Sunday, December 9, 2012

What a life

What do cleaning, swimming in the ocean, petting a dog, Bono and Chris Martin have in common? You'd be hard pressed to answer that question unless you've dipped into this blog over the five years that it has sporadically appeared. The answer is, nothing really, except that they have all featured side by side here. 

According to the Mayan Calendar, 2012 was supposed to be it, the year we all went out with a Big Bang. And the wags keep asking, how do we know that the world didn't already end and we just not notice. Huh, right? Other than HOW we get our news, not too much has changed in the news. Economic crisies, scandals, elections, crime, uprisings, protests, manmade and natural disasters...the list is not so different than it's been in the last century. For all our scientific and other advances, on the surface, humankind still appears to be actively courting the fate of the dinosaurs, except, they had a less active role in their decimation. As has proven before, nature has a way of evening up the score and we wait to see what she throws up this time. Or maybe the Mayans just ran out of space on that piece of rock the calendar was carved on eh. 

And as we move through the second decade of this century the real difference seems to be more a lack of hope, a jadedness...for all the self help books, Dr. Phil and finding peace within ourselves, blah, blah blah, it would also appear that the only people benefitting are those who collect the cash. When the next best thing happens like clockwork every 6 months, what is there really to inspire awe and wonder? Is the hype really worth it and why do we feel so empty after we've acquired the next best thing. Why do we feel restless and dissatisfied, craving, the next thing. Is it really just great marketing or is it a hole in our collective souls? 

A significant piece of history went almost unnoticed last week. The unmanned Voyager mission has indeed, boldly gone where no man has gone before. Voyager I is poised to enter the interstellar highway, in doing so it has become the little probe that can. Launched in 1977, the Voyager programme has run ever since, quietly gathering data about the space outside our little cocoon. It is indeed a wondrous thing because it is so much bigger than we know. If there is anybody else out there, Voyager may well be the first piece of man they meet. Think about that. 

To borrow from the evergreen Noel Gallagher, " Someday you might find your hero
Some say you might lose your mind..................Keep on chasing down that rainbow
You'll never know what you might find, Over the sunset on the horizon".  Somehow the words seem to fit, coming from a man who's now lived about half his life, experienced the highs and lows, seemingly understanding what is important to him. Maybe that tiger you want to take for a ride isn't the next phone or gadget, it's life.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Finding a Duck Girl

One day back in Trinidad and Tobago and cynicism takes over. All over the news, reports of corrupt practices, Section 34, murder; you might wonder why Batman does not come and save us all. The heat has not helped, each day has dawned clear, typical picture book perfect Caribbean, blue skies, thin streams of clouds. Missing from the picture is the relentless humidity that causes one's clothes to stick and make up to run long before lunchtime.

It becomes easier to be cynical and jaded, to not find hope or see any possibility that anything will change in the any time soon. Because people in authority are saying, "oh forget about that and time to move on". Never mind the incident that they refer to strikes at the heart of our structures. Instructive to note, for once the people are speaking.

What does this have to do with ducks? Not a thing unless one is thinking of the ubiquitous curried item usually served up with roti and rum to a population who will wine till they die.  No no, this is much better, a tiny store, perched on the edge of a busy street where one could more commonly buy barbecued wings or illegal DVD's. The Duck Girl is chock full of curios run by a free spirit called Jade Drakes. Perhaps now the name of the store becomes clear. Drakes are the male duck.

Stuffed into every conceivable corner are handmade things, or found things which have been repurposed with love and a great deal of artistry. Presiding over the space is the creator herself, sitting at her bench sewing away at another apron or fashioning clever earrings. Handmade books, necklaces, sun reflectors, all manner of wonderful things that invite you to pick them up, caress them, ask about them and best of all, take them home.  The store is more of a happening than a retail centre. Jade will chat, show you her things, talk about cannot help yourself. Only the most mean spirited will not wish to stay and enjoy the beauty in small things.

It's easy to be angry, or to forget the things that make a place special. Having lived away from this place for 14 years the artist has returned. Hoping that her dream will meet with success. That people will love her things enough to buy them and give them good homes. That her expressions will be received and appreciated. And so they should. Because they are made with such hope and goodwill. Something we all could use.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Hulk

In the closing fight at the end of the Avengers, Bruce Banner turns to Steve Rogers  aka Captain America and says to him, "that's my secret, i'm always angry". Welcome to the club! For weeks I've avoiding writing, afraid that if I started putting things down it would become a huge vomit, purging the bile that threatens to choke me day after day. 

It has been an endless litany of hearing, things are bad everywhere, blah, blah, blah. Sure they are, nobody is denying that, all you have to do is surf the internet or read a newspaper. And now that I've started to write this, there is no desire to continue, what would be the point? Another session of raving about incompetence or stupidity. How does this change anything? 

Having spent a lifetime trying to change things, fight for causes etc, what use has it all been? Sure things were accomplished, sure there have been huge bright, shiny moments, but firetruck it's tiring! And for what? So here's the thing Trinidad and Tobago, from here on in, go with whichever deity you pick. Because enough is enough. Finding it too hard to come up with redeeming factors...I don't care who the reigning Government is, you're all the same. Throwing in my towel, will find somewhere that my contribution will be less meaningless. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Nose, meet face

Cutting subsidies

At yesterday's  RBC Financial (Caribbean)'s Breakfast Seminar on "The Trinidad and Tobago Economy: Risks, Opportunities and Outlook", two financial experts indicated that the Trinidad and Tobago Government look towards cutting down various subsidies by the State in order to address economic issues. Well it's only a matter of time really. 

For fifty years, since the discovery of oil and later, the sale of natural gas, successive political parties have used the Treasury to induce a welfare state in order to manipulate a voting public. We've had life pretty sweet with subsidised power, gas, free education....the list is quite long. It is instructive to note that Singapore, a mangrove ridden country with few natural resources went from third world to first world nation status in their fifty years of independence. We, on the other hand, invented a musical instrument. 

Not that we seem to be in any way averse to getting handouts mind you. We have a huge sense of entitlement, Trinidadians are the first to bleat when anything is taken away, never mind the reasoning. Older people still blame the late Dr. Eric Williams who was alleged to say, "money is no problem". Considering that he never actually said the words, and we've had at least 3 generations who only know of him as a historical figure, this is pretty weak reasoning to continue that school of thought. 

The global financial landscape has changed, the world moves in real time due to ever growing access to information and communications. These days all kinds of people are accessing the power of the internet, it is now keep up if you want to compete. Survival of the most cunning and media savvy. And so to the subsidies. There are many reasons for and against. 

The current business climate in the country can charitably be described as stagnant. For the last two years we have had negative growth, an oxymoron really, how can you use negative and growth in the same sentence? The Central Bank Governor has gone through great verbal gymnastics not say that we are in a recession, except that everything he's said points to just that.  The Business community, some of the most risk averse people around, have said they are not surprised by his pronouncements. 

The question then begs to be asked, if you are not surprised, what are you doing to ensure that your business is positioned correctly? How are you engaging the Government to offer meaningful suggestions on tackling the problems? How are you treating with your customers and staff to ensure that they continue to support you? So far there seems to be little evidence of this kind of thinking  but I'm always willing to be corrected. 

And then there's the Government themselves. Have they clearly articulated plans with attached implementation dates for mechanisms that will stimulate the economy? What about the much talked about Public Sector reform to enable better access to government services? One such mechanism, ttBizLink has been around for more than a year, slowly coming on, one  painful module at a time. 

There is no doubt that subsidies will have to go, but this will be brutal unless carefully timetabled. Government will have to operate more efficiently, businesses will have to streamline their processes, become leaner, effective and the people of Trinidad and Tobago might finally wake up and realise that, no, God is not a Trini. The irony in this is there are many Trinidadians doing ground breaking things, in science, literature, art, and tourism, but they're mostly doing it on their own, against punishing odds. 

Sadly, until there is collective recognition that we need to change; to respect people's time, intellectual property, boundaries, we as a nation will constantly be stuck in a rut. We cannot continue to go along as if life is one big fete. So while the country collectively waits to see the outcome of the next Cabinet re-shuffle, the second in as many years, there will be obligatory "celebration" this week of Indian Arrival Day. Here's a novel thought, perhaps we need less public holidays, less "celebrations" and more concentrated effort. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Reform this not that

Things that make you want to scream.

Calling Government Ministries for information -

Phone rings, person answers : Hello

You: Good morning, have I reached the (insert relevant dept here)? 

GE: yeah.

You: I am trying to obtain information on (insert subject)

GE:  Nah, hold on, is not here you want, is X dept. 

Alternatively: The person you need to speak to not here, call back later. Phone is hung up. 

Or: the phone just rings and rings and rings until it cuts off.

Trying to get your contract gratuity?

HR file is pulled, paperwork is checked to make sure contract is signed. Assumption and resumption of duty letters, sick leave, leave entitlement etc all in order. File is then sent to Accounts for computation. 

Accounts then checks back the dates and figures, computes what 20% of that is, minus tax.

File then travels to Internal Audit to be audited, because clearly Accounts cannot be trusted to compute correctly.

If all goes well and the planets align, file is then sent to higher powers to be signed off on. HR then forwards file to Ministry of Finance for payment.

Keep in mind, there is no set time for this process to happen in most Ministries. 

So File arrives at Min of Finance, Pensions Division. It goes to, surprise, surprise, COMPUTATIONS. So they can make sure that everything is all computed. 

From there it goes to Auditor General, to be audited, again.

Then approvals, so that someone can say, yes, please pay.

Finally, it goes to ACCOUNTS, for a cheque to be issued.

How long does this process take? Anywhere from six months to three years!

Hopefully in the meantime you will have gotten another job, and called every week to check on the status of your file. (see above)

Actually, talk to most Trinidadians and they'll tell you their version of "Dealing with Government". Now that's not to say that there haven't been improvements, they have. Sadly, the improvements are always outweighed by unpleasant people, tedious processes, time consuming waits and apathy. There are filing cabinets full of plans that will never get implemented, studies that are ignored, professionals whose opinions are sought and then ignored. In the end, the people who work, expect results or want change give up, ground down by relentless indifference or incompetence of those who have a vested interest in maintaing the status quo.  And that is what makes losers out of all of us. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Hunger Games Trini Style

Tomorrow, thousands of Trinidadian and Tobagonian children, between the ages of ten to twelve will go through an ancient rite of passage. This ordeal is so intense, that it can be likened to Suzanne Collins'  Hunger Games novel, they anticipate it for years before, parents wait with dread. As in the books, those who can afford it, prepare, hundreds of hours of extra lessons, coaching, giving up your life for that one day that will define the next seven years, those that can't, well do your best.  

Sounds pretty barbaric doesn't it? While these children do not have to kill anyone to survive, their self esteem, peace of mind and their very childhood, is marked with a stress that is at best unfair, and at worst, draconian. I am referring to the SEA, the exam that marks the passage from elementary school to high school. This is the test that "places" you, hopefully, into a school of your (parents) choice. 

Short summary of the circumstances. In Trinidad and Tobago, you do not necessarily attend school in and around your neighbourhood. Theoretically, parents can sign their kids up to go to primary/elementary school anywhere in the country.  The reality is that most parents either pick a school close to their workplace or on the basis that it will provide the best preparation for the SEA Exam. Children are often forced to get up in the wee hours of the morning, get ready for school, then sit in traffic with their parents or sometimes on their own using public transport to get to school. Now if this were 1912 that would be one thing, but it is 2012! This is reinforced when they get to high school age. Parents then pick schools based on stellar academic performance, perceived teaching standards etc. All laudable, but children are taught from a very early age that if you don't get into one of the "prestige" schools, you're literally screwed. A failure, at age 11 plus. That's the short story anyway. 

Now there is nothing wrong with testing, tests measure your knowledge and can form a basis for assessment. However, they should never be the only assessment tool. Though life can be changed by the outcome of one day, you didn't commit a crime so for something like this,why should your life be predicated on the result of one day. Why, you ask, would any parent willingly put their children through something like that? Why would any right thinking parent want to subject their child to untold stress and strain? Why aren't parents calling for real education reform? Universal teaching standards? Continuous assessment? Zoning of schools so children can form bonds within their communities? Why aren't parents concerned that all children receive the best education possible? But it appears that we are that selfish. 

As a country that says we are committed to achieving first world ideals we continue to be loath to put them into practice. Before you call me a liar, read any of the daily newspapers, follow social media or talk to anybody in a rum shop. Whether it is educational reform or our seeming ability to use a walkover instead of running across the road, we complain and moan about the same things over and over, even when the fixes are obvious and even easy.  What is even stranger, parents themselves have been through this horror and perpetuate it. Many of us have been to non-prestige schools and have not only survived but in fact gone on to be productive, successful adults. So why do we choose to keep our children enslaved? Is it to feed our egos that our little darling is "prestigious"? Is it really worth it? And if that's the case, then the taxpayer should not foot the bill, you should. Because ALL schools should offer at the very least, a high standard of education. Trinidad and Tobago has been the wealthiest country in the Caribbean for most of the 50 years we have been independent. So why is it so hard for us to accept that at least our children are truly deserving of better? Is it that we need our own version of Katniss Everdeen, a rebellion fueled by children? 

Meanwhile, in deference to all my friends who are parents with SEA aged children, and to the rest of the nations hope, Good luck to you all. May the odds be ever in your favour. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Something for the soul

Today, it is overcast, a watery sun is determinedly peeping out despite being continually  obliterated by grey clouds.  Today is a Miles Davis in the Blue Note years kind of day. Smoky, smooth, mellow and just a little sad. Miles on the horn, miles to go before the task is done. Miles makes me want to drink dark, rich coffee, taste, slightly bitter. Deep chocolate cake with just a hint of pepper, luscious and decadent, mouth feel. No, not a granola or oats kind of day. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Change for the people

An old friend arrived from England this week, it is his third trip here in as many months. He is not here to visit with family, or see friends, nor is he here for a relaxing vacation. Sadly, he's had to make multiple visits because of attempts by a stranger to fraudulently sell a property that belongs to him. His journey navigating through the waters of bureaucracy has been an education for us all. 

The first salvo started late last year, the phone rang and his voice which had been a daily part of life for many years before he left, crackled across the miles. It was a long, convoluted story that stood out for the bold facedness of the perpetrator and the incompetence in the existing system that makes it easy for this type of crime to occur.  He'd called me because he needed information and having to call long distance, was racking up huge phone bills with little to show for it.  I won't go into the details, they are long and painful involving many trips to government offices, the police, the court etc. He has once again had to take time off from work to come here and sit and wait while his court dates are moved arbitrarily. His employer, though understanding, is getting less tolerant. 

Listening to him there is a sense of shame. For what seems like a lifetime I worked in an organisation that had responsibility for engineering change in the Public Service. In the end, my reason for leaving was that we were committed to talking about change, writing many papers on change management but we didn't in fact want to change anything. A former boss, one day in frustration said to me, to change things, you have to change things. He too, was defeated by the prevailing attitudes and now lives outside of this country. Several of my thinking colleagues, in the end also ground down by the effort and seeing first hand what was possible if someone only had the balls to try, have also fled to places where they feel their contributions would be better appreciated. And lately, I've been understanding that axiom more and more. 

It makes my friend's antipathy to living here real. He asks every time we speak why I live here and do I really think that I can change anything. And the answer is, no. 
One consistent irritation in my long working career has been long it takes to get things done, get information or even get someone to answer the phone. Having spent a week trying to get through to  a government agency, where the phone just rings until the system cuts you off, there is a sense that several generations will have to die before any meaningful change occurs. My friend's trip yesterday underlines the sense of frustration, he had to go to four offices to get one transaction complete. None of the offices were located close to each other requiring driving from one town to another. All I can do is listen and buy him another drink. 

Because as long as we believe that: God is a Trini, that we have oil and gas money flowing, that we can continue throw our hands in the air and say "what yuh go do" while continuing to accept the status quo, we as a country will be stuck right where we are. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Must love dogs 2

Many a difficult morning it is a struggle to get out of bed, my alarm clock however, is persistent. A nudge, sigh, another nudge, when that fails, roll over. Escalation, a cold nose intrudes, blowing heavily and on those mornings when I really can't get up, a hundred and twenty pound rott /shepherd mix digs me out of the bedclothes and whines until I am up. Meet woman's best friend. My dog does not think I am fat, care whether my outfit is cute or whether I am wearing makeup. When I have been out all day he greets me at the dog, tail wagging, pleased. As I have frequently avowed here and elsewhere, my dog is the love of my life, my best friend who unlike my human friends will not judge me, but loves me unconditionally. 

In 2000, after a spate of dog attacks, the then elected Government, in the usual third world knee jerk reaction, to appease the population cringing behind locked doors, declared that something must be done. The something consisted of a piece of legislation "borrowed" almost wholesale from the English. Nothing really new in the colonies. Except the legislation in question had been written specifically to deal with a situation in England in the 1990's, by 2000, it was already somewhat out of date and in any case, was ancillary to existing animal protection laws. In the Trinidad version, it singled out three breeds, the pitbulls and two others that weren't even present here. As per usual, instead of addressing the issues, we sought to put the usual band-aid on a festering sore. 

My family has always had dogs, ranging from little pothounds to large german shepherds and a whole lot in-between. The great love of my life was a Doberman Pinscher who slept at the foot of the bed, went everywhere with me and would be content to rest his head on my shoulder when I lay reading on the couch. In my worst state of depression Gator could get me up and out, when he died my heart broke worse than it did when I got divorced.  Dogs have consistently sacrificed their lives to protect their owners. We constantly attribute human characteristics to them when in actuality, they have their own code of behaviour and hierarchy that is less subjective than ours. As Cesar Millan, aka the Dog Whisperer will tell you, there are no bad dogs, only bad owners. 

Pitbull terriers are a cross breed between terriers and bulldogs, bred for their tenacity and later, for their fighting ability. Man made dogs if you will. In truth, pitbulls, like humans, are products of their environment. If you condition any dog to be aggressive, whether a daschund or a russian wolfhound, that's what you'll get. And that's the point really. In Trinidad and Tobago, sixty percent of instances dogs are not much loved family pets, they are acquired with the intention of keeping other people out of yards and houses. The constant crime situation of home invasions, rapes, praedial larceny and petty theft have left a population with one thing on it's mind. To give themselves a sense of security, no burglar alarm or security patrol works as fast as Fido barking at the gate. So with very little training, or often comfort, dogs are our first line of defense. 

Dog lovers in this country do not oppose legislation for the sake of opposition. In fact we would welcome any legislation that would get people to behave more responsibly towards their animals. Legislation that allows for the equitable humane treatment of the animal ensuring that they are properly secured, have access to shade and water during the long hot days, that they are micro-chipped and registered so that they can be traced to their owners when they are lost or worse, they attack someone. Instead, we have a craven piece of legislation being brought back from the legislation graveyard that singles out breeds and that is essentially punitive. 

But then, should I be surprised? Judging from the amount of protest activities on issues ranging from sexual abuse of children to the preservation of our historical patrimony this weekend, perhaps not.  Interestingly enough, in a country where almost every other house has a resident dog their owners seem only to care that it is not theirs that is being targeted. Human nature I guess. At a rally yesterday, in the hot midday sun all without the added lure of food, drink, and loud music, hundreds of people turned out in support of revoking and reconstructing the legislation. And though hundreds came out, in a country where the average carnival band boasts 3000 plus people, what it comes down to is this, we appear to be  fine with we paying someone money to put on a costume, gyrate in the streets for two days in the thousands, drink ourselves silly and have a good time. We are happy to click like on Facebook, sign on-line petitions,some of us will even turn up for the march, so we can say that we did. And there is nothing wrong with that. But when it counts, whether for dogs, or children, or historic buildings and green spaces we are content to let a few do the work. 

But perhaps we should also understand that real change, real development takes place when we the people hold ourselves to higher standards. When we the people demand of our leaders that they think and act with integrity, that they practice governance by reason as opposed to photo op. That they construct rational legislation, they support equitable enforcement across the board. That everyone is responsible for making our country a better place. Instead of reducing every issue, every situation to drama and bacchanal that we educate ourselves on them and then encourage our leaders, businessmen and each other to take note and act responsibly. Perhaps like Don Quixote I am tilting my hat a windmills, but be that as it may, we must get to that point otherwise our country will continue its slide. Ian Alleyne's often vulgar, always self serving antics cannot be our only voice or form of action. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Not a Trini to the Bone

About a decade ago, David Rudder and Carl Jacobs released a song entitled "Trini to the Bone", in it, these two veterans of Trinidadian music sang about how they "love up their country". The implication being that they were so marinated in all things Trini that it went to the bone. It is instructive to note that neither of the two are domiciled here, nor have they been for many years. David lives with his wife and children in Canada and Carl has been resident in the US for more than twenty years. 

The song however, brought out the closet Trini in everyone who wished to lay claim. Suddenly it was the most patriotic thing in the world. We, the same people who lose our accent by the time we hit Piarco Airport, were suddenly, TRINI TO THE BONE. We are also the same people who in a sea of red supported a football team, jump, wave and wine in the streets for two days and have the best fetes in the world.  All very well and good.  

Reading the newspapers or watching the media however, you might wonder if it were two different places entirely. Confused yet? Our media constantly point to our murder and crime rate, that nothing seems to work here, every episode is filled with drama, our politicians cannot seem to understand the difference between governance and bacchanal. We, the majority who rave and rhapsodise about all things Trini...usually with emphasis on food, drink and party, are the same people who pollute our environment, flout our laws when it suits us, take a stand only when we can click "like" on Facebook and consider our duty done. For  a place where people are so in love with their country, you have to wonder why we seem not to be interested in real issues and finding solutions to the things that are not right.

I have never made any secret of my desire to flee this place, to shake the dust off my feet, and am generally happy when climbing on a plane for parts elsewhere. Because for all the lovely things about Trinidad and Tobago there are a whole lot of maddening, nerve wracking, annoying things to make you question your sanity every single day. But I understand why two expatriate Trinidadians could sing a song like Trini to the Bone with such feeling, such longing. Because living away from here allows you to appreciate the lovely bits and distance tempers the others. 

This weekend there are marches planned, against the dog act, against the desecration of the Magnificent Seven, against violence and sexual abuse of children. All noble and worthy, yes, this weekend we'll all be getting our exercise. And we will all go home with a sense of accomplishment secure that we have "done something". Well folks, let me explain a little something, the march is the BEGINNING of the work. 

Twenty some odd years ago as a teenager with my older compatriots  standing in front of bulldozers to save the George Brown Building. In the intervening years we have: lobbied governments; given our time and expertise for free on committees; we have done countless presentations; chained ourselves to other places; had gravel poured on us; spent endless hours coming up with strategies; run up our phone bills, abandoned our weekend plans - to sit with manatees, visit historical buildings, plant trees, face down slash and burn farmers and then turn around and try to help them find ways to become sustainable and so many  other thankless activities in order to preserve those very bits of Trinidad and Tobago that make us so wonderful and unique. This weekend, while dog lovers come out to march against an extremely flawed, ill conceived, knee jerk reaction piece of legislation, a few will understand that they will have to continue to pound pavements, call politicians, agitate and find ways to continue to keep up the pressure. They will be the ones asking how they can help find a solution. No one will know their names or even care.

Twenty some odd years after  holding vigil against the bulldozers at George Brown House, my battle scarred colleagues and I will be entreating the public to save the Savannah and the Magnificent Seven as we have done for all these years. Later on, we will also participate in the other marches etc. It is not because we think we are special, or better or that we have some inflated sense of martyrdom, or that we seek recognition, or even thanks. We do it because someone has to, and we chose to live here, so we have a responsibility. That's all there is to it. But the temptation remains, to be a trini to the bone somewhere else.......

Friday, April 20, 2012

Getting older

With very little fanfare, another year has come and gone though I can scarcely understand where it went. Short of quoting '80's pop songs about time slipping through your hands there is not much more to say on the subject. The process of getting older is not about aging, it's about those life lessons that come from the journey, some have been brutal, others filled with love, some happy accidents and others, the culmination of determination, planning and hard work. All in all it's been a good, full life for the most part. 

But I've noticed something about getting older, at least for me, it's become more about allowing myself to really live. Death was a frequent visitor to my family over a a condensed period of time, my mother died at 48 followed in quick succession by several other close family members.  It is a lesson that we have finite time so make the most of it, not that I always payed attention but am still learning. 

So here, having lived almost half a lifetime, I recognise that you cannot make other people responsible for your happiness, only you can make yourself happy. You cannot build your world around someone, they are only human and they will disappoint you. Life is not black and white, it is green and blue, yellow and red and all the shades and hues you can think of. There is no right and wrong, only do the best you can in any situation and hope for the best. Thinking in absolutes never gets you very far. If you are unable to bend, you will break. Know where your line in the sand is, be prepared to defend it and be prepared that out of love, despair or compassion, you may move it. Don't be too hard on yourself when you make mistakes, how else will you learn. Yes, sunscreen is your friend. If he loves you, your cellulite or crows feet will not be an issue. 

There, the accumulated "wisdom" of a lifetime. As I get ready to embark on my next great adventure, which with any luck will see me standing on Macchu Picchu, editing a magazine, speaking fluent portuguese, diving and hopefully, someone to share it with, I'm ready to take the plunge, back into living. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Claro  que Si!

It is the early hours shortly before dawn in (insert war torn country name here), as daylight slowly filters in the scene unfolding.........Several generations of Caribbean people will recognise this opening. Many stories on the BBC began this way, in fact, so much so that you could easily believe that all their stories were posted in the wee hours of the morning. For years, the BBC remained The news organisation, not only for their high standard of journalism, but also, their familiarity, a lingering connection with our colonial heritage that is now, a distant fifty years past. 

It took the advent of CNN, Fox and Sky TV to change the way news was delivered throughout the world. Until Ted Turner launched CNN in June 1980, we were unaware that the hour had a top and bottom. All too quickly the ten second soundbite became a staple, news anchors became "sexy" and the digital age was born. News purveyors quickly understood, keep up or get out of the race but these changes were not confined to the news. The internet, shrinking micro processing chips and a host of other developments ushered in the new age of gadgetry and communications. Everything became quicker, faster, more, well, shiny.  

As Caribbean governments struggle to reinvent themselves in a world where sweeping changes take place on a daily basis, the impetus to upgrade dated systems and provide superior living conditions grows more urgent. In Trinidad,  we are largely failing. While technology has been adopted at a rate, it is strangely superimposed on old systems and processes as people seem loath to remove the things that do not work, whether through sentimentality, apathy or for darker more complex reasons. Trinidad and Tobago boasts a high per capita number of people who have tertiary education. Masters degrees almost grow on trees, the evidence points to a lack of will to apply techniques learnt in a classroom in real world applications. Leading to the thought, if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem.

Case in point TSTT, the national telecommunications agency jointly owned by the Government and Cable and Wireless. This is a company that went from a waiting list for phones that spanned lifetimes to being a corporate entity  characterised by slick stores, soca star advertising, new products etc. But go into one of those slick stores and you are treated to long lines, a cumbersome ticketing system that promotes inequality of service and long wait times and sometimes, indifferent staff in need of customer service training. These grouses are not limited to TSTT of course, you'll find this in most businesses in the country.

Even the advent of Digicel, though a large player in the game, still did not engender real change. Real change will come when the Government either realises or is pushed to realise that it is the 21st century. Gone are the days when they needed to provide all utilities because no one else would. In most first world countries utilities are provided by private companies who pay hefty license fees and corporate taxes with little burden to the taxpayer. In a country like Trinidad and Tobago where options for competition are limited by geography, the Government as a regulator becomes more important. And that is the role of the Government, to be a regulator, legislator and to provide sound governance structures rather than engaging in retail and thereby competing with the very entities that they are regulating.  In fact, one must wonder if the Government is a competitor in the field, how can they also be an impartial regulator. Food for thought eh. 

Rumour on the ground has it that  South American giant Claro Americas, one of the four largest telecomms networks in the world with over 200 million customers, is going to be the third player in the local market. And it will be duly instructive because they have money, resources, satellites and first world systems, they understand true competition with over 200 million existing consumers. Country pride loyalty be dammed. If they are offering a system that works consistently with fewer outages, faster connectivity, access to new products and better customer service you better believe a lot more people will be saying, "Claro que si!" the minute they open their doors. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Signs of the times

The pommerac tree outside the spare bedroom window looks forlorn, hit by the legions of neighbourhood children armed with missiles and the vagrant that sleeps on the porch of the empty house. The fruit that only this morning weighed heavy, glistening red jewels amidst the acid green leaves, is mostly gone with a few stragglers left hanging on for dear life.

For weeks I have watched, as the first buds appeared, giving way to bright red spiked with yellow flowers that fell away to form little green nubs. Then slowly they grew into hard green globules until, one morning, the first sign of the red rush that grew to a crescendo over the weekend. Wishing that I'd not been too lazy to photograph the progress.

The luscious red, red fruit that drew birds who feasted upon the ripening flesh often leaving half eaten remnants, fuzzy white insides with the hard brown stone revealed. And of course, the neighbour children who sent the dog into frenzies of barking or on early morning occasion, a sulk that caused the pillows to be pushed around grumpily. He does not like his sleep disturbed.

In years gone by I too have raided the tree, at least when the house in unoccupied. It brings to mind childhood days spent raiding the fruit trees on the estate, sitting with salt and pepper and a book. Eating ourselves sick on the bounty of Pappy's land. All gone now, left only with memories of a different time.
This year, I never made it to the tree, it was nicer to watch the birds enjoy it, at night to hear over ripe fruit hit the ground. The tree provided an interesting tableau though not the smell of the fermenting fruit.

Today, after a long haul on the port, helping a friend who needed someone to wait in the car because of the parking situation, it struck me again how much time wasted in things that could so easily be accomplished if someone had the will.  The interminable wait for one set of documentation, one arm tanned from being in the drivers side, driving in traffic on Wrightson Road to the One Stop Shop. Another wait, my skin crisping up as though a day at the beach, fortunately the air conditioning was working. All that time that could have been spent making pommerac chow, emailing clients, playing with the dog, reading my book, just sitting in the car, waiting.

It neatly summed up my last few years working at my job. Always, waiting for something to happen, working, working, and yet, accomplishing little in the way of tangible results. Had we accomplished something, the three hours spent waiting today, would have been condensed into half an hour. Once again, no regrets at leaving. In the past I would have missed a lot of the pommerac tree action. And the little things in my neighbourhood. When did the little kid next door get so tall? When did my dog become old?

Stripping off my clothes today, I glanced through the window at the tree. Where were all the fruit? Gone, missed opportunity to taste the bounty, but at least the chance to enjoy the process of watching it happen. The times they are a changing.