Contributed by Joshua Surtees
Just after dawn on Sunday, I’m looking over the flat expanse of the Gulf of Paria. My skin, having not long departed my native chilly England, drinks in the morning sunshine.
It is three days after Independence Day. The day before the school year begins. On the road that gently meanders into Carenage a procession of cars passes by. Across the bay and up into the inland valleys the celebratory sound of Bollywood music echoes, pumped out by megaphones strapped to the backs of pickup trucks and roofs of vintage Datsuns. The party convoy must be on its way to an Indian wedding in Chaguaramas. I add this fleeting moment of exuberance to the list of things I love about Trinidad and Tobago.
Minutes later, I receive the news that another citizen of this country I love has been senselessly killed. Claire Broadbridge, former director of the National Museum, was a woman I never met in person though I felt I knew her, so frequently was I advised to consult her on matters of the country’s heritage. We spoke on the phone, she was kind and modest. A retiree, she made it clear she did not want to step on the toes of a younger generation despite her knowledge and experience. That was as far as my relationship with her went.
In the Fondes Amandes community of St Ann’s on Sunday morning, no exuberant celebratory sounds competed with the dawn chorus. Just silence and the sad sound of mourning. I add this feeling of disquiet, disbelief, dismay to the list of things I hate about Trinidad and Tobago.
It is not that Claire Broadbridge’s killing ought to be treated as any more profound than the killing of a cleaner on her way home from work, or a school boy who saw too much, or a young father caught in the crossfire of a bungled robbery at a barbershop. But still, I shudder when I think of the burglars’ moment of realisation when they realise who they murdered on Saturday evening.
What is most hateful about the ceaseless murders in this country, and most intolerable to the families of the victims is the way life will simply move on from the next day and tomorrow, and tomorrow…
For me, as a foreigner, it is becoming harder to justify my love for TT. Thus far, my reports in print and in personal communications in the four years since I first came here have been so positive I should be running Trinidad’s state marketing campaigns. But it’s not like I’ve nailed my colours to the mas just yet.
On Independence Day, a concert on television featured David Rudder rousing an audience with his uplifting High Mas proclamation “I love mih country.” Clearly, Rudder is aware of his country’s shortcomings too, but regardless, there are few countries whose pop anthems would contain such words.
Yesterday, a friend of the Broadbridge family declared several times her love for TT, while publicly discussing whether it is time to leave the country she loves. We learnt some time ago in Britain not to offer our country unconditional love. Indeed, we are deeply suspicious and critical of the people who run it.
If the parties and politicians you have here ran for office in the UK the turnout would be close to zero. How successive governments allow Trinidad’s murder rate to continue unabated at shocking levels without a nationwide public boycott of every election and every political rally is staggering. The unspoken acceptance that murders are a fact of life, by those who are employed to protect your lives, is a shame upon the nation. DNA evidence and CCTV cameras are a solution and deterrent from crime, inexplicably unutilised here. There is little point asking God to bless our nation, when its gatekeepers disgrace it.
There are loud public voices on social media, of course.
“We had a paradise and we have turned it into a hell,” … “The region has a violent illness that is trying to wipe out all of our hope,” … “We truly have monsters roaming this land,” were some of the despairing comments filling Facebook. Reject the government and don’t vote in the other lot, if you want your words to mean much.
“Is it normal to live in a country where you can say I personally know over ten people who have been murdered?” asked the same neighbour of the Broadbridges. That sounds less like a country and more like a nightmare to me.
Before returning to Trinidad this year, there was debate in my family as to the wisdom of leaving a safe country to live in a murderous one. My position was simple: I refuse to live in fear. But despite the brave face, I am unable to hide the fact that any time a loved one’s phone goes unanswered when they are out on the streets or in a taxi, the fear comes creeping.
There are good, kind, caring people in Trinidad and there are bad, cruel, unfeeling people. From the worker in Pennywise rushing to help a woman who fell down to the customer behind her laughing. From the woman in Mount Lambert who rescues injured dogs in an ambulance, to those who chase injured dogs off, “mash!”, with the threat of a beating.
There is no Ministry of Kindness dedicated to managing or rewarding loving acts. That begins at home, in school, among friends, in our workplaces. For all those yelling bring back hanging – that won’t bring back Claire. We can’t erase history but we can find new beginnings.
“You really feel that after 500 years of hatred, bloodshed and war we could unravel the threads of injustice, fear and lack of belongingness in 55 years?” asked one commenter, in answer to the question: why is Trinidad so rage-filled?
Looking back to the enslavers, colonisers, rapists and murderers of yore is no longer relevant or valid. These are your people, not a sinister breed forcing you into chains. With the death of a lady who cherished and documented Trinidad’s history, the country’s future must surely begin now.