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Archive for July 2008

July 27

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Where were you on July 27th 1990?

It was a Friday. Tobago Heritage festival was in full swing. The Banyan crew was packing to leave on Saturday. Before lunch I’d tracked Raoul Pantin down to TTT for a story we were working on, he was editing. I left beat it out of town to take up my bar shift, working in television wasn’t paying. It was month end, kids were on vacation, the mall was crammed with people. 

The bar was packed that day, everybody blowing steam, the regulars huddled at the bar staving off the incursions of the recently arrived. Kids back from university, mall staff ducking in to get lunch even though it was closer to dinnertime.

The three tv’s were on overhead as we leaned into the bottle coolers for endless beer and cold glasses. People jostled, you could barely hear yourself, us three bartenders swinging in  unison, singing along to whatever we were playing on the system. It was Friday, while we wouldn’t get paid until the next day we had enough money left and planned to go out and party ourselves.

That all came to a halt around 6:00 p.m. The first we realised something was wrong was when a customer came in and mentioned that there had been a report on the radio of some sort of disturbance at the Red House. And then, Ronald sitting at the bar, pointed to the TV. It looked like Play of the Month. A man in long robes with a gun, talking. We turned up the sound as high as it would go and slowly everyone stopped talking, fighting to hear what was going on. 

That was the beginning. Mall security was coming around to each place. Mall management had gotten a call from the Army, shut the place down. In a matter of minutes people streamed out as we frantically rang up bills and packed up uneaten food. What was important was to go home. We battened down as much as possible not knowing what would come next. None of us knowing when we’d see each other again. Locking away the supplies, taking out the garbage, necessary if we weren’t going to be back for days.

Days turned into weeks, dawn to dusk curfew, broadcasts from army headquarters, Allyson Hennessey and Dennis McComie. The phone still worked, relatives from abroad trying to get through, watching on CNN. The crew at Banyan caught in the crossfire being stuck there for three days until allowed out by the army.  Friends in Woodbrook calling to see, hearing the shots being fired in the back ground. Out east we sat tight. Went to the supermarket when it briefly opened for business. Police and army patrols, stories about American marines landing – true, at Piarco.

Coup, again. Under the guise of holy war but really not. My second. The first in 1970, memories of my mother running up Frederick St. with me in her arms, to my father’s office next to Royal Castle.  Breaking windows, the smell of smoke, people everywhere. The trek over the Lady Young to get home to Granny. My Grandad was, ironically, stuck out in Sierra Leone where there was also a coup. He holed up there, we, the uncles, my great grand parents and granny hunkered down, opening the side door of the shop to sell essentials to village people. 

Twenty years later here we were again. Those days holed up at home with the folks, climbing the walls. Everyone serious, news being passed, neighbours sharing whatever they had. All in all we didn’t have it that bad. Later we were to learn about the events, the Police Station bombing, storming of the Red House, TTT. My colleagues at the station brutalised, traumatised; Jones P and Raoul both of whom I’d spoken to earlier that fateful day. Weeks of curfew and the slow return to normal life. Going to Port of Spain for the first time after. Wreckage, carnage, burnt out hulks of buildings, the smell, you couldn’t get away from it. 

Back at work we shot, no pun intended, around curfew and restrictions. Tobago Heritage Festival abandoned for the commentary that we made our name on. Those terrible times and the loss of life pushed into the background. In the bar we somberly served drinks and traded stories with the people who came by. 

Twenty eight years later we still ask why and how. For some the memories are still a dark place that has never been adequately addressed, for others, no reference at all. What’s the old chestnut? Those who fail to remember history are doomed to repeat it.


Written by coffeewallah

July 28, 2008 at 7:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Olympics or health hazard?

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When I think of China, the images that spring to mind are quite different from the ones pictured above. Seeing those makes you almost wish that Beijing was still The Forbidden City and one cannot help but be saddened by what has taken place in the name of progress.  For a long time I dreamt of visiting China, walking the Great Wall, exploring the many alleyways, houses with tiled roofs and guardian dragons and adventuring; I love the idea of mystique that the far east holds. But I think maybe I prefer the images, built by literature and movies like The Last Emperor and The Painted Veil, to reality.

In four weeks the eyes of the world, via NBC and other networks, will be trained on Beijing for the 2008 Olympics. There are very few people who are not moved by the Olympic Games. Every four years we look forward to the openings,more grandiose each time, which fire our imaginations. We cheer for athletes, some household names and the unknowns, struggling gamely to write their names into history. Each network will have done it’s athlete, games and country profiles to be trotted out between events in order to keep interest. Other than World Cup Football, the Olympics are the single most watched sporting event world-wide. It is the Big Kahuna of the sporting world and we all will be avidly watching. 

But I pity the poor athletes and others traveling to the Games this “summer”. They are going to one of the most polluted places on this earth, and by doing so, will add to the pollution just by their presence. Even with all the talk about having the Olympics as “green” as possible, what is the reality? Hundreds of people traveling by jet (huge footprint right there), descending upon a city already under siege if the satellite images are anything to go by. All these extra people requiring: food, transport, washing facilities, etc. Sure it may be a huge revenue earner but you have to wonder at the real cost. 

This August several friends are going to the Games, I hope they have a good time, and that their respitory functions are not damaged by the exposure to so much pollution.  Good luck too to all the athletes.

Written by coffeewallah

July 11, 2008 at 2:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized