Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ganges meets the Nile?

Trinidad and Tobago is on a precipice. It's not a scare tactic or attempted hyperbole. The truth of the matter is that, for the better part of the last six years, T&T has experienced unprecedented times, with respect to crime, the economy and government. It has also showed up our citizens as willing pawns in a political game.

A deeper understanding of the motivation of people's support for politicians in T&T is needed. There seems to be an almost lamb to the slaughter approach when election time comes around and people are asked to support a particular political party. Many times, support for any given party is usually based on hereditary voting patterns or ethnic voting patterns. Very rarely do people take issues and debates into account and make a conscientious decision on Election Day as to which party will be fortunate enough to receive their support.

It is this wonton waste of democratic rights that has fuelled the arrogance of our political dinosaurs since Independence in 1962. Never has T&T has a Prime Minister who has genuinely had the people's interests at heart. On at least three occasions (1986, 1995 and 2001/2), the country had been false started into believing that change would bring about the yearning for a clean political scene. A scene devoid of the petty bitterness that has led to the collapse of governments, resignations of Ministers and MPs and years of feuding between rival politicians, all claiming to be on the side of the people.

Today, following the victory of the People's National Movement (PNM) in the 2002 polls, Trinidad and Tobago stands at the mercy of murderers, kidnappers and big business. Yet, we are constantly being told that the crime rate is really not that bad, kidnappings are on the decrease and smelter plants are good for your health. The (and to an extent, correct) belief that 1962 politics can swim with a 2007 population is as sad as it is scary.

The Opposition is in disarray. The UNC, fractured by a clique of self serving executive members. The spin-off, Congress of the People, started promisingly, but seems to have been losing most of its steam from its heyday, just 6 months ago when it drew a crowd of 15,000 to its launching and had polls citing 40% national support. That support has now dwindled to less than 9%, though its leader remains the most popular choice for Prime Minister of the Republic.

Where do we go from here? If we are to believe the latest polls, one of which has proven quite reliable (NACTA), then the PNM should handily win the next election, possibly with a constitional majority. Meanwhile, the old fox himself, Basdeo Panday, never one to miss an opportunity for division, has reclaimed the reins of the UNC and almost laughingly, in a Ghandi-like attempt, has called for a reunification of the Opposition forces. This, less than one year since he launched a calculated bid to rid the UNC of his then annointed successor, Winston Dookeran. Panday has paralleled Dookeran's refusal to respond to his call to a covert attempt at (Dookeran's) supporting the PNM's return to power. What's more is that his supporters have taken the bait and have begun to characterise Dookeran as a traitor (to what or whom is still unclear), perhaps not willing to delve further into an analysis of why Panday has had such stormy relations with so many of his previous comrades.

Quite simply, Panday's call for unity is hollow. Unity for the sake of removing the PNM is not what this country requires. This country needs unity for the sake of the country. Unity in the opposition forces was a reality a mere 12 months ago. Given his track record, there must be a genuine concern about whether or not Panday can truly lead a united front into a sustainable government.

Unity must be organic and honest, not pragmatic and selfish. There comes a time when one must move away from doing what is pragmatic and realise that the country needs to wake up and do what is right. Unity is right, but political unity does not equate to national unity. Panday and his cohorts can spout as much as they want but his track record is there for all to see, from NAR 86, to NAR 95 to Ramesh et al in 2000, Crowne Plaza in 2001 and most recently, Dookeran in 2006.It is fools gold to believe that Panday, at 72 will change his ways. He is a demagogue to his supporters and nothing more.

The right thing to do is for people to call the government to account. To not sit in business meetings or Chamber meetings and allow the Prime Minister to run riot while you complain about crime and the effect of wonton spending. Imagine a PM admonishes the business community on their own turf, and you can still hear a pin drop in the room.

It is time that people take responsibility for their actions. If you choose to waste your vote over representatives who do nothing for you, that is, fortunately, your democratic right. However, when things continue to go down the abyss that they are, those same people must understand that they contributed to the problem, and by then, it may have been too late to do anything about it.

Notice that, unlike others, I did not say that they should not complain. They are, after all entitled to do so. However, it is a testament to the mindset of many, that they vote for these same representatives, get the same results, proceed to complain, but do nothing substantive to change the status quo when elections are held.

Humans have the ability to learn from mistakes, but like a brainwashed bunch, there seems to be very little dynamism when it comes to the selection of representatives when elections are held and it is an indictment that our politicians fail to foster an educated electorate.

An electorate that should understand that Government is not a prize to be won but a serious responsibility to be entrusted with.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Democracy in T&T

Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Kommunist.

Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.

Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten,
habe ich nicht protestiert;
ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.

Als sie mich holten,
gab es keinen mehr, der protestieren konnte.

Recognise that poem? It was first published in 1976, more than 30 years ago. It remains as pertinent now, as it was then. The translation is at the end. By then, you'd probably have hazarded a good guess on what it is.

In a functioning democracy, it is usually the will of the majority that prevails. For whatever reason, be it constitutional insufficiency, citizen apathy or political arrogance, Trinidad and Tobago seems to be emerging as a democracy of only titular significance. There have been numerous examples of citizens’ calls for changes in policy at the national level, all of which seem to have been falling on deaf ears.

George Bernard Shaw once said that ‘Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.’

Our elected representatives and governments are proxies to function on our behalf. Practically, I do not believe that there could be consultation on every minor issue or that it is indeed plausible that citizens can have a direct say on every issue. (even though Cantons in Switzerland show that it can happen) However, when our representatives act contrary to the will of the people and especially when they do so in the caviler and arrogant manner of late, they must be held accountable. That accountability could come in the form of calling for the sacking or resignation of such representatives, but in our Westminster system, it really only comes once every five years when we have the opportunity to vote.

What sense then, does it make for people to continually vote for the same representatives when it is evident that that vote counts for little more than reinstalling someone who views his voters as a mechanism to retain 5 more years of an MPs salary and if he is lucky, a ministerial salary?

It screams of a political immaturity on the part of the majority of Trinbagonians when they cannot summon the courage of their convictions to make decisions that benefit themselves. With apathy abounding, a negligence to participate in the institutions that support our freedoms only serves to benefit those masters of spin who come begging cap in hand every five years to return them to power, only to neglect the very people who put them there.

It is only when the people demonstrate the will to actively engage in a movement for change that the politicians will sit up and take notice and realize that they no longer have a free ride to a seat in Parliament. It is only when people begin to take mature and objective perspectives on the issues that democracy can truly flourish.

Gandhi once said: ‘The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within.’ People must take the initiative and realize that they have the right to speak out regardless of who tells them to ‘Shut Up!’ They must let their views be heard so that it cannot be said that they were silent when things were going awry. Regardless of who tries to suppress them, remember that ideas are indeed bulletproof and that if they manage to suppress one or two or ten or one hundred that there must be thousands more willing to protect the very foundation on which this country purportedly came into being, that of democracy.

While our politicians meander along a path towards the next General Election without care for dealing with issues currently at the forefront of the public’s interest, let us take the initiative to deal with the issues. Let us set the agenda and say that WE want to talk about the rising cost of living or the unacceptable murder figures or aluminum smelters. Do not let the politicians set the agenda for us.

That is the potential of a democracy. We must begin to effectively use whatever little power that we have and show the politicians that the most important office in a democracy is indeed that of the citizen. Interesting indeed will be that day when the Trinidadian politician must display humility, gratitude, accountability and those other aspects that citizens not only demand, but deserve.

Should we fail, there is no question that we will surely rue the day that we did not speak and act when we had the opportunity.

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
- Martin Niemoller (1892-1984)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Happy New Year

Created: December 31, 2006

So here we are. 365 days from where we were last year. Don’t know about you, but it doesn’t seem as though much has changed.

Counting upwards of 370 murders. Politicians still playing us for fools. Us, allowing ourselves to be played for fools.

Politicians being hanged. Wait, that one wasn’t so bad. They should be more encompassing with that one.

A kidnapped businesswoman who’s probably already dead. Money flowing like water, but water not yet flowing through our pipes.

Prices raising like Hef on Viagra. Well, maybe not. Hef’s been in the business so long that he’s probably permanently risen.

Back to school in a week.

So what are my New Year’s Resolutions? None. Oh wait, I have this doctor thing I’m trying to do. I should probably try to do that well. That’s not so much a resolution as much as it’s necessary.

Usually I have a couple, but this year, I’m just being honest with myself. May as well have none to break than feel lousy next week about breaking them all. (Cynical meter just went through the roof)

Seems like the more things change, the more they remain the same. Somebody already said that. Well, the more things change, the more I wish they won’t. Or at least, changed differently.

I have real issues with Darwin. This adaptation thing hasn’t been too good for me. Maybe I’ll expire soon from failure to adapt. Either that or bring down the rest of the species with me. Now, there’s a thought.

Happy next 365 days. Just happens that it’s 2007 years after a kid was born in a barn in Israel.

But before that, just have a good day tomorrow and a good week next week. And somewhere in there, do something good. So that 365 days from now, you can look back and say that you made a difference and people and things were better for it.

Then, maybe, cumulatively, you might just have that great year. No guarantees or refunds on that, eh.

Cheers. Oh, and pour me another.

Death of a Friend

Created: December 25, 2006

Why do bad things happen to good people?

I wasn’t into the Christmas spirit anyway, but the last couple days have made that even worse. You see on Friday, I lost a schoolmate, a classmate, a friend.

He was only 22 years old. His demise was the result of a failed health system. A health system that has failed many before and will continue to fail in the future until the cronies in charge are removed and the health system becomes one of serving the people rather than the pockets of crooked doctors, businessmen and politicians. And it’s not even the public heath institutions I’m referring to.

But he wouldn’t want me to rant about this. He was a simple and humble man. Polite beyond comprehension and with a sense of duty to his friends and especially his family. He was an exemplar to us all. An exemplar by the way in which he sacrificed so much of his own potential luxuries in order to be a rock for his family. He was only just finishing his studies even while working full time. He was going to work on something he enjoyed.

If ever I wanted to believe that there is indeed a higher power, it is in times like these. I want to refuse to accept that people like him are taken from us, not to go onto a higher realm. A realm beyond our comprehension. Life throws obstacles in our way. He had overcome many in his short lifetime. This was one that he had no control over, because I’m sure if he did, he would have persevered to find a way around it. He did not want to go. He suffered for three weeks before finally succumbing. In the end, it was perhaps the better thing, given his condition. Even so, he was taken from us unbearably young.

A couple weeks ago I read about a 100 year old man, Marvin L. Northern who finally received his university degree. He had fallen one credit shy when he didn’t have the chance to take the Chemistry 101 class in 1929. He had to leave school to help out his family when the Great Depression hit. The university conferred the degree after he took a substitute class for Chem 101. He had been enrolled in that class for 100 years, without even knowing it. It was Life 101 and the University passed him with an A+, citing that ‘He’s mastered that course and mastered it well.’

Even though he was only 22, Suren would have passed that class with flying colours. He had experienced more life in his 22 years than many would experience in four times that. And in the end, I suppose that should be the #1 thing on our list of things to do while we’re here on Earth. To pass Life rather than have Life pass us by.

Who knows, maybe when we ourselves make that final journey to our graves or pyres, it would make more sense but for now, it seems unfair and cruel. A test of our faith and beliefs to make us realize how fickle we all are.

The holidays are all about misery and obligation, yet strangely, like a masochistic ritual, it doesn’t seem right until each element of the process is ultimately fulfilled. So lights, cameras and acting, it has begun. Usually I’d try but this year, I’m just indifferent.

So to all of you have an enjoyable and safe Christmas. Whether you’re like me and just going through the motions and managing a genuine smile once every so often or you’re really into the Christmas spirit. Take care of each other, because in the end, it’s only each other we have.

Rest in Peace Dewan Surendra Ramberran, Gerard Bertand, Garnet Lalla Maharaj and all other Pres Men taken from us too soon.

A Lonely, Old Man

Created: December 07, 2006

It was raining. I frowned, livid by the fact that I was going to get soaked, yet again.

I walked into the room and there he was. Sitting in the corner chatting. He looked his usual self, dressed as though time had stopped thirty years ago. This was supposed to be easy. In and out. A quick escape in order to go back to the ruckus of studying for exams the next week.

As the others filed in, we realized that the six of us didn’t constitute the requirement for continuation. He insisted that we did, much to our chagrin. We tried to accelerate the pace in order to stunt the inevitable boredom. It was futile. He had determined that he was going to keep us there as long as he was legally permitted to do so.

I was angry at first. Angry that he could be so vindictive. He KNEW we had exams. Why was he doing this?

Anger turned into acceptance that I could do nothing about the situation. Acceptance gradually turned into a realization that this was an act, not of venom, malice or hate.

He was divorced. He spent his week looking forward to this day. He prepared more for it than all of us combined. He had no children, and I suspect that he regretted it. Today was the last day for the next two months that we were going to see him.

His melancholy existence was not apparent until he spoke. He was an enigma. Surrounded by many yet lonely. He spoke to many, but not with many. He knew many, but he did not know them.

Fourteen people every week. It was his form of decampment from a cursed reality.

And while we continued his spirits visibly lifted and for that time, he had a reason for living. It was one experience gained, rather than three hours wasted.

We finished and I walked out the door. It was raining. I frowned, still livid that I was going to get wet.

Of Aristocracy, Hope and Bitterness

Created: November 29, 2006

Have you ever gotten that feeling? You know, the one that you can’t exactly describe? It’s a myriad of different emotions. Not sure if to cry or laugh or just ponder the reasons why you find yourself awake at 2 a.m. and thinking. Not studying to get that coveted piece of paper that somehow validates 3, 4, 5 or more years at school. Just sitting up and thinking.

Mt Hope cannot be called many things, from fun to exciting or even stimulating. But it can, at least for many who frequent it either for studying or teaching, be called pretentious. For some reason there’s a constant need to be validated and posture oneself as superior to others. It happens everywhere, of that I’m acutely aware, but for some reason, there seems to be an epidemic of epic proportions from this conglomeration of Pres Boys, CIC, Fatima, Naps Boys and Girls, SAGHS and especially those ‘Convunt’ Girls.

It probably wouldn’t have had me up thinking at 2 a.m. under different circumstances, but when I think that these are going to be the doctors of tomorrow I shudder. We already have a crisis in the health sector, admittedly not solely the fault of doctors, but when I look around, I don’t see that the future holds the hope of a change in attitude. Insularity abounds and it reinforces that while one works for 3, 4, 5 or more years on that piece of paper, what isn’t obtained is a real desire to interact with and genuinely care for people. That is why now, more than ever, there is a dimunition of respect for health providers, especially doctors, who were once held in the highest esteem.

We can complain as much as we want about the deleterious state of our nation, but until we actively become involved in making changes in attitudes, we will always find ourselves in a vacuum of want. The politicians know that while the people are content to simply complain without action, they hold the upper hand. We have to not only want change, but also actively pursue it. Hope is not a strategy.

Having broken the shackles of the last year, I was forced last night into thinking whether I was bitter about the events that transpired. I never consciously believed that I was. I was hurt and disappointed, but I never thought that I exuded a bitterness about it. Perhaps at a subliminal level it manifested itself and somehow escaped in an unpleasant way. I don’t hold grudges. More simplistically, I’m happy once you’re happy.

A friend once told me that I let everyone walk all over me. Perhaps it’s my nature not to be confrontational about pettiness. Maybe that was why I let myself get burnt as badly as I did. It’s because a series of petty incidents can rear a very ugly head, if summated. That was what they didn’t understand. That was why the arguments fell flat every time an example was asked for.

You see, a single incident is as petty as stealing your neighbor’s flower to make your vase look nice. Put them all together though, and it is as though you stole your neighbor’s wife. Maybe they should all go to hell. Maybe I really am bitter. Maybe I shouldn’t think at 2 a.m.

Return to Innocence

Created: November 07, 2006

That's not the beginning of the end, That's the return to yourself

Live as though you were to die tomorrow, learn as if you were to live forever-Ghandi

This is the epitomy of life. Making the most of what you have and preparing best for the future. Striking the balance between both can be more difficult than walking the tightrope at the Suarez Circus. In the past week, this has been no truer.

It brings us back to the eternal questions: What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of living?

Don't be afraid to be weak, Don't be too proud to be strong

Too often today we see life being treated with such scant regard. We've already violently lost over 300 of our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters this year. It is as though we have become immune to death now. We keep tolerating higher and higher levels of murder without demanding that the carnage be stopped. And when demands are made, too often the response is little more than a mere dismissal that crime really isn't as bad as it seems. Slowly, but surely, we're descending into anarchy. We saw what happened in the communities when Shazard Mohammed and now Kevin Valley were killed.

If you want, then start to laugh, If you must, then start to cry

Sweet, sweet T&T, what is happening to my country? When will we learn? When can we live again? When will our mothers, from Laventille to Cedros, stop weeping?

Since I started Year Three, it seems as though every lecturer has decided that I'm the most 'pickable' person in the group. Never, though, would I have thought that profound words would have echoed, intentional or not, from the lips of my Hematology professor, even while he tried his best to single me out for questions.

Be yourself don't hide, Just believe in destiny

While discussing the rates of infection in transfused blood, he noted that the contraction of HIV was 1 infection in 250,000 to 1 million transfusions. He then pensively added:

'While one in a million sounds like a miniscule amount, it is astronomical if you happen to be that one'

It's a variation of the old saying: I will consider nothing, unless it pertains to me

We have lost our sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. I am guilty as well of not being my brother's or sister's keeper. As we go about living, we don't stop to think much of others.

I've often looked at a vagrant or prostitute or a street child or drug addict and wondered of their story. What concoction of circumstance and choice has engineered their current situation?

Why aren't we paying more attention to helping them in our time of plenty? Do they want to be helped? Are they, despite the despise and cruelty inflicted on them by us, the seemingly educated and well off in society, happier than we are, with all our material wealth and university degrees?

It is only when it hits home that we stand up and pay attention. It is only when our son from Westmoorings is kidnapped that we are outraged. It is only when our rights are threatened that we stand up and defend. It is only when we are threatened that we react with a varacity and belligerence belying the morals and high grounds that we have previously stood for.

Perhaps it is human nature. It is just an excuse, though.

Don't care what people say, Just follow your own way

I want to move on but I don't know if I do. I don't want to be hurt again. I've had too much to deal with. It's said that you're never given more than you can handle. I think I can't handle much more. I don't know how much more I can bear. The spirit is strong but the heart is weak. I don't think it can possibly shatter into many more pieces.

That's not the beginning of the end, That's the return to yourself

'You're on your own, get used to it.'

Perhaps it is indeed human nature to be cruel. I can't believe that this could be said from someone whom I once considered a friend.

Perhaps it is time to return to the innocence of childhood, whatever little that was left after it was snatched.It is the only way to start anew. It is human nature to survive, and survive I must.

Don't give up and use the chance, To return to innocence - Enigma

Friendship Evaluated

Created: September 07, 2006

Remember when we were innocent and things didn't matter?

George Washington, the first American President once said:

Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.

I think he was probably on to something. It's probably not surprising that my best friends and confidantes are those that I've known for at least the last 6 years. Maybe it's true that you can't find true friendship quickly, that it's a slow growth. Maybe that's why I have probably only a handful of friends that I can actually call true.

I always thought that I had good judgement. I still do. Maybe I need to stop listening to my head and more to my heart. Maybe I should make decisions based on what I believe rather than on what others would want me to believe.

I have always had very liberal ideas and ideals. I detest the self righteous 'right'. I have always believed in free will and live and let live. Why judge others when we are all imperfect? Why judge by race, class, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or even by the simplist of nuances like clothes, cars or significant others?

Maybe I am too simplistic and out of touch with reality. Maybe it's up to our generation to make the difference. Maybe we should stop trying to live for tomorrow or next week or next year. Don't get me wrong. We should always work for a better future, but isn't there something to be said about this moment? The one that we live in right now. This very moment when you're reading my journal and ask why, why not live as if each day was your last?

You're not guaranteed tomorrow, only right now. Why seek divisiveness, hypocricy, deception and frivolity? Seek upliftment and don't discriminate. We are all one. If you're religious, most teach that we have come from One and will so return. We are all brothers and sisters in this brief excursion on Earth.

Let us take care of each other.

The Journey Begins

Created: July 03, 2005

Surrounded by people you know, yet you wonder why you're still feeling alone.

Maybe it's the moment and you're caught up with yourself so much that you don't stop to think about others. Not just the ones you know personally but just others in general.

What's the purpose of living if it isn't to do good? Sure, you'll be mean or mischievious, but greater good is what I mean. Help people who are truly in need. Learn to care for others.

Sometimes I think my generation is failing. Failing to realise that life isn't about what you can get out of it, but what you do to make the most of it. Legacy-what're you going to leave behind that would make people know that you were great, not just good.....that you truly believed what you said.....that you had passion.

To live is not only to live for yourself, but to live like the rest of the world depended on you. To make a difference.

To leave a legacy.