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Raffique Shah


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Give thanks, Trini

By Raffique Shah
August 31, 2013

I choose to reflect on the nation's Independence anniversary through the prism of a glass half-full rather than half-empty. We endure so many negatives in this country—our daily dosage of murder, lawlessness from top to bottom, pillage of the national purse—that if we did not know how to laugh in the face of adversity, we would implode from cerebral constipation.

Even the normally staid Minister of Planning, Bhoe Tewarie, understands what laughter can do for a people pummelled by crime, a nation stricken with stagnation and mired in mediocrity. It is why Bhoe, who has ministerial responsibility for innovation, came up with the gem-of-an-idea of boosting tourism by installing a cable car service from Fort Picton in Laventille to City Gate in downtown Port of Spain.

If this project gets Cabinet approval, and don't be surprised that it does, it would deliver reality-tourism as a plank on which we can boost this revenue-generating sector to become a unique destination in the world. We know there are crazy White people who hunt down what can only be dubbed "extreme exploits". They would pay big bucks for Bhoe's super-adventure that will feature live criminals firing live bullets at live targets.

Imagine driving up to Fort Picton to board Bhoe's cable car. See special armoured buses taking tourists there, bullets "pinging" against the windows (brochure: "Experience the thrill of seeing native gunmen fire at you...and live to tell the tale!"), the drivers dodging would-be robbers and negotiating tracks and alleys, passengers screaming with adventurous delight.

They reach the Fort, a few cleaning up inside their underwear and Kevlar over-pants before boarding the armoured cable car. The downhill ride would be even more thrilling. As the car travels slowly over the killing fields, gunmen would take target practice, testing their newest hardware: Ping! Tat! Pow! Exciting, no? The thrill-seekers must hope though that they don't hear, Voom! or Boom! Anti-tank rocket or surface-to-air missile! That would be their last ride, the ultimate thrill.

Seriously, though, I wonder what got into Bhoe's head that he would spout such nonsense. I hope it's not something he smoked on the hill. Worse, if they pass the chalice around at a Cabinet meeting that discusses the proposal, we taxpayers could well find ourselves saddled with a billion-dollar bill to make this cable car nightmare a reality. Madness abounds in this country.

For our sake, I hope it remains a pre-Independence joke intended to tickle the population. It reminded me of Jack Warner's plan to tunnel through the Northern Range all the way from Santa Cruz to Maracas, to give beach bums easier access to the country's most popular beach. Remember that madness?

Warner had also vowed to "legalise PH drivers" to ease commuters' transportation woes. He had this lawless breed form themselves into official groups; he held meetings with them and even involved the police and Licensing Department. Luckily for the country, insanity did not prevail. Because if, as Minister of Transport, he was prepared to legalise lawlessness, his next stop as Minister of National Security might have been to grant firearm licenses to gangsters and gunmen across the country—to "regularise" them.

To think that so many supposedly sane people take this mad man seriously.

Look, we have more than our fair share of burdens to bear fifty-one years into independence. But by comparison with many other countries, we have been spared the worst—and we must be thankful for that.

At Independence in 1962, this country had the incendiary mix of ethnicities that could have exploded into bloodletting such as we only read of or see on television. But we did not descend into an ethnic or religious hellhole—to the disappointment of certain politicians and extremist minorities in each group.

While we had our differences ever since our forebearers came to this country, we had learnt to live with and among each other in relative harmony long before "tolerance" became a national watchword. We didn't just tolerate, we accepted each other as brethren. I know, man. I was there before independence, a boy growing up in Freeport, schooled in Carapichaima and Chaguanas, having playmates and friends of every race and religion.

I did not need Dr Eric Williams to teach me to respect others and demand respect in return. Haniff and Khairun Shah hammered those qualities into me from my childhood, much the way other parents did for their children, and villages for their wards. Nothing that happened later would alter those ingrained values—not elections, not the Black Power Movement of which I was part, not my brief flirtation with electoral politics.

And I am not unique. I am merely another proud citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, like so many other patriots. I gripe about our shortcomings, cuss politicians and laugh at Bhoe's cable car. But over and above the negatives, I have faith in my people, confident that we will never allow our differences to take us into the abyss of self-destruction that we see in so many countries around the world.

Give thanks, Trini, fifty-one times.

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