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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

My two dogs are wonderful. Still puppies, they love to play-fight and run around the yard with me. They sleep on top of each other. They are the best of friends, until food arrives. Then they turn beast, the bigger one tries to eat from the other’s dish, they fight and I have to feed them apart. Freeness seems to bring out the worst in animals. But humans?

Last year someone brought a five-year-old boy to see me for the first time. There are lots of toys in my office. The child’s eyes opened wide and he rushed over to check them out. Then he came back to me and asked, “They free?”

On Thursday came news that contracts at the Estate Management and Business Development Company (EMBD) started at millions but jumped to billions. According to the T&T Guardian, in one instance a $9 million contract escalated to $1.183 billion!

On page 7 of its March 21 issue the Express had an extraordinary headline: “T&T moves up to 38 in world happiness rating.” Apparently we had moved up five spots. There was a picture of members of the public lining up on Alcazar Street, near the offices of an advertising company, where free bake and shark and doubles were being given out. On the next side, page 8, the headline was “Body found floating outside Hyatt”, complete with a picture of the floating body and a Coast Guard vessel. Happiness!

The company behind the free food on Alcazar Street, ReThink, with a capital T and the K turned backwards (to show you they think out of the box) had previously published several full page ads about happiness, asking the question, “What would make you happy?”

They then “challenged” the public to answer 12 questions geared towards making the nation a happier place. No less than eight of the questions either included the word “free” (four times) or suggested freeness, “open the Priority to all vehicular traffic;” “food outlets to have a discount on all purchases;” “book stores to offer discounts” and “entertainment outlets to provide discounts on shows and movies” on Happiness Day.

It was like something out of the Hunger Games. Freeness will make you happy!

It’s always fascinated me, this “freeness” business that is so characteristic of life here. Exactly what it means is contentious. Freeness is the noun derived from the verb free, defined firstly in my Concise OED as “not under the control or in the power of another”. There is an alternative definition which seems to more properly reflect the Trini idea: “available without charge.” But I may be short-changing Trinis, some of whom seem to be born with a congenital memory of slavery or indentureship and may look on freeness as “not under the control of another.” This is not to minimise the acquired learning effect disseminated by UWI lecturers, politicians and sour social activists whose raison d’etre, anti-colonialism, ensures we never move on or deal with our actual problems.

Because our oil and gas has been “monetised”, (I love that word with its insinuations of slavery or prostitution, human bodies being monetised), T&T is full of freeness. Take Cepep. Everyone knows it pays to work at the oddly named Community-Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme. Is ah freeness!

The unwashed who support racist political parties for rum, roti, a “jussy” and the opportunity to believe they in charge, and the entitled with their secret donations to those same political parties, so that after elections they can sit on State Boards and siphon off a lil business, easy money, are all part of the “freeness” society.

We’ve been called a dependency society. Well, why not when everything is free? So many houses up Laventille are built with wood from the Big Yard Stage and North Stand. Annual freeness. Two weeks ago I saw a fellow leaving the Savannah at five in the morning with a huge piece of plywood balanced on his head, swaying from side to side as he crossed the street. For years it was common to see hospital workers walking down Charlotte Street with bags of food. If you commented, you were told ,”Boy, is so and always so!” Freeness is part and parcel of the dependency syndrome.

Freeness is an important part of the “chaos” society. Greed, corruption and freeness thrive in chaotic societies like ours where nothing seems to work and “contact” is what moves the wheels. There is a direct line between contact and freeness. People at the lower end of society become accustomed to ah lil freeness to close their eyes to what is really happening up above them. People at the upper end love the fact that they can get freeness from the government and get away with it. The middle classes live on, complaining but never doing anything as long as they get a lil freeness from time to time. Girl, we get free tickets for the show. Girly have ah contact and he get tickets for we. What Girly give him for the tickets is hardly mentioned.

But there is no free lunch. Ultimately someone pays. One way or the other someone pays. Freeness flows many ways, upward, downwards, sideways, inwards and outwards. When it flows inwards, it worms its way into your spirit and knaws and knaws away, no matter how much you smirk and say, ‘Nah man, I good!’ You pay in the end or your uncle pays, or your mother or your child.

Sales of antidepressants and sleeping pills are said to be reaching levels never before seen in T&T.


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