The state of affairs in T&T


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Category: Trinidad Society 18 Sep 11


I was surprised how closely my Trini friends, husband and wife (recently relocated to London) were following the state of emergency (SoE). But for a wistful look, the husband was glad he took his family away to settle in England which, with all its problems according to him, is the opposite of Trinidad…and “still pushes through its system of competition and meritocracy a mediocre professional and pushes him to be good, pushes the good to excellent, and the excellent to brilliant.” On my return I saw a status on a Facebook page by his wife asking what was “the latest with the SOE in T&T.” What I wanted to say on her wall would not fit, so I am saying it to her and all the Trinis abroad, in this column.

What’s happening in T&T

What is happening in T&T? Here is my personal view.

Let’s start with good news. One of the over-radiated patients at the Brian Lara Cancer Treatment Centre e-mailed me to say the centre is now treating her (and I assume all the other over-radiated patients) for free. “Sorry” is a sweet but rare word in T&T, but it does happen. We don’t know what brought about the change at the centre but we’re glad for it.

Immediately on my return I was greeted with a double buzz.

The news from a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) draft report on Human Development and Citizen Security in the Caribbean saying that T&T is “rivalling” Jamaica as the most violent country in the Caribbean; that some areas around Port-of-Spain are listed among the most dangerous in the world; that illegal firearms can be rented for about $100 an hour, and that the Miss Universe pageant was on. The latter overshadowed the former. The Miss Universe pageant was the talk of the town. You, my friend, probably missed it because it’s not shown in the UK where you live. It’s barely on the radar in many developed countries. 

It baffles me, this open and sexist fascination for a group of young women paraded about like prize colts, objectified, patronised in more than one sense of the word and somewhat exploited for money-making project headed by clever men who wrap it up into a sleek package. I’m not saying the interest is wrong. It’s merely laughably disproportionate and strenuously defended by my FB friends who said that millions worldwide watch it, so why not us? My counter argument is that yes, but we also desperately need to broaden our net of heroes from the current worship of beauty queens, sports stars and calypsonians to new stars in academia and business, development and finance capable of inspiring our young people to actually build our crushed country.

We need more than entertainment

We need more than entertainment to develop our country. We need an adult academy for learning for our 400,000 functionally illiterate, an academy of music teaching music literacy. The other thing I noticed about the SoE (now extended to new areas and coastal zones) was—despite the increased police and army presence—ironically, exhilaration, a freedom from fear, as people from pubs and clubs spill out on the streets before the curfew. There has been some disturbing race talk linked with the SoE, with some feeling that it unfairly targeted Trinis of African descent. Oddly, people seem to have missed that this lack of race thing is the one thing going for us. 

Here is a police force—largely of African descent—with a recent history of difficult wage talks, now out with the army—also largely of African descent—during a state of emergency, supporting a government led by a Trinidadian East Indian woman Prime Minister. Apart from the cutting of a Rasta man’s dreadlocks (an undeniably crass and bullying act), our armed forces have risen to the occasion, undoubtedly creating (for now) a safer country: finding guns, drugs and ammunition. They have held dangerous murderers. They have put country first, as they did during the 1990 coup attempt, and as they have done consistently over the years. They have been apolitical and first class at doing their duty.

On a lighter note, there is the rumour that there may be between five to seven new McDonalds outlets in T&T, including an American phenomenon called the McCafe. This is big news for a country that has among the highest crime rates in the world, but also has among the highest incidences of lifestyle diseases including heart disease, hypertension, cancer and diabetes in the world. We are just about to get fatter and sicker and we can’t wait!

Our teens as fragile as glass

And finally I want to end with news that will devastate you, but also I hope, you being a mother of two sons yourself, provide a little candle of light in your day. This week my 16-year-old daughter called me in tearful shock saying a friend, 16-year-old George Kazanjian from St Mary’s, with whom she had spent her primary school years, committed suicide. It appeared that this handsome, bubbly, kind and bright boy had befriended not just her, but thousands of teens and their parents in six schools around Port-of-Spain. In 24 hours a page dedicated to George, called “A smile for George,” had over 2,000 followers. 

An entire generation of schoolchildren and their parents are mourning for George because he showed us how fragile we all are. It could be any of us, any of our children. The tender, loving, understanding and supportive messages for George in their thousands on Facebook showed me that our teens aren’t as tough or sullen as we think; the values we want in our children are intact. If George was able to inspire so much love, and gave so much in his young life to so many, his parents must have done someone wonderful and must not blame themselves. With their wildly oscillating moods sending them plummeting to rock bottom in one second and shooting them into a sky high joy in another, our teens are actually as fragile as glass.

On August 22, George wrote on his Twitter page: “It’s my time to shine. I know it.” On August 16, he tweeted: “Half of my heart’s got a grip on the situation.” On August 15, he tweeted: “Only God can judge me. That’s what I’m afraid of.” I learned that we better accept the fact that our children live in an electronic world, with the wildfire communication of Facebook, BlackBerry Messenger, Twitter. They are incredibly connected in a way we were not, and if we, the parents of an electronic generation want to know what’s going on with them we better join that world. The sad part is that many felt he was now “in a better place” even before they’ve begun to live their lives. It is our duty to make T&T a better place for them.

I want to close my long note to you with a quote from a young man from St Mary’s paying tribute to George, remarking on the number of people who joined his memorial Facebook page. “So, over 2,052...over two thousand and fifty two people...those who knew you...those who didn’t...we all wish that this never happened...we all wish that we could have seen you smile again. “Now, me personally, I just wish that you had the wisdom to realise that with time things do get better and the reality is that you’re never alone (saying this to everyone). Don’t be afraid to talk to people...don’t be afraid to listen.” And with that, my friend in England, I end my note from Trinidad to you knowing that you live there, but half of your heart is here.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur