Thus, the pandemic has led to lockdowns and an exacerbation of mental health issues.
Our primary school children lost two years, which was easily reflected in the results of the secondary school entrance exam. There has been an increase in domestic spousal violence and child abuse.
Cognitively, the elderly lost ground with the lack of stimulation and dementia praecox was unmasked. Many of these grandparents seem to have grown so frail and aged so quickly in such a short time. And, of course, the dead. So many loved ones have been lost and so many bereaved disenfranchised. And after the closures with the lifting of restrictions, there was an increase in school violence and an undeniable increase in crime and home invasions.
But on the other side (there is always another side), people have learned to cook and rediscover themselves and reconnect with each other. Homestays were the way to go and Trinidad and Tobago was discovered to new depths. Mini hikes were the thing to do with exploring knowing your country. The benefits of mindfulness were rediscovered and people were more aware of their mortality and spirituality.
And after the restrictions were lifted, friends and family were able to travel, and you realized how desperately we missed them. Beauty was everywhere. It was like watching an old movie that you’ve watched many times. Now there was a layer and perspective that you hadn’t seen before. Re-watching movies like City of God and When Harry Met Sally made you think of them in different ways.
Suddenly everyone found new places to walk. The top of Lady Chancellor, ‘breezy hill’, St Michaels Hill, Mt St Benedict, the Bamboo Cathedral. Suddenly I am in the heights of Aripo with Annette Mills at her Charamal cocoa estate, eating fresh fruit food, coconut baking and cocoa tea and looking at this strong, aged woman of over 70, significantly fitter than most people I know, swallowing life and living so easily.
Suddenly I’m eating delicious food at Krish’s Fried Chicken in Carapichaima in central Trinidad and then at the Hanuman Temple, the largest Hanuman murti in the world outside of India. It is 85 feet tall. The temple guy explains why the coconuts are left on the fence by people who have to come back to collect them. The practice of cracking a coconut is part of worship. Suddenly, I’m at Grande Rivière, watching these prehistoric animals swim up the beach beyond the tide line to use their fins to dig holes to lay their eggs, then back out into the deep, unknown waters.
So I’m at Caroni Swamp with the tour of Nanan and the guide Khemraj. He says he has been there for more than 40 years. He talks about poachers who hunt flamingos. Where there were more than 300 standing in an area of shallow water the day before, there were now five. His passion for the swamp was evident. He wore a large necklace in the shape of Om (or Aum) around his neck. He said he had a piece of paper that read in the Om necklace given to him by the pandit when he was younger. With his muscular arms he pushed the wooden pole into the water so he could attach the rope to anchor the boat while we watched the Scarlet Ibis birds fly in flocks back to their nests. He told us that Om is the primordial sound of all creation and represents God, man and the universe and the intertwined connection with all three.
In the middle of the swamp, beside snakes, crocodiles and murky water, I feel his spirituality and recognize his teachings.
Suddenly I’m at the Temple by the Sea in Waterloo, a temple originally built by Sewdass Sadhu, in an effort for Hindus to have a place of worship near the sea. It seems he started building it first on someone’s turf, and he was told to stop. So, he decided to build it in the sea where there was no conflict with land ownership. For years he transported stones with his bicycle and built the connecting ground and the temple at the end of the landslide. The temple was finally rebuilt in 1995 by Randal Rampersad, but some elements of the old one still remain. The Om sign and the trident sign representing Lord Shiva stand upright as you enter the rocky path.
Suddenly, I’m sitting outside the temple, facing the sea on this west-central coast of Trinidad. Now I partly understand why he chose this place. It’s almost halfway up the west coast of the island of Trinidad and has amazing sunset views. Sitting there, the land meets the sea as the gentle waves lap against the rocks around the temple site. Then the sea meets the sky on the horizon, and you really feel the meeting of the elements, man, god, the universe. Creation, manifestation, destruction. The sun between the clouds is warm but the heat is pushed back by the gentle sea breeze. The sheer beauty of this moment was almost endless. If you listen carefully, sometimes you learn everything in the middle of almost nothing.
Dr Joanne F Paul is a lecturer, specialist in pediatric emergencies and a member of the TEL institute