It is always a pleasant interjection when, while trying to relax after dinner, your husband decides to share the countries in the world with the highest homicide rates. Not exactly an after-dinner topic at the best of times but certainly when Trinidad & Tobago feature within the top fifteen and all spots, bar one reserved for South Africa, are allocated to neighbouring countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, it gives you pause for thought. It is largely a feature of geography. Cocaine is largely produced in South America but the biggest market is in the United States so it is either trafficked over land through Central America or via the Caribbean. Where there are drugs, there are usually guns, gangs and violence and, prior to living here, I had not appreciated that many beautiful and otherwise idyllic Caribbean islands are afflicted. There is little they can do without a more effective response from the United States to curb their market through better education and treatment. US drug policy relies rather heavily on enforcement, which only serves to raise the stakes both at home and abroad and imprison an astonishing percentage of their population, while all the time the crisis worsens.
Living in a country with such a different risk profile to home makes for far more reflection on how to manage that risk and your own response to it. In industry, the principle of ALARP is commonly used. As Low As Reasonably Practicable – but what constitutes reasonable or practicable in our neck of the woods? What is a reasonable or practicable reduction in our personal freedom? In our home and with regard to driving, we have taken a number of measures to significantly reduce the risk to which we are exposed. Of course, though, there is a tipping point at which you can reduce the risk even further but consequently rarely, if ever, leave the house – not exactly the point of living in the Caribbean!
Like all women I know, I have multiple #metoo stories which I could share but I have been fortunate to largely not have to deal with daily low-level harassment. That has changed since arriving in Trinidad – and it is a reminder of how wearing and even intimidating that kind of behaviour can be. Every time, without exception, that I am out of the house, I encounter street harassment. I can be stationary in traffic and other drivers will shout things at me or gesticulate. I can be trying to cross the road and all traffic will stop so that drivers can shout things at me. I can be queuing at the post office to buy stamps and three or four individual men will approach me. I can be leaving the bakery with the PlayStation Junkie to walk two metres to our parked car and still men will approach me. I can even be with the Handsome Dutchman on an errand at the weekend and men will shout at me. Ha – the last time that happened, we were accused of being English (among other things). As we ran up the steps to the shop, we muttered to each other “Scottish and Dutch – not English”! As a result, I choose the time of day that I go places, I alter what I wear to minimise attention. Some places, I will not go alone and there are some places, obviously, that we just do not go to at all. All the time, I am trying to weigh up what is just unpleasant or intimidating and what is actually dangerous – it is often difficult to tell what is just some annoying, misogynist throwback to the seventies and what may result in someone pulling a gun – the added twist of all that gang violence.
This week, I faced my first interaction with the police. Growing up in the UK means that I am always a bit edgy when I see a policeman with a gun. At home, only specially trained members of the police carry weapons and they only have them in extra dangerous situations. When I see a police officer with a weapon, something out of the ordinary must be on the cards. We were en route to a special screening at the cinema when two machine-gun bearing policemen indicated I had to stop my car at a checkpoint for a “stop and search”. I had to present my driving licence and insurance paperwork – also an alien concept for someone from the UK as we are not obliged to carry either at home. I did have all the right documentation with me but that did not mean I was certain that this would be an uneventful exercise and the machine guns certainly did not put me at ease. I also did not feel it helped the situation to be wearing a not attention-minimising cocktail dress and be glammed up for an evening out – although it did mean that if they searched the car, the only thing they would have found was a pair of gold Jimmy Choos for me to change into after the drive! In the end, the process was slow but everything was in order and we were allowed to drive on, albeit with my heart beating just a little bit faster than usual. Either these cops were nice and honest or not fashion-savvy enough to confiscate the shoes!