T&T a Grieving Country


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Category: Trinidad Society 17 Dec 17

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
—Ian Maclaren

I often wondered why our people are able to ‘put down a wine’ at Carnival but unable to hug or hold hands in public as if the wound goes too deep for that, why many find it almost impossible to say ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’, as if they are admissions of humiliation rather than expressions of civility and warmth.

I wondered at surly service in banks and restaurants, about the 47-year-old female security guard, the latest statistic mowed down by a speeding, careless driver. I wondered at the source of road rage.

I have it too, and was appalled to find myself recently in deadlock with an older woman on a narrow street. We were both seething until I gave in. She ‘won’, but I think, maybe I did. I was less angry.

I think I know why we are turning into a taciturn, raging, distracted people, why we find it hard simply to be kind.

The murder toll as of December 14 was 466. That’s up to two murders a day—among the highest globally.

The truth is we are a grieving country. Fearful (see how we call, text our loved ones on the road, our relief when they are home, safe, reminding us of our anxiety while they are out there).

We are raging, impotent and frustrated at successive governments’ failure to protect us.

The flip side: the mothers of perpetrators either visit graves to see their gunned down boys or visit their incarcerated sons locked up for 23 hours a day for a lifetime. They weep silently for the living and dead.

Their sons have succumbed as easy prey to drug lords, poverty, illiteracy and neglect, and objects of loathing by our crime-ravaged society. Governments have failed them, too.

For each of these murderous boys, no matter how heinous their crime, there are grieving mothers, fathers, wives, girlfriends, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, friends, communities, just as there are for victims of crime. Our lives are not worth more than theirs. We have one thing in common on both sides of the wall—they are railing, worrying, weeping and loathing the enemy as much as ‘good citizens’.

The thing is, the enemy is institutionalised, systemic neglect of every institution and infrastructure—from health (we are the among the fattest worldwide with attendant chronic diseases—diabetes, heart disease, hypertension; and education (one in four of us is functionally illiterate to delayed justice—(staggering backlog of cases, innocent men in remand for years); to crumbling infrastructure; to impossible traffic; to plummeting transparency.

The frustration is amplified by the fall in oil prices, the contracting economy, the thousands laid off on both sides of the wall, from cleaners to executives, from Cepep to the buckling private and public sectors.

We are, each of us, fighting hard battles, simply to survive. To give in is suicide, a fatalism that could fell us like neighbouring Venezuela.
We must develop agency as a people to demand good governance, knowing nobody is listening.

Resilience is necessary to survival. I came across an old Harvard Review article that examined resilience by looking at the qualities of the healthy survivors at Auschwitz at Hitler’s concentration camps.

They include a shield comprising humour (we have this); the ability to form attachments to others and, crucially, ‘the possession of an inner psychological space that protected the survivors from the intrusions of abusive others’.

It could be that this recession by denying us the ability to cover up grief with money, could unmask what we have always wanted: to love and be loved; to uncover lost joy without electronics, with a book; tell stories to our children or talk to the people in our lives, really talk; marvel at our lush, ever-changing landscape of ocean, sky and foliage; to give the needy the ultimate gift of time; to allow this Christmas to shift us from despair to hope and agency to fight for our drowning country.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur