Government in absentia


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Category: Trinidad Society 08 Jun 08


The teacher was saying she was on her way to work at a girls’ school when she saw the day’s headlines at a traffic light “Hope is dead.” She was chilled. She understands the outcry. She teaches young girls every day. But is hope absolutely dead? “That can’t be” she said, or we wouldn’t live here.

It’s either that or we shut it out.

It’s a schizophrenic twilight zone we live in. Between hope and a permanent dread. We feel guilty for being able to live here, for loving the sunshine, the breeze, the rainy nights, the hazy dawns outlining hills, branches, birds and sea. There is our ole talk. The commonality that gives everyone access to one another. There is always laughter here.

I just heard a story of an off-duty security guard who was detained by police for carrying a firearm with him while intoxicated, after hours. He was in a car, with a woman (not his wife), when a suspicious policeman shone his torch into the car and found the firearm. The couple was taken to the police station.

The guard’s sister-in-law who happened to be driving by saw his car at the police station and called her sister. The guard’s wife arrived at the police station and discovered the “outside woman.”

The “outside woman’ called her husband to pick her up. The couples met. There was pandemonium in the station. A Raymond Choo Kong play.

The guard, instead of being sorry for being unfaithful, accused the policeman of ruining his life by shining a torch on him.

While we slept, policemen at a remote police station were laughing till they cried.

Sir Vidia Naipaul can call us what he wants, mimic men, half-made society, whatever, but he totally misses our laughter, our biggest shield against the horror.

At football: a man looks at a girl and asks her, only half joking, why she was wearing a T-shirt supporting David Beckham. Half way through the game while we were being walloped he looks at her with a pained expression as yet another of our players strolled towards the ball and says “Gimme de T-shirt nah.”

Then we are hit by the photo eight-year-old Hope. Presumably killed by someone she trusted. Hope is the shattered emblem of this country. As is the subsequent suicide of her alleged perpetrator.

Our courts are slow, and policemen slower, cancerous with corruption.

We shrug. Mob justice is better than nothing. Yet, whether or not the man was guilty, the truth is, we are now operating like a country in a state of emergency.

People can and do die in mysterious circumstances. Now we’ve stopped expecting the rule of law. The mob rule may work to assuage our rage over the murder of a child but it is also a viper that swiftly turns, targets the innocent. The horror is there every second of our lives. As another headline asked, “Who is next?” It could be any of us.

We are essentially an ungoverned, forgotten people. We have a government behaving as if they are governing some other country, one without people, just land, construction and oil.

A government in absentia that responds to 220 murders a year (despite our oil, despite our wealth) with a multi-billion dollar plan to upgrade more buildings downtown.

Child molesters didn’t come from nowhere. They live and walk among us. They are us. The illiteracy rate is the highest in neglected rural Trinidad, a direct result of spending billions on buildings instead of education. That neglected area is a minefield of alcoholism, incest and domestic violence.

My fellow columnist Dr David Bratt has pointed out that most prisoners have learning difficulties. It all starts at school. It all starts there. It ends with bullets...

Yet, there is life. There is all the richness of who we are. With a government in absentia we all have to band together, take responsibility, do what we can to keep hope alive.



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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur