When Ian Ali, well known teacher, author and chess player, was asked by the T&TCA earlier this year to write a history of the sport in Trinidad and Tobago he readily accepted.
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A dog’s life
Our beloved dog died last week in England. She was 12 and had the size and grace of a small pony. In human years she was a hundred. In dog years her life slipped by in a decade of enormous change that vanished in the blink of an eye.
A dog’s life, happy because of the memories, sad because of its shortness, makes one acutely aware of the passing of time and all of its crimes. Shortly after 9/11 my mother returned from a conference weekend in Derbyshire with the Association of Radical Midwives (that’s a real organisation) with a tiny cross Boxer pup. I scooped her up, named her and predicted hugeness from the size of her precocious paws.
Saddened by the assault on New Yorkers, this bundle of joy cheered me up no end. As she grew, quickly, destroying plants, shoes, books (literally anything) I would walk her in all weather, rain or shine. Hit by a car at six months she almost died. But she got up bravely, coughed up blood and staggered to my mum.
The post 9/11 world took longer to recover. One wonders if it has. The world changed, suddenly it felt smaller like people pressed up against glass, peering and being peered at. The West was suddenly as unsafe as Afghanistan. For the first time people knew anybody could do anything at anytime. The fear eroded the easy ways of the past when small things didn’t matter and could go unchecked. Liberty was halted, replaced by cameras, body checks, officiousness.
In that regard, I find T&T liberating precisely because it remains liberal unlike the paranoia of the West. After the invasion of Iraq, Poppy left England for France and spent glorious years on an old farmhouse with fields to run in. What joy to be a dog, unmoved by world events and societal shifts. Only caring about love, affection, walks, breakfast and dinner. Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise, she seemed to say with her doe-eyes.
The 2000s, roared by like the roaring 20s and the roaring 70s. I left a job at Parliament, completed my degree, joined The Guardian in London and when I stopped to check it was 2010. Life moves even faster in T&T, making the dawdle of England feel like a Constable painting, never changing and happy to stay that way. When the global economic crisis set in, Poppy and mother returned to England to live with me.
There’s nothing quite like returning home each evening and opening the door to a dog wagging its tail. Here, dogs don’t go inside, they greet you in the yard. They bark at strangers. In Cascade they howl at night. Like the infant Poppy whenever my mother left the house.
To the English, dogs are like people, one of the family. We are told we are unique in the way we love our pets. Elsewhere the separation between humans and animals remains intact. Plato’s Great Chain of Being, with humans at the pinnacle above nature, is an idea upheld in countries with religion, like T&T. Where there is God, He is highest and there is a descending hierarchy, angels, mortals, swine and so forth. In Muslim countries, dogs are despised, seen as dirty. Their intelligence ignored.
In T&T, dogs have mixed blessings. They are sometimes loved, especially pothounds who people seem to have an enduring affection for. A young friend of mine, still at high school, brings strays home to his grandmother’s house, regardless of their fleas. They now have three yapping in the yard.
But dogs are also utilised in T&T. For security, status, hunting and fighting. They are rarely walked, even though bush and beach would be heavenly. I protested that a friend’s dog stayed in his yard in Laventille day and night, so tightly sprung and energetic she can jump to head height from a crouching position.
I offered to walk her, run off some energy but he laughed and said she’d never come back if she was let off the lead. Maybe he was right. Dogs require training, something there is little time for with the Trini pace and impatience with “sticking.” Perhaps dogs here are born naturally obedient, or maybe they get licks.
One thing that disturbs me–more than the scrawny dogs with ribcages showing–is dead dogs on the highway. I’d never seen a runover dog until the Churchill- Roosevelt Highway. In England, people swerve if a dog, deer or rabbit runs into the road, sometimes causing human fatalities. Here, somebody said, “If they see a dog they might go looking for it to bounce him up.” My mother told me after Poppy died, peacefully at home at the hand of the vet, “I wish you could have seen her face when she was dead. It was the most sublime loving face I have ever seen, full of peace and love just like she always was.”
Her death took a while to sink in. Thinking about it this week, I was filled with sorrow picturing my mum waking and thinking she must feed Poppy only to remember she wasn’t there. “The house is quiet and strange,” she said.
I fear whole human lives go by in a blur. In that context, a dog’s life is just a month out of a year. But one of the good months. June or December. She lived a good life. She wasn’t aware of the first black US president or the near collapse of the EU but she knew she was happy. And she left her mark on our world by being what we all should strive to be. Gentle and kind, to people and to animals.