moon was full as we wound our way up to Laventille hill. We stopped
several times for directions from clusters of round-faced youths and
girls, chatting women, elderly men. “We’re looking for Rhonda Taylor -
the mother of the boy who died from the drowning.” Instant acceptance:
“You mean Carol.” They guided us up to her house on Picton Road.
road turned into a narrow dirt track and we went bumping along higher up
the hill and stopped short abruptly at the edge of a dead end that led to
a ten-foot drop. It was quiet up there. Not a soul in sight. No house
here. No song, or sob, mother or candle. No wake.
got out of the car and our first instinct was to look up, and across at a
sight that froze us with its beauty. Our gaze took in the panorama of
thousands of city lights blinking like fireflies on the inky landscape of
bush houses and trees, sloping down to the sea, now flowing with wavy
lines of yellow moonlight and back up again, where the water met the
bright navy sky. The trees rustled with a cool breeze, dappling the earth
and walls, with their shapes and shadows cast by nightlights. It could
have been the scene of a magical play or film except it wasn’t.
was Laventille - best known by those who don’t know it at all, for
badjohns and guns, viewed by the outsiders only through the harsh midday
lenses of TV cameras, of angry shouting people, protesting over their ten
day DEWD, URP, jobs, housing, roads or water.
we looked down in the drop we spotted the small house and veranda where
Jarelle Morris lived for the 13 years; where he babysat his two younger
siblings; from where he would clamber up and down to school, to the
grocery for milk for the baby, to the Picton reservoir for water to the
next door neighbour or grandmother when his mother was working. And it was
from around here that he and his little brother went with the
neighbour’s son, Kevin Sylvester to the Picton Hill Reservoir. Who knows
why? Because it was on the news and tugged at the boys’ curiosity,
because it was hot, because they were bored, because boys will be boys?
reservoir was invitingly open. No “danger” signs. No fence. Kevin
jumps in to retrieve his jersey, or take a swim, and Jarelle, already
small for his age jumps in unhesitatingly to help his friend and gets
pulled under by his friend’s frantic drowning hands. Jarelle’s little
brother runs all the way across the hill to his grandmothers for help. Too
late. He never regained consciousness. Ten days later he died. The dirty
water in the disused but still full reservoir had gotten everywhere -
until finally it filled his heart.
set off down the hill again looking for the wake. A woman holding the
hands of a small girl child told us, “Rhonda by she mother”. The irony
of it was hard to miss. This place with a badjohn reputation has a
stunning view with blue-chip real estate value. Rhonda lives and lost her
son in the cradle of a community where people walk fearlessly at night -
women, girls, children, sweet-faced boys with no anger in their faces, are
strolling, chatting, working, liming, haven’t stopped living outdoors
after dark. And in the “posh” areas from St Claire to Glencoe, people
have already barricaded themselves in, isolated themselves with
burglarproof and alarms not just from passers by but one another.
didn’t have to ask anymore. A winding street was lit on either side with
hundreds of flambeaux fire flaming out of mauby, Carib, softdrink bottles.
Laventille was mourning another son - the second in two weeks. We heard
the drumming so close that it got mixed up with our heartbeats, and saw as
we approached the house that it was a group of about 12 children - little
palms beating drums for their friend - not quite understanding the
enormity of what happened to him but like little men, paying tribute to
him in the way they felt was right.
greeted us, gaunt and glazed. She couldn’t eat, she said, because
everytime she picked up a piece of bread she saw his face, couldn’t
sleep because she and the baby and her son of five would curl up together.
yes, the rules are different for the people of Laventille, all right.
While her son was drowning she was working on a Sunday evening and people
still mutter they should have known better. Rhonda who is too stunned to
cry, who sounds confused saying one minute she couldn’t bear to go to
the funeral, the next wondering how she was going to pay for it, the next
wondering aloud whether she should just go see him in the funeral home,
and then wondering if a boy on a slab in a freezer is her big son.
wasn’t even given the courtesy of being told about his death first. She
heard her Jarelle was dead on the radio when she had come home to rest,
change and then go back to her vigil by her son’s bedside. No family
with means would have put up with the indignity of running to the hospital
to see their child being wheeled off to the mortuary.
acknowledge openly that Laventille people can be aggressive, yes, they can
be brutal, guns are stored here, men can go wild, but look at the brutish
world they fight everyday in small and big ways. It is not quite said, but
implied in the way things are always about Laventille, in that delicate
but malicious stepping on egg shells way that there was carelessness on
the part of the boys, on the part of the guardian.
them I ask: how do you expect a community that has been subject to so much
insidious contempt, neglect and stigma to have the resources to keep their
sons safe and gainfully occupied? How can you help a people to help
themselves without giving them the tools to do so? Why wasn’t the water
of the reservoir drained if it was no longer in service? Why are some
reservoirs around the area filled with faeces? Why are people using the
reservoirs like a liming place, to play football and cricket? Where are
the fences and the signs? Who baby-sits the babysitter’s children?
mother families rule here, fragmented families. But the women, more than
anyone else in this country, understand that in the law of the jungle you
have to survive first, think later. Children grow up fast here. They
don’t have the luxury of being protected. But see the beauty in it. The
integrity and courage of a small 12-year-old diving in to save a
16-year-old friend. They don’t pay lipservice to brotherhood here.
this jungle, which you associate with brutality lives the sort of
integrity you will never see in suburbia where cruelty is masked with the
thick cosmetic cream of money and power. With the boy’s drowning we saw
first hand that if you’re poor, without connections, how people with
money and power have the power to shut you up and they do it all the time,
everywhere. And then we wonder at the backlash. And cower from it.
we wound down the hill I thought the human spirit triumphs even stronger
here - not in fearful flickers - but orange and yellow flames rising high
out of discarded bottles.