Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Confessions of a Carnival partisan


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"It easy to dead here." The sage caution came from a brother who had never left here to a brother just returned after a decade in Canada.

Acclimated to cultural, political and administrative assumptions of a first-world environment, I had been unprepared for much of what I met back here. That was 24 years ago.

I forget the specific question or observation that had prompted the brother's counsel. But I remain perplexed by how tenuous, in Trinidad and Tobago, the hold on life can be. How random the loss—so much like a lottery—which explains the acculturating purpose of the brother's insight.

More familiar now, but still troubling, is the scant accounting for fatal outcomes. Like an epilogue for hopeless finality, the sign-off line, "investigations are continuing", portends the cultural response of a collective shrug: bad things happen, and ours not to wonder why.

Murders happen, each one a story, maybe with a moral, but most are subject to the default categorisation of mystery. "Investigations" will predictably get nowhere. Accidents happen, on the road, and there but for the grace of Jah go I and I.

Alas, we end up spared the trouble of knowing, and learning from, what really happened when cars crashed. Was it murder, suicide, carelessness, inattention, recklessness, mechanical failure, road or weather conditions?

From revelations dictated by alleged investigators, media scribes report that the driver "lost control of the vehicle". Amen, thus invoked, marks the end of curiosity, the cancellation of a learnable experience.

T&T rubs shoulders with meaningless, violent death. To an audience of two in the verandah at Pecos, one afternoon last month, a woman's voice rose like a dramatic intervention:

"I will kill you! You don't know me. I will kill you!"

It was a chilling moment, to me and, I suppose, to a teenage daughter, late-lunching on that verandah.

The woman thrust her head out from behind the wheel of an SUV that had stopped traffic on De Verteuil Street. Middle-aged, in a high-end vehicle, she didn't match any mental profile, by race or by gender, of a would-be killer.

The offence, to which she was vowing a capital response, had apparently been a "bad drive". She had begun by saying, "You think is because is a woman driver…".

Nobody, streetwise or mediawise, in T&T today, fails to take literally a yelled threat, "I will kill you!" Deadly force, as a first resort, is always close, too close, at hand.

Suddenly, in the crowd at the Machel Montano concert on Monday, a cluster of police men and women in navy fatigues appeared at our side. Each carried an assault rifle slung down the chest, and a holstered handgun.

Maybe none of the officers—certainly, I did not do so—looked forward to the eventuality of actually firing those weapons in a crowd of so many thousands. Their presence and their equipment translated into a rhetorical message of overkill potential in the use of deadly force.

It's a Trini thing. That must be new to the eyes of Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs, coming from a Canadian background of policing doctrine. But deadly force is all the T&T police, and the T&T bandits, know and use.

The Commissioner last month told a T&T Chamber audience that tasers and other non-lethal weapons stay on the shelves of the police armoury. Officers on patrol this Carnival have no access to them because "the policies, legislation and training to facilitate their use were not forthcoming." To defend themselves, or to interdict a criminal act, they must shoot.

Welcome, then, to T&T, where "it easy to dead." Full disclosure: this piece began as an assignment from a colleague, encountered over lunch at D'Bocas on Thursday, to write something about the Benjai song with the hook line, "I's a Trini. A proud, proud Trini."

Keith Smith, said the colleague, would have risen in print to the evocative occasion defined by the impact of Benjai's celebration of whatever is sweet and embraceable about being Trini. The man gone; the ultimate Trini. His empty shoes remain to be filled, and his missing byline to be substituted for.

Late in life, he may have heard Benjai, and recognised the defiant assertion, as of something to sing from the heart. "I's a Trini, I's a Trini, I's a Trini…".

Well, I too. I have learned that you have to love this place, and all, or as much as possible as, there is about it. To love T&T is to do something different than to like it.

Benjai sings of loving to hear "Trini talk, talk, talk." I confess dislike for and, indeed, remain cringingly apprehensive about, "how Trini does talk, talk, talk." Compulsively, aesthetically, and more and more, I keep my distance from the "Trini-talk" norm, in both in language style and in material content, that's now appropriated as the industry standard for talk radio and talk TV.

To all about Trini that I dislike, Carnival, big, fat, noisy and greasy, remains the exception. An unrepentant Carnival partisan, I stand in spirit shoulder to shoulder with the Benjais and them, against the conjoined, encircling menace of a born-again Christian prohibitionism, and the hijab-hectoring Islamic condemnation.

Leave we, let we wine.