man protesting that he was served
sandwiches instead of a proper hot breakfast, the persistent calling for the
stewards while the seatbelt was on. The Indian Guyanese and African Guyanese
didn’t speak or share notes.
When we disembarked at JFK I saw why. Most of the West Indians on that plane
went to the line belonging to American citizens. You would have thought
green card holders held nirvana but they are enraged, dispossessed.
In America the rules are different for them as they are for most immigrants.
They don’t dare throw tantrums here.
They work harder than they ever would at home, but are not seen. Like the
taxi driver who rattled off every Hindu mantra hoping I understood he hasn’t
forgotten his roots, like the shop attendant who spoke of cricket, they want
In America they earn dollars but our governments are responsible for
“running them” by keeping them poor and dependent and by depriving them of
decent healthcare, education and job prospects.
I heard of Lloyd Best’s death from a bereft Trini here who said, “We have no
leaders left. What now?”
Men like John and Best gave us an identity,
understood the power of our people, the need for us to relate to the world
as equals. The tributes are nonsense until our governments reclaim our
people, make them stay, bring them home.