I don’t know what to feel.
I love my country. Not just because I was born and raised here, or love the natural environment; the playfulness and creativity of our people (sometimes I wonder if we don’t actually have a higher than average talent quotient per capita, despite all); and the simple pleasure of going everywhere from a house lime to the grocery to the beach in sandals, shorts and sleeveless tee all year round. I screamed like a banshee when Keshorn won the gold, and got teary-eyed when I heard my national anthem played for the first time in my lifetime at an Olympic Games.
And it’s not just that my First Peoples/Karina/Amerindian blood bequeaths a legacy that might stretch back to the first inhabitants of this land millennia ago, or that it means my navel string really is buried deep, deep beneath Banwari man. And it’s certainly not blind, unconditional patriotism while our country looks to be imploding, as our care, concern and regard for each other deteriorates, and our faith in the integrity and efficacy of those meant to lead and protect us crumbles.
I am proud of everything we’ve achieved against the odds. One million people trying to stand shoulder to shoulder against the greats of the world, which we so often do. We’ve made an impact – however small – on world culture and history that’s so unlikely for a tiny twin-island nation. So I am immeasurably proud of that, and of the decent, kind, hard-working, relentless citizens, NGOs and nonprofits (and the odd public or government official) who work tirelessly every day to bring joy, peace, kindness and positive change to our islands. They inspire me, and they are what bring me back to my home shores – like a leatherback returning to nest – to continue growing and building with my people and my island.
Still, I find myself feeling such anger, dismay and resentment every time I see one of those (myopic? biased? politically partisan?) “50 greatest” lists, everywhere from the Trinidad Guardian‘s website to ones produced by government ministries and state agencies. So many are included that are suspect (much like those awarded national honors, as they will be today); so many others who have helped define us are inexplicably excluded. Did they not know the right people? Did the mash de wrong corn? Or are we just so out of touch with who we are and how we’ve come to be here that we are none the wiser? [NB: two generations of my family are national award winners, plus one of the organisations with which I am involved, so it’s not a case of feeling me or mine were overlooked – rather a general distrust of the fairness and transparency of the system]
In the absence of any thoughtful, well-researched and well-vetted lists that are as free from bias as possible, our people lap it up and laud those who geh pick, without properly interrogating the process or the product (apart from some invaluable commentary and commentators like Ralph Maraj‘s aptly titled “This ‘great’ follishness“). As always, our public and private organisations and officials are able to baffle us with bull$hit, and why should I stress anyway since it will be a “nine days’ wonder” like so much else? Still, the self-congratulations and self-delusion frighten me.
I’m yet to watch one of the Independence specials on television, or watch live coverage of any event, or anything but skim over the full-page or multi-page spreads plastered across our newspapers from posturing political parties each trying to take credit for what’s good, and pass the buck on what ails us. Substandard style, with no substance.
So we’ve hit the 50-year mark. We’re anything but golden. And what now? The same tribal, divisive, recalcitrant politics and pandering to the lowest common denominator which have plagued us for 50 years? Lauding parents of the nation who are anything but exemplary in so many ways? Ever escalating crime and inflation and dwindling natural resources as we suck all the oil from the ground and destroy our natural wonders? Continuing to act surprised each year as our annual festivals hobble on without any real organisation or forethought, and rainy season (or is it Summer?) deluges flood out rich and poor alike? Repeating our missteps and misdeeds over and over again? [If you haven’t already, catch Tony Hall’s Miss Miles – the Woman of the World next time it’s around, and understand why the very thought of reinstating Borroughs’ infamous “Flying Squad” as a crime deterrent is a lethal step backward.] It’s nearly 20 years since Ella Andall warned us of a “Missing Generation” and laid “Shame” on a nation. Did we listen? No, because “God is a Trini“. And still, it seems we neither know nor like ourselves, but just party hearty to forget our sins.
The rains have been falling hard and long today. I want to think of it as a cleansing rain, a blessing from above…but then wonder if our battered hillsides and not-yet-recovered flood victims would consider it as such. I cannot rejoice with fireworks or patriotic songs, with parades or motorcades knowing that someone, somewhere – and far too many – suffer from myopic public policy and chronic public callousness.
Despite all, I love my country. I know her, I know her ills and her strengths, and I love her just the same. But I cannot skin meh teet’ and smile knowing that we continue to delude ourselves. People fly the national flags on their vehicles in honour of Keshorn and our Golden Jubilee, but in those same vehicles bully others on the road, and speed up rather than allow their neighbours out of their driveways. I cannot rejoice. But I can continue to do what I can, and continue to live and work in hope and in love.
It’s a little funny and ironic, but Archbishop Desmond Tutu – that great man who visited our islands in the 1980s and called us a “rainbow country” – continues to inspire me every day with his humanity and his generosity of spirit… even though as a tied-tongue pre-schooler, my response to hearing his name was (and my parents never let me forget it): “Withop Tutu? What a funny name fow a man!” There are many quotes from the great “Withop” to which I refer when feeling out of sorts. As we remain dependent on foreign exchange; dwindling petrochemical reserves; validation (and imports) from the “first world”; loans from “superpowers”; laws that discriminate against or fail to protect our minorities and most vulnerable; and still try to look to the next 50, there is this:
If we could but recognise our common humanity, that we do belong together, that our destinies are bound up in one another’s, that we can be free only together, that we can be human only together, then a glorious world would come into being where all of us lived harmoniously together as members of one family, the human family.
― Desmond Tutu
I still don’t know what to feel today as the din of often-empty patriotism drowns out all sense. So I hold on to all I know: love, hope, and a conviction to do whatever I can to do, as that other great man Mahatma Gandhi called on us to: be the change I want to see. And…one final call from Ella Andall, whose calls – like many others – we have ignored for too long: “Awake, warriors awake! Jouvay morning come.”