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Afterbirth of a nation

Published: 
Thursday, July 3, 2014
London Calling

A few weeks ago the Queen’s Park Savannah was dusty and brown. The trees in the hills above Cascade were parched firewood. Dust swirled all around. I called it drought and was told off. “It’s not a drought,” they said. 

 

In English summers, after just a few days without rain, we have hosepipe bans. Millions of Britons seethe inwardly. It rains 50 per cent of the time in Britain yet we have no water? 

 

Anyway, Trinidad was dry. Very dry. 

 

“Will it ever be green again?” I asked. “Yeah boy! Dat nuttin!” came the comforting response. 

 

The rains eventually came and within days it was green again. Dark, velvety green like acres of broccoli. Calming and evocative, even by the standards of England’s green mountains and pleasant pastures. 

 

The Savannah grew back. I searched around in the chasm of my mind for a metaphor for growth—the growth of a nation—but found none. 

 

Perhaps that’s because this republic nation is a newborn on an incubator. We are still dining on the afterbirth. 

 

By some measures of growth T&T outstrips larger nations, like Costa Rica in Group D of the World Cup. But when Rhoda Barath compared Trinidad to Colombia, “We not getting there folks. We reach”, in the aftershock of Dana Seetahal’s murder, it meant regression, not progress. 

 

This country can progress and it does have history, despite its tender age. 

 

A friend told me: “1955-65 were the golden years.” 

 

I ask people whether the corruption of today was around in Eric Williams’ day. The answer is usually vague: “It was different back then.” 

 

I ask people if Rowley will stamp out corruption. They are dubious. I argue that if he wants a place in political history his aim should be longevity, not short-term gain. And longevity requires authenticity and the goodwill and trust of the people. 

 

“But how could Rowley not tief?” my friend asked sarcastically when asked about Rowley’s integrity. “These islands were set up for 300 years to tief. Our whole history is tiefing. Colonialism is tiefing. You can’t change that in 50 years.” 

 

Alas, that lush broccoli view I see from my bedroom window each morning and night—the hummingbird sucking nectar from the hibiscus, the kiskadees on the fence, the pawpaw tree, the plot of wildly overgrown scrubland, the curving road leading up to the electronic gates of the big house 200 metres up the hill nestled in the broccoli, guarded by barking dogs—all of this I see from behind bars. 

 

I wonder what view they have from Golden Grove in Arouca. Perhaps the person who ordered Dana Seetahal’s killing looks out through the bars or up at the ceiling, seeing the dark black of an endless night. 

 

Soon I must return to England. London is, indeed, calling. 

 

Is Britain growing, as a nation? London is growing, like a city state, to the detriment of the rest. 

 

How does a nation grow? 

 

London grows physically. New people come, ceaselessly. Swelling postcodes keep cash registers ringing. London’s bubble remains unburst. 

 

New people allow industries to grow and introduce new types of industry. They add to the city’s industriousness, like a new Rome at the centre of a complex European empire. 

 

We should, therefore, encourage immigration if it stimulates growth and doesn’t drain the economy. I believe a country’s future wealth relies on diversity. 

 

Arriving a year ago I thought Trinidad was diverse with its ethnic blends. But you’re all still Trinis. 

 

How many foreign nationals are here? Not many. More non-Trinis, adding to the cosmopolitanism, would be beneficial. 

 

History shows several races brought together over several centuries on this island. Indigenous people, African, European, Indian, Chinese and Latin American. All the major continents represented. 

 

Can this be utilised as the international “brand” of the nation? Can you rebrand a nation? Yes, with the right touch. Look at Hi-Lo, Massy day not done. 

 

New York rebranded itself from ghetto to glamour. London went from IRA target practice to affluent, shiny and futuristic. 

 

The BBC was due to come here in October to film a documentary but it is now on the back burner. I hope it wasn’t the perceived lawlessness that put them off. I told the producers that of all the Caribbean islands this is the most exciting, cultured, intellectual and diverse. Trinidad would show people in Britain a different perspective of the Caribbean than the tourist resorts of Jamaica and Barbados (two of the islands the BBC is proposing to visit instead.) 

 

“It’s really interesting there’s an Indian population there, I never knew that,” one of the production team said on the phone from London. 

 

Most Brits don’t know that. And do they even care? A nation of 1.3 million can grow demographically but it’s still small, and size matters. Outside of Trinidad, much of what happens here is inconsequential. 

 

Is it better, then, to preserve Trinidad as the best kept secret in the world and stop crying out for attention? Stop shouting to be heard above the regional din? 

 

And I don’t just mean the sports-desk reporters at the desks next to mine. We all need to hush once in a while, Trinis included. Maybe we need a pacifier and a good sleep. Or is the baby ready to wake up and be good?