Four years after I was born, Trinidad and Tobago declared itself independent of the colonial rule of Britain. Three years after that, my father sought his own independence, leaving this country, my mother and three children. During the marriage, I’d spent just over a year in Connecticut with my mother and the first of my sisters while my father attended Harvard. My only friend then was a retarded white boy, my lasting recollections of that time, beyond snow, vividly colourful autumn leaves and dimly recalled baseball, a kindly teacher named Mrs Birmingham who must have understood just how out of place a little brown child must have been at that school. Since then, both of my sisters have migrated to the United States, none living there for less than 15 years, and my father is dead, a dim, unresolved memory for all three of us. I have not been tempted to follow them. Or the dozens of friends, schoolmates and colleagues who decided that it was better to work in an established system that rewarded merit and paid for value delivered.
More than a few among my personal diaspora have encouraged me to quit this country, to leave its narrow prospects, broken systems of acknowledgement and blunt disrespect for sustained hard work. I have resisted such entreaties for no reasons that I can attribute to either reason or to rabid nationalism. Without feeling any inclination to wave a flag about or to declare myself “proud to be a Trinbagonian,” I’ve also never felt an overwhelming need to measure myself against a yardstick crafted by another society at an entirely different stage of their development. Far from finding “nothing to do here” as some have declared in their search for fresh challenges abroad, I’ve been both busy and well tasked by the work of toting intellectual bricks here. Mine has not been the work of creating towering buildings or refining natural resources and it has definitely not been the collection of votes for political purpose. There are those who find such pursuits rewarding and fulfilling and they are welcome to such work.
Over the last 36 years, I’ve written and photographed in this country, turning my attentions to those things that interested me and enjoyed the whimsical freedoms that working in a small country has afforded, this column among them. To be able to pursue such ambitions, I have needed to work at jobs that were unpalatable and out of alignment with my larger goals, but compared with the frustrations that are commonplace in first world nations, the tradeoffs have been acceptable. There are no serious grant mechanisms here, but there is julie mango. I am very much a child of our Independence. The whole course of my life, from childhood to this day, has been influenced, assisted, challenged and shaped by this nation’s yearning to grow up and get on with the business of self-governance. The scrappiness of that national journey has offered me some striking opportunities that would simply have been impossible in the silo focused cultures of first world nations.
The failures of T&T to embrace the many, significant opportunities that our natural resources have afforded us and our apparent inability to assign money to projects and structural adjustments that make long-term sense are annoying and frustrating, but ultimately, a citizen has a choice to make in the face of such things. You can stay here and work on fixing them, or you can leave and enjoy a simpler and no doubt more rewarding life. Some do the one and then the other in an order that makes the best sense for them, and some simply opt for the latter. Far too few who are capable and needed strive for an active role in changing errant directions and doing the work that needs so desperately to be done. So no flags then. No fireworks. No parade. Another fete done. Back to work.
Read an expanded version of this column: