T&T youth desensitised


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Category: Trinidad Society 28 Aug 11

While I was scouring the Internet for development on the recently announced limited state of emergency in T&T, the walls of my home were porous with the laughter of teenagers and their music. When I summoned up courage to enter the sacred space of 16-year-olds, I told them that a limited state of emergency is a governmental declaration that may suspend some functions of the executive, legislative and judicial powers, and can suspend rights and freedoms, even if guaranteed under the Constitution.                                 

Such declarations, I said, as their eyes began to glaze over, usually come during periods of civil unrest, or following a declaration of war or internal armed conflict. Ours came after there were 11 murders in the space of 48 hours. We had the second largest incidence of murders in the world in a non-warring country so it was both acceptable and necessary and a huge relief. “Yeah,” they shrugged, “we heard.” They began to rattle off all the “hot spots” that would be under lockdown for the limited state of emergency, and carried on partying. “Normel,” they said.

Unlike the adults around me they didn’t seem particularly relieved. The next evening a 15-year-old boy informed me that BlackBerry Messenger Service (BBM) would be restricted in the evenings. Another teenager indignantly vented her feelings of victimisation at not being able to talk to friends on BBM or lime late with her friends. “This curfew had to happen in the last few days of summer?” she practically sobbed before cheering herself up by choosing her costume at the Harts mas’ camp. Looking at this pretty but tough looking kid I thought, if someone were to get gunned down outside she would be taking a photo of it, posting it on Facebook, putting it up as her profile update; but she wouldn’t be shocked.

I thought about the teenagers’ response to the limited state of emergency, which to many of us, brings back dark shadows of 1990—fear, murder and looting. Their faces were luminescent with youth but strangely eerie. Something was wrong. What? This. Their faces remained impassive, registered no surprise, nor curiosity. I understood. They were children of Trinidad, born a mere four years after the attempted coup of 1990; the insurrection that left dozens dead and made criminals heroes and the endless shipments of guns toys for teenagers.

When they were born, 114 insurrectionists had already been walking free for years, and amidst the fertile grounds of illiteracy and poverty bred a new hero—respect based on the number of bullets used to kill a man or woman. After 1990, life as we know it changed. Everyone locked their doors, there were no open verandas in Trinidad. Every gallery was practically a jail. Our children were bashing themselves as toddlers against the burglar proof like trapped birds.

These children now celebrating their excellence in CXC results in my house are the lucky ones. They are privileged not because of financial reasons, but because they were brought up with care. While their mommies and daddies were picking them up and dropping them off to school, and making sure they were safe by building up fences (some of which go ten feet high, some of which are now electric), their classmates, some living in “hot spots” were sitting at home with aunties and grandmothers while their mothers worked and their fathers limed, waiting for the gunshots to subside so they could go to school. Many were looked after by older siblings who were marketable by “putting down a wuk” and shooting a man in cold blood with a handmade gun after which a thick gold chain and Reeboks appeared like magic in the house.

Ah, glorious school days, waking up to the crack of the gun, to a father long disappeared and a mother barely glimpsed before she goes to work, to getting to school hungry, to being mindlessly shoved up the school system and out with no literacy nor numeracy skills. Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh said just last week that “TT ranks 62 out of 82 countries in Standard Three in terms of literacy,” that “only 40 per cent of our children pass mathematics in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examinations,” and “one in every three persons in TT is functionally illiterate.”

Our youth today grew up watching the news with daily clips of assassinated men, women and families sometimes lying face down in pools of blood, or slumped in cars. No wonder that by the thousands, they left school to join the underworld sub culture. They preferred the streets where they wandered like strays until the gangs made them feel as if they belonged, empowered them with guns, and made them feel like a million dollars in designer sneakers. Instead of history, math and geography, they absorbed images of headless men, dead men. Our children have grown up seeing us, their parents “wine” at state-organised and funded events and call it “de culture.” They know about a culture of “gimme gimme” entitlement as third and fourth generation recipients of “make work” programmes like Cepep.

If it weren’t for a few dedicated teachers and parents many children would limit their aspirations to the people most elevated in our society—entertainers, beauty queens or sportsmen, who have streets and boulevards named after them, who have (mediocre) statues built in their honour. They don’t know Nobel laureates VS Naipaul, Derek Walcott. They were never told that it takes academics, scientists, engineers, doctors, lawyers, builders, artisans, to make a country. This is the “we” culture, the other side of the Pakistani Madrassas which spawns terrorists in the hundreds. One teaches religious dogma, the other a nothingness. Same coin. Different sides. The privileged children witnessed, if not the daily killing of gang members on the streets but the “high profile” murders.

Around the time of their birth in 1994, the stage had been set when two housewives were murdered in Westmoorings, attacked by two men who raped them and the housekeeper in the presence of their children. These 16-year-olds were ten when elderly couple Clyde Commissiong, 69, and his 70-year-old wife, Denise, were beaten to death at their Cascade home by bandits who escaped with an iron safe, leaving behind two infant children crawling in the blood of their murdered grandparents. Meanwhile the big guns, the faceless menace, the invisible wealthy thugs who import millions of dollars worth of guns and drugs and put them in the hands of illiterate angry neglected boys on every street corner, who allow them to die like animals, have drilled rot into the core of our nation.

Yes children, you holding guns, being smoked out like animals by men in uniform and you young girls who were not registered at birth by your poor parents, and you who have never seen a toothbrush in your life in neglected rural areas, and you who go and play with donkeys in coastal villages out of boredom and you, the privileged children, who will one day call for your hanging or shoot you in cold blood, we all did it. Where are the guns, the murders, the brutes coming from? I saw the answer on the faces of 16-year-olds the night the limited state of emergency was announced. They said, “You, all parents, governments, teachers, neglected and stunted us; before we had chance to grow and bloom, made us cold and old. Now deal with it.” Normel.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur