Land of the young living dead


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Category: Trinidad Society 20 Feb 11

I wrote this on my return from Toco “In that foliage, sunlight and sea-enclosed world, friends sat together, sprayed by the rising tide, shared crayfish with a dozen sea-drenched children, or a thought. At night, mattress to mattress, shoulder to shoulder, with sea salt on our lips, we watched the full moon being swallowed up by the dark clouds, only to part and release its blue light again. It didn’t matter what we talked about in that moonlight-drenched, raging veranda. There was unspoken closeness there and perhaps recognition that we would all be there for one another when it counted. The epiphany came in the early hours of the morning while ten people slept. I felt fat drops of rain on my face and watched wide eyed as the wind whipped the tall palms into shapes; now the palms were bending like a sea anemone, now a giant upside down floating lotus, now a five-fingered monster curling down towards us.

The chorus of crashing waves, a whipping breeze, and the mad rustle of the coconut and palm trees was the accompaniment to this heart-stopping landscape. The sky was pale gray now (dipping into a shimmering black sea), a light backdrop for the inky silhouettes of jagged hills and dancing trees. That vision in Toco was an analogy for life itself. That life can be as huge as that horizon, risky as the rocks which in high tide and on a ledge of rocks scraped blood from our palms and ankles, as poetic, imaginative and unexpected as the palm trees which transformed themselves into sea anemones, as thunderous as the sky, as exhilarating as the whipping rain, and as filled with faith as were 21 sleeping children and adults in a house without locks. Unexpected shadows, shafts of dazzling light, faith. This is the stuff of which all our lives are made.  No more bitter. Just bittersweet.”

Vignette 2 February 2011

This is a social worker’s story on 13 forgotten villages on life in the north east of Trinidad.  We’ll call her Alicia. There are 13 forgotten villages in the north east of Trinidad. There are thousands of young boys in the bush; some involved in criminal activities, who for every one you catch will multiply like cancer.  Who are they? In these desolate areas, illiteracy, and lack of structured opportunities are feeders to the crime around us. For the kids, getting into the drug trade is natural...on the social and economic level. They are lethargic. Passive. School drop outs. They don’t get up. They don’t have energy. Most can’t read or write. It’s balefulness. They gaze as you pass. Resentment of abandonment burning in their eyes. Take a boy like Ron. He is typical of hundreds of children in those neglected villages. His mother works in a bar in Port-of-Spain. “When you last see mummy, Ron? You see mummy for Christmas?” He says ‘no’. “Where do you live?” He shrugs. They put children with other women where they do chores for their lodging and food. Nobody to ask: Ron, why is your shirt torn today? Did you go to school? Did you eat? He feels he doesn’t belong to any family. What mercy can they give to victims of crime? They’ve never received any themselves. He’s going to murder someone. He is like a coil spring.  He doesn’t have a family base. He says, “Nobody loves me. I love nobody.”

One day I was saying to a dozen teenagers that their village was beautiful.  They replied: “But we have nothing to do here.”  I said: “You can climb the hills. You can fish. You can swim.” “But we have nothing to do. So sometimes we go deep in the forest and take the donkey and do things with it. That is something to do.” A nun didn’t blink when I recounted this to her. She said: “Welcome to the world of poor.” They have nothing; no education, no family, no values, no hope, nothing but themselves, their bodies. You may see it as perversity. All they have is the body they walk around with and that is their resource and they use it for social, financial, emotional needs, for defence, attack, wagering, bartering and acquisition. “What else do you do?” The nine to 11-year-olds said that sometimes people bring blue movies in the villages. “We all watch it; the men, women and children.” They see nothing wrong because they have never been given a moral compass.

They feel cut off from the rest of Trinidad. Few want to teach in schools here.  It’s hard to carry vegetables out of there to sell. There is nothing there for anyone. From Toco to Matelot the roads are terrible. There are no doctors, few shops. No amenities. You are standing there with a bad toothache in the hot sun for four hours waiting for a maxi and not one car passes. Sometimes taxis go up to a certain point and turn back. People turn back. There is a heavy drug culture in these villages. Praedial larceny, pilfering. There are so many on drugs. It (drugs) arrives in the night to Matelot on the fishing boat. They get the kids to run it down to Sangre Grande. They tell me: “It’s no big thing. It’s a ‘wok’.” They’re truly poor. They do what they can do. They need to belong to something. With the call for retribution, for hanging, you are attacking kids who are already half dead.  They don’t care or know about vigilantes or a death penalty. It makes no difference to them. They will rob and kill if they have to because their own lives mean nothing to them. They don’t care if they are shot dead, jailed or hanged. They are lethargic. They are lumps on a rock. They sit in a corner, under a tree, do nothing. Expect nothing. They are nihilists. Sit and won’t budge. They don’t see possibility of changing things. And we think they are the enemy.  We create them daily.  Feed them with negligence.  That is the rot. ” There is no poetry left in Toco folks...just the young, living dead.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur