On being the change I wish to see (and freaking out about it)

When I first left home, six years ago, I was resolved not to come back.

Why should I? Trinidad, I declared, held nothing but bacchanal and botheration.

I felt stifled there, and bored. I didn’t fit in. I needed to leave.

So I left, and like so many other West Indians abroad, discovered that I didn’t quite fit in anywhere else either.

But at least here – France, the UK, the US – I was challenged and stimulated and free.

And now I’m going back.

Because I’ve spent the past half a decade evangelizing about the need for Caribbean nationals to return to our home countries and give back to the islands that so desperately need our talent, intelligence and experience.

Because I don’t want to be one of those outraged expats who opines on everything and changes nothing.

Because I’m tired of the cold.

Because my love is there.

But I’m terrified.

Because my work, which I utterly adore, is here. Because here I have achieved, and scaled heights otherwise impossible to conceive.

Because my life, for the past six years, has been here.

And because I’m not sure I can change anything, really. And I’ll probably feel stifled there, and bored.

Because, as Miss Melanie Johncilla wrote in a letter to the editor (via Jumbie’s Watch), of “the complacency of a society, the sheer acceptance that comes along with ‘the Trini way.'”

We sit as a people and just accept. We accept poor customer service because “that’s what you go get in this country.” We accept spates of violence, we accept fear, we accept pedantic “medical researchers” who prolong petty spats for the sheer sake of it.

We accept domestic violence, we accept sexism, we accept old white man a the father, we accept our position as developing and we accept inferiority.

We are a nation of lazy acceptors. If the waitress is talking on her cellphone while serving me, “that’s just how things are in this country; we not in America, you know.”

But kick up a fuss and try to educate and move this beloved Trinidad forward—I dare you. Because all you get in response is: “Oh gosh, relax nah lady. We in Trinidad. Calm yuhself. That’s how things does be.”

And yes, those are some of the factors that pushed me to leave. Those “narrow minds” that continue to insist that we “are not old enough, not old-school enough, and not ‘Trini’ enough.”

Isn’t that an irony? They feel they cannot affect change as they would want to because “it’s Trinidad, nepotism rules, is who you know and what hue you have.”

And that attitude is pervasive, and pernicious. The TrinBago Blog also reproduced this letter, which prompted “ponnoxx” to retort:

Trinidad and Tobago’s laid back mentality is that which makes us unique. However, I must admit that there are departments which need to be tightened such as healthcare but our society is what others aspire to reach. Trinbago’s society heads towards happiness and not towrds efficiency like the US. It is not necessarily a bad thing. The reason why we are experiencing so much crime is (assumingly) as a direct result of deportation. Criminals who are seasoned in a more rigid efficient society. They literally brought back more efficient criminals into our society. Brain Drain for us and they have a Criminal drain straight in our frontyard. I Love my country just how is.


It’s the same for Jamaicans abroad, according to a young lady who wrote to the Jamaica Gleaner (via Francis Wade’s blog):

During my studies overseas, I also encouraged my fellow Jamaicans, who were in various graduate fields all over the United States, to return home after completing their studies, as their skills would be very beneficial to Jamaica’s development.

This was done in an effort to help secure Jamaica’s future, as I am very passionate about my country and its success, and I am hoping to become intimately involved in the future of Jamaica.

They, however, expressed that they had no desire to return home with the escalation of crime and violence and economic turmoil. They also strongly believe that with their educational background, Jamaica would not be able to offer them suitable jobs and compensation.

So, when are we going to do something about this increasing epidemic of our educated Jamaican people who have no desire to return home because of this lack of jobs and compensation? When are statements such as, “You are overqualified for the position”, going to be obsolete? Are we forever to remain in the shadows of developed countries and continuously lose our educated and skilled people to them?

I have very high hopes and dreams for Jamaica, but how can I be of assistance if I am not given the opportunity to do so? How can I effectively convince my fellow educated and qualified Jamaicans to return home and help to develop our home if I cannot even get job interviews?

Yes. Yes. Exactly.

But I’m going back, and taking it one baby step at a time.

We’ll see how it goes.

Do they regret their errors?

“Each misspelled word, bad apostrophe, garbled grammatical construction, weird cutline and mislabeled map erodes public confidence in a newspaper’s ability to get anything right” – from a 1998 study commissioned by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, via Poynter Online

Correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as I am aware, none of the major Trinbagonian media outlets have an explicit corrections policy.

This is unacceptable, and here I’m speaking from the dual point of view of journalist and consumer.

Our media – print, online and broadcast- are notorious for errors of fact and omission, for butchering the English language, and for the unabashed conflagration of fact and opinion.

As a recent post over at the Manicou Report noted, in connection with a Guardian story about Education Minister Esther Le Gendre:

I don’t know about you, but when I am reading a straight news piece…I would prefer that the writer told me the facts of the story and allowed me to draw my own conclusion. I would prefer if he or she didn’t colour it with his or her own impressions and I would hope that the writers think of their readers (and in some case viewers) as intelligent and that they would allow us to connect the dots ourselves. When a journalist deviates from this it affect the quality of the work and makes the reporting sound like street corner gossip.

The post inspired a range of comments from readers, and none of them were positive.

“Media today is all about sensationalism,” said MDF in response. “I dread reading the newspapers today because you see so many grammatical and spelling errors.”

And yet, none of them make any apparent effort to correct their mistakes or to apologise for their errors. Why, then, should any reader, viewer or listener trust anything that comes from the mouths and pens of local journalists?

And what of the journalists themselves? Do they regret their errors? Do they wince when they re-read their stories or watch their broadcasts and notice that they got the name or age of the accident victim wrong? Do they even notice?

I am not convinced.

Other countries in the region get this right, or at least try to. For instance, a quick Google search led to me the editorial policy page of the Jamaica Gleaner and its comprehensive editorial code of practice.

An extract:

5.1 Accuracy

The Gleaner Company’s reporters are responsible for the accuracy of their work and they should be prepared to check, re-check and collaborate with their Editors in order to achieve this.

  • The accuracy of stories should be confirmed before publication.
  • Detailed documentation should exist to support stories and the reliability of sources.
  • Rumour and unsubstantiated statements should be avoided in the interest of accuracy and fairness.
  • The correction of mistakes of fact and the clarification of errors of context must be done promptly and ungrudgingly. Fair and timely opportunity should be given to persons, companies and organizations to reply to inaccuracies. In order to maintain consistency, corrections, clarifications and apologies are carried on page 2 of the relevant publication.

I could not find anything similar (at least not online) for The Guardian, The Express, or Newsday. Alas.

Audaciously Hoping

(to the tune of Better Than Ezra’s Desperately Wanting)

Barack Obama’s victory in the Iowa caucuses – the first major nomination contest for would-be US presidents – inspired a frenzy of comment in the international media and blogosphere (Caribbean bloggers included).

It should also inspire Trinbagonians – to demand more of our own politicians, and of ourselves.

Senator Obama’s campaign – the slogan of which is “hope, action, change” – is breaking all the rules. In Iowa, he won more support from women than did his chief rival, Hillary Clinton. He galavanised record numbers of young people and previous non-voters to seriously engage with politics. And of course, he proved a black man could win the hearts, minds and votes of white, Midwestern Americans.

The Obama campaign is based on a triple platform of change, unity and (the audacity of) hope – and I love it.

I love it because what he’s doing in America allows me to believe that the same can be achieved in Trinidad and Tobago – “a new type of politics”:

“Something different. A politics focused not on what divides us but on our common values and our common ideals, [focused] not so much on ideology, but practicality.”

A new type of politics, with a new kind of political discourse:

“I am convinced that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. For it’s precisely the pursuit of ideological purity, the rigid orthodoxy and the sheer predictability of our current political debate, that keeps us from finding new ways to meet the challenges we face as a country.”

One which ceases to cynically exploit – and create – division:

We think of faith as a source of comfort and understanding but find our expression of faith sowing division; we believe ourselves to be a tolerant people even as racial, religious, and cultural tensions roil the landscape. And instead of resolving these tensions or mediating these conflicts, our politics fans them, exploits them, and drives us further apart.


Maybe there’s no escaping our great political divide, an endless clash of armies, and any attempts to alter the rules of engagement are futile. Or maybe the trivialization of politics has reached a point of no return, so that most people see it as just one more diversion, a sport, with politicians our paunch-bellied gladiators and those who bother to pay attention just fans on the sidelines: We paint our faces red or blue and cheer our side and boo their side, and if it takes a late hit or cheap shot to beat the other team, so be it, for winning is all that matters.

But I don’t think so.

This man believes. He believes in the potential for change, and he is the change he wishes to see.

I cannot say this of Messrs. Manning and Panday, nor of any of their minions, not when their campaigns are less about actual policies and more about who had the better Jamaican artiste at their last fete.

Nor can I say this about my country, since we are so caught up with our expensive cars and designer clothing (Miu Miu rather than Meiling) that we are happy to overlook our failing infrastructure and rising inflation .

But Senator Obama gives me hope. He gives me the courage to question the state of things and to challenge the status quo.

To look at what passes for politics in Trinidad and Tobago and say – I don’t think so.