Growing up in the States has imbued me with this false sense of security that follows me wherever I go.
Well.., until now.
I find myself looking over my shoulder, actively paying attention to my surroundings, making a mental note of everything and everyone around me. And this is during the day..in broad day light!! I’ve been in Trinidad for just over a month now and the only time I’ve walked on the street at night is to go two steps from a car park to a restaurant. Incredible.
Man, how different my life was only a few months ago..when I used to walk home alone after a night out on the town in Beirut. Not even thinking twice about what I was doing, what I was wearing, or what time it was.
Hamra, Beirut at night.. my old stomping grounds..
If only my grandparents were still here to see this. (They recently moved to Texas to get away from the crime in Trinidad and to be closer to their children.) For years, during my annual summer vacations, they tried in vain to explain to me that “Trinidad isn’t America. Things are different here. You can’t just move around like you are accustomed to.” But I just wouldn’t have it. I insisted that I was a “big girl” who had been going out in Miami for years. And “what could possibly happen?”
And then, one night, they received a call from me, telling them that my friend had been arrested and his car impounded for no apparent reason. I was very far from home, in an area that they wouldn’t have ever let me go to had they known. Shortly thereafter (this is when I was around 15/16), they decided it was best that I stay away from Trinidad for a while. I can almost hear them on the phone to my Mom, “We can’t handle this chile anymore!!” And so.., I had to find other ways to occupy my summers until I matured enough to understand that all is not well in Caribbean paradise.
You see..in Trinidad & Tobago, crime is as old as the country itself. It is said that the country was a haven for pirates during the 17th and 18th centuries. In modern times, the criminal activity has earned Trinidad such accolades as “murder capital of the Caribbean.” And I believe Trinidad has occupied top 5 stops on other such lists as “highest number of kidnappings (per capita) in the world.” What achievements!
I’ve been asking around.., trying to understand “how things got so bad.”
Everyone seems to have a different answer.
Some site Trinidad’s role as the largest trans-shipment point for drugs and guns between Latin America and North America. Others site the breakdown of the family unit. And yet others say its due to lack of opportunity, rampant corruption, an inefficient and ineffective judicial system, and as well as neglect on behalf of the government.
All of this came to a head when 12 people were murdered (in the space of two days) in August, over a drug bust that was rumored to be worth millions of dollars. In response, the Prime Minister of Trinidad, Kamla Persard-Bissessar declared a “State of Emergency.” “These large sums of money simply do not disappear from the drug trade without consequences,” she said. As a result, a 9:00pm – 5:00am curfew was imposed across the country so that police officials could “crack down on crime.” (The curfew was later change to 11:00pm – 4:00am due to complaints, mainly by business people who operate during evening hours.)
All of this happened while I was in Miami..yet I decided to move to Trinidad anyway. I sooo wanted to give this country a chance, and was determined to not let anything get in my way. (But…, to be honest, I didn’t anticipate the State of Emergency and resultant curfew lasting so long. In September, the Prime Minister extended the curfew another 3 months..which puts us into December!!! Ughhhhh.)
What can I tell you about living in a country under a state of emergency? Well… aside from not being able to move around at night, everything is as normal. It seems to me like everyone has adjusted to being home by 11, and those that haven’t, have started going to curfew parties – a party, where patrons are locked inside of the club for the duration of the curfew. (From what I understand, club owners will be held responsible if patrons leave during curfew hours..so everyone is taking a risk by going to/throwing curfew parties.) Can you imagine being locked inside of a club for 5 hours? NOT ME!! Leave it to Trini’s to find away to party during a state of emergency. Nothing ever gets in the way of their social life..
Yes crime has decreased during the SoE, but many believe that it’s only because bandits have had fewer opportunities to act, and as soon as the curfew is lifted, things will not only go back to the way they were, but worsen! (Lovely thought, right?) From what I gather..the public’s perception is that the state of emergency has been ineffective in achieving its goals, and has made a mockery of the government. And honestly, I can see why. Every day, people who have been arrested under suspicion of crime or gang affiliation, are released due to lack of sufficient evidence…Many of whom are going on to sue the state millions of dollars for wrongful arrests. Not only that, but reports continue to surface about police and army officials who are abusing their power over civilians during the state of emergency. What a mess!
You know what’s ironic to me about all of this?? That Trini’s ask me if I felt safe in Beirut.
Trinidad deserves more than this. It really does.