suzanne-mills

 

What was it about this Venezuelan youth that had convinced me he was engaging in major mendacity?

He was in his early 20s and said he was in T&T legally. That he got work maybe four time a week and sent most of his money back to Venezuela to feed his immediate family.

In faltering English he begged for US$5,000 to bring his wife and baby over. He’d leave his passport as security. La fianza.

The parlour proprietor was uncommonly incensed. He didn’t comprehend wife and baby; just that this mad man had been waiting for him to open up and as soon as the doors were ajar, had laid before him a ridiculous proposal.

“You hear what he saying?” he cross examined me. Did I hear what he was saying? I’ve never regretted more taking the arduous journey to fluency in Spanish. I wondered if linguistic victories were not inherently perilous. In the days of yore many a translator lost his head.

With that query, my parlour pal, like a seasoned quarterback, had slickly passed the darn Venezuelan off to me. The chico repeated his story.

Wait a minute. Was he saying his wife and baby would be coming on one of the illegal boats that brought the migrants to Chaguaramas? Chaguaramas? Defence Force territory? So was he telling me there was no one guarding the coast line or if they were, they had fallen asleep like the disciples at Gethsemane. Conclusion: Government’s numbers are a howler.

Not so my pal’s. Calculator in hand, the shopkeeper interjected.

“You know how much US$5,000 in TT? Look! Nah man.” The young man exited hastily, passport clutched tight.

Mr Mini Mart was seething. “Rowley letting them in the country and they getting better benefits than us.”

Denunciation of the man for whom he had voted. Pure fury. And unease.

Whether the Venezuelans had landed legally or illegally, for him is irrelevant. With each passing day, Diego Martin is becoming increasingly bilingual. At the number one supermarket on the Main Road the Venezuelans arrive every morning on time, enter, change and grab their mop and bucket. The Trinis sashay in after opening hour and stand for another five minutes ole talking.

Study after study demonstrates that migrants boost the economy. But it’s useless citing studies to an irate confused public. In the year before the Brexit vote, an anxious Economist ran a bundle of well-reasoned anti-Brexit articles. To no avail.

It’s interesting. This trepidation and rejection of the other is occurring in the age of putting oneself out there, inviting the world to suffer through every lacklustre event in your life.

Online connectivity feels safe, but face to face the dynamic changes.

At any rate, studies are not tangible. T&T citizens do not encounter statistics in the supermarkets, the pet shop, in the pharmacy or wherever local labour had been unprepared to give their time and talent.

Trinbagonians see flesh and blood that looks nothing like them and who speak another language. Others who had come to steal T&T. Statistics be damned.

I wouldn’t want to sleep in Government’s political bed. Can you imagine the nightmares about Venezuela, and in every single one they are playing a dicey foreign policy chess game?Doing just enough to appease Maduro without enraging the Americans?

Am I off course to suggest that our panic has been fuelled in part by the PM’s penchant for pessimism with regard to the economy-whether for political reasons or simply because he’s a wet blanket? His dampers have eventually and predictably encaged him. And paralysed some of us.

Then he moves from somewhat sour to Mr Lover Lover.

Love is love? In response to a question about marriages between Venezuelans and Trinbagonians. Perhaps even a marriage of convenience. Ok Cyrano. Just as long as he doesn’t expect us all to marry a Venezuelan and do our part for country.

Good luck with that. Suerte.

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Which is what I told the tedious, wearying young Venezuelan. Suerte pardner.

Could I have been more courteous?

Any empathy would open a door and both shopkeeper and I would be stepping into the dark side. I imagine we’d be breaking the law. But that was less hazardous than starting a relationship with criminals.

The man was a fraud. I’ll tell how I knew. But before you begin a Trumpian tirade about “Spanish” foreigners, please remember that many of us have dipped a toe or two in dodgy water.

So how did I know who or what he was or wasn’t? It was his empty uncaring eyes. These eyes had betrayed him while he narrated a life which was not his.

Over the years I had gazed into the eyes of many migrant Asian and African friends. At times unexpectedly during the most banal of conversations, they’d be abruptly close to tears. They look away, as do you. And you wait for the pain to dissipate. And then at other times, their eyes travel kilometres to homelands where now they only have a relationship via remittances and a weekly phone call. They wear their pain not on their shoulders but in their eyes and it is a pain that is constant, unrelenting.Even when they are smiling.

His eyes were crafty and did not match his rehearsed story. He wouldn’t be waiting for a wife and baby; he’d be counting money somewhere safe and dry.

The Sunday scene had been uncanny, weird. Now there were new eyes that perturbed me: my friend’s. These were coated with trepidation, which no reassurances from whichever minister was giving them would wipe away.

Because in order to be able to accept the “others” who must abandon their homes to survive, Trinbagonians don’t need to scrutinise Venezuelan eyes, but examine their own hearts.

Ironically enough, to do this, we’ve got to get all the facts and be rational.

Does anyone possess them?

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