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1990: A Jamaat child remembers the aftermath of the July 27 coup

Today is the 26th anniversary of that fateful day when, thanks to Yasin Abu Bakr and the other 114 insurrectionists, Trinidad and Tobago discovered, in the splendid words of David Rudder’s “Hosay,” “Uzi diplomacy (and) SLR love.”

To mark the occasion, Wired868 presents an extract from Memoirs of a Jamaat Child, an unpublished work of non-fiction. Its author is Otancia Noel who, having spent her formative years on the Compound in Mucurapo in the decade leading up to 27 July 1990, knows the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen intimately.

*** 

Photo: Jamaat-al-Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu Bakr. (Courtesy Jyoti Communication)
Photo: Jamaat-al-Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu Bakr.
(Courtesy Jyoti Communication)

The family actually moved back to South after the 27 July events but we were already in Point for the holidays when the coup took place. Coming home after living the town life was not a nice experience, I did not enjoy the “escort” provided by the police jeep that followed me to school every day and waited for me outside the gate. And there were the police officers who visited us at least three times a week. Not to mention all those fingers that were pointed at us once people found out who we were.

And I was even less pleased when what seemed like the entire army and police force raided my grandmother’s home. It was an unforgettable experience; it made my grandfather have a heart attack. Literally.

We were on the estate, in our backyard, which was a mini-forest.

“Look the bush moving,” my brother said, pointing. I looked, already certain that the daily dose of river water he always had was fogging his brain.

“Look, allyuh!” he repeated and you could hear the urgency in his voice. “The bush moving. No joke. I not lying.”

I stopped and motioned to my siblings to do the same. He was right. All around us, the bush was indeed moving.

“Run!” I hissed. And Usain Bolt and Ato Boldon would have envied our reaction time as we all took off towards the bridge. A swarm of locusts awaited us at the back of my grandmother’s house, locusts, we would soon discover, who had had nothing to eat for a couple of days. We were marched into the house with our hands in the air to find officers still turning the place upside down.

Photo: Courtesy the US Army
Photo: Courtesy the US Army

“Where Leon?” they asked repeatedly, guns raised threateningly as if to suggest unrestrained use should there be no answer to the urgent questions. “Where Sadiq? Where Ar-Razi?”

It was, of course, absurd. This was happening a full week after the attempted coup had ended with the arrest of more than 100 Jamaat members. Who could believe that the country’s intelligence services had not yet realized or had not yet communicated to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service the fact that Leon Wells and Sadiq Ar-Razi were one and the same person? And that he, along with the other 113 Muslimeen members, was already securely incarcerated wherever the insurrectionists were being held?

But the soldiers and police were genuinely in the dark about this phenomenon since they kept on asking about Leon’s/Sadiq’s/Ar-Razi’s whereabouts from the time they arrived till much later. It really took them a while to absorb this idea and figure out that he was not there but that he was imprisoned. It’s hard not to conclude that the government/the Ministry of National Security had no clear idea about the identity of all the individuals whom they had behind bars.

The officers had come rushing into the house through the back and front while we were still in the backyard, blissfully unaware of their presence. Within minutes, a detachment of them emerged again, escorting the one criminal they had so far nabbed with all the pomp and fanfare reserved for the capture of a terrorist who had just killed a hundred hostages.

Photo: A soldier searches for a car bomb in the immediate aftermath of the July 27 attempted coup in Port of Spain. (Copyright Trinidad Guardian)
Photo: A soldier searches for a car bomb in the immediate aftermath of the July 27 attempted coup in Port of Spain.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

Those who were blocking the view of the head honcho moved aside to allow him to get a good look at their prisoner.

“Peggy?” the clearly surprised commanding officer asked my mother. “Peggy? That is you?”

She looked him right in the eye but said nothing.

“Stand down!” he commanded. “Stand down!” The look on his face was an equal mixture of amazement and embarrassment.

It was not long before Baghdad had turned into Disneyland. Once they had rounded us all up and ensured that the coast was clear, the troops descended on the fruit trees, shinnied up them and cleaned them of everything that was edible. Oranges, portugals, pommeracs, grapefruits and mangoes simply disappeared into their hungry bellies.

All the while, my grandmother, in no way cowed by the presence of half the TTPS and quarter of the army on her property, made no attempt to control or conceal her anger at the unwarranted intrusion. Fuming about the damage they were doing to her plants, she let them have it back, belly front and side.

Photo: Trees can save lives. For one, they aren't afraid of guns. Thanks, brave mango! Courtesy Eugene Kim
Photo: Trees can save lives. For one, they aren’t afraid of guns. Thanks, brave mango!
Courtesy Eugene Kim

“I doh know why allyuh running through my house with allyuh nasty boots,” she told them, “as if allyuh eh have nutten better to do than to harass two old people and a woman and some chirren.”

“It eh have no damn Muslimeen here,” she shouted. “Leon done blasted lock up wheyever he lock up! He not here!”

My grandfather happened to be over the river near the animal pen when the soldiers arrived. Nearly two dozen of them trained their guns on him and ordered him to come with them. They surrounded him and marched him across the bridge with his hands in the air. He made it as far as halfway across before he collapsed to the ground with his hands still held above his head.

I remember thinking that it was somehow unreal, reminiscent of something you see in slow motion on a television screen. Fortunately for him, for us and, I guess, for them, they had brought along some medical personnel who placed him on a stretcher and took him into the house where they revived him. He was as white as midday clouds and crying uncontrollably as if all the tension of the last few days had just sailed into emotional port.

One or two of the medics started to look a little remorseful and one of them even seemed to be blinking away a tear or two. Another hugged my grandfather the way you hug a baby, saying, “Don’t worry, Pops. It alright. Everything cool.”

Photo: At least they brought a doctor. Courtesy Shop Fowler
Photo: At least they brought a doctor.
Courtesy Shop Fowler

Grandma was neither alright nor cool; she was livid.

“Allyuh want to kill mih husband?” she thundered. “He heart cyar take this kinda thing! If allyuh kill he allyuh have to frigging well kill me too!”

When one of the soldiers seemed to be getting a little upset at what Grandma was saying, a young officer who would later be following me around the kitchen looking like he wanted more than the food I was trying to prepare, told him to relax.

“Oh gosh,” he said, “go and pick some pommerac or something, nah! She is ah old lady. What yuh expect?”

I was 15 going on 16 and wearing a pair of three-quarter tights and a shortish jersey. In those days, I wore neither hijab nor jilbab and my long, wild hair was uncovered.

“What is your name?” the young officer asked me.

I told him.

“Thanks,” he said aloud, before adding for my ears only, “You married yet, maybe to any one of them boys who inside?”

I said I was not.

“You is a real sweet chinee,” he went on. “So call me if you have any problem.”

He took a pen out of his top pocket and scribbled a name and number on a piece of paper he tore out of a notepad he had in his hand.

“We go be coming to check on allyuh again.” And with that, my personal Rambo turned his back on me and strode out of my life.

Photo: Courtesy Craig Boney on Flikr
Photo: Personal Rambo? Sure, why not?
Courtesy Craig Boney on Flikr

There were other glum-faced Rambos and Schwarzeneggers who did not seem to be entirely pleased at the way things had turned out. They would have relished some more of the crawling through the bushes action and might have been looking forward to some real, live target practice, with me and my siblings as the targets. I swear that if I had seen their faces prior to our doing our Ato Boldon impersonation, I would have thought twice before firing my “Run” gun.

“Dirk?”

Umi might have said “Dick?” but whichever it was she got the name right. The commanding officer was a blast from the past, an old schoolmate of my mother’s. Not only had they recognized each other but each had been able accurately to bring the other’s name back to mind. It led to a long confab between the two, Dick/Dirk caught between the devil of his foreknowledge of the putative criminal and the deep blue sea of his professional obligation.

“I have to take her down,” he eventually explained to my grandmother, “but don’t worry, she’s perfectly safe with me.”

It would be two or three days before Umi would come back home and tell us that the officer’s orders were to “bring them all in.” However, he had persuaded his principals that that was completely unnecessary. The two or three days had been spent in the discomfort of the Point Fortin Police Station while her claims of complete innocence of any foreknowledge of the coup or anything to do with it were verified.

About Otancia Noel

Otancia Noel
Otancia Noel has a Literatures in English bachelor's degree at COSTAATT and is finishing a Masters in Fine Arts, Creative writing and Prose Fiction at UWI. She grew up on the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen compound in Mucurapo.

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36 comments

  1. I heard on the news last night , the Jamaat leader going on a mobilisation drive to go after the slow pace of the judiciary ? He did an interview on WACK radio and the TV6 news the clip .

  2. Having escaped their invasion of TTT by a mere 5 minutes I really have no sympathy for any of them.

  3. I would rather hear how the Coup changed the lives of those whose loved ones were taken.

  4. Sins of the father and his band of murderers. Won’t be reading that vomit.

  5. I understand that this was her perspective… but I hope the writer understands what was the perspective of the rest of the nation. She was a child and had little, if anything to do with the coup, I’m sure, but it’s hard to conjure up any sort of sympathy or understanding when whatever trauma she experienced pales so much in comparison with what many others endured. Even if her intent isn’t to share ‘trauma’ or garner sympathy, but rather just to share her experience, she needs to at least be prepared for the feelings held by some, myself included, that it’s a perspective that will have little interest, let alone resonance.

  6. As with any extract, it’s difficult to process some information in the absence of context for those of us who loved through that traumatic period in our nations history but I appreciate the effort to tell the story from this perspective. It is brave and should be commended. Can’t wait to read the book.

  7. Is your family that caused you’ll dat pain

  8. You should put a sub note that it’s an excerpt, unless I missed it

  9. Oh well see that explains it. I read it as if that was all there was

  10. Well it was an excerpt from a book Soyini. So there would have been mentions in other chapters of the cause of the situation I’m sure.

  11. I agree it was an account but still somewhat sociopathic if not nary a mention of regret for the cause of the situation

  12. People see she was an sharing an experience or better an account of the moment ,I don’t think it was an opinion piece.

  13. “…a detachment of them emerged again, escorting the one criminal they had so far nabbed with all the pomp and fanfare reserved for the capture of a terrorist who had just killed a hundred hostages.”

    Not a terrorist who killed a hundred hostages, just murdered several persons, held several innocent persons as hostages and terrorised over 1 million.

    After 26 years, these terrorists are still crying victim…smh. In caring for your grandfather, perhaps you can lend a care to PC McLeod who was the first person killed in Police HQ, or the innocent Clerks who were killed in Parliament. No medical attention for them, they were left to bleed out and die on the ground, not able to see or speak to their loved ones at their final moments.

    Evil terrorists.

  14. Sorry but my care cup is empty.

    When she writes an article apologizing for daddy’s murderous siege then we can start a conversation

  15. While I accept that she was child, the decision by her adult relative caused this country what some may consider irreparable damage…and we all know where sins of fathers fall…..so I’m having a hard time having any sympathy to her plight

  16. Perhaps it may be wise for us to really review the causes and effect of 1990.it may be very revealing that is why the report of the commission must be made public.
    You cannot smother history remember if you do not know your mistakes of the past you are apt to repeat them tomorrow.

  17. Expect no solace from a still traumatized nation. Blame your terrorist parents for what you had to endure.

    • its about being aware and maybe. perchance others will learn from the mistakes of others my brother. An inside look into a life. a reality on how things and decisions of othersaffect us all. its not just about the coup or what happened but you need to read my book. So dont be judgemental and call people names but live and learn and accept responsibility as a parent as a person as a human.

  18. I remember that afternoon when on turning on the television I was faced with a ghastly figure telling the nation that he was now in charge. I remember the fear and anxiety of that evening and the many, many days to follow. I remember the grief, hurt, pain, fear and sorrow of most of the population of my beloved nation. I remember asking myself what manner of madness has taken hold of my people and whether we would ever get beyond this. I remember the physical pain inflicted on my people and the deaths to follow. I remember the journalists held hostage and the soldiers and politicians who worked assiduously to relieve us of this terror. I remember a madman torturing my Prime Minister and laughing as though it was a big joke. I remember the journalist who more than twenty years later died a shell of his former self because he never got over the horror of that period. I remember the many many families who suffered and I say ‘never again must we allow any ideology or personal ambition to trample my people’. May God Bless my Nation!

  19. Agreed on the rubbish. Well written but disgusting at the same time. I’m really sorry that the coup inconvenienced her smh. No sort of accountability or responsibility for the actions of her wider group