By Fr Martin Sirju
It might surprise many to hear I was not in favour of Indian Arrival Day as another public holiday. I felt at the time it might entail a Chinese Arrival Day or an Arab Arrival Day etc. Where will we stop?
I also felt the generic term Arrival Day, as then Prime Minister Patrick Manning was pushing, would not work either bearing in mind our persistent politics of race. The Africans had something—Emancipation, so the next largest ethnic group at the time, Indians, must have something too. I also felt the achievements of Indians were very visible and so there was no pressing need to emphasise that further.
Can we do better as a people to arrive at a more praiseworthy juncture? Definitely. I have a friend, a consultant physician, who once remarked: “We are by nature the fittest of the lot; it’s embedded in our genes since only the fittest could have survived slavery and indentureship”, especially slavery.
If we dig deep into our historical psyche, we will find the resilience and determination to move beyond where we are, to reject just satisfactory.
For me Emancipation and Arrival Day evoke too much African and Indian romanticism and not enough of the kind of thinking needed to move the country forward.
Dr Terrence Farrell in a documentary by Dr Raymond Ramcharitar entitled ‘Sun, Sea and Science’ highlighted the fact that there is relatively little investment by government and private sector in research and development that would push the country in the direction of a diversification away from oil and gas.
Dr Farrell says what successive governments have done is to direct the revenues from oil and gas into subsidies that benefit the wider population but it is more politics than development.
The bulk of revenue goes back into developing a political base; the private sector, he contends, has acted similarly. What is needed is a lot more investment in research leading to diversification.
The documentary contends that a lot more money goes into the development and expansion of Carnival without a commensurate benefit to the country i.e. if the money spent on Carnival were to be matched by similar financial investment in scientific research over ten years the benefit would be a windfall in billions (TT).
In a TED Talk entitled ‘Culture and Economic Underachievement in Trinidad and Tobago’, Dr Farrell spoke of the lack of “intergenerational thinking”—we do not think how our actions or inactions will affect the coming generations and how our fete mentality permeates our professional life leading to underachievement.
He gave exceptions—the excellence shown by local pilots in flying the national and international carriers and our local professionals who work for global oil/gas conglomerates. There the fete mentality dares not rear its head.
I would add to that the professionalism shown by the public medical sector in keeping our COVID-19 spread within the range of ‘sporadic’. We saw the danger to public health despite its debilitating effect on the economy and all healthcare workers acted swiftly and consistently with a degree of professionalism we have not seen before.
My consultant friend is right. We have the survivor’s genes in us. We can do much better than we are accustomed to and can raise the bar in all areas of professional life such that we all work together to move our country forward.
I therefore do not think we have arrived. From a Christian point of view, we will never ‘arrive’ while we roam this earth but that ought not to stop us from achieving smaller ‘arrivals’ along the way.
I therefore wonder what this ‘new normal’ will be like. Will it be only digital advancement or moral advancement too? Will we see politicians willingly resigning after some grand faux pas or wait until they get fired?
Will we wait in vain to see crimes solved? I think of the double murder of the Ramsahai cousins from Debe in 2013; the double murder of the Ramdeen couple in my little village in Fullerton in 2014; and the double murder of the mother and daughter, Miss Baby and Kathy Ann Bernard in 2018.
That the police haven’t brought the perpetrators to justice is not due to a lack of competence but a lack of will. If it were a US citizen on Trinidad soil, the crime would have been solved within weeks or months. So, pardon me if I am not enamoured by these twin ethnic celebrations.
The Church too has to get its act together and arrive at a better place in these enduring COVID times. The Church after lockdown must meet the Francis challenge and dirty hands and feet in the service of the poor. Outreach through accompaniment must be the watch words that will raise the bar of sensitivity towards the poor and working poor.
Fr Martin Sirju is the Vicar General and administrator of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception