Washing the dust from our eyes


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Category: Trinidad Society 17 Jan 16


Back home after 15 months in Europe, I still marvel at the light. The way it sets rooms alight like tropical blooms, slopes across the curtains and on the floor, flames like fire in the dusk. Years ago, when I was feeling trapped in this place juggling two small children, three jobs, covering the carnage of road deaths, senseless murders, reading Naipaul, I could not understand what people loved about this country.

I worried when I walked into marble or stilt homes with no books in sight. I worried that people saw education or good manners as a threat. I worried that people were so proud that they refused to serve you in a shoe shop on Charlotte Street. I worried that the wining would never stop.

That the holier-than-thou faces who would be the first to pounce on the weak, smelling human blood on Ash Wednesday, that they would never be unmasked. I worried at the arrogance of men of power and money. Now that I have been deprived of a tropical sun for 15 months, I look at the golden days with wonder, with the eyes of one who has seen too much grey, too much dark. I delight in our dialect, rolling words around my mouth like the pulp of freshly picked cocoa—“tabanca,” “bacchanal,” “lime,” “bligh.” In the grocery, on the streets, I warmed by familiar smiles welcoming me home asking if I’m here to stay.

I speak in a way that in the past I may have mocked as small islander. “Yeah, no more cold for me, no more living in a country where the sun sets at 3 pm.” I sit out in the sun like a tourist, drinking in the northern range. I feel an almost feverish love for these islands and our people. A neighbour invites me to come over for wine on Friday evening. What shall I bring, I ask. Just you, she says, making up for all the times I felt that I was not allowed to belong here because I wasn’t born here.

I go to Alice Yard where a group of writers has gathered in a small compound, listening to poetry, subversive, defiant, stunning poetry about things that I thought we didn’t have the courage to speak out loud, like being gay or lesbian, like acknowledging how much the privileged take for granted, allowing our secret selves, sodden with tears to emerge.

On an island where time is marked and flows easy like sand between our fingers, like clockwork of Christmas church, Carnival church, cricket church, and other public holidays set aside for revelry followed by ritual atonement, rituals that barely require thought, but seize the flesh and numb the suffering, a recession is a jolt.

That the Government is serious about managing falling oil prices and has taken active steps to do so by increasing our cost of living has pierced our glacial inertia. We are in a peculiar position. We can’t grumble about the price of books or canned salmon while looking forward to our next fix—Carnival.

We have to look at ourselves. We know that Petrotrin, WASA and Cepep are haemorrhaging due to poor management. Now that it’s affecting our bread and butter, we want accountability in government business. We have to start caring about the quality of service whether we are financial providers, professionals or shop girls. We have to be more competitive in manufacturing, push the Government to polish up the port and scrap the rapid rail.

Yes, our bubbles are being burst one by one, but it’s also forcing us to wash the dust from our eyes. A businessman in the bank told me that for the first time in 40 years he was not playing mas. His business, a high-end restaurant, is in trouble.

We are watching as Brazil, renowned globally for its spectacular Carnival, has taken responsibility for its recession. The people are admitting it is “self-inflicted” from waste, corruption and overspending. Brazil is, town by town, city by city, scaling down and in some cases, shutting down their Carnival as the country comes to grips with devaluation, unemployment, double-digit inflation.

We are not there yet, but we are on our way. For a long time I thought Carnival was a sacred cow. Suggest cancelling it or scaling down and there would be a riot. But now there is a river that’s flowing upstream. With new consciousness, a small but growing voice is questioning the premise of Carnival.

One Facebook page declared: “There has to be something very wrong with a society that encourages the children of the nation to wine and gyrate their bodies in the most vulgar ways, while they watch, cheer them on, and discuss how skillful they are at vulgarity.”

I say, let’s go ahead with Carnival but on our own steam without the State funding mediocrity. It’s a step towards innovation, and back to steelpan, to a J’Ouvert that through its burlesque dance sheds light on the dark areas of our consciousness. Let’s keep the joy, but let’s not be exploited by unscrupulous bandleaders who are giving us bits of string instead of the soul of our culture. Our people are amazing. We’ve accepted the VAT cuts, we are tightening our belts without much noise, we are honing our characters, becoming thriftier, more hardworking, less apathetic.

Yes, we needed a slap in the face to get here, but we are getting there, closer to the sun.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur