If you have ever met a Trini, you will know that we are fiercely patriotic. Trinis love being Trinis. We’re obsessed with it. It’s not just a nationality, it’s a way of life. For example, look at our annual Carnival, which is a huge celebration of our Trini culture. Almost all the calypsos sing about the joys of being a Trini. In fact there is a song from last year where the chorus goes ‘I’z ah Trini, ah Trini!’ I don’t think I know any other countries that have so many songs where people sing so much about how much they love being a Trini. (Except maybe Americans from the deep south. They seem to have a lot of country songs about the pride of being American.)
When you come from god’s chosen country (don’t you know the old saying, ‘God is a Trini’? All Trinis believe it, by the way), you tend to not take things too seriously. Some people take things with a pinch of salt. Trinis take things with a splash of rum, a few cubes of ice, and some Angostura Bitters. When bad things happen, we don’t fret, we write a calypso about it instead. Nothing phases us, not even states of emergency.
During my 3-week trip home to visit an ailing grandmother (who has made a full recovery, thank you), just before I left the government announced that they were imposing a Limited State of Emergency, after a weekend where there were 11 bloody murders in under 48 hours. Something had to be done, they said. Criminals, we comin fuh yuh.
From the very start it was a comedy of errors. People asked, what do you mean by ‘limited’ state of emergency? Nobody knew. The government then said that they would impose a curfew from 9 pm to 5 am, limited to certain ‘hot spots’, heavy-crime areas. People looked at the map. ‘But is de whole island!’ they said in response. So then the government came back, and said the whole country is under the state of emergency and the curfew, not just the hot spots. ‘So what was the point in the hot spots, then?’ people asked. They then took it back, saying the whole country is NOT under curfew. Which is it? Nobody knows yet, and this state of emergency has been in place for four days now.
The people said, ‘but I work at night, I have to be able to go out during the curfew’. So, the government announced people could get Curfew Passes. By the next morning, the Attorney General held a press conference about the Passes, urging citizens to ‘exercise some common sense’ when going in to the police stations to apply for a pass. ‘Curfew Passes are for people who need to get to work during curfew hours, such as hospital workers and oil field workers. The passes are NOT for you go to liming on Ariapita Avenue at night!’ It quickly became the best quote of the day.
Trinis, being the good-natured, easy going, ‘dem-no-worry-we’ kind of people, immediately recognised the state of emergency for what it is, and started writing it off as a big joke. Facebook, the all encompassing social media site that is a great way to spread information, was quickly flooded with posts from popular bars, restaurants and clubs, saying ‘Come to the Curfew Lime! Happy Hour from 2 pm to 6 pm! 2-4-2 specials on all drinks before lockdown!’ The local beer, Carib, even started doing a series of curfew ads, poking fun at the curfew restrictions.
Criminals apparently are poking fun at the restrictions too. Can’t go out to rob during the night time? No problem! Let’s go out and rob during the day time! At 8.30 am some masked gunmen held up a cell phone shop, tied up the shop keeper, and stole all the phones and money.
There were a few other minor annoyances, such as when people started spreading the rumour that Petrotrin, the local oil refinery, was going on strike, and people rushed to the gas stations for panic buying. On the news that night, they interviewed people sitting in their cars waiting for gas, and asked them why they were there. ‘Well me eh know,’ they said, ‘but my neighbour hear dey goin an strike dong in Petrotrin, so I came to fill up my car.’ Turned out the rumours were unfounded and untrue. Rumours spread quickly in a small island like Trinidad.
I would have loved to stick around and see what really happens with this state of emergency, as I found it all wonderfully entertaining, but I had to get my tail back to Dubai. The question was, with a curfew from 9 pm, how was I going to get to the airport for a 1 am flight to JFK? I headed to the police station down the road to find out.
So I applied for a Curfew Pass. A police officer with an IQ of about 0.5 spent a long time trying to decide how to enter my information into a big ledger book. Just as I was wondering whether our police stations would ever get computerised I spotted an officer nearby on a computer. What was he doing? He was on Facebook. The officer dealing with me continued to be baffled by the pretty blue lines in the ledger book, and called over another colleague for help determine how to best write between these lines. Another man then walked in and interrupted this difficult process, apparently bringing some breakfast for someone who works in the station. ‘I brought this for Ramlal’ he says. The man with the small IQ then stopped processing my information, took the book and carefully wrote down what the breakfast was: One Orchard Orange Juice Box, One Bake and Smoked Herring. I kid you not — he actually wrote down what the breakfast was. He even made the man open up the bake and show him what was inside. No joke! He opened up the bake and looked inside! Do they think people are trying to smuggle drugs in to a police station inside of a coconut bake? And we wonder why when we call a police station it takes them forever to come to your aid?
Anyway, they finally solved the problem of the coconut bake and the mysterious ledger book, and issued me a curfew pass. Ta daaa!
I left my house at 10 pm in a taxi and we drove through a silent ghost town. Not a car on the road all the way from Maraval to Port of Spain. Downtown the only people ‘breaking curfew’ were the pipers and the vagrants rooting through the garbage and sleeping on the sidewalks in their cocaine-induced haze. One police car drove past us, checked us out briefly, but didn’t bother to stop us and ask for the pass. An army truck did the same, and didn’t stop us. We reached the airport in record time, and before I knew it I was in JFK, being treated like a criminal and taking off my damn flip flops and putting them through a metal detector.
So, what will happen with this State of Emergency in the long run? Will they arrest a lot of people? Probably. Do we have enough room in the prisons? Probably not. Do we have a law system that actually processes people quickly? Definitely not. Will most of the people arrested probably get released? I would guess so. And the people who rob cell phone shops at 8.30 am, will they turn away from a life of crime, or just find ways to continue doing what they are doing? I would guess the latter. The fact is, Trinidad has been in dire straits for getting close to a decade, and while we keep holding on to how our country USED to be, and we keep on smiling and wining and feting, it is going to take a lot of work to fix the decay in our country. Let’s see if Kamla has the balls to carry it through long term, and try to undo the damage that has been done. Who knows, maybe one day the police stations will actually have officers who use them for work, and not just for checking Facebook. In the meantime, in this comedy of errors, I would suggest people laugh, because if you don’t laugh you will cry! Oh yeah, and don’t forget to stock up on the rum for Lockdown 2011…. this could take a while.