Andre, a walking exemplar

By Raffique Shah
October 24, 2023

Raffique ShahWe know him only as Andre. Never asked for his surname, nickname or other identification marks or details, the way you might be tempted to scrutinise a banker before you deposit $100 in his sanitised surroundings, what with their propensity to magically make money disappear, according to recent media reports.

With Andre, what you see is what you get: a six-foot-plus whacker-man, walking erect almost with pride, one might say. With his weed-cutting equipment sloped on one arm, and his strides even, much like a soldier’s, one might see him any day in communities around Claxton Bay, where he lives.

He walks purposefully such that the casual observer may be disinclined to approach him to chat, to ask for biographical details which his facial expression signals to the intruder: I have no time to waste with you, I have work to do.

From his Claxton Bay home, a safe but very modest wooden “shamba” that has no amenities. Andre is known to have walked to Gasparillo or Princes Town in the south or Freeport and Chaguanas in the north, just to make a day’s work.

When he was first introduced to my family some 20 years ago, he passed the skills and reliability test in short order. To trust him to remain unsupervised on our premises took a little longer; then to certify him for the “finals”, the most difficult, meaning to trust him to be inside our house unsupervised, he passed with flying colours, as some would say.

I have chosen to focus on Andre, not nearly because he is competent at his job—keeping the grass and the surroundings of your home immaculate, but also being handy and helpful at tending to problems that may crop-up from time to time.

Doing some simple math, I have concluded that Andre is able to afford a middle-class lifestyle by his standards. However, he has chosen to live quite an ordinary life. He even gives charity to the less fortunate in the district, which some people exploit. Andre must produce or he won’t maintain his standard of living, should he for any reason need to take more time off than he is accustomed to.

Over the past few weeks I have stated that the average Trinidad and Tobago worker, whether he or she be manager or simple labourer, has a terrible work ethic that over the years has caused our productivity to fall to an abysmal level. From heavy industries to eating houses, restaurants, fast food services and like commercial enterprises, we have been incapable of competing with even our Caribbean neighbours.

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, our working people took pride in the final product they helped put on the international market, whether it was a food item, a beer or a fine rum or a downstream energy product. I’ll give one example that I personally experienced.

The week before Mike Bazie and I graduated from Sandhurst, our high commission in London sent us a case of Angostura Fine rum that we would share with our colleagues. I am not an alcohol person, never was, but this rum had a pink hue and the relish with which my mainly British friends enjoyed it spurred me to take a taste.

I poured a little drink and sipped from it. It tasted like nothing alcoholic I’ve ever put in my mouth. Word got around that I had the best “fire-water” and from my college colonel to cadets from Africa and Asia, they enjoyed that drink to the extent that the case didn’t make it to graduation day.

When I returned home a few months later, I remembered that display of Trinidad quality products and enquired about where it was sold locally. I was told it was a one-time brew that companies such as Angostura make and never repeat. I have publicly stated that if rum or any other alcoholic beverage had a great taste, I’d probably be a drunkard.

I should add that Angostura and Caroni have both produced and marketed one-off special rums (15 to 20 years old) which sold out before they hit the market. On a larger scale, we are known on the natural gas market for the cleanest product money can buy, such are the skills of our operators.

If we were to magically spawn, say, two Andres per community, one operator technician per district, and ensure that all our downstream energy industries market products that can stand scrutiny, do you see the possibilities I see?

We can lift our foreign exchange earnings significantly through the latter, enhance our upstream earnings through all-round production enhancement drives, and motivate more individuals to become their own bosses, knowing that their skills and willingness to work will see them and their families through life.