AS TOLD TO BC PIRES
My name is Mark Meredith and I’ll do anything I can to save the Asa Wright Nature Centre.
If I come from anywhere in Trinidad, it's Cascade, where I lived for the happiest ten years of my entire life.
My Trini wife, Roslyn, and I had married in St Ann’s Church, but spent the next ten years living in Langstone, a seaside village in England. The Royal Oak, a 16th-century pub with water lapping against its walls was 50 yards from our front door. It was the perfect place. But Roslyn hankered after home and I could live with leaving the cold behind. We packed up our two young daughters for the adventure of my lifetime.
We rented a house in Cascade, land sloping down the hill, tall, exotic fruit trees, more colourful birds than I'd ever seen and the largest bachac nest anyone we knew had ever seen. The mosquito swarms that shared our home devoured my sweet English blood, to remind me where I was living.
We emigrated to Auckland, New Zealand, in 2006, after two serious home invasions in the Knightsbridge house we bought.
One Saturday afternoon in 2003, men broke the back door into pieces and pointed a gun at my children. Just so they could rip the DVD player from the wall.
My third daughter, just three, sat staring in shock at the TV she'd been watching lying smashed on the floor. I arrived to flashing blue lights outside my house.
In 2005, three men burst into our home. I was lifted up against the wall by my throat and my own carving knife put to my neck. Thank God the girls weren't home.
The bandits ransacked the house and shattered the dream.
In New Zealand, we could leave our children at home, safely. We didn’t live on the edge of panic at every unexplained noise outside.
My two younger daughters are afraid of Trinidad. They have no desire to return.
I was bitter for a long time that crime had driven us out of the place we loved, where we'd been so happy.
But New Zealand’s health system saved my life in 2011 when I had a stroke. And Roslyn’s when she had breast cancer.
So, thanks, bandits.
Curry was the first thing I taught myself to cook, back in the 80s. I’ve been cooking all sorts of cuisines for my family every day ever since.
I fell in love instantly with New Zealand’s safety, incredible beauty, laid-back nature, parks, conservation ethos, (the legislative) protection of its wondrous natural assets.
I’d spent my entire time as a journalist in Trinidad fighting (for the mindful) development of the environment.
Much to my surprise, I still am, from the other side of the world.
I was born in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, where my father had been sent to manage the small Salisbury (now Harare) operation of the UK multinational company he (worked for) all his life.
When we moved to England, my father’s office was next door to West Bromwich Albion Football Club. He leased them the car park in return for season tickets. Since my first game at the Hawthornes when I was eight, I have been an obsessive Baggies fan, to the detriment of my mental well-being.
I was born Roman Catholic and was forced to be an altar boy for a grumpy priest at Catholic boarding school.
Forget money, religion is the root of most evil. Just look at the death and misery it's caused.
I read all the time, mostly on Kindle, mixing up thrillers with the occasional biography or climate change book. President Obama’s chief scientific adviser Steve Koonin's Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn't, and Why It Matters tells us we are being manipulated and fed cherry-picked, alarmist misinformation by the media.
I would borrow Sunday Times columnist Rod Liddle’s phrase “Climate is the new religion, and that Swedish doom goblin is its high priestess.”
Environmental journalism has been shamefully corrupted by those intent on frightening the population to death in order to pursue their alarmist, implausible agenda.
A favourite calypso is Rudder's Bahia Girl. It was a hit when I met and fell in love with Roslyn and Trinidad.
If I could eat only one thing for the rest of my life, it would be a curry of some sort.
Though I don't think I'd want a sore tummy every following morning for the rest of my life.
My first job was as a BBC television news researcher in London. I left after a few years to travel (while doing) jobs ranging from trainee golf professional to newspaper advertising salesman.
At 37, I found my true calling as a magazine journalist (freelancing) as a feature writer for the Portsmouth News.
(By the time) we moved to Trinidad, I was able to photograph my own stories.
As a journalist, you imagine you can change the world.
I found that, in Trinidad and Tobago, I could.
I had no idea how deep the well of environmental, developmental and tourism-related stories I could draw from would turn out to be in Trinidad. I was astonished at the corruption and abuse directed at the environment, of the impacts this abuse had on ordinary Trinis at the sharp end. It was a wild ride.
Of all the old-fashioned investigative journalism I’ve done, I'm most proud of helping to stop some truly awful projects: the Toco Port in 2000 (that has reared its ugly head again), the Alcoa smelter in Chatham and Sandals in Buccoo.
I would love my efforts for Asa Wright and its workers to pan out for the sake of tourism and education in TT. But I am not hopeful.
I first visited Trinidad in 1986, and to see Roslyn, who I'd met the previous year. She took me and her friend Gail Massy to Asa Wright.
I was so impressed, I brought the entire contingent of my British wedding party to Asa Wright on the first day of my honeymoon. My mother was bowled over. My friends were whispering to each other in awe of this magical place.
This is why Asa Wright was listed at the top of every serious international birding tour company's destination list. Despite the negative crime stories, foreign tourists still flocked to Asa Wright. It was the bait which drew ecotourists to TT and the glue that held TT's ecotourism business together.
That is why TT needs Asa Wright back.
If New Zealand had such an incredible place, its demise would never be allowed to happen. There would be an uproar.
But I'm an optimist by nature and still hope for a miracle.
The encroachment and negative impacts of quarrying bordering the centre's land needs to stop. The EMA should start doing the job it was mandated to do.
What has (become) the tragedy of TT I lay squarely at the door of all the self-serving politicians who have failed the country so miserably for so long. Even if you’ve run the country or Asa Wright into the ground, there is zero accountability.
It’s a tall ask, but the only way out of the morass (is for) Trinis to demand (candidates with) better standards.
No TT government has ever understood or appreciated the importance of tourism, or the private sector’s role.
The current bunch are spectacularly inept. Rowley and his mob believe only in large inclusive resorts in Tobago, with shiny new airport. And Carnival for Trinidad.
But you first have to protect that paradise, that environment, and the government has no interest in that, either.
If Rowley is willing to destroy the Buccoo Reef and Bon Accord Lagoon for a massive Sandals monstrosity, and have TT taxpayers pick up the tab, what hope is there they will help little old Asa Wright preserve its amazing natural heritage by protecting the surrounding environment from quarries and other interlopers?
Rowley's disregard for TT's natural assets, except of course fossil fuels, is a crime against all Trinbagonians.
If Asa Wright is not saved, it will be another crushing blow in my ever-expanding catalogue of serial disappointments featuring my once sweet and beautiful TT.
As before, I will take it on the chin and move on.
A Trini to me is my beautiful wife and her family, the best friends I ever had. And the friendliest, funniest, most fun-loving people I've ever known.
To me, Trinidad and Tobago means my spiritual home, the land where I was happiest; and the land that makes me sad because of how far it has fallen.
It was a land with so much – but that potential was ignored and its natural assets plundered, squandered and spoiled.
It’s now an unsafe place riddled with fear, crime, corruption and extreme incompetence in the highest places.
And a place where, it seems, most people don't give a damn.
But I always will.
Read the full version of this feature on Friday evening at www.BCPires.com