Dominica, I am sorry. I choose to say that in the patois of the headline of this column, consistent with the linguistic expression of Dominica’s national motto: Après Bondi, C’est la Ter—After God, it’s the Earth.
Now, after Hurricane Maria, Dominica’s beloved Earth is a debris dump—its fertility disrespected by being reduced to a resting place for the material wreckage of the lives of those it previously fed.
I grieve equally for the people of Barbuda, St Maarten and Tortola—all of which I have visited before—but none of these three islands has received the live and direct insult that Trinidad and Tobago does not welcome their homeless. What I write today applies equally to them.
Dominica will have no electricity for at least two months and I would like to demarcate why living in post hurricane conditions is, for example, fundamentally different from an outage—as Trinis call an electricity power failure.
We could adapt to an outage. There would be still the possibility of having water however limited. Personal hygiene: The business will be deposited in the same place and the body cleaned the same way. By contrast where do hurricane victims deposit theirs and dispose of it and what personal hygiene products do they use?
Cooking: In an outage there is gas stove, ring burner, or Dominica’s only option, wood fire; but what you putting on the fire? There is little or no food, home stocks blown away, buried under fallen walls or partitions or waterlogged. The store is not open to sell anything not similarly contaminated and anyway it probably loot out. I have spoken to someone in St Maarten who used a wood fire to heat some salvaged canned food.
This description of how everything that is normally there ceases to be there within a few torturing hours is not meant to be crude. It is an invitation to readers to trace every step of what you do from the moment you wake to the moment you return to sleep and list all the things you would have to use in that cycle. Note that almost everything you put your hand on, particularly medication, would not be there after an Irma or Maria.
Bear in mind also that you are managing the trashed home in many cases, with hungry and frightened children, and you too are traumatised by the hours of hell endured while the storm was in progress—probably all crammed in the bathroom.
Having thought about this, readers may then consider more carefully reaction to the Government’s invitation to Dominicans to find temporary refuge here; if and only if, you or someone else knows the invitees or your organisation is connected with them and therefore can—key words—“vouch for” them.
I will comment briefly on the negative reaction to the invitation “to open our homes and pots.” The Government must get blows for its chronically poor communication skills, followed by petulance when the Opposition taunts it. However, sometimes it appears that even non-partisan damn dogs should not bark and should defer to traditional PNM authoritarianism. Get over it—that deference will never happen.
Visceral racist reaction to Dominicans pollutes the invitation and is to be dismissed. Decades ago, on both sides of the divide, some behaved the same way when the obvious commercial marriage between Trinidad and Tobago capital and Guyanese resources should have taken place. Some business people of Guyanese-Indian descent received nasty insults.
Balanced and fair minded citizens would be worried about additional pressures on scarce housing stock, current retrenchment trends and inadequate health services. I would certainly not interfere with places in so called prestige schools. Nevertheless, properly regulated, temporary refuge may be less of a threat than is feared.
In a column in last Monday’s Newsday, Dr Jean Antoine-Dunne, referencing what befell Haitians in the past, asserted that the responsibilities of the temporary host required “secure and creative” treatment, which must not turn into “fatal assistance.”
The Government must not create another opportunity for human trafficking. The temporary refugees must be coming here at the invitation of someone who can present two pieces of ID and a utility bill to the immigration authorities.
Alternatively, humanitarian organisations in operation here must vouch and take responsibility for their invitees. Subsequent random visits by immigration to the addresses provided may be necessary. Without these safeguards, traffickers will sell addresses and inhumane living conditions, with disastrous results for the vulnerable.
These columns try to reflect the real world. In the manner of Peter paying for Paul, distressed Dominicans are feeling the wrath of our population against the numerous, highly visible, recent foreign arrivals in Trinidad and Tobago and in respect of whom there is widespread doubt that their residence is legal.
Are there well-greased operations facilitating these arrivals? We do not want to send Dominicans into that nasty embrace, do we?