Friday, December 15, 2017

One weekend in Trini-land

 Port of Spain was my destination last weekend. I went to do what I had to do and came home unscathed. No, I was not deported. The welcome to Piarco was not effusive. Courtesy abounded. There was no pan music and roti, but that’s all right. I had to have my own drama in the form of an anxiety attack in the airport. This came about when my passport, with the Caricom symbol on the front cover, went into hiding in the lining of my bag and could not be produced at Customs.

Thanks, however, to an extremely hospitable Customs officer—yes, there are those—who initiated a search and set about easing my near-most hysterics with the news that misplacing of documents happens to travellers all the time. When it appeared that we could be searching for the whole evening, she grabbed the book bag, gave it a vigorous shake and lo and behold, the little black book fell out right onto the Customs desk. Crisis over.

By then, I was imagining myself spending the night in the Royal Gaol (archaic spelling and all), like in an old-time Sparrow calypso. My new-found Customs officer angel and I hugged and exchanged prayers of gratitude. It’s not true that Trinis don’t like Jamaicans, just so. There is story behind story. My new friend told me that she is a Tobagonian and they pride themselves on friendliness—as do Trini people. So much for stereotyping.

All over T&T, the Grand Bacchanal is not far away. Calypsoes, new and old, control the airwaves. The list of “fetes to come” occupies media space. For those of you planning to head South to take to the road on Carnival days and nights, have a talk with your banker. Carnival doesn’t come cheap. The costs are formidable, especially when quoted in US dollars. That should be no problem for the home crowd with their T&T dollar matching Uncle Sam’s six to one. As to ours, let’s just say “waan roas’ corn, finger haffi bun”. Fete is fete, but I had eyes only for business.

I had commitments as Jamaica’s representative at the Anthony N Sabga Caribbean Awards for Excellence annual meeting. 

Outside of the deliberations, conversation was about current issues and linkages renewed. Every government across the region is facing economic and social pressures, some more intense than others. No one is escaping. Government is under fire everywhere. Cynicism is the order of the day as citizens vent against corruption. Impatient youth want answers and they want them now. The aged face longer life at a higher price. Health care doesn’t come cheap anymore. With all this, the Caribbean spirit is not broken. We have to face it, though. The “beautiful blue Caribbean” is no longer the setting for lazy, carefree living. Life ceased being a tourism poster some time ago.

Crime has become the dreaded devil, scaring the daylights out of everybody, yet, thankfully, we continue to amaze the world with our creative capabilities which also draw us together. Trinis reminded me that they voted for Tessanne Chin as much as we did. Beyond that, the survival challenges are ever-present. The answer, we’re led to believe, lies in the popular mantra “a vibrant economy, brings jobs, jobs and more jobs”. If we could just become prosperous, crime will go away. If only it was so simple.

T&T has no complaints about prosperity, yet it is reeling from the effects of criminality like everybody else. The discovery of cocaine valuing millions of US dollars shipped to the US in cans with labels purporting their contents to be fruit juice from Trinidad was the hottest topic of conversation. This leads to the big question: What is being done about the crime wave in Trini-land? A week of prayer has been duly declared to save the country from the spiralling crime, among other issues. This was announcement by the Minister of National Diversity and Social Integration, in partnership with T&T’s Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO). The minister was quoted as saying “Prayer is essential to the nation of Trinidad and Tobago at this time”, and with that, the week-long programme of activities was launched. The nation at prayer was put into action.

Who here in Ja recalls the jeering when our minister of national security had the nerve—in some people’s view—to recommend “divine intervention” as a solution to our crime burden? Even now many still find the idea ridiculous. T&T has greater religious diversity than us. So, this might account for their “audacity of hope in prayer”. For them, “divine intervention” includes Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Baha’i—all of whom have been called to pray for the nation in their mosques, temples, schools, and workplaces. 

The Minister of National Diversity and Social Integration was at pains to declare that the Prayer Week “is not a reactionary thing. It was planned since last year”. In other words, it was not a knee-jerk response to criticism of how the Government is dealing with crime. T&T started the new year with 40 murders in the first 23 days, most dying from gunshot wounds to the head. The question was: why? I don’t know if Prayer Week will provide the answer, but it should be interesting to hear the final assessment of the pray-along exercise when it is concluded.

—Courtesy the Jamaica Observer