This is Trinidad

We waited a long time for a taxi. They’re not really taxis the way I’m accustomed to taxis. They’re not yellow; they don’t have logos; and they don’t take you and only you exactly where you want to go. Here they’re called “hired cars” and they’re different than private cars (like, the ones you and I own) only because they’ve got an H on their license plate. They’ve got preferred routes and they stay at one spot until all the seats (and sometimes then some) are occupied. Then they go where they are going. Once there, you start all over again with another car going a little closer to where you actually want to go. It can – and does – take hours to get from home to school or home to work or home to anywhere. I’ve wondered why Trini customer service is so overtly hostile – rather than “service with a smile”, it seems to be service with a sour face – but I think this is the reason: given the transport hurdles to be cleared in the most mundane of commutes, by the time people get to work, they’re ANGRY.

Or, everyone hates me. Because even the lady selling what turned out to be mediocre doubles on the corner beside the JTA supermarket in Marabella was pissy with me. Loverloverman, who is usually endlessly patient and diplomatic, snapped, “Where’s my change? Because I’m not paying for the attitude.”

So on Trini street corners, you don’t pay for attitude (it’s free) and in Trini taxis, you only pay for the space you occupy. When we took one from San Fernando to Port of Spain, I installed the baby’s car seat, and the driver was flabbergasted.

“You can hold the baby in your lap,” he said.

“No,” I said, “I’ll pay for the baby’s seat too.”

“I’ve been doing this for eight years,” he told me, “and no one has ever paid for a child’s seat. Six year olds and eight year olds sit on laps. Sometimes six year olds AND eight year olds sit on the same lap.”

My baby is not sitting on my lap in a moving car. He’s not sitting in a moving car unless he’s in car seat.

So it can take a while to find a taxi. Most of the hired cars don’t even have working seat belts in the back seat, but then, neither to private cars, either, which means that when Loverloverman isn’t here, I don’t leave the village, because anyone who would drive me ‘n the kids doesn’t have rear seatbelts.

But sometimes taxis DO have seatbelts. The trick is to look for newer vehicles. I’ve taken to asking, after they tell me they don’t have have seatbelts, if they’ve got them tucked behind the seats. Apparently it can be an aesthetic issue: seatbelts look untidy. (Blood and body parts look even worse.) So I’ve now given up on my need to represent Canada with mild-mannered inoffensiveness. I just want my kids in mofo seatbelts.

“You don’t need a seatbelt in the back seat, there’s no law,” individual after individual car owner and driver after driver tells me when I ask if they have rear seatbelts. That’s simultaneously untrue and sort of true. There was a new law passed last year requiring children to wear seatbelts and babies and toddlers to be in car seats and boosters. But nobody knows about the law, so how much of a law is it, really? And in hired cars, passengers – adults and children – riding in back seats aren’t required to wear seatbelts.

So given my outrageous requirements – safety – it can take a while to find an H-car. I was two hours late for my nail appointment at Exotic Nails in Couva (and yes, I am completely aware of how obnoxiously privileged this is sounding, but I swear I’m going somewhere) because we had to take a taxi (with seatbelts) from San Fernando to Chaguanas and then another from Chaguanas to Couva. The Chaguanas taxi stand was a problem. Car after car had no seatbelts. Or so the drivers said. But I knew that there were seatbelts tucked in the backseat of a newer Nissan. KNEW IT. So I asked.

“This is Trinidad,” the guy said, “Our cars don’t come with seatbelts.”

The car was a NISSAN. Made in Japan, not Trinidad. No seatbelts? LIES MOFO LIES.

So the lack of seatbelts is frustrating but what is even more frustrating is what I hear in the resistance to seatbelts.

“This is Trinidad.” That could be a prideful statement, and I wish it was, but it’s not.There’s no pride in that, no higher expectations. That’s an admission that Trinidadians get shit imports, that goods and services and expectations and everything in Trinidad is substandard, and that’s normal and acceptable. Because this is Trinidad. Trinidadians don’t deserve better.

Trinidadians deserve better.

“There’s no law.” There’s no law that I have to breathe, either, but it’s still a pretty big priority to me. As is my child’s life. I don’t need to be mandated by law to protect my children. And I certainly don’t need attitude for trying to do just that.

And call me surprised at suddenly being the car seat radical, because I’m actually pretty skeptical about the North American car seat conspiracy. I’m not convinced that tremendous technological strides are made every five years such that your car seat actually expires and your insurance won’t cover expired car seats. Not. Convinced.

But I am convinced that kids and babies should be in ’em.

“Our cars don’t come with seatbelts.” Now you’re just fucking with me.

I’m going somewhere with this rant: the right thing, the safe choice, the best behaviour doesn’t have to be required. It doesn’t have to mandated by law. I DO see people driving around with their kids in car seats. Fools. There’s no law.

And every day, everywhere, most of us do things we’re not required to do. We pick up the lids from the neighbour’s trash bins, we stop our cars to let the kids cross, kids call “Car!” and move their hockey nets and soccer balls off the street, we turn down the music (mostly) after midnight, we visit the grieving son, we take dinner to a family who’s under pressure, we celebrate excellence – wow, those Olympics – and we welcome our twenty-year old Olympians home with an impromptu national holiday.

Or at least we do in Trinidad. This is Trinidad.

We do more than is required. Everywhere.

And so we should. And Nissan should start making cars with seatbelts.

About the author

Kelly Diels I'm Kelly Diels. I'm a writer. I've written for Salon, Jezebel, XO Jane, Problogger, Write to Done and more. I'm currently working on a book about The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand. Interested? Please subscribe to my newsletter and I'll share more thoughts and chapters with you as I write them. You can also find me on Facebook and yes please, please do.