Tony Deyal | All for each and each for all
Toil with hearts and hands and voices.
We must prosper! Sound the call,
In which ev'ryone rejoices,
"All for each and each for all."
(Last stanza of Dominica's national anthem)
I stumbled out of my bedroom at my usual 4:30 a.m. and realised that we had a royal presence in the living room. One of my father's friends and drinking buddies, Mr Prince, who was sitting in one of my mother's chrome chairs, dropped the Bible he was reading, jumped to his feet in alarm and prepared to take off for parts unknown.
I was as surprised as he was and would have started a dash into my parents' bedroom, except that Mr Prince was more terrified than I was. "Mr Prince," I said, voice shaking a bit and while it quavered, it might not have been a full Demi Semi. Fortunately, before he could respond, my father came out, ready to head to work, and explained the situation.
Mr Prince was what we called a 'Vincelonian' in those days. In other words, he was from the nearby island of St Vincent and had arrived in Trinidad looking for work and finding some temporary employment in the oilfield town of Siparia where we lived.
Mr Prince had high hopes of being able to bring his family to Trinidad so that they would all have opportunities they did not have at the time in St Vincent. However, he had a falling out with the person he worked for over the low wages, very long hours, and bad treatment. That gentleman, miffed, peeved, angry and upset with Mr Prince, decided that he would complain to the authorities, he being one of them, to capture Mr Prince, have him declared an "illegal immigrant" and post his butt back to his native land.
Mr Prince appealed to my father and his other friends for help. It was decided that the last place the police or immigration authorities would consider as a hideout for Mr Prince was our house, since we lived on the streetside of the area in which Mr Prince was renting a shack, a well-inhabited place without streets or paving of any sort with houses, many of which seemed randomly built and distributed, called Cassava Alley, and later, because of the lifestyle of many of its itinerant population, Peyton Place.
It was a kind of hole-in-the-wall place where people hiding from the law or 'breaking warrant', as we called it, spent some time while the situations in which they found themselves cooled down.
For the next few weeks, while my father and others sought to legitimise his status, Mr Prince resided in our aptly named living room, which, together with two small bedrooms, a kitchen and a tiny veranda, was our home.
He shared our food and used the primitive facilities late in the night. Otherwise he spent his entire period reading the Bible, sighing loudly and praying. There were occasional alarms.
The promised police and immigration raid on Cassava Alley took place with a lot of noise and threats. The police had their bull-'pistles' ready and were itching to take the action that in a calypso some years later, Lord Blakie, described, "If you see how dey beating the scamps and dem friends youh bound to bawl,/ Some ah dem could read and spell but dey cyah pronounce at all./ A police tell one to say 'box' ay you stupid man/ And as he say 'bax', licks inside de van."
Fortunately, the search was fruitless, since it was anticipated and many of our friends had chosen to be away when it happened. Another time, a police car passed slowly in front of our house but did not stop. It was an anxious moment. Eventually, Mr Prince got his 'papers', and then one day, about a year later, my father took his Hillman car and Mr Prince to pick up the Prince family at the port. It was a great day in Cassava Alley.
I have never wondered why my mother, who had the final say in everything, or my father for that matter, sheltered Mr Prince, especially knowing that if he was caught, we would all have been arrested for harbouring him. The reason I was not surprised is that before we went to Siparia, we lived in the village of Carapichaima in Central Trinidad, where the people, though of different races, lived in relative harmony.
At that time, in the 1950s, there were a lot of immigrants. Across the road from us was Miss Robinson, a 'Vincelonian', my mother's best friend. We had a 'Baje', or Barbadian, and several mispronounced names like 'Casmo' and Mr Ocano (O'Connor). At the Anglican School that my cousins and I attended, there was a mix of races with no questions asked about origin. We were all immigrants, I suppose, or, as children, all that mattered is how you spent your recess and lunchtime and who would play 'stick-em-up'.
I went to the Picadilly EC school in Port-of-Spain for a year, and situated at the foot of the Laventille Hill, it was a place where many immigrants sent their children to school. It made not a whit of difference. In fact, we from outside of the area were the immigrants there, and sometimes were threatened with expulsion, and occasionally, extinction.
For most of the past 25 years, I have worked and lived in the Caribbean. I have friends and acquaintances in all the islands. My two younger children went to school first in Belize, then in Antigua, and swam or played cricket against kids from some of these islands that were devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria. My wife is from Guyana, and many of her compatriots found refuge in these islands.I was in Grenada in the aftermath of Hugo, and we had to face at least two close calls in Antigua during our 10 years there.
Had anything happened to us, I am sure that people in Antigua or my friends in other islands, especially Dominica, where I spent a lot of time, or my family in Trinidad, would have offered help. We most likely might not have taken up the offers or even sent our children. Even now, we would definitely want to keep them closer to us if something like a hurricane or earthquake destroyed everything that we have.
The thought, the offer, the reaching out to us in our time of need is what would have counted enormously.
It would make us feel that if things got really bad, we had a place to shelter, but we would have stayed with our neighbours and try to regroup, rebuild and rise again. But, like Mr Prince, we would be very much aware, and feel much safer knowing that we were not alone in our plight and our misery.
- Tony Deyal was last seen saying that Dominicans are a proud people and will rise again higher than their misty mountains that even the clouds have problems crossing.