On Her Excellency’s public service

CheryI Lala.. I was raised a patriot. - Mark Lyndersay
CheryI Lala.. I was raised a patriot. - Mark Lyndersay

My name is Cheryl Lala and I really don’t care what anybody thinks about me.

I’m Her Excellency President Paula-Mae Weekes’s communications adviser. I care very much what people think about her.

I pronounce my first name with a hard “Ch,” Cherril. When people say Sherril, I correct them. Every time. I ask them if they sit on a shair.

And most people don’t get it when I tell them my surname, Lala, has two Ls, not three.

I’m extremely single. For. The. Rest. Of. My. Life. I tell people who ask why I’m not in a relationship, “The problem with allyuh is allyuh don’t like to see a happy woman!”

I was born and grew up in Arima, what Arima people call Gens Arime (French pronunciation).

My mother was a teacher at Arima New Government, my primary school. On the way to her own class, she would stick her head in my classroom window and say, “Mr Brown, don’t be afraid to put two slaps on Cheryl! I know what she’s like!”

I wish women would realise they can embrace their individuality and make their own way in this world. They don’t have to be only girlfriends, wives, mothers – appendages in someone else’s life.

Bishop’s was a great school but I hated it. Most of what they taught was foolish or irrelevant. But now I look back, I think it was the regimentation I hated. Adults all up in your business all day long and they not even paying you! If someone had given me a salary for going to school, I’da felt a little better.

Cheryl Lala:
“In my mind once I learned to read and write, subtract and divide, education done! I have five O-Levels but I had all the tools I needed.” - Mark Lyndersay

To me, school taught discipline, not education: get up at a certain hour; get dressed; go to a certain place; put in a certain amount of time. It was bringing you up for the world of work. In my mind, once I learned to read and write, subtract and divide, education done! I have five O-Levels but I had all the tools I needed.

All I ask of life is that it be interesting. I don’t do “bored.”

Catechism class was a little blue book with questions and answers: who made you? God made me. Why did God make me? To know him, to love him and to serve him, in this world and in the next. I never “got” Jesus. I didn’t believe in God, not even as a child.

I ask people, “Do you want anybody to worship you?” Most people reply, “No, why would I?” I say, “Exactly!” I understand an entity accepting worship but I have a problem with one
requiring worship.

Think of all the people you know who will be going to heaven for sure-for sure? You want to spend all eternity with those people? I mean, is ETERNITY we talking! Where I going might be a little warm but at least it will be interesting.

My dad put me, as a child, to sit in front of him on his motorbike, and taught me how to handle the clutch, brakes, turning and so on. So I learned to ride motorbikes before my feet could reach the ground.

To be honest, they still can’t reach very well.

I was so despondent when my Yamaha RD 400 was stolen. I was in my first job, working for not much money, and, after paying for my bike, I had $100 left (to my name). Full comprehensive insurance was $1,000. I got third party for $100. My mother, who really didn’t like me “riding bike,” wrote a cheque and a note saying, “Here, buy yourself another motorbike.”

My mother loved me.

“Diplomacy is very much required in my job and diplomacy is not my strong suit,” says Cheryl Lala. - Mark Lyndersay

Daddy and I grew up real close. He was a good dad. Even to the end, I loved my father. But I disliked him because I found he didn’t respect my mother. That was a big thing for me. Forgiveness is not something I do well.

After 28 years in advertising, I became communications adviser to COP leader Prakash Ramadhar and then to (former UNC Finance Minister) Larry Howai. I was adviser to (PNM National Security Minister) Stuart Young when Her Excellency’s appointment was made.

I was in the same year at Bishop’s as Her Excellency. Over the years, she would approach me in my advertising job, for call cards, letterheads, whatever.

(After hearing about) her appointment, and knowing she was out of the country, I (left her a voice note of) unsolicited advice, because she was my friend. “The media is salivating,” I told her. “They profess to not know who you are and want to know everything about you. When you land at Piarco Airport, they may be waiting for you outside Arrivals. Beware that, if you answer your phone, it may be a media person recording your conversation — you may even be live on air! So be careful!” (My current job) kinda evolved from there.

Our staff is fairly small, so our portfolios overlap. I’m assisting with event management a lot. Everything is an event, whether it’s a swearing-in for three people or the opening of President’s House for 250 people or the national awards for 1,800.

Diplomacy is very much required in my job and diplomacy is not my strong suit. I often have to rein myself in and be more circumspect with what I say to people.

If you’re a pretend friend, you won’t be a friend for long. I don’t put up with stupidness.

The best part of the job is, I like to be amused, and I like to observe people’s reactions to our President. People have a certain idea of what a president should be. The worst part of the job is the commute.

I’ve lived in the east my whole life and a Priority Bus Route pass is my one non-negotiable in employment. If you can’t get me a bus route pass, I not coming in town, horse. For 20 years, I’ve been advocating for working from home! It’s ridiculous that we still have people sitting three hours in traffic every day. Office buildings should be now and will one day become obsolete.

A Trini is someone who’s default emotion is happiness. Not that trite “when life gives you lemons,” a more defiant happiness. Lee Kuan Yew’s scornful “Carnival mentality” epithet is actually our greatest asset. It allows us to make the best of whatever the universe throws at us, while holding on to our joy, our natural exuberance. In the immortal words of Maximus Dan (now MX Prime) (and while he was being sarcastic, I’m not) “We jammin’ still!”

I was raised a patriot so Trinidad and Tobago means everything to me. It’s who I am. Where I belong. Part of my DNA. At the moment, I’m not very proud of it, but I love my country. Always have. Always will.

Read the full version of this feature on Saturday at www.BCPires.com


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