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T&T patriotic frenzy converts into dollars for local merchants
Hurling his javelin, Olympic gold medal Keshorn Walcott, 19, set Trinidad and Tobago in a frenzy on August 13. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar remarked residents in the north western peninsula who were affected by floods paused and sang the National Anthem on the historic day. Walcott’s victory coincides with T&T 50th anniversary celebrations. These twin events have prompted a surge of patriotism and nationalism in this small island state.
National flags are spotted sprouting from people’s cars. Official buildings are draped with the red, white and black colours. It is wrapped snugly on columns. There are zig zag buntings galore at malls. Citizens are registering their support and solidarity by purchasing national flags, bangles, T-shirts and memorabalia. There is a renewed sense of optimism. Both proprietors and hucksters reported a surge in sales of national bric-a-brac and mementoes.
At Khemlani’s, proprietor Raj said: “We have started seeing a big upsurge. Trinis are always last minute. A lot of people are coming in for a miniature flag. Even little tokens for the children. But I would say next week would be the big bang.” Quizzed on whether it was due to Walcott’s win, he said: “Yes. It does have something to do with it. We are all proud of him. People were gearing up for Independence. They were coming in. There is a bigger influx.”
His shop boasted the novelty item—windmills turning in red, white and black colours. Casting his eye in the direction of a windmill guarding his cash register, he said: “It goes for $49.99. People are putting it outside their homes. It is eyecatching. It is just waiting to catch the wind.” Among the myriad of items being sold were flags from $9.95 to $15, bangles ($35) key chains ($6.95), T-shirts ($59.95 to $75) and belts at $49.95. The steelpan fetched $135.
He also noticed several Trinidadians living in the North America who returned for the August vacation were purchasing souvenirs. One such customer was Queen’s New York resident Stacey Charles. Gushing about how excited she was to be in town for the Walcott celebration, she said: “I spent about $600. I bought items for friends..like pen holders and a big map with the clock. I am proud to be a Trini. I will take a drive to Toco (Walcott’s hometown). When you tell people you are from Trinidad, it’s real swag. They say “You all like to party. I say lime (dialect for hanging out).”
Walcott a hit on Charlotte Street
In never ending line, vegetable and fruit vendors at Charlotte Street, Port-of-Spain, draped the red, white and black flag on their stalls. Port-of-Spain mayor Louis Lee Sing and the City Corporation had bequeathed the fabric to them. They were groaning with cassava and freshly sliced pumpkin. Random checks with the vendors like Glenda Mutroo revealed they were immensely proud of Walcott. They complained about relocation since their produce got wet when the rains fell.
At the mere mention of Walcott’s name, they erupted into euphoria. Having calmed herself sufficiently, Diane Williams said she had noticed an increase in the sale of die. She said: “Yes. I think it is because of the Walcott medal. I think it has to do with Independence. “I sold about 40 die at $20. each. People are putting them in their cars. They are buying it for their children. We are selling flags at $20. Throwing caution to the wind, she said: “Sales have gone up by 100 per cent.”
At East Side Plaza, Shirley Bobb said she had checked a San Juan supplier for flags. But she had been unsuccesful. While she was proud of Walcott, she felt the shoddy treatment meted out to remaining Olympians marred the true meaning of Independence. “At the same time...they should have focused on the other guys too. We had people like Lalonde Gordon from Tobago. It didn’t look good. We had to celebrate everyone.” Apart from waving flags, citizens like Hope Melville wore a red top and matching bangles.
Small businesswoman Lorraine Smith stocked up on red shoes with red pom poms at $185 and red tops from $40 to $100. Unlike the flag sellers, Smith said: “Sales have been slow. I am hoping for it to pick up by Independence.” Stuck in traffic, retiree Christopher Hill said: “I am looking forward to Independence. I was a young man during Independence. It was the Dr Eric Williams’ era. It is a new generation...a Walcott generation.”
At Henry Street, huckster Kevin Phillip sold red, white and black bangles at $10. They caught the eyes of Maxine Wilson and her daughter Zarelle Maillard. Wilson said: “I am planning to spend about $100 on flags for Independence. I always try to cheer up the children.” At the busy intersection by the fast food outlet, Cherli Ann Marson’s flag was conspicuous. She said: “Yes. I’am looking forward to Independence. When we all came out to support Walcott, I did not see no race on that day. That is the way team T&T should always be.”
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