More reality than we can bear


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Category: Trinidad Society 03 Nov 13

“Go, go, go, said the bird:

human kind cannot bear very much reality.”

—TS Eliot, Burnt Norton


You have to love Trinidad, yes. Take my friend X. There he was, walking down the road in downtown Port-of-Spain. He sees a man who looks unkempt, homeless, and obviously at risk of disease, crime and/or drugs. To his surprise, the man hails him out loudly. “Mr X!” He recognises the man as someone he used to know 20 years ago. He is shocked at the change in him. Nevertheless, he asks, “Eh, how are you?” Without blinking an eye, the man looks my friend in the eye and says: “I okay.” X understands, closes the exchange with, “Cool.” The men walk on. Pride is preserved, a level of democracy is observed. But reality remains unacknowledged in the open. Behind closed doors, among women, in salons, lulled with music, with the intimacy of being pampered by another woman, talk flourishes. My masseuse, a clever woman from East Dry River who owns her own home and car at 35, spent the full hour giving me her take on Trinidad. She told me an MP visited East Dry River, Port-of-Spain, before the local government elections with an entourage of four Prados and two SUVs, promising food cards. She asked one of the drivers whether the Prime Minister was there, and if not, why her tax money was being spent on so much security and vehicles when sick, old people in this country have to hustle for transport?

The driver shrugged. He was getting paid. She told me: “They think we are stupid. That we can be bought for a few T-shirts and food cards and make-work, Carnival and ten-days. If they wanted to help, they would build a day care centre where children are supervised after work, or an adult literacy school or a health centre that works.”

Her grandmother, 86, after having suffered a heart attack, had to sit in casualty on a hard chair with other sick people for five hours before being seen by a doctor. We agree that we endure ridiculous waste of our tax money. (This is not including the alleged reports of the current feeding frenzy, nepotism, and the millions being siphoned off from Government “projects.”) But the waste is glaring—like a respected political analyst being paid some millions by the Government to ponder young men and crime. The man on the street could do that report for free. It’s big money—bringing in drugs and guns to our transshipment islands using young men as pawns. Who is responsible? Big business, government members or the armed forces? We can only surmise. It’s an open complicity. If we ask too many questions, we could get killed. So let’s shut up. It’s illiteracy plus make-work (the budget for dependency programmes swells each year) plus deadbeat fathers plus zero work ethic thanks to generations of handouts, plus lack of infrastructure and opportunities. We have to hand it to the Government, though: the commissioning of the study was a glib sidestepping of the “problem” of the young man, while paying somebody thoroughly equipped to write about him to “study” the problem.  We had fun, too, in that darkened room: the masseuse and I coined multimillion studies of our own, such as: “Why Political Power Swells Heads and Stomach Simultaneously” and “Why People Who Don’t Know The Difference between Loose and Lose Tend To Be Political Sycophants.” The masseuse finished our session with a crack to my neck, saying: “We are not as stupid as they think. We see through them.” What is pathetic is how jaded we are, how cowed by power, fearful of an ever-present menace of loss of life, livelihood or status if we speak up. We should be: the Government is the largest employer. So:

• We accept we have one of the highest rates of murder in a nonwarring country.

• We accept opaque procurement arrangements. We are falling on the international transparency index.

• We accept being a transshipment point for drugs.

• We accept that our overflowing dumps do not qualify to be called landfills because of the toxic waste from burning plastic and chemicals being absorbed into our soil and our water, contributing to cancer (this amazes me: how a tiny island like Barbados, with only some sun and sand, recycles up to 80 per cent of its waste, yet we recycle nothing).

• We accept rubbish underfinanced public health care institutions— overrun with rats, cockroaches, having a skeleton staff, with obese nurses who have no concept of nutrition, machines selling junk snacks and drinks, inadequate equipment and beds, and poorly paid doctors... and apart from the sprawling white elephant in Mt Hope, we will be spending millions on ANOTHER hospital in Penal?

• We accept the crime: the slew of high-profile rapes flagged on various embassy Web sites (forget murders for now, forget that women in depressed areas get raped routinely without mention).

• We accept up to 400,000 functionally illiterate adults among us.

• We accept the depth of the rot that requires more leadership, less posturing and fewer guns.

Now I am convinced that we have more reality than we can bear, thank you very much, and if the vagrant on the street is “ok,” then, “cool".


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur