That instant Trini warmth makes us humane

 

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Category: Trinidad Society 09 Dec 12

 

My Facebook status said I was “freezing in NY.”

My dear friend, veteran journalist Jones P Madeira, replied “Who sen u there?”

That got me thinking.

Almost everyone I meet has a story. That’s why journalism is so heady, it drills into the core of fellow humans. And despite our bad press the trust we get is almost automatic. Journalists are like doctors, psychiatrists and priests. People pour out their stories to us, occasionally regretting they’ve said too much, but they can’t help it. And we in turn listen but with a bit of a detached eye which is necessary to allow us to go to the next story.

The last thing a journalist can be is paralysed by empathy.

But the Dr Kublalsingh story—a man who fasted for some 21 days so he could see an independent technical report on a $7.2 billion project and to have the work paused on the most expensive ($5 billion) section—gripped me precisely because he didn’t have much support.

Indeed, people seemed to loathe him for starving. He didn’t want to stop the highway either. He fasted for a greater good. I couldn’t understand how a lone man willing to die for a greater good, whether or not you thought him deluded, could bring about such antipathy. I still don’t.

The fast coincided with the teachers’ strike. I remember thinking we could use some of those highway billions on education, get rid of the expense of the laptops (which I understand are increasingly being used, with the help of a little memory stick, to become porn shows for 11-plus children) and restore remedial teachers so our school-leaving children don’t continue to join the ranks of some 400,000 functionally illiterate amongst us to be preyed on by make-work programmes, drug dealers or crime.

The Chinese Ambassador once told me China treats its teachers like kings. Because as China knows, and as India knows, education unlocks everything—civility, productivity, self-reliance, prosperity, security, less violent crime. Lack of it creates dependency and a sick statistic of having one of the highest rates of murder in a non-warring country.

I booked my flight, to be blunt, because I needed to get away.

The nasty response to the Kublalsingh fast brought on a strange and surreal feeling, a bitter taste in the mouth that didn’t seem to go for weeks, a sinking in the stomach that I also had when we hanged nine men, when we had an attempted coup, when murder becomes too damn everyday.

Our inhumanity is mostly a manifestation of our impotence as a population. We don’t have an ideology. We don’t know where we stand on health, education, science or tertiary education.

We just know when we vex.

So yes, I was glad to step out of the aircraft into an icy Manhattan, a city made for walking, glad for escape. Glad for the brusque city chill, which washes into your hair and body, tingling you into feeling like an icicle, which you melt down again with hot chocolate on a worn couch in a coffee shop.

Glad for the constant rush to beat the traffic light, catch the subway, hail the yellow cab, race around Central Park.

Glad for the easy exchange of smiles with strangers and relative lack of fear in a city where fairy lights gave ragged bare trees the grace of museum pieces, where cinnamon permeates cafes and patisseries, where your racing feet crunch on pine-strewn pavement and crimson sprigs dominate delicate flower shops.

I love that pretty girls and boys in book and clothes shops have degrees and opinions. They are working part-time to pay off their degree loans. The Afro-American girl at the Mac counter said no she didn’t vote for Obama because he was handsome but because of his health plan. The Ukrainian who sold me a lovely shade of berry lipstick said she voted for Obama but he needed to get tougher on Israel and not give in to the powerful lobbies.

The sweet Republican supporter whose blond locks fell fetchingly over his face while he searched for a book on a ladder earnestly reminded me that 46.2 million Americans are living in poverty. His colleague, a Latino picking up strewn books, reminded us Obama brought growth. Fewer Americans are filing claims for unemployment benefits (their version of CEPEP and Colour me Orange).

I’ve met a policewoman with a massive gun who accosted me as I walked out of a shop.

“Are you Egyptian?” She demanded.

“No,” I said, making a joke of an old song, “but I think I walk like one.”

“Trini?”

“Well, maybe” I said cautiously thinking she was going to arrest me for being a crazy.

“Ira Mathur? From TV a long time ago? I am from Penal. Came here 20 years ago.”

We laughed, hugged, exchanged numbers—and there you go: I felt a sense of homecoming.

She reminded me with her instant Trini warmth that despite the rawness of Kublalsingh’s protruding ribs, the dead dogs on our highways, the harsh language, we never quite cross that line into inhumanity. We didn’t support the attempted coup, we went quiet at the hangings and we didn’t let Kublalsingh die.

We are God’s people not because we are saved from hurricanes. but because when it comes to crunch time, we are humane.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur