The last leadership team at The Wire, at front, left to right, Andrea De Silva, Sandra Chouthi and Cordia Gibbs.
At rear, Irving Ward, Mark Lyndersay, Alva Viarruel. Photo by Karla Ramoo.
I just stood there for long minutes, watching her chest rise and fall in a ragged rhythm.
This was Sandra Chouthi’s final battle in a life that had held no shortage of them.
Her eyes were closed, but her face still was in the grip of that fierce determination that I’d come to know well over the three decades we’d known each other.
Her body was failing her, finally crushed by the cancer she’d battled so long, her life preserved by a thin plastic line pushing oxygen into the mask that covered her face.
Three hours later, she would slip from unconscious into the finality of death, her time with us, barely two score and ten, now over.
I’d met Sandra on the first day I showed up to work on a project at the Trinidad Express in 1994.
She had just returned from doing her first degree in journalism, formalising her commitment to the career and I’d just ended my relationship with the Guardian under difficult circumstances the year before.
For both of us, in retrospect, it was a bit of a reboot.
“I’m told I have to give you some stories,” she told me with a wry grin and a cool stare.
“Great,” I responded. “What do you want to write about?"
It would be the first of several Carnival souvenirs I’d do for the paper, back in an era when covering the event meant not just photographing, but also documenting, with some effort at seriousness, the key characteristics of the year’s celebration.
I’d signed up to write, photograph and paginate the thing, which would be published on newsprint.
Pretty much everything about that previous sentence was a bad idea and it showed in the final product.
Oddly enough, it was working on that project, abysmal failure that it was, that made Sandra Chouthi my friend.
She loved hard work, and she genuinely admired tilting at windmills and I suspect that watching me preside over that catastrophe struck some kind of resonant chord in her.
Now this was the Sandra of considerable hotness. Despite acne which had scarred her face, she wore high heels, tight skirts that showed off her beautiful legs and sported long flowing hair.
She was gorgeous, and I was smitten.
For most of the first fifteen years I knew her, our friendship consisted of talking shop, flirting and discussing the many strange twists and turns our lives had taken.
Eventually, the flirting would diminish and disappear.
I loved that girl, but not everyone you love is meant to be your lover, and you can end up blessed with a true friend.
And Sandra was an amazing friend.
She would drop everything to dash off and be helpful to someone, and I wish that more of us, myself included, had taken the time to be as generous with her.
When the Guardian decided to experiment with a daily tabloid paper, she was one of two people I made it my business to recruit from The Express, along with Andrea De Silva.
There’s a popular misconception that in launching a newspaper, or indeed any media product, that you need heavy artillery to make an impact.
It's nice to be able to bring in some big cannon to level the competition, but what you really need are the journalistic equivalent of M60’s with overflowing magazines.
People who can lay down quality work on a consistent basis that keeps your competition ducking.
At The Wire, Sandra began as a reporter, eventually took over the post of Features Editor and during a couple of really difficult moments, sat in the Editor’s chair.
I won’t lie and suggest that these moves were easy for her.
Never convinced that she had fulfilled her potential working where she was, she was often reluctant to step up and took such promotions with reluctance.
When The Wire was shuttered, I tried to make sure that all of the folks who wanted to stay on got jobs that were commensurate with their efforts and sacrifices.
Sandra moved over to the Guardian and began migrating to business reporting, which agreed with her.
Her promotions at The Wire ensured that she would carry an editor’s rank, and she would eventuallyy become an Associate Business Editor.
She deserved more promotions for her work, but after taking ill with cancer the first time and beating it into remission, I think she also wanted more out of her life.
She always had.
A steady relationship and a child always seemed to drift just out of her reach, and we spoke sometimes about the two big relationships of her life, both of which ended in disappointments.
We’d drifted into a fraternal distance over the last ten years, not least because of the infrequency of my visits to the paper, but her desk was always one of my favorite spots when I visited.
Sandra Chouthi had come to such an empowered place in her life when the cancer flowered again in her.
Given time, she might have explored more aspects of her writing, made decisions about a family, pursued more of her personal interests and yes, I’m sure, become an advocate for cancer treatment in this country.
But time was what she did not have. I think of her life as I knew it, the steadily rising arc that her painful, ruthless illness cut short so abruptly.
She was not a sad woman by any means. Sandra filled her life with enthusiasm and immediacy.
Right now and right here were matters to be dealt with fully.
I wish she had more time to realise her dreams.
I wish that I had been a better friend to her.
And I truly wish that she finds peace in a better place.
She worked hard, and she deserves it.
April 14, 2015
So no, I'm not shaving my head because I'm going bald. I'm doing it because the boss lady likes it, and it saves me from even the pretence of a hairstyle I'd been sporting for the last two decades.
That cut, ideally executed every three weeks, was an even, no fuss trim with clippers.
For all the reasons offered here, that came to an end.
This photo was taken after seven razor-free days in Tobago, which now tells me how long it takes to go from freshly shaven to my old cut.
Basically, I have to shave to make myself presentable before every public engagement, which works out to about three times a week.
If you think stubble looks grimy on a face, it's about ten times as scrappy on my head.
After getting some great advice on my last post about my earlier experiences, I've settled on a regime of shaving gel for regular shaves, gel for major assaults on the hirsutism of laziness and the five blade is razor as my preferred instruments of follicle harvesting.
The only catch in all this was the staggering cost of replacement blades.
These razors may be affordable if you have lovely soft hair, but my stubble is brutal, particularly on my head. After a few shaving sessions, I'd start getting the telltale snagging of a razor past its prime.
Fortunately the boss lady sent me this important tip from Instructables, which has extended the life of my blades from just over a week to months.
Moving forward, that website will be the focus of all my BitDepth postings, though the archive here will remain the definitive collection of the column for anyone trying to find past installments.
Have a look at it to see what I've been up to, particularly if you have a serious interest in technology developments in Trinidad and Tobago.
It's early days yet and many changes will come over time as I develop the project.
Mas Colloqium Talk: One. Then five to fifteen.
Video: Carnival Stakeholder Conversations
BitDepth#929: A Carnival Coda
BitDepth#927: Lessons from the Socadrome
Guardian Editorial for March 10: More transparency in Carnival
PhotoBlog: Why I have nothing to say about your Facebook Carnival gallery
BitDepth#926: Carnival's stuttering progress
Guardian Editorial for March 02: The Geography of Carnival
BitDepth#925: How I would fix Carnival
Guardian Editorial for February 26: Elitism or Entrepreneurship?
BitDepth#924: Carnival Copyright Redux
Suggestions to the NCC for accreditation improvements.
Narend Sooknarine's experience with the NCC accreditation team.
Local Lives #17, a look at the production process of the band Tribe on the occasion of their 10th anniversary, is posted here.
The gallery has been expanded with the new images and the stories that accompanied the photos are to be found here and here. It wasn't designed as a Local Lives installment, but the layout of the images was good and a PDF of the published pages can be found here.
Here's my very first piece of mail from Google. Oddly enough, the all-digital company insists on sending a hard copy card to a physical address to verify a business listing on its service.
Naturally, that document doesn't have the savvy of Google search, so it quickly ran afoul of the expertise of TTPost, who sent it off on a tour of El Socorro before finally bringing it home.
A Trinidad Guardian review of the live talk is posted here…
Juma Bannister's photo gallery from the talk is posted here. I particularly like his photograph of Guardian reporter Josh Surtees and myself, which makes us look like real tough guys looking for action.
View this and many other intriguing slides on Wednesday August 14.
On Wednesday I'll be giving a talk about my career experiences in photography and with all the related engagements I've had along the way at Antony Scully's new photography space, Studio 30.
There will be a vidcast of the presentation, as with all my other talks, but you don't get to ask me difficult questions in person that way.
You'll find the space here…
30A Warren St., Woodbrook
(Opposite St. Theresa's Church - Cor. De Verteuil & Warren Sts)
Refreshments after the session.
As someone who personally had a Muslimeen gun pointed at his head on July 27, 1990 while in pursuit of my duties as the first Picture Editor of the Guardian, I've got to say that watching Yasin Abu Bakr and his cronies stroll along the streets of Port of Spain escorted by the police, I felt a real annoyance and resentment.
But then, that's what we fought for back then. Whether it was manning a large gun in response to the insurrection or publishing a newspaper from a building frequently peppered by gunfire, the only civil response to terrorism is ultimately the practice of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, which include those that allow us to gather and represent our points of view, as unwelcome as they may be.
So Yasin Abu Bakr applies to the Police Commissioner for permission to march in the city, not only gets permission, but a protective escort. You may see affront. I see a success for democracy and free speech. We win.
Some other words on the subject...
A story for the Guardian in 2010 looking back on the coup attempt on its 20th anniversary.
A blog note from 2008, recalling the insurrection.
An editorial leader I wrote for the Guardian that year.
My review of Raoul Pantin's book on the coup attempt, Days of Wrath, written for the May 2008 edition of the Caribbean Review of Books.