A few days ago, while driving, I saw a man walking in the hot sun, holding cocoyea brooms. About 20 minutes later, as I drove away from a carpark after shopping, I saw him again, walking in my direction. He motioned for me to stop and asked if I wanted to buy a broom.
I told him no thanks. A friend of mine had purchased cocoyea brooms recently from her neighbour and had given me one.
Realising that business was probably slow (a covid casualty for many), I pulled aside to chat further and offer him some ideas for boosting sales.
"You could do a demo," I suggested. "Sprinkle something on the ground, then sweep it away so that customers can see how well the broom works."
"No, that go dirty up a new broom that someone might want to use to cobweb their home," he said.
"How about painting a sign?" I offered, even thinking that I might paint one for him. "What kind of wording would you want to put?"
"Well, now you are giving me food for thought," he replied.
In the few minutes that we chatted about his brooms, what struck me was, that despite a bad shoulder, he climbs the coconut trees himself, spends time stripping each leaf, making the brooms, then walks around for hours in unbearably scorching sun, hoping for sales. For all that work, each broom is only $35.
The recent surge of gun-related robberies in Tobago is a sign of changing times, possibly fueled by the following disturbing thought pattern – why spend hours climbing trees, stripping leaves and walking around in hot sun selling brooms for $35, when you can grab a security guard's gun or acquire one from a "pardner" to hold up a gas station, credit union or grocery and get tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars within minutes?
While some people in our society put in an honest day's work, there are many, from the lower echelons of society to the higher corporate realms, who are lazy and/or scheming and opt instead for the fast buck through a nationwide network of rampant crime and corruption.
What if, instead, we nurtured a nationwide network of rampant creativity and support?
For example, I asked the broom-maker if I could promote his brooms on my Facebook page, including his number. He agreed and I took a photograph of his extended arm holding two of his brooms.
Several friends commented on the Facebook "promo." One, who referred to him as "a lovely man," said that she had recently purchased one of his brooms outside of Pennysavers, Canaan. It was his birthday and she had also purchased him a little dark chocolate bar with coffee beans.
One friend living abroad wrote that she would send me money to buy one of his brooms and give it to someone who could use it.
Another friend was happy for the info, as she said she needed a few cocoyea brooms.
Another commented: "I love to support these crafts that are sadly on the decline."
We must support the "man in the street" who is doing honest work – not just by buying products, but by sharing ideas for expansion and improvement of the endeavour.
Someone like the broom-maker, for example, could make a good living leading sponsored cocoyea-broom-making workshops for unemployed young men, and also for tourists who will pay a fee.
1. Coconut-tree-climbing demo
3. Broom construction
4. Bonus: coconut water and a delicious creole lunch.
Enterprising people in the community could join in to enhance the workshop and also gain more exposure and income for themselves. For example, the delicious creole lunch could be prepared by the female cook at Sweet Hand Eat Well – the blue building across from Bon Accord Primary School, attached to the steelpan hall. I tasted her pigeon pea soup for the first time a few Saturdays ago. It was so delicious that I raved about it to many, and could not wait until Saturday rolled around again to have more. That pea soup may become my Saturday lunch staple.
The coconut water could be provided by the coconut vendor who sells next door to Sweet Hand Eat Well. The venue for the workshop could be the pan hall, with pan players serenading participants while they work and eat.
Supporting and encouraging each other to succeed honestly is a great crime-fighting strategy.