Back home to a burst bubble


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Category: Trinidad Society 27 Jan 08


“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really co-operating with it.

“The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict. The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.”

—Martin Luther King, Jr

On my return to Trinidad and Tobago from a long trip, I couldn’t get over how lovely this country is.

Washed by steady Christmas rains, the streets gleamed, the water on pavements, leaves, hedges, bounced sunlight, and the mountains stood strong and green, a reassuring patriarch.

I could see one shoulder, slightly higher than the other in my husband, relax into his back in a way it hadn’t for five weeks.

The return put a kind of sleepy, silly smile on our faces, and we gave ourselves up to the warm breezes of these islands.

At home, once I began to unroll the dozens of unread newspapers over the weeks, the bubble burst.

Thirty murders in half-a-month, ten rapes by a man who is HIV-positive, two bodies thrown over the hill, 20 mothers weeping over dead sons.

Armed robberies are no longer news. Corrupt policemen are the norm. The regular dropping of guns and drugs on our coastlines just elicits a steups.

Policemen admitting guns are more accessible than sweeties on the block, that practically every young man owns one, or can rent one at a moment’s notice doesn’t raise a single eyebrow.

Have power to change

In journalism school, we were taught that “dog bites man” is not news, but “man bites dog: is, so even the gang killing is old hat now.

A murderer who is caught, speedily tried and brought to justice will be big news—if it happens.

One family during the past five weeks (a family that had already suffered from a kidnapping and a murder at their business place), suffered four armed robberies during Christmas.

An elderly couple, driving about in their new car off a highway, were threatened by a group of youth who deliberately tried to pick a fight with the old man over his driving, pulled him out of the car and roughed him up with the hope of stealing his car.

The talk is now just about survival. “At least we are alive.” “At least I wasn’t raped.” “They only tied us up and pointed guns to our heads and took our money. At least we weren’t shot.” “We are alive.” “You can’t escape crime”

We’ve talked and written until our hands and mouths hurt. We asked repeatedly for the rule of law, transparency in government, education, a work ethic, a working democracy, for men to be fathers to their sons, for the judicious use of oil wealth, the flow of guns and drugs to stop.

It hasn’t.

Now what?

Let us report each crime, even if we have no faith in the police, to the anonymous Crime Stoppers.

Let us reach out to angry young men. Let us resist aggression, corruption, and shoddy service. Let us stand up against mediocrity, insist on excellence.

And let us keep faith with Martin Luther King’s beliefs that had the power to change an entire generation.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Time to reclaim our power, our country, those hills.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur