Norway Reminds Me...

Memorial for those who lost their lives in 1990
Photo credit: Newsday
When one thinks of Norway, one does not automatically think of strife and political upheaval. I usually think of pristine snow capped mountains and serenity. The horror which they had to face in the past few days is so foreign to not only the Norwegian people but to the world looking on.

When one thought of Trinidad and Tobago in 1990, one did not automatically think about insurrection and rampage. It was still fun, still flamboyant, still a gem in the southern Caribbean. On the evening of July 27,1990, that all changed.

As a child, the biggest crisis in your life, after a day of playing, is what snack can I get tonight, mummy? That night, after my brother and I were good little monsters all day, my mother was going to reward us with coconut sugarcake - my favourite!! We had grated the coconut, my brother and I, taking turns, and it was on the stove. We had taken our baths and we were all clean and cute, waiting for this magical treat to come off the stove, cool and set (sugarcake recipe here, for the curious).

We never got the sugarcake and for 2 little kids, this was a tragedy. A crisis! What could have been more important than the sugarcake? We had been good all day. We took our baths without fuss. But after talking to my the neighbour in the front yard, I saw my father put the television on hastily and then he called out to my mother in the kitchen to come quick, leaving me to stir the sugarcake mixture. But she never came back and only told me to turn the stove off. There was this man on television and men surrounding him, with guns, and they were on the Panorama primetime news set - but it was not the regular anchorman. This guy was not smiling nor was he welcoming. And guns!!

When I asked mummy later that evening what a coup was, she told me it was not a good thing. My parents explained to me that the man on television and his men had burst into the Red House - the official house of Parliament - and had taken the Prime Minister and members of the government hostage. They had set fire to the capital and the armed forces were now hastily being called out from wherever they were, to go face this unexpected monster. To some, this episode was thrilling, brought a rush - those who used the opportunity to loot and cart off appliances and clothes, while destroying property, and those who thought it would be a good time, by hosting curfew parties over the next few days.

Port of Spain, Trinidad as it is today
But even as young as I was, it was not fun for me. It became rather scary as I watched my own mother put her uniform on and head to what was now police headquarters, after the main HQ were firebombed and gutted in Port of Spain. I would see her sporadically over the next few days, when she came home to shower, grab a couple hours of sleep and head back. The rumours about the Muslimeen targeting the San Fernando HQ made it hard to sleep. Not even all the fast food we got - a great joy for kids who only got fast food as special treats - could make me feel better.

It was not a good time. The news that the insurrectionists had surrendered some 6 days later brought a huge sigh of relief. The mess of amnesty and the unforeseen release of all 114 men, after the tragic loss of human life and assault to the human spirit was insult to injury.

The world since then has become a truly evil place with many self-involved and delusioned people, taking matters into their own hands, at the expense of the innocent. But even in the darkest hours, the human spirit has the capacity to rise above the madness, narcissism and selfishness of those who seek to create turmoil and  darkness. We find the strength to move ahead. I believe Norway has started on the road to recovery. And twenty-odd years later, on the eve of our history's defining moment, I hope Trinidad and Tobago will learn from past mistakes and find the strength in solidarity.


8 comments:

  1. I have to admit that I knew nothing about this event. I can't imagine how terrifying that must have been, especially having your own mother go day after day into danger.

    The closest I've ever come to anything like this is 9/11, but I was on the opposite side of the country and didn't personally know anyone who died. I really just can't imagine it.

    And Norway makes my heart hurt.

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  2. Not many non-Trinis would know about it I guess, but it is forever etched in my memory. I used to jump on my mother when she came home for a quick nap. Everyone was tense - all the adults. We kids never fully grasped it I think. I kept thinking if the Muslimeen succeeded, I would have to wear a hijab or burka. I remember on my first day of school, 2 months later, being scared of one classmate cause she had a Muslim name. It was a defining moment in my little twin-island state's history for sure.

    And being left alone with my dad for 6 days...let's just say, I ate enough corned beef to last a lifetime. lol.

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  3. This made me feel quite nostalgic and sad. I was only 11 then and just received 11 + results and preparing to go to high school. My childhood fear was that I wouldn't be able to continue with education as a girl and that really worried me (I was such a geek). I also remember telling my mum that I didn't want to have to wear a veil or cover my face. I remember the curfew and having to get back home before 6pm. And when it ended I remember seeing all of the burnt down buildings in POS which made me so sad. Oh how I wish that it had never happened. But I was proud of our military for supporting the people of Trinidad and Tobago and ensuring that democracy reigned.

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  4. I was only 5 when the coup happened. All I remember was my dad coming home from limin on the corner and gathering with the neighbours in front the house. Someone said something about Port-of-Spain burning down and everyone sounded scared. My cousins were spending holidays at my house since their parents went to Margarita for the week and at that point in time no one knew if they would be able to come back into the country. I remember the curfew but I know at that time I really didn't understand what was going on. All I knew was that all the big people looked worried...

    It's interesting to read how you and Caribbean Princess here remember experiencing the coup. It was a sad and scary time indeed.

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  5. What an experience to have at such a young age. Your memory of it amazes me but sadly those are the sort of things that stay with us. As Karen mentioned with 9/11 I too remember that day and where I was with an unwanted clarity. Thank God the uprising was prevented from going any farther.

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  6. I had similar thoughts and memories when there were yet another bomb blasts in Mumbai a couple of weeks back. One of the bombs blew off very very close to my house. For us this saga started in 1993 with the Mumbai serial bomb blasts and has continued since then. The latest I came close to terrorism was during terrorist attack in November 2008 - personally and professionally. Guess many of us have these dark memories which will never be forgotten.

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  7. This is such a powerful, well crafted post, girl. I wish I could see everything through the eyes of a child again. The older we get, the more we realize how many evils we share this world with. And for once, I'd love to think only of the special treat that's following dinner or to live in a world where I don't yet understand what a "coup" is.

    My heart aches for Norway. Not only because I have family there, but it just seems so strange that something like this would happen there. But that's always the way it is, right? I'm sure you felt the same way for Trinidad and Tobago because you understood it on a much more personal level. I admittedly don't know much about the history there, but it sounds scary to have to live through.

    XOXO

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  8. Wow, thank you very much for sharing such a candid story!

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