“The report of my death has been grossly exaggerated.” This was humourist Mark Twain’s response to rumours that he had died. Calypso fans will remember the Mighty Sparrow reacting to a similar situation with ‘Sparrow Dead’ (Who kill the Sparrow? Nobody know.)
The inability to differentiate between rumour and reality, and whether to act, react or over-react sometimes leads to recriminations like Sparrow’s, “It was Simpson, the funeral agency man/ With he coffin in he hand…”
Some years ago when I lived in Barbados, the Meteorological (Met) Office warned that a hurricane was due to hit and advised people to stock up on necessities and prepare for a big one. ‘Big B’, ‘Supercentre’ and other groceries were sold out by noon and we waited in our locked up houses like the man who was one of the Almighty’s early experiments in the management of pregnancy pain – essentially the woman would bear the child and its father would feel the pain.
His head bound, armed with painkillers and Limacol, the man waited for the onset of his wife’s labour. Next thing he knew his male neighbour was shouting, “Oh Lord! Oh Lord!”
This particular hurricane we waited anxiously for was also a false alarm and passed between the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. Barbados remained unscathed but full of angry people who blamed the media and the Met for making them buy all these things “and the hurricane ain’t come.”
The same thing happened last weekend in Antigua. With the approach of Tropical Storm Maria, schools were dismissed at 11:00 am (Friday September 9), and the airport was closed from early evening. We shuttered the house tightly and waited, and waited, for the onset of the strong winds. They never came.
While some of us were glad that our prayers were answered, the Met Office faced its own storm of criticism for ‘over-reacting’. Like Barbados, angry people dominated the talk shows with complaints about ‘stocking up’ for a hurricane that never came.
Trinidad and Tobago (TNT) is facing a similar situation although the ‘storm’ is man- (or as many people believe) woman-made. It is a situation called ‘Kamlageddon’ after the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, whose government declared a State of Emergency (SOE) a few weeks ago and then extended it for another three months.
Like the reaction to the storm, there are those who are pleading for the SOE to extend to their communities while others want it to end since it threatens their rights and civil liberties. They say that the SOE is a state of expediency and not emergency. Obviously, some like it hot.
The word ‘hot’ is appropriate. The country has been divided into many ‘hot spots’ of criminal and gang activity. An article in the Trinidad Express about a new United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) draft report on Human Development and Citizen Security in the Caribbean, was headlined, ‘POS (Port-of-Spain) the new Baghdad.’ The report says that the murder rate for Port-of-Spain is comparable to Baghdad
Immediately the emails started flying like drones over Afghanistan. Is POS like Baghdad? “Yes,” one friend wrote, “the weather is generally Sunni but there is a lot of Shiite around. It is the official language – all the Government officials talking Shiite.”
Another said, “Assistant Police Commissioner Richardson claims that they seize ‘89 firearms of mass destruction’. That is 89 more WMDs than Bush and his boys found. It is a case of mass distraction.” “We have Blackwater here too,” one chimed in. “Only we own in the gutter.” Another buddy asked, “Why Baghdad? Why not another capital?”
This opened up a flood of what Trinis call ‘ole talk’. “Since the Government has not decreed a halt to male homosexual activity then POS cannot be compared with the capital of Afghanistan, the city of Kabul.” “I would make the comparison with Ireland, since the crime rate has been Dublin for the past few years.”
“It mightn’t be a capital but I think the comparison with a well- known Texan city is appropriate. The whole crime and drug thing is about money – for a few Dallas more.” A few took it even further. ‘Well,’ a Trini in Miami, referring to a popular delicacy made with fried salt-fish, commented, “you could still get Accra so it must be like Nigeria.” On the same general nonsense theme, came the response, “I understand that several of the night-clubs and brothels are offering ‘curfew’ parties so POS is more like the Pakistan city of Lahore.”
The reaction by my friends is typically West Indian. In the midst of madness and mayhem we mask our fears and uncertainties with humour. In the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan in Grenada, a taxi-driver quipped, “Boy that Ivan is a real dog yes. When it pass all you hear is roof, roof, roof!”
These are stormy days in the region – both literally as the hurricane season continues in the Caribbean and storms gather outside Cape Verde, and in TNT where the Government perceives that a prolonged State of Emergency is the only way to deal with crime. As one of the emails that came to me commenting on the Baghdad comparison said, “It is a country turned upside down, inside out and back-to-front. It is not Saddam – it is just dam sad.”
*Tony Deyal was last seen repeating a friend’s observation that the way the Trinidad Government has been boasting, POS is not so much Baghdad as ‘Brag-dad’.
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