Dudus and Gas in 1999

During the drinks interval (yes, I am a sucker for punishment, cause I am still listening to WI cricket on my way home), the news update reported that the students at the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies were safe but scared. Boy, did that bring back memories.

I was in my first year in this place when they decided to shoot up the place after then PM, PJ Patterson raised gas prices. The sounds of helicopters over campus and the distant sound of gunshots were our bedtime music. I was not scared as I was a tad bit worried - there was grave uncertainty about what would happen to us on campus - smack dab in the middle of the uprising it seemed. The privileged middle class students, some from islands that had never experienced protests and upheaval quite like this. I had lived through a coup in 1990, with the real fear of losing close family members in the security forces. But still, enduring something like that, with all your aunties and cousins at your side, and facing a foreign battle in a foreign country with noone but other foreign students at your side was different. I remember someone calling TV6 and telling them we wanted to come home, and my poor frantic mother trying her best to get through to the dorms to make sure her girl chile was alive - and then of course the inevitable I dunno why you could not stay St Augustine to study (local campus). But we survived.

What stands out was when the Guild decided to show their solidarity with the people and march with them, and called on us students to rally behind them. To me, this was not my battle to wage. I had been in the country less than a year and I did not think I should have taken my good self into the streets of Kingston to be tear gassed - something I would not have necessarily done had I stayed at St Augustine. The other non-Jamaican students felt the same way and this created loads of tension on the block and for a while, battle lines were drawn - us vs them. I could hear my mother in my mind "I did not send you there to march" and I honestly did not feel that was the place for me. Looking back, would I make the same choice? Yes. I did not feel a sense of ownership  - I empathised but I did not want to lend my support in that way. But I respected their valiant, albeit violent, stand against what they saw as oppression and total lack of consultation, and PJ had no choice but to bow to the pressure.

That was then, this is now. I highly doubt that the students of the UWI are showing solidarity this time, for Dudus - an international drug superstar. But the uncertainty surely must be the same, or worse.

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