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ONTO GREENER PASTURES
When I think about the house I grew up in, there’s one item in particular that stands out in my mind. It was a large framed copy of “Desiderata”, a poem by Max Ehrmann (1927) that hung on a wall in my father’s office. Written in prose, it’s a series of inspirational devotions about being at peace with yourself and the world around you. Having spent much of my childhood in that cluttered space playing at being a businessman like dear old dad, I inadvertently memorised many of its verses and to this day I often quote them when the mood or the situation calls for it. But recently, there’s one line in particular that I’ve been pondering; it reads, “Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.” Despite being self-explanatory, I think the meaning can be expanded to include anything that’s a source of personal stress. But what happens when the vexation that needs to be avoided is one’s own country?
Considering my previous column’s cynical critique of T&T’s independence, I expected to receive some negative feedback over my perceived lack of patriotic spirit. That, however, was not entirely the case; while I did indeed receive feedback, all of it was in support and agreement with my position. But beyond the interaction with my readers, I also observed a surprising trend that was taking place on social media. On Independence Day itself, there were a number of Trinbagonians who voiced like-minded sentiments regarding our 50-plus years of self-governance, with posts that facetiously called for a “return to British rule” and to “bring back the Queen”. Although such comments are far from being seditious, they are nonetheless an expression of disappointment in the current state of T&T. And the recent management fiascoes of the Rowley administration have only served to remind us of just how corrupt the country has become. Unfortunately, as if public morale wasn’t already plummeting, the tragic murders that have occurred since last weekend are frightening signs that things are continuing to get worse. This sense of hopelessness is causing some citizens to entertain the sombre prospect of leaving this “island paradise” for destinations that are orderly, efficient, and—most importantly—safe.
While attending university in south Florida, I took a class on Caribbean studies taught by a Trinidadian-born professor named Dr Kenneth “Ken” Boodhoo. Out of 70 students, only a handful were actually from the Caribbean; needless to say, he often called on us to answer questions and share our experiences. In one of his lectures, he made the assertion that Caribbean people had an “escapist mentality” ie, they are always looking for a way to emigrate to a first world country. He even went so far as to accuse us Caribbean students of harbouring those aspirations as well; that we would abandon our native nationalities in an instant if it meant being able to remain in the US. Is he right? How many of T&T’s secondary school graduates who travel abroad to further their studies end up not returning? How does their desire for a better future cause them to seek that future in a foreign land? Some Trinbagonian expatriates would be the first to admit that whether it be dollars, pounds, or euros, earning it takes a lot of hard work. And, to make matters worse, having no family around could make living in those countries a lonely and depressing experience. That being said, the question of, “Why our people want to live abroad,” is not as important as, “What is it that’s causing them to flee the country of their birth?”
A few years ago, when my siblings decided to relocate to the states, my father, though pleased with their becoming independent, also remarked that he, “…didn’t make children to export them”. It may seem to be an emotional contradiction, but it’s easy to understand the reasoning behind those mixed feelings. As a parent, the infrequent presence of a child is far easier to deal with than losing them to tragic circumstances. But that’s the reality of T&T—the nation is in a constant state of either worrying for the safety or mourning the loss of loved ones. Of course, bad things can happen anywhere in the world, but our dreadfully high murder rate puts the odds that anyone here can be a victim and the perpetrators will never be caught. The only certainty is that regardless of whichever party is in power, neither seem willing, or capable, of dealing with the ever-worsening crime wave.
This is no way to live. Yet most of the population continues to tolerate governments who in turn tolerate the criminal elements. This is one of the main motivations why some of our citizens are thinking about and choosing to leave and never return; it’s not because they lack patriotism, it’s because they lack hope. One of the final lines in Desiderata reads, “With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.” I wish I could feel still that way about Trinidad and Tobago; with all its crime, corruption, and cynicism, it is becoming very difficult to call it home.