On going home

posted 05 June 2006

Maybe it's the warm weather, or a recent lull in my motivation to work on uber-cool new web projects (having worked on rather a lot of them recently), but in the last few days I've been considering the pros, cons and practicalities of going home to Trinidad.

Why do I want to leave London?

Well, I don't really. Or at least, nothing is pushing me to leave. I like my job, my flat, my friends, the city, everything about it really. Especially at the moment -- London is wonderful in the summer, when the long evenings mean you have hours of daylight after you leave work to do whatever you fancy. I think it is precisely because I have nothing obviously wrong at the moment, no major short-term hurdle to accomplish, that I'm finding the time to consider longer-term objectives. It's a very human thing, when presented with an easy situation, to seek a new challenge. It's a luxury I don't often have, so indulge me, okay?

Why do I want to go to Trinidad?

Because it's home, in a powerful and unequivocal way that Britain, for all its joys and advantages and attractions and excitement, can never be. Even after more than half a decade here, adopting the idioms and the culture and the fashion and the freedoms of a big, first-world country, it's still a foreign land to me. The people are the wrong colour, their accents are strange, their view of the world comprehensible to me now, but still alien. The land is flat and tame. There are mountains (somewhere), cliffs (I'm told) and gorgeous plains (criss-crossed with neatly-maintained walking paths). But they're not all lumped together, a big crash course in geography like the land of my birth.

And the weather. Do not get me started on the fucking weather.

Trinidad is not just beautiful, it is almost indescribably beautiful. Thinking about it all at once brings a lump to my throat. The way the sun is always there, bright and hot and sharp, twinkling off every surface all the time, not just on good days, not just for two weeks in July. The way every surface and crevice is not just alive but overflowing with life, not just grass but whole trees springing up in weeks, bright green leaves everywhere, the smell of the leaves after the rain, musty and yet fresh at the same time. The mountains of the northern range, the cliffs of the north coast, the islands, the curve of the gulf in the morning from the hill -- it's an amazing place. Small but not too small, and perfectly formed.

The grass seems greener... and it needs cutting

And of course I'm painting too rosy a picture. I forget all the things that are wrong with the country. Crime is high, drugs are everywhere, and the incompetence and corruption of the police is outdone only by that of the politicians running the place. HIV is the leading cause of death for people 15-34. The economy is booming but terribly managed, the infrastructure is appalling, the educational system is not so much failing as failed, the civil service is bloated and the private sector a nest of interlocking cartels, tied together by red tape.

But that is almost part of the draw. I remember being at school, daydreaming of the day when I was older, when I would take charge of the place, force people to be sensible, make the right decisions, fix the place up, fire the right people, hire better people. I remember having the same feelings about the banks, the supermarkets, the shops, the police, the town planners, the utilities, the telecoms industry, and above all the government. We have a bunch of idiots running the place, not George W. Bush style, ideologically-motivated crazy people heading purposefully in the wrong direction, but just idiots, lurching aimlessly from crisis to crisis with no strategy and no apparent long-term goals other than to retire comfortably with the money they've pocketed. This is a country that needs only a few determined, motivated individuals with the right ideas to turn it around, to stop coasting on the oil money that's pouring in and to start fixing things properly, for the long term, preparing for the days when the oil -- and the money -- will dry up again.

The right time, the right people, the right ideas

But is all this still just wishful thinking? I know there are smart people in Trinidad -- in the private sector, here and there in education, in friends who are still there. Why haven't they changed things? Are they trying, and just not getting anywhere? Why, for the love of god, don't they run the place? Any of them are more capable than the bumbling Mr. Manning. Is the system too broken? Are the bad habits too deeply entrenched? Is there no saving Trinbago? I remember the way my faith in my countrymen took a beating in 1990, when we drove past hundreds upon hundreds of people looting the stores, saw the smoke over the capital as downtown burned.

And who am I to think I can make any difference? Some rich-kid whiteboy from the hills who doesn't have a clue about what life is really like for most people? And don't even talk about my personal life -- the kid is a faggot to boot! With my limey accent and my tight clothes and a face far too pale to be taken seriously by voters used to deciding based on skin colour alone, I have no chance of changing things from the top, and would probably find it nearly impossible to advance from the bottom, without making use of the sort of connections that I spend my whole life trying to forget I have.

But there's not just me. There's lots of us. The diaspora of Trinidad is huge -- there are more Trinidadians living illegally in the United States than live in all of Tobago, to say nothing of the legal population, and those who went to the UK or Canada. We're leaving in ever-increasing numbers, faster than we're giving birth -- the population is shrinking. To get out, you have to have the money, and to stay out, you have to have the skills to keep a job in the developed world. So the people who are leaving are, on average, the smartest, richest ones, the ones with the most potential to change things. We do all right in the world outside -- all we have to do is come back.

Above all, the right time

More important than all of the above is the question: is now the right time to move back?

The reason that most makes me want to return to Trinidad is the thought -- the horrifying thought -- of having kids in Britain. Pale, soft, whiny, spoilt little first-world kids with snobbish ideas about class and wealth and status and damaging ideas about what makes you cool, what makes you popular, when's the right time to be having sex, what drugs are a good idea. I know this is alarmist -- I have all these British friends, and they turned out okay, so it must be possible to raise nice kids in Britain.

I want my kids to have the childhood I had. It rocked. There was sunshine, and a big garden, and lots of dogs to play with, and piles of sand and wire and plywood and a roomful of hammers and nails and tape and glue and paint to stick things together and build things, even if they were pointless things, and room to play with them. There was a sea to swim in and sand to build castles out of -- every weekend! There were hills to climb and islands to explore and abandoned houses to poke around in, boats to drive. There were a lot of dangerous, unplanned, sharp, splintery, fast, pointy, sticky, poisonous things too -- painful, but survivable, and formative. Members of my family at this point can barely contain their indignation -- how I hated those things! How I complained about them! How I spent my teenage years indoors glued to a computer! But I didn't realise without them how dull and humdrum a childhood could be, what a lack of perspective you can get when everything is safe and soft and controlled all the time. It is debilitating enough as an adult; it must be terrible for a child.

And now is not the time that I'm going to be having kids, or leaving London for that matter. These are the years I'm having fun and doing everything exciting and new and experiencing the world. And I'm not experienced enough, not skilled enough, not rich enough to parachute myself into the top of some company or institution in Trinidad -- and life when you're not at the top of that pile is a lot harder there than it is here.

Oh, and that other thing

There's also the factor that affects me a little more uniquely than it would another prospective returnee: homophobia. It's not just funny looks and not holding hands on the wrongs streets over there. It's illegal, ridiculous sodomy laws that haven't been enforced in years but remain on the books, forcing gays to remain hidden and speak in code.

But it's just the same push-and-pull situation on a different scale. Things are bad, but I could change them. Maybe that's what I'm the right person to do. And maybe even if I wasn't successful, the mere attempt would be more worthwhile than my job which -- for all I love it -- cannot reasonably be construed as making the world a better place. The Crazy Frog with his tiny digital penis isn't striking any blows for equality.

A London thing

And of course, it's quite possible that I am tarring all of Britain with a London-coloured brush. The simplicity and adventure of an innocent childhood, big gardens and dogs and weekend projects may still be available, out there in some part of the country I've never been to. All those nice children must be coming from somewhere. Maybe there's some big house in a field that in 15 or 20 years time, when I've had a good few years to get the garden in order and really do something interesting with the décor, would feel like home. It's a common enough plan. It's certainly the easier, safer plan.

TBD

I'm not sure what my plan is, yet. I think I'll stay undecided for the moment.

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