Charles Kong Soo
“If you hear of a plague in a land, then do not go into it. If it happens inland where you are, then do not go out of it.”
Araby Ali, the owner of Araby Ali’s Doubles in Barataria, quoted the above Hadith from Prophet Mohammed on treating with the plague in the seventh century and said the right thing to do during the COVID-19 lockdown is to stay home.
On March 26 Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced that from midnight last night all non-essential activities will be curtailed until April 15, 2020.
The Ministry of Health announced the second COVID-19 death in the country on Friday and later that day National Security Minister Stuart Young listed the services and businesses that were considered essential; doubles businesses were not among them.
Yesterday was the last day his customers were able to have the popular delicacy and iconic T&T breakfast staple at his establishment at 71, Fifth Street, Barataria, as his and other doubles establishments will be forced to close during the two-week coronavirus clampdown.
The humble doubles consisting of two bara and filled with channa (chickpeas) is a popular street food that is enjoyed by all strata of society–from the wealthy, businessmen in suits driving luxury vehicles, professionals, blue-collar workers, school children to the poor.
It is normally eaten at breakfast, but also for lunch and as a late-night snack after a fete.
The cheap and affordable doubles has kept many UWI students, whose parents sacrificed everything for their education, alive. Some nutritionists say the channa is a good source of protein, vitamins, minerals and fibre, people on a flour-restricted diet or the health-conscious skip the bara and buy a bowl or cup of channa instead. There is even a whole wheat bara and it has evolved into gourmet doubles with exotic meats such as alligator, chicken, beef, duck, goat and seafood. And there is a variety of what can only be called sides instead of chutneys.
Doubles has spread its wings overseas to countries like USA, Canada, England and other countries in the Caribbean.
Lines of loyal customers and their cars parked on the roadside by Araby Ali’s Doubles, maxi taxis parked on the bus route are usual occurrences especially on Sundays for the delicious fare, which includes saheena, baiganee, pholourie, cheese and aloo pies.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed all that, however, the blackboard chalk message where the tables and chairs would normally be drives home the grim reality for social distancing “Take away only. Call-in service available: 620-8292. Business has fallen by 50 per cent due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking to Guardian Media on Friday, the penultimate day before the cessation of doubles sales Ali said “The closure will have a major impact on my business. I have mortgage to pay, children to mind, my youngest, Zakiyyah, is 12, my father, Anwar, is 79 years old and is ill, my mother, Korisha, is 71 years and is a heart patient.
“I have a staff to pay, including my children, Ameera, Arifah and Arif who are in the business and a geriatric nurse for my father who needs round-the-clock care.
“I will have to close for the next 14 days and put catering on hold. I am a law-abiding citizen. It doesn’t make sense if I come out to work and nobody is coming to buy if they say only so-called essential persons can come out and the rest of the people have to stay home.
“Rich people from as far as Westmoorings, the not so financially well off from Caledonia, Laventille, police and members of the T&T Defence Force, I don’t know if I can cater for the security forces after Sunday, and even some down-and-out people also depend on me for a little breakfast.”
The third-generation doubles maker said he will err on the side of caution and do his part for the greater good of the country in the long run.
Ali said to achieve this, Trinidadians had to take COVID-19 seriously as was done worldwide.
He said these people didn’t listen to what was announced at conferences or understood the gravity of the situation, with irresponsible citizens breaking quarantine procedures.
Ali said some people also broke the rule regarding social distancing when they bought doubles and sat by the roadside to eat them.
He said he did not support a complete lockdown of the country, but the Government had to do what was necessary to contain the coronavirus.
Ali, a devout Muslim, said it will be challenging to adjust to not having to get up at 1:30 am every day to prepare the doubles for a 5 am opening time for customers, but will spent quality time with his family, praying, watching movies and exercising.