THE HOYOS FILE: Eleven days that tested out mettle
It was Saturday, and it was my birthday too, so I was resisting the urge to get up and make coffee when I was given the bleak report: “David Thompson gone, Pat.”
Gone. It was the perfect word. It was like saying that someone you knew who was on a plane ready to take off had done so. You were expecting it, but there was something heartbreaking about the gentle finality of the word gone.
Thus began an 11-day period that proved what it takes to be a Barbadian, with all the stoicism, pragmatism and emotional restraint it implies. The period brought home to me, once
again, why it makes me proud to be a Bajan.
On the 11th day I stood on the side of the road between Gun Hill and St George’s Parish Church as the body of the late Prime Minister was taken to its final resting place in the cemetery of St John’s Parish Church.
The sun was shining and the route was dotted with groups of people also wishing to bid farewell as the hearse, in a convoy led by police outriders, made its way towards Gun Hill.
A police officer managing that part of the highway reported to us from time to time, although of course he didn’t have to, the progress of the convoy. As we waited, I asked him about the storm experience and he said the force had put in long hours. “I didn’t get home for 72 hours,” he said. “Did you sleep in barracks?” I asked. No, he had slept in his chair.
Turns out the police and firemen have to go out after a major weather event and check on security matters before the emergency personnel can go in. You probably knew that, and
it is common sense. I had never even thought about it. The human effort involved must be huge, especially when it is natural to be thinking of your own home and family first.
The media also deserves enormous credit for its response to both the death of Mr Thompson and the onslaught of Tomas seven days later.
Keeping communication lines open live on radio and TV during the passage of Tomas provided what new Prime Minister Freundel Stuart called the “humane link” at a critical time and probably saved lives, and getting out special editions on Thompson’s life and contribution to the country within hours of his passing and, just a few days later, covering the damage caused by the storm would have meant many long nights for all involved in news production at local media houses.
Then there were the young men with swords. They did not use them to rob or prey on the helpless, but to cut a way through fallen trees to help people get out of the various physical predicaments to which the bad weather had subjected them. I saw a group of teenagers dragging a huge tree out of the road in a neighbourhood in the Bush Hall, St Michael area – in the rain.
On Brass Tacks, at least the one I hosted last Monday, people called in with genuine hardship cases, such as having no water or electricity for three days, and pointing out that it was whole neighbourhoods, not only their individual homes, that were affected.
The response from water and electricity officials was fast and empathetic, with pleas on their part for the public’s understanding due to the number of downed poles, trees and other problems that had caused the stoppage in service. The exchanges were heartfelt but there was no rancour, no vitriol.
Over the 11 days that tested our mettle, we went from heavy hearts filled with the pain of losing a leader in his prime to suddenly feeling the impact of a surprisingly fast-forming weather system for which we felt unprepared.
Then we came out of our homes and realised there was a lot of damage to deal with. But things had to be put as right as possible because we had a difficult road to travel just a few days after.
We all took that long final journey from one of the world’s greatest cricket grounds to a historic parish churchyard overlooking the full sweep of the East coast with the body of a beloved prime minister and his grieving family.
That we came through those 11 days with flying colours is a full testament to the values that David Thompson wished to bring out in us in tough times: a spirit of fortitude alongside the grief, an attitude which asks our neighbour “How are you doing?” and a community spirit that brought help as quickly as possible
to those in greatest need.
The sense of duty displayed by ordinary countrymen towards each other was paralleled by the hard work and discipline of officials in the security forces, the medical profession and emergency services, as well as in Government and private sector companies and agencies charged with keeping essential services going.
They worked tirelessly to maintain security, help the sick and injured, and restore water, light and telephone services to customers.
And through it all, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital never stopped serving patients. What an achievement for this much-maligned institution.
In his last address to the nation, David Thompson asked us to heed the lyrics of We Are the World and lend a helping hand to each other. He would have been very proud of us just one week after his passing.