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Snakes and leaders

Truly life is a game of snakes and ladders

So walk wid yuh own ladder and a couple of snakes.

      – Helen-Ann Elizabeth Wilkinson (Jamaica Gleaner, September 10, 2015)

By Tony Deyal

“Snakes and Ladders” is an extremely tough game. Every time you land on a snake and slide down, the odds are that you will land on another snake. It is then a matter of time before you hit bottom and if it is your bad luck to fall on a horsewhip, coachwhip, blue racer, spider tailed or rattler, you get your bottom whipped as well.

From what I hear, some men (and even women) pay good money for that. The good news is that if one of the ladders decides to get the “l” out of the game, it becomes an adder and would help you count the number of lashes you received. The bad news though is that most adders are poisonous and only the really old and sick ones have “ereptile” dysfunction. Whatever happens, you are “back to square one”, a term from the game of snakes and ladders which originated in India in the 13th Century as part of moral instruction to children. So when you hear the country’s prime minister being described in his nation’s parliament as an “anaconda”, it demonstrates that the children are so well educated they can tell the difference between that and a pufferfish.

If you think that “Snakes and Ladders” is tough, it is nothing compared to “Snakes and Leaders.” In fact, when I read that “The World’s Heaviest Snake Is A Trini”, I asked my wife whether it was the prime minister or the leader of the opposition. Her response was, “I’m sorry for the snakes! They don’t deserve to be in that group at all.” She then added, “I prefer to deal with snakes than politicians.” A snake is defined as “A long limbless reptile which has no eyelids, a short tail, and jaws that are capable of considerable extension.

Some snakes have a venomous bite.” A politician is described as “someone who shakes your hand before elections and your confidence thereafter”. As one comedian said, “Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better and more advisable to change the locks.” Or better still, “An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought.” So, what do you call a “snake politician”? A civil serpent. Actually, because of extremely poor leadership in most of the Caribbean, most of us are catching our asp.

Indranie and the comedians are not alone in preferring snakes to politicians. Even some politicians feel the same way. MP Andrea Leadsome, who was sacked this year by British prime minister, Boris Johnson, reflected, “Politics is a great game of snakes and ladders”. In her case she fell down the ladder while it was being kicked from under her. A Kentucky wit quipped, “Two-faced slithering snakes ain’t rare, not in politics anyway.” He was right.

Donald Trump used a song “The Snake”, written by an African American activist and musician, to fuel anti-immigrant sentiment. A Malaysia newspaper warned “Don’t fall for political snakes and their rubbish claims in the next polls.” An Indian newspaper advised, “Politicians are past masters of snakes and ladders. But it is now the turn of the people, who vote them in and out, to learn the rules of the game.” With just days to go before an election in Ireland, a newspaper declared, “Let the political snakes and ladders begin.” Actually, they never really ended.

I thought of a new version of “Snakes and Ladders” that would help people identify and catalogue the politicians in their countries. One approach is to divide them into types. For example, you can have “snakes in the grass” or politicians who deceive you with promises and feigned friendship. There was one in Central Trinidad who promised the poor people there that if they voted for him they would get water in their area. His crew dropped some pipes on the roadside to show he was keeping his promise. However, early in the morning after the elections his people returned, hastily loaded the pipes back on the truck, and were never seen in that area again.

There are “snake oil salesmen” who promise “Water for all” in a country where towns and villages, children and adults, go without water for weeks or even months, “better times”, or even “reductions in taxes” one that taxes both our patience and their credibility.

Actually, if you think Allan Stanford was the worst con-artist we ever had, any thorough forensic audit, or follow-up on the auditors reports of government mismanagement and waste in most countries, will prove that politics is definitely not cricket, If it were, a lot of our big-shots would be either bounced out, stumped or looking for bail. This is why I will consider the different types of snakes we have in the region and see who is fritting away our money or upon whom the fritillary (snake’s head) fits. Some of them are sure to go down in “hissstery” or “hisssterics”.

While that is happening, we have the mystery of identifying the heaviest Trini snake which is not politically aligned and is supposedly the world heavyweight. It is the Green Anaconda which is native to Trinidad and Tobago, can weigh hundreds of pounds, and is capable of taking down a jaguar if it grows to be large enough.” The article adds, “However these snakes while they might seem scary, are hardly ever visible to humans…” This is so true.

We all know that our politicians are even better than any Anaconda. Whether pounds, dollars or Swiss currency our politicians are capable of not just weighing but easily “lifting” millions. And they do not just take down Jaguars they also bring down, roll-off, and roll-on Rolls, Buggatis, Lamborghinis, Mercedes AMGs and Ferraris. More, the clincher is that all of us know that they are hardly ever visible to humans, especially those who voted for them.

However, there is actually a snake in the Caribbean and the Americas which gives me hope. The “Black Cribo” is not very dangerous or venomous to humans. What makes it not just a “Huntsman’s friend” but a true comrade for the rest of us is that it feeds on other snakes, especially the venomous ones like the Fer-de-lance or Mapepire Balsain. Seeing that it is not dangerous to humans, I sit here wondering how difficult it would be for me to teach the Cribo how to identify venomous human snakes and take them down. I know it is wishful thinking but I definitely won’t carp like my friend Copperhead who when he heard that the Lyre snake was four-feet long insisted, “It has to be a Lyre. You have to measure snakes by the inch because they don’t have feet!”

*Tony Deyal was last seen repeating a “Confucius-Say” – “Snake hide behind grass, politicians hide behind lies.”



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