edge

The World of Trinidad & Tobago

My name is Anthony Collymoore and I recently retired after teaching at Morvant/Laventille for 27 years.

I’m from Cascade. That “nasty white boy” area.

I married twice, first to Fay Lopez, back in 1985. We have two children, Jacob, now 30,m and Justin, 28-ish. And now Debbie George since 2004. I tell my sons I’m ready to be a young grandfather. But they just laugh nervously

I’m not churchgoing. Both my wives are Catholic. And I’m a Methodist. So that has been my out.

My mother was a Jew. So I can move to Israel. Except I’m more of a Palestine supporter. They seem to be getting a raw deal.

I’ve been lucky. Having an Hungarian Jewish mother, being a motorbike man, living in Jamaica, living in Cascade but being more roots than bourgeois, loving reggae music. All these things made me who I am. You only get one life; I’m really glad mine was like this.

I’d prefer not to do it at all but I’m not afraid of dying. If and when I have to go, a plane crash would be an ideal way to get it over with. Five minutes of terror and you’re gone, rather than lingering in a hospital for months. But I hate flying.

Non-Catholics had a hard time but Fr Anthony De Verteuil made the St Mary’s experience worth it. He used to drive us around in this old VW bus to Blue Basin, Marianne River, everywhere. He was also a good teacher.

It just came naturally that I started to teach when I came out of UWI, St Augustine, in 1980. Somebody went on maternity leave at Diego Martin Sec and I got my foot in the door. Then Corpus Christi and St Anthony’s, then Morvant-Laventille in 1988.

On my way to take up my appointment, it struck me I’d come to the school before: for the fete; with a whole gang of motorcyclists. In my wild motorcycle days. I began riding in Jamaica and never gave it up until I was about to have a kid. I started off on a 100cc bike and ended up on an XS1,100cc Yamaha. I still miss it. I think of myself as a recovering bike-a-holic. I’ve actually started riding a bicycle.

It’s very weird. I’ve spent my whole working life in school. I ended up teaching the children of children I’d taught.

It was an interesting experience, teaching in Morvant-Laventille, partly because I couldn’t blend in very well, but more so because the school was run by a powerful clique of teachers and was best-known for huge fetes. Well-known DJs like Dr Hyde would have been an ex-student of ours. That group of teachers made Dr Hyde who he was - and, when he became too big for his britches - they pulled the carpet from under him; showed him where the real power lay.

Even though I saw myself as a young DJ back in those days, I couldn’t get to spin at the school fete. DJs from the neighbourhood would come, cap in hand, begging for their names to be put on the posters. Our school fete could make or break a DJ’s career.

It became dangerous to have the fete at Morvant-Laventille, because of the outside element: in the dead of night, you have all this cash on your hands. We had to cancel fete, bazaar, everything in the mid-Nineties. The school lost a big fundraiser.

The school, at times, was a very frightening place. Once a week, maybe more sometimes, we’d have huge, horrible, bloody fights, whole school disrupted, children running screaming in all directions. That was the pattern for 27 years. So you learned to roll with the punches: you get numb. I just gave up and stayed in the staff-room.

Once, a girl got her entire lower lip bitten clean off by another girl. I took her to Casualty and hardened, seasoned nurses came out to have a look at the wound. The girl herself was sitting down, cool as a cucumber. She’d kept her lip in her mouth and they just sewed it back on. She was back in school in a week, like normal.

Anytime you saw doors closed in classrooms that were supposed to be empty, there would be children inside, having sex. From the form one level. Quite often, police arrived and escorted children off the school compound down to the police station. One guy got into the jeep and that’s the last I ever saw of him.

We do have our success stories. But we get the bottom of the bottom of the barrel. The ten or 20 per cent who are bad apples spoil the bunch for everyone. There’s a girl in Cuba doing medicine, who we teachers partially support out of our own pockets. So it’s not a completely lost cause; it’s just very bad.

Dozens of our students were murdered. What can you do? You can only save those who want to be saved.

Teachers’ pay has risen through a process of attrition on our part, not through the benevolence of the government. Even when your salary went up, that money fell into a deep hole of debt every month. You were always playing catch up.

It’s a good feeling, being a Trinbagonian, because so much good has come out of the place. Ato Boldon, Hasley Crawford, pan - even on a shallow level like beauty contests, we’ve given a lot to the world. You almost feel sorry for bigger countries.

Trinidad and Tobago is culturally almost bursting at the seams: roti; doubles; parang; calypso. The whole world is here. It’s just that there’s an undercurrent of evil these days. Once you can work your way around that, being in Trinidad & Tobago makes live worth living.

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