Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Cry, the Beloved Country

The title of Alan Paton's classic novel has been haunting me of late. I seldom blog about the runaway crime situation here in Trinidad. The horrors are too rife, piling one on top of the other everyday, shocking past the point when you think you can't be shocked anymore, escalating beyond the point where you thought it couldn't get worse.

I'm sitting here at five before midnight, blogging when I should be editing novel number two, and a gunshot rings out. That particular sound was virtually unknown to this nation up to a decade or two ago; a loud explosion used to mean that someone's old jalopy was backfiring. Not anymore.

A week or two ago it was the rape and murder of an eight year old child. Days ago it was the murder-suicide of a couple who lived mere houses away. I didn't know them, but that is irrelevant. A man across the street was gunned down yards away from his home two years ago. The secretary who worked at a school where I taught was strangled and tossed over a cliff by a male acquaintance a month or two ago. A guy who used to belong to my hiking group was found knifed to death on a coast road. One of my old students, a lovely, joyous girl, was found strangled in a ravine just a year or so after she graduated high school. And every day, almost, the body count of 'gang-related' or 'drug-related' murders soars. One night recently there were six murders. Six. Few of the murderers are ever brought to justice. And no wonder - the few witnesses to murders who have the temerity to testify for the state tend to meet grisly ends.

All this on an island with a population of less than a million and a half.

This used to be a beautiful valley. I still go outside in the middle of the night and look up at the stars, gaze at the moon, savour the touch of cool night breeze on my skin. But now I am watchful and wary. My reveries are tainted by the expectation of gunshots shattering the night. By blacked out police helicopters and blimps that circle the skies for hours, the choppers sometimes beaming their ferocious spotlights down on the houses. What do they seek with that bright beam? Robberies, kidnappings and murders in progress? Criminals skulking in the shadows of fences?

We used to call this land a paradise. Poets have written so many paeans in its honour, from the classic calypsos to the patriotic songs that now seem to recall an imaginary place. I think of The Mighty Sniper's Portrait of Trinidad, Gregory Ballantyne's Calypso Rising, David Rudder's Song for a Lonely Soul with nostalgia and sadness.

The chopper is circling now. How did we come to this? Where do we go from here? Whatever happened to Paradise?


JJ said...

Oh goodness me, that's so sad and so awful. And it really does seem to be everywhere now.

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Liane, I'm so sorry - I had no idea. That body count, it's like being in a war. It may be small consolation, but I found your post to be beautifully and powerfully written.

Chennette said...

Oh. I miss Trinidad, even though since I moved (only 3 years ago) my parents have become increasingly worried about safety and what not. So it's even sadder to think about the country you describe, as I sit here in Guyana...

Debs said...

It sounds dreadful. So sad to read of so many horrific crimes and so near to you. My mother lives in South Africa and she always has some horror story or other.

Such a shame.

KeVin K. said...

I can only imagine.
Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

(And Zinnia's right. It may be small consolation, but from the heart you write with power.)

Lane said...

I didn't know it was so bad.
What is going on with the world?:-(

Anonymous said...

The situation is so bad that everybody knows at least one person who was held up at gunpoint. Usually much more. I am not making this up but I hear gunshots in residential St. Augustine and I almost never hear a siren. Everybody in Trinidad should be worried about their safety and for the Minister of National Security to say its just gang related is not only a lie but a big lie. I am sure the PM is bothered a wee bit but once he is firmly seated in power, and he knows he is, crime will not even be on the agenda. Never bite the hand that feeds you, he once said.

The Anti-Wife said...

We fight wars on foreign soils and can't keep our own people safe in their homes. Very sad.


stephe said...

Thanks for sharing this, Liane. I, like others, had no idea it was so dangerous near you.

Truly, there is no safe place left on this Earth. (I won't even get into that, or the mess here in the Atlanta suburbs.)

May your poignant writing and thoughts continue for years to come. (That goes for the rest of us, too.)

Jannie Sue "Funster" said...

Oh my God. Do you think you'll move?


Chumplet said...

Trinidad is like a small city - all the good and the bad are concentrated in one place. These days, you're bound to hear more about the violence because everyone is connected in one way or another, and the news is easy to spread (television, radio, internet, word of mouth).

I remember my mom telling me a story of my sister wandering into the hills of Trinidad in the middle of the night. She was following the sound of drums and music.

It was during the mid-sixties, and my parents were very worried because there was a lot of tension between the residents and the people who lived in the hills. She didn't get into details, but at the time there was a lot of nastiness going on.

No matter where we go, we'll always be faced with the possibility of violence. We can either hide from it, or try to change it, or just exist the best way we can.

Keep safe, Liane.

wordtryst said...

JJ, Zinnia, it seems there's no escape from the violence. It is indeed a war - a war against law-abiding citizens.

Chennette, when I read about the nostalgia Trinidadians abroad feel for this place, I have to remind myself that they would hardly recognize T&T now.

Debs, everyone is affected, or knows someone who's been hit. It's one horror after another. Last week someone stole the batteries off the company truck. Then my brother returned to Trinidad after a few days away and found that items had been stolen off of his car in the airport car park. With all the major stuff happening, nobody even reports that kind of minor incident anymore.

Thank you, Kevin. I appreciate that.

Lane, I don't know...

akalol, siren? What's that? Remember, in this oil rich country we can't afford to equip police stations with reliable vehicles. We have skyscrapers to build and cohorts to enrich.

Hi, Anti-wife! Good to see you up an about again, and healing nicely. Safe in our homes? There are more important things to occupy the powers that be, apparently.

You're welcome,Stephe. It sometimes seems like there's no escape. The madness crops up in all kinds of places.

Jannie Sue, welcome to the blog! Move? Where? I'd move to someplace where I felt less directly threatened, but I wouldn't delude myself that I'd be 'safe'. Like Stephe, I wonder if there's such a place any more.

I often wonder what it must be like for people in my parent's age group who never knew what it meant to lock doors, for whom moonlight walks in lonely places was a deep pleasure, and who scolded their neighbour's children and whose children were scolded by neighbours. Now they're afraid of children who walk around armed, and who commit heinous crimes with impunity.

Maybe we had to come to this to get past our old illusion that we were somehow special and always would be. Stuff like this happened elsewhere. Not here!

Chumplet, the sixties and early seventies were turbulent times here, but the unrest was due to people wanting social change, not due to wanton lawlessness. I was a child but my father was a policeman. Policemen were being shot; Daddy couldn't come home for weeks at a time and when he did it was at night, for short periods, and he would be heavily armed. We were afraid then, but mainly on his account.

Thanks for the sympathy and good wishes, everyone. You all be safe too.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

It is sad and it does seem to happening everywhere. My parents complain about the rising crime in St. Martin. I do remember staying at my grandparents and nobody locked their doors or windows. Those days are over.

KAREN said...

I had no idea. Very poignant post.

wordtryst said...

nyc/caribbean, those halcyon days are definitely over.

Karen, you're not alone. Unfortunately, the world is with us down here too, to misquote someone.