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
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
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
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.”
“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