This week, amidst the horror of reports of the spate of child abuse in
this country, I have decided to defer part two of the article on Sarah
Beckett, the British-born artist in Trinidad.
Perplexed foreigners say our politicians rarely participate in any
developmental project unless it’s linked with a PR event which allows
them to dress up for a photo opportunity.
Now, apart from the daily fare of bullet-riddled youth, something else
grabs our attention. We are turning against our children. The headlines
of the last few days say four-year-olds, seven-year-olds have been
raped; that there are reports of abuse at the St Michael’s School for
Boys; that mothers are lashing at their children with shovels and
threats to kill them.
Our primitive, lazy response is a call for blood: Hang them high. Hang
them all. Our policemen— with their increasingly military armour—are
beginning to look like killers in computer games. But do those big guns
prevent abuse, prevent violence, or do they aggrandise it? We look
fearfully at these men in combat gear who, in ignorance of their role as
peacekeepers, revel in their costume and power to intimidate.
But what is the solution? Sadly, the solution requires sustainable work,
behind-the-scenes work, which is something for which we are not built.
We love First World ideas—hospitals that are like hotels; special
schools that encourage critical thinking; teachers’ colleges; music
literacy schools; monuments to great statesmen; Nobel prizes for science
and literature; a literacy-, art- and reading-based culture; hallowed
libraries of great universities; cobbled streets of beautifully laid out
cities with flowers on lanterns; degrees in social services; the joy of
quick service at a coffee shop; the aesthetics of heritage buildings;
the convenience of Internet grocery shopping; the freedom of feeling
relatively safe walking downtown in a city.
We love all that. We even adore Obama’s forward thinking on issues such
as global warming and gay marriage. We love Michelle O for encouraging
America to be healthier. We love that GPs in the UK have to do
compulsory ongoing education; that their performance review is based on
prevention of disease rather than expensive cures. We love all that, and
talk about it like it’s the man on the moon.
What do we have here? Fear; murder; rat-infested hospitals; 400,000
functionally illiterate people; 40-year-old rusty WASA pipes which will
only be changed when they disintegrate and flood our cities. We are the
third-fattest country in the world. We have one of the highest rates of
heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.
We’re an entire culture based on evading hard work—three generations of
variations of the menacingly- led Community-Based Environmental
Protection and Enhancement Programme. We have Carnival.
We’re among the most polluted in the world on a flammable, unregulated
oil-and-gas industrial estate. We’re tumbling down the transparency
index. And generally, we offer sour, pedantic, slow service, be it in
coffee shop, bank or licensing office.
Some people say they wish it were Carnival all year round. Well, guess
what? It is. We are a country that’s always on show. Our outer layers
are tinsel that falls apart when we go home. Without our glitter and
shields, we are sad, egotistical, naked leaders who don’t like to look
There is a reason for this. Sustainable development in this country is
as dirty an expression as “f--- off.” It’s boring. When
development-funding organisations say: “Look, you need to create a
degree in social services at UWI; you need to identify 500 families who
will be willing to take in children from institutions and give them a
financial incentive to do so. You need to de-institutionalise, rather
than box in, children who have been orphaned, abandoned, abused, or
whose parents are in jail. You need to rehabilitate them and integrate
them into society as productive civic citizens”—that’s another f---
We need to give financial incentives to unemployed single mothers to
send their children to school, and to social workers to protect and
nurture our children.
Who has time for that? There is no PR value on it. No need to dress up.
There are all kinds of dress-up. There is PR dress-up and there is
police-and-machine-gun dress-up. We are waiting to explode like a dumb
computer game. Why money for Soca Warriors now? Dress up. PR. Why more
money for soca and chutney stars every year? Dress up. PR.
Why statues of calypsonians and not a single one dedicated to a
statesman, or a man of letters? Dress up. PR. Playing not just to the
gallery, but to the lowest common denominator, has weakened our
All we can manage to do is dress up and allow the cameras in to mask the
rising stench of sloppy, lazy, hubris-filled, corrupt
self-aggrandisement based governance. Meanwhile, some child is being
abused quietly somewhere, everywhere.
It is said the mark of a truly civilised society is demonstrated by how
we treat our most vulnerable.
We have turned ourselves into some kind of perpetual show of Minshall’s
Carnival of Danse Macabre.