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A Tale of Two Halloweens
In certain neighbourhoods this weekend—the fair-skinned, the knife-and-fork Indian and the African-American-Trinidadian ones—excited parents are preparing their kids for the trick-or-treating that, though not strictly permissible until next Wednesday, October 31, All Hallows’ Eve, will, to avoid a school-night outing, take place tomorrow evening in Trinidad (unless there should be a public holiday declared before lunch next Wednesday, which you can never rule out entirely, once Kamla P-B is PM, and anything from a shot putt to a karaoke contest that a Trini might win is being held anywhere in the world).
Having endured it myself, when my own offspring were smaller, I know the drill: children, aged three to about ten, wearing everything from face paint and pillowcases with armholes cut out to full, imported fancy dress costumes costing the equivalent of a month’s rent for some people, will parade around those bits of Trinidad as have big houses and gardens and big jobs and futures.
If, as we did, you live in a part of Trinidad with an inadequate supply of big houses willing to pamper little children, you put your toddlers in the car and drive to one of the whiter, richer parts (most of which aren’t that white at all, in all fairness, but most of which are much richer, all out of unfairness) and tramp your kids from door-to-door, the little ones filling orange pumpkin-decorated black plastic bags with something called candy (not sweetie) and you steadily replenishing yourself with whatever it takes—flirtation with yummy mummies, old-talk with beer-bellied daddies, or, in my case, straight rum—to get you through the circuit/ordeal.
At the end of the night, the children have bags of sweeties they could never finish (without losing their teeth to decay or their health to obesity) and you have, with luck, balanced your yummy mummy-flirtation at the right pitch to avoid a quarrel with your own wife, your brain-dead daddy liming at just the point that avoids boredom without forcing you to join a seven-a-side rugby team, or your alcoholic intake at just the right rate to keep you in a good mood for the little monsters and fairies, but not got you so drunk you can’t remain alert to the chance of a real-life ghoul hanging around your driveway gate to walk you inside with a Tec “Nines” in your mouth when you finally get back home.
In the rest of Trinidad, there is no need to put on a Halloween parade one evening a year: everyday life in Trinidad is one long All Hallows’ Eve, and every night is yet another occasion when the dead might walk next morning, or vice versa.
In the fancy neighbourhoods of West Trinidad tomorrow evening, then, kids will go from door-to-door, demanding their entitlement in sweetie; but, in the considerably less fancy East Port-of-Spain, last Monday, the grownups have taken to the streets already, demanding their entitlement to a genuine payment for pretending to work.
On Monday, starting in Piccadilly, then moving through Duncan and St Paul Streets, disgruntled members of the class Trinidadians eloquently call “sufferers” held their own pre-Halloween parade, causing uproar, backing traffic up all the way to New Street, and bringing out a police helicopter to hover above the demonstration for its duration; but the street parade has not, apparently, led to a single identification parade: no one was arrested.
According to Chester Sambrano’s CNC3 report, spontaneous protests started at an orientation meeting of the latest Government make-work scheme, which contrived to hand $69 a day to anyone who turned up and hung around from 7 am to 10 am. The intended recipients were not prepared to accept such insulting “dorg morney;” one wit declared he would “rather do the the crime than the 69 dullers”.
Bottles and stones were thrown, and rubbish strewn and burnt (and even jumped upon, as Micheal Bruce’s Express online photograph showed).
In Sybil, The Two Nations, his 1845 novel, the 19th-century British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, wrote one of the most dramatic dialogue exchanges in literature, which I precis here: “Our queen reigns over the greatest nation ever.
Which nation,” asks the younger stranger, “for she reigns over two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings as if they were inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws.” “You speak of—” said Egremont, hesitatingly.
And the young stranger replies, “The rich and the poor.”
Anyone who did not take a Rip Van Winkle approach to history would concede there have always been two Trinidads but, through the genuine creole culture—meaning the one made here, not the one made by “dem creole,” as distinct from “dem coolie,” or “dem honky”—we were steadily working at creating one: the Trinidad that made pan and mas; the place where men got married before realising channa was chickpeas, and people wore dhotis or dashikis because they looked and felt good in them, not because a particular public holiday approached; the place that gave rise to André Tanker and Keith Smith and didn’t knock down, but upheld, the Inherent Nobility of Man.
Tomorrow evening, the well-off of Trinidad will trick or treat, while the other Trinidad will be up to their usual tricks. And the both of us will step closer to Halloween. And further apart.
• BC Pires is a douen, walking backwards up the road. E-mail your upside down crosses to him at [email protected]
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