Postcard blue sea licks at the shoreline, cautious of advancing lest it tastes the morning-after souvenirs of a day at the beach: Carib and Stag bottles, cans, plastic water bottles, tetra packs, styrotex containers, Coca-Cola bottles, Smirnoff bottles, an empty Corona six pack, Subway packaging and fast food boxes…strewn along the sandy roadside leading to Heritage Park, Pigeon Point.
I am shocked as I encounter this display on my early morning ride. Humans are on the loose again after months of lockdown, leaving trashy signatures on recently reopened beaches.
Farther up the road, a man is cleaning the sidewalk. I stop to chat with him about the beachfront rubbish.
“They should close down bars and beaches again!” he says, shaking his head in frustration.
As I continue riding, Scarborough’s new $1-million-plus “I Love Tobago” sign comes to mind. A June 5, Newsday article states that the sign is being “hailed as the first major initiative in repositioning the island as a leading tourist destination, post-covid19.” A part of urban enhancement plans for the capital, the sign is intended to promote national pride among Tobagonians. Does “national pride’”extend to the garbage-strewn beachfronts of this “leading tourist destination”?
Farther along my route I meet two female workers. One is raking mid-road and the other is at the curb. I stop to chat, asking what the “I Love Tobago” sign means to them. With their permission, I jot down their answers in my little notebook.
Ms Curb: “I took pictures there just Saturday. I pose up. It’s a nice idea!”
Ms Rake: “I think you should be able to see it from both sides, for cruise ships coming in.”
Ms Curb: “Two sides? Just one side cost over $1 million! I had two ideas for where else it could be placed – by the airport, which has more traffic or high up at the Fort in Scarborough.”
Me: “Yes, but what does I Love Tobago mean beyond just being words on a sign?”
Ms Curb: “I am proud to be from Tobago. Whenever I travel and come back home, I appreciate how much I love the Tobago environment.”
Ms Rake: “Clean, green, serene.”
Me: “Is it?”
I tell them about the rubbish strewn along the beachfront. Is it “I Love Tobago” when people are using the beach as a garbage bin? Beyond the sign being a photo opportunity, what does it mean to live up to its message?
“You have a point,” Ms Curb says pensively. “We ‘love’ Tobago…but look!” Her fond tone changes to one of sudden exasperation. “Someone throw their trash right there!”
She points to unsightly garbage on the grassy verge a few feet away, then continues: “You should call your article ‘Do We Really Love Tobago?’” She tries to recall some song lyrics: ‘T&T so nice, It’s a paradise’…”
“Except for crime!” Ms Rake interjects, bringing up a recent Tobago-based crime story – the robbery and shooting at a Mount Irvine house party.
Getting serious, Ms Curb says she wants to show us the power of God.
“Let me show you a message I sent to my son 11 o’clock Saturday night. I told him not to go to that party, but he went.”
She gets up and shows us the “WWJD” message she sent via WhatsApp. “What Would Jesus Do?” she translates. That night, guided by spiritual prompting, she had dropped to her knees in prayer. As the night wore on and her son did not return home, she would drop to her knees again, thanking God – for what? She did not know at the time.
The next day she found out that her son and his friend had been held up at gunpoint in their car while leaving the house party she had told him not to attend. “By the grace of God” they had escaped – her son unhurt and his friend, thankfully, shot only in the foot.
“I told him he should thank God he has a praying mother,” Ms Curb says with conviction.
Just as a good mother would love, protect and care for her beloved child, so too must we love, protect and care for this island and, by extension, the natural world – as trusted custodians.
Let us live out the deeper meaning of the words “I Love Tobago” through responsible and compassionate actions, ensuring the best possible reality for current and future generations.