I was tempted to write something similar to what I wrote in my previous article (“Right of way”, Express, February 8), ie, rant about all the things that have gone wrong with this country we love. And boy did I have the ammunition to do it with. Environmental disaster cover-ups. Alleged shady stock transactions at one of our prominent banks. Ministers dropping like flies.
I was thinking about all this as I waited by the traffic lights on Edward Street. I’m in the centre lane going straight, and the right-hand lane is only for vehicles turning right. A beast of a Prado pulls up on my right and starts edging up. We all know what’s about to happen, right? As soon as that light dares turn green, he’s going to rev up and cut in front of me because he can’t be asked to line up like everyone else. Imagine my amazement when the window rolls down and the passenger pokes his head out and says to me, “Excuse me sir, I’m in the wrong lane. Would you mind if went in front of you when the lights change?”
I’m so flabbergasted that I just nod and wave my hand like a dolt. But afterward I feel really good inside, and for the rest of the day I’m in good humour. It’s strange how a single episode, not lasting more than a few seconds, could have such a profound effect on me.
And it’s because of that I’m coming to realise there is a glimmer of hope for us as a people. That there is a core of decent, polite, hard-working Trinbagonians among us who don’t like what’s become of our country. So instead of harping on the negatives, I decided to focus on what’s positive in our society today.
In case you roll up your eyes and call me a crazy person, allow me to tell you a personal story. When I came back to Trinidad in January 2013 as a returning citizen I decided to import my car from Scotland.
Customs policy in January 2013 dictated a returning national had to pay customs duty and motor vehicle tax on a pro rata basis depending on how long one had the vehicle. There was also no relief from VAT. To me, this was outrageous. If the stated aim of the Government was to attract skilled nationals back home, then the way to do it was not to tax the hell out of them.
So I fought with the only weapon available to me at the time—pen and paper. I wrote a letter of complaint to the Minister of Finance and the Comptroller of Customs. It was more of a catharsis for me to write these letters, but some weeks later I actually received a call from the Assistant Comptroller of Customs, asking me where in the whole process I thought they had failed.
I have subsequently realised the returning national policy was changed in May 2013 so that no taxes are payable on importing a vehicle. Not a single penny. Although I received no official acknowledgement, I would like to believe my one little letter has changed an archaic system for the better. So if you’re not happy with something, don’t be afraid to write a letter or to pick up the phone. There might be someone who thinks like you on the other end.
Something else that makes me feel upbeat is the influx of new Chinese among us. I’m not talking about the ones who built us those two shoddy white elephants. I’m referring to the diligent ones who have reinvigorated the Chinese restaurant and small supermarket business. Take a drive along the SS Erin Road one day from Duncan Village to Penal and there will be a Chinese restaurant at least every two or three miles.
There’s even a large Chinese grocery in Barrackpore. One of the nicest things I have ever heard is Trini vernacular spoken with a genuine Chinese accent. My fervent hope is that these quiet, industrious folk stay and contribute to this melting pot we call home for generations to come, just like their forbears in the 19th century.
Last, but certainly not least, I want to mention the enormous contribution many doctors make to our health-care system. Rightly or wrongly, doctors have been pilloried recently in the media—but don’t let a few bad apples spoil the whole crop, as they say.
I work in a major hospital in South Trinidad and I can confidently say the majority of my colleagues strive mightily for their patients under very trying conditions. It’s supremely difficult to do the best for your patients against a backdrop of limited resources and chronic understaffing; but, despite this, people do actually get better while in hospital.
The mortality in our Intensive Care Unit is comparable with centres in the United Kingdom, despite our population being much sicker. The waiting list for surgery for women with gynaecological cancer is only two weeks.
In the last few years, we have had Trini doctors who have trained in the US and UK return home to share their expertise in the fields of urology, gastroenterology, anaesthesia, laparoscopic surgery and gynaeoncology.
Their impact will be gradual, but many lives will be saved in the interim.
It is for this reason that I can take the words of Alexander Pope to heart and look at my country with hope and optimism.
• Dr Bethelmy is still trying to return
to Trinidad but is getting there.