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Thursday 22 August 2019
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Paradise lost

PAOLO KERNAHAN
PAOLO KERNAHAN

ONE OF THE greatest gifts this country once gave its citizens is a feeling of what it truly means to be alive. There are days my mind wanders on memories of being by the seaside or chasing after manicou crabs near a forest stream.

Trinidad was all sweetness and light in my youth. Every weekend felt like an escape to another country. Hiking, Saturday beach runs, and surfing (with no discernible talent for the sport) were just a few of the things I’d get up to in my free time.

One weekend, in the early 2000s, a group of friends and I went on a hike to Marianne Waterfall in the Northern Range. After a low-intensity trek and an hour or two of frolicking in an astonishingly brisk cascade of water, it was time to head back.

When we arrived at the car, the driver decided to play a trick on us. He frantically searched himself for the car key, claiming he’d lost it. Here’s where the trick got really good – he had, in fact, lost it. Then, we all lost it.

While we sat head-scratching at the breathtaking bep that inspired our driver (you know who you are!) to tie his car key to the drawstring of his swimming trunks before going under a waterfall, a plan was hatched. Two members of our party would hitchhike back to Maraval for the spare key. OK, I never said it wasn’t a crazy plan.

I stayed behind with another and we were given shelter in a modest home by a kind couple. They shared a meal of curried crayfish and rice with us. As the sun dipped behind a verdant ridge, we chatted about country life and giant insects with those good Samaritans as they laughed occasionally at our knee-slapping stupidity.

Back then this incident was merely inconvenient. If the same accident were to happen today, this would be extraordinarily dangerous. In my time, parents likely worried more about drunk-driving collisions than gun-toting killers ready to extinguish life without hesitation. In less than two decades, we’ve gone from being the land of steel pan and calypso to a land of thieves and prolific murderers.

The fleeting diversions of outdoor getaways by the beach or on the hiking trail are now little more than unjustifiably reckless gambles with your life. If a citizen can’t enjoy what it means to be a Trinidadian, then there is absolutely no reason to stay here if better can be managed elsewhere.

Lately, social media feeds and the newspapers are choked with reports, videos and personal accounts of crime both petty and mindlessly violent. Trinidad is in the throes of a ravenous criminal insurrection. Bandits, common thieves, and murderers have risen up in a tsunami of terror sweeping across the entire nation. We are all just debris in this tide of blood and mayhem.

Last week there was a video online of blitzkrieg bandits trying to shock-and-awe their way into an electronics store in Price Plaza. In the security footage, one of the burglars struggled to swing a proper sledgehammer to smash his way into the glass storefront.

The thieves were spooked this time by security. Unfortunately, that was the second occasion the store was attacked. Only a few weeks before, burglars had gotten into the shop and cleaned the owners out. They were back for seconds when interrupted by some unexpectedly vigilant security guards.

Some beachgoers were recently pounced on by bandits in an area known as the track in Las Cuevas. This isolated access point to the beach is a favourite with opportunistic predators. The hits just keep coming: Masked men steal $4,000 from a safe in a Guaico school. A passenger in a taxi robs an 80-year-old man. Burglars thwarted by security guards while trying to force their way into West Mall.

These are just a few headlines pulled from a bran tub of banditry. No one and no place is safe. Siege has become the air we breathe. Criminals will devour until there is nothing left.

We continue to lose the essence of what it means to be a Trini. All the riches that make living in this country worthwhile; the outdoors, a game of all fours in an open gallery, and even a chip in a Carnival band are all too fraught with danger to risk.

With each passing day, criminals take from us something more valuable than possessions or money; they rob us of hope and the spirit to fight for this country.

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