By Gerard Johnson
Trinidad and Tobago was rated the happiest country in the Caribbean. The twin-island republic ranked 38th among 156 countries surveyed for the 2018 World Happiness Report, released last week by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Countries were ranked based on six variables: income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity.
The news that we were the happiest Caribbean nation so shook the community, there was a seismic response of dubious laughter. “Who did they talk to?” That became the headline of a post I wrote in Facebook. Here is a sampling of the responses I received.
Vashty Maharaj, a former colleague of mine at the Trinidad Guardian in the mid eighties said this: “Trinis have always had the capacity to laugh and joke in the face of adversity. We will be the ones waltzing slowly to the strains of the violin — or steelpan– as the ship goes down. This is not necessarily a bad or good thing, it is part of who and what we are. So they spoke to all of us in a way and we said we choose to be happy and strong in the face of the worst days of our lives and our country. There will be those who will judge that but they are probably sitting in comfortable gated communities and waiting for everyone else to rise up and revolt for them.”
Niala Maharaj, another former colleague of mine in the eighties, this time from the Trinidad Express said: “I don’t think they talk to anyone. they compile statistics. what proportion of the population in school. How many maternal deaths per 1,000 of population. how many in university, how many officially poor… Look they say Norway is the happiest place on earth – I never met a bunch of people who liked the robot in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy more than Norwegians. They either drink thyself to death or suicide themselves to death. Who can blame them? When you in total darkness for half the year and your bottom getting frost-bite every God day… you lose track of the UN and its statistics that say you happy, oui.”
Kenneth H. Ransome Jr.: “No doubt! If we could always find the time to celebrate Christmas, New Years, Old years, Christmas in July, Indian Arrival day, Carnival, boat rides, river limes, etc., in spite of all the wildness going on in the country then we real happy….”
Siewdath Persad: “Ent calypsonian Crazy sang “madness is gladness”. Maybe we are a population of mad people. Or, maybe they only talked to people in the “Mad House” at St Ann’s or some folks who are living in a fantasy world at La Fantasy Rd, not too far from the “Mad House” but which may contain the real mad people.”
Saif Greenidge: “Perspective is EVERYTHING….T&T people were happiest when our attention was INWARD focused…we were doing our thing…80s…we realized the “world” had all cameras focused on us (deservedly)….now is “watch meh nah”…wassy an jammin still…yeh…the image that we happy…workin for everybody else…but T&T .”
Rona Ramkhelawan: “Illusions… material things…. and we distract ourselves all the way to being unhappy.. humans will never be happy unless we attain Buddha nature..where we live the life we were brought here to live.. that’s when you listen only to that Inner voice.. and not be influenced by what others think of one. but…. that’s the narrow path most take the wide roads.. more space to roam… losing sight.”
That’s just a microcosm of the views of Trinbagonians but by and large people are surprised by the results. After all, the Chief Justice is embroiled in several controversies. The outgoing President is accused of exercising powers he does not have. The prime minister is viewed as dismissive, misogynistic, clueless, and arrogant. The Attorney general to this day has not been forthcoming along with the Defense Force brass as to who invited him and his kids to Camp Cumuto and how his underaged kids came to be in possession of high powered military weapons in contravention of Defense Force regulations and Trinbago laws.
The economy is stagnant, oil prices are still flat and there is no publicized diversification plan to move the economy from one that’s heavily petroleum based. Violent crime is on the increase again, domestic abuse and murders are at an all-time high, and while police are working assiduously to get weapons and drugs off the streets, they continue to pour into the country through our porous borders..
There is no ferry to transport citizens or even visitors between Trinidad and Tobago. Many roads are a mess and there are landslips and landslides on several north coast roads. Flooding seems to be the norm in the rainy season and leaves many villagers stranded or cut off from the rest of the island. Meanwhile the commercial banks continue to enjoy record profits in a recession, something unheard of, mainly because of new and increased bank fees. There are banks that actually charge you for the virtual space they keep your checks for 48 hours. The hospitals are generally out of the most critical medicines, women die giving birth, and hospital workers are generally rude to patients. As for our generosity, I can believe the rating. Daily we turn over our hard earned money over to bandits who welcome such generosity. In some cases they reciprocate by sparing your life.
Thirty percent of Trinbagonians live below the poverty line and as far as life expectancy, we are being murdered at a rate of almost two a day, that’s even more than a multivitamin. Trust is a noble gesture that was betrayed by our politicians. Today most murders are committed by a family member or someone you know. So much for trust. The safety net of previous years has been pulled from under us by the current government who promised to reduced VAT only to expand it for basic food items simultaneously. As for freedom, there is an attempt by both major political parties to suspend due process under the guise of combatting terrorists and gangs.
So forgive us,citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, for being surprised when we read that we arethe 38th happiest country in the world. Since it is well known that the term happiness has bedeviled psychiatrists for centuries, maybe we can settle for being the 38th best country in the world at coping. For as someone replied on Facebook: “We jamming still.”
(Gerard Johnson is a Trinidadian journalist .)