Three headlines, no, four, caught my eye in Sunday’s Guardian. “American describes Tobago hospital as horrific.” “Pastor: illiteracy, the root of Laventille’s problems.” “Florida real estate opportunities awaits Caribbean investors.” “I just wanted to write stories.” The last so different. “An American tourist injured in a vehicular accident in Tobago believes he survived because he had the presence of mind to tell paramedics how to care for him, and his family was able to get him off the island quickly...after a drunk driver hit him...compressed his spine and broke five vertebrae...he realised that the first responders had never seen anything like this, so he directed them on what to do.”
Could this be true? Of course it is.
Within the low standard of most medical care here, our emergency care in T&T is the lowest of the low. It stinks. It is bad. I am not talking now of what will happen when the hurricane finally strikes and people try to get out of Port-of-Spain (has the evacuation plan been published yet? And are we still going to send people to Tarouba?). Or one of those hidden underground gas pipelines that crisscross the island, including the one in Jackson Square in St Clair, blows, during an earthquake. That will be a catastrophe macho and it will be every man, woman and child to catch. Those who survive will do so by having the ability to organise and protect themselves. No, I am talking about day-to-day stuff. The quick response on the road or emergency spot. The A&E care. The availability of the operating theatre, staff and equipment.
The less said about the aftercare the better. Why do you think all those big shots go away after their stroke or MVA? That is the legacy of 50 years of Independence? Who has the solution to this? Again, I assure you, it has little to do with doctors. The only places where medicine functions fairly well are the private nursing homes, established and run by doctors. In the public sector, medicine is run by administrators and they do not know their backside from their gluteus. It doesn’t have to be so. Elsewhere in the Caribbean, administrators have shown that they can co-operate with doctors to raise standards. “Illiteracy is the culture of Laventille.” Well, well! Pastor Victor Gill related how a former member of his congregation was shocked “there were so many prisoners at the Maximum Security Prison in Arouca who could not spell their names” and feels the solution is long-term programmes rather than hastily concocted ideas.
Hurrah! Maybe we could get Shaquille O’Neil to give back the money he made for his 24-hour visit to Laventille? Gregory Sloane-Seale, an experienced social worker with adolescents and programme co-ordinator for the Citizen’s Security Programme, agrees that Laventille’s problems stem from illiteracy and points out that SEA scores are lower in the Morvant area, pointing to an educational problem which may be linked to family neglect or abuse.
The ever-practical Fr Clyde Harvey also believes illiteracy is affecting black males in Laventille and notes that, “Illiteracy is a helluva thing. You may not be able to read the papers but you are smart as hell.” Unfortunately, Trinis have “a tendency to equate illiteracy with being stupid.” Exactly! Tell that to the gang leaders, many superb mechanics and successful businessmen in T&T who can’t read to save their lives.
So here you have three experienced Trinidadians, intelligent, decent men, following up on Servol’s work over the years, all telling you the same thing. This fits in well with international ideas about the link between illiteracy and crime, between socioeconomic conditions and crime, between dyslexia and ADHD and crime—and the Government’s solution is to put a man in charge of National Security who appears to believe that the solution to crime is to make boys pull up their pants? Steups, oui!
In the midst of all this kangkalang comes news that “Caribbean people have an opportunity to purchase real-estate in Florida.” Someone wants to ensure that discerning Trinis with a little extra cash (worried pastors from Laventille could stay out of this) “seize this opportunity to acquire property in Florida—the fourth fastest growing city (sic) in the US.” Well! Apart from the advisability of buying property from someone who apparently believes that Florida is a city, this might be a good way to get away from those illiterates in Laventille and get proper medical care. We could put up the US flag, pretend we know what’s going on with baseball, get drunk on watery beer and return home after a couple of weeks with an American accent. The last headline spells hope. Therese Mills started working at the defunct Port-of-Spain Gazette at age 16 and gradually and laboriously worked her way up to the very top of the media ladder. She is a living example of woman power before there was such a thing. An example of true Trini literacy.