I spent barely four days in Manama in 2005, in the lead up to and immediate aftermath of Trinidad and Tobago’s historic second leg Fifa 2006 World Cup qualifying play off encounter with Bahrain on 15 November.
Apart from an unforgettable football match and the searing heat, what I remember most about Bahrain is that life there seemed to be a non-stop negotiation. There did not seem to be a set price for much at all.
On my first trip downtown, I asked the taxi driver parked in front of the hotel for his fare. The driver said US$8 (actually, I don’t remember the price but let’s go with this for the sake of my point). He saw my reluctance and offered a concession. We eventually agreed on US$5.
On my second excursion, I asked the fare—just in case. The driver said US$10. It was the same driver who took me there the last time!
I laughed, reminded him of our last agreement and we were off: for US$5. Then, on my third trip, another driver gave me a third arbitrary price that again exceeded what I was accustomed to paying. I no longer found this ‘rite of passage’ for leaving the hotel to be cute or funny.
It was the same in every shop I visited there, whether for jewellery, souvenirs or refreshments. They’d give a price, you’d counter and then the two of you haggled for a middle ground. From the moment you left the hotel, you braced yourself to spend your day fighting for a ‘fair price’.
By the time I boarded a flight back to Port of Spain, I was relieved to have left that hassle behind.
I was reminded of those four days in Manama when Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley spoke about the struggle for human rights; and, more specifically, the dignity of ‘black’ lives.
“These rights have to be fought for on a continuous basis,” said Rowley yesterday. “Like a garden with weeds with deep roots, even as you mow the weeds ever so often there is a regroup and new shoots can reappear.
“[…] The fear that we have today is we seem to have a new normal that is developing, where the higher values that we thought we were ascribing to and the gains we thought we were making could be so easily lost.”
In his column today, Martin Daly SC spoke about the importance of changing Trinidad and Tobago’s ‘underlying system’. Brian Harry pointed to our ‘archaic and irrelevant’ education system in his letter to the editor.
Jabal Hassanali pointed to the ‘stigmatisation of the disenfranchised’, David Abdulah referenced ‘institutional racism’, Shaka Hislop noted ‘a political issue to be confronted’ and Corey Gilkes described a ‘legacy of police and state-sponsored violence against subjected people and capitalist exploitation’.
I suspect they are all right; and that is an indication of the complexity of the problem faced today by those with the short end of the stick. The fightback may start with placards, raised voices and boycotts. But it won’t end that way.
The ‘shit-stem’ won’t go easily.
Pierre Cambronne, general of the first French Empire, once said: “La Garde meurt mais ne se rend pas!” It means: “The Guard dies but does not surrender!”
The enemy is not just the brutality of Derek Chauvin and other law enforcement officers, you see, or the ignorance and disregard of Gerald Aboud. They are only the foot soldiers. The battle is against a centuries old system of exploitation—principalities and powers and wickedness, to paraphrase, in high and low places.
We have inherited a method of governance, policing, justice, welfare, education, trade, culture, agriculture and health that was never constructed for our benefit in the first place. Now, we must replace them with something that puts our people—all of them!—at its heart.
Rowley’s economic recovery team could help. But this is bigger than his top-heavy panel. Platitudes and compromise come from the top; lasting, meaningful change comes from below.
Over the past three months, Trinidad and Tobago citizens of all class, race and background were told their lives depended on following similar guidelines. The fear of Covid-19 created a temporary unity of sorts in which we understood the mutual benefit of our neighbour’s wellbeing.
Perhaps the story of millionaire businessman Derek Chin stopping to pick up a young mother from Arima on his chartered jet, so as to be allowed to return home, was the best example of that. There is almost no other scenario under which Chin and Krissa Bissoon would have shared a private plane ride.
Our future as a peaceful, productive nation lies in our understanding of the mutual benefit in: a safety net for the disenfranchised who may otherwise find harmful ways to channel their frustration, a relevant education system that helps us to contextualise our wins and losses and leads to self-worth, true love that pushes us to feed and lift up each other rather than be slaves to a rigged game of global trade.
And, of course, there must be an understanding that our resources belong to us all and not just a privileged few.
“For a colonised people the most essential value, because [it is] the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity.” (Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth)
All illegal pacts for state land and our natural resources must be torn up. A government that prioritises its well-heeled few over the wellbeing of the wider populace is to be resisted, not supported.
We must understand that there are powerful, influential people who do just fine in the current system. And they will not yield.
First, they will say the fault lies with you the people, then they will say ‘sorry’ but that’s the way it is, next they will ask for more time to create change, then they will offer a crumb more and hope you don’t check the fine-print…
How long does it take to fix a centuries old problem?
Revolutionary rule number one: remember it is ‘their’ rules that kept us on our knees in the first place; so challenge everything. Only a fool will follow a law that his oppressor made yet does not keep himself.
Are we not tired yet of being lectured about morality and sacrifice by people who plunder the treasury and the state’s resources while giving almost nothing back?
The fight for lasting change will be tiresome and vexatious—enough to make four days in Manama feel like a stroll through the park. But there is no other way.
Are you ready?