Diamond in the dark


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Category: Trinidad Politics Date: 10 Mar 02

Our annual saturnalia this February did not succeed in doing what most of us hoped for desperately. By Ash Wednesday, neither were we distracted from the unsightly sight of our two leaders locking horns, nor did our long-festering rot, manifested now in our mass production of stupidly violent vacuous young men, disappear magically like a piece of tinsel in the Savannah dust.


We have been left in the lurch, living with the spectre of a country that is slowly unravelling, looking on helplessly at the wooly heap of our haemorrhaging potential. In this tangle, where colours run into one another haphazardly, we see the hope, literacy, productivity and innovation of our young people crumple up into young people behind barbed wires, preparing to use their cutlasses on fellow human beings as carelessly as they would split a coconut, sitting in jails or tawdry rooms, devoid of soul, consumed by rage and greed.


In another little heap, just as messy, we watch with growing dismay and disbelief at the utter lack of social conscience with which our leaders and those to whom we entrusted our taxes, our future, our lives, have misused our precious Treasury (which treasury in the developing world isn’t precious?) which they have pocketed, wasted, poured, pillaged and literally poured down drains.


Close to this corrupt heap, we see the victims - a parched, collapsed and damaged people who, with just a portion of those funds, would have been able to exercise basic human rights: Clean water, nourishing food, health care, long-term jobs. With just a portion of pillaged/wasted funds, politicians could have exercised their responsibilities; facilitated students to go on to secondary and tertiary education, thus ensuring our human capital, without which we all fall down like a house of cards, is intact.


They could have ensured that our young women are educated, so instead of depending on a man by getting pregnant for him, they can fulfill their potential as human beings, become economically self-sufficient, and contribute to the world, rather than forage from its garbage dumps.


They could have provided single, working mothers access to crèches and day care centres for their children so they don’t hurtle into the void unsupervised, and have an equal opportunity to make something of themselves.


Just a portion of those misused funds could have done that.


Instead, all Carnival did was toll alarm bells in the midst of crowds flowing like rivers down our streets, telling people to keep their guard up from murderous knives. The rot has seeped into our celebration.


Operation Anaconda sounds great, but until Parliament is reconvened, until there is a budget for the measures suggested, from increasing police presence to building communities, it will remain a band aid on crime.


But I have always maintained that all darkness carries its own diamond, flashing points of light out of which human hope is fashioned.  One such flash came in the form of a town meeting I attended at the Chinese Association by the Cascade/St Ann’s, community. It was their second such meeting.


The residents of this community had enough. They could no longer look on helplessly as their community haemorrhaged, unravelled. Their ‘protection committee’ mobilised its residents and got the MP for the area, Agriculture Minister John Rahael, to listen to their concerns first-hand. It was an explosion of democracy at its best. A solid, unified unit of more than 400 people speaking out.


A woman spoke of the unsanitary cemetery opposite her home that resembled a dump, hadn’t been cleaned for months and reeked with the stench of dead bodies dug only two or three feet. Young men repeatedly told their elders they don’t want to be criminals, and hate been looked at with suspicion. They pointed fingers at the business community, at the politicians on the podium, saying that by failing to create long-term jobs, they were creating the “demons of crime”.


A woman spoke of a street written off the maps, isolated, riddled with potholes, plagued with flooding, devoid of drains. Another spoke of an overflowing drain swarming with mosquitoes, breeding disease.


An older, articulate man, who had been unemployed for almost a decade, demonstrated the fight not to go over the edge: Become a tout, or vagrant. Women and men spoke of inadequate lighting, power cuts, congested roadways, broken pavements, crime and unemployment.


A man spoke of the enormous role Servol had played in taking thousands of youth off the streets, teaching them skills and integrating them into society. He urged politicians to pour funds into existing institutions to solve social problems, rather than attempting to score political points with new, unworkable ideas.


Almost everyone at that town meeting spoke of their disillusion with politics and politicians - of the fact that they no longer felt politics had anything to do with the people of this country at all. It made you think - multiply these problems with every community across the country - of how deep the rot has gone, how removed politicians are from reality.


But in these residents’ fight to reclaim their community - in their hands reaching out to one another, businessmen calling for the creation of a skills bank, women calling for mobile medical facilities for the elderly, the strong speaking on behalf of the vulnerable - I witnessed hope out of hopelessness.


With little stitches of purl and plain we can knit together a country, empower ourselves, and demand change and accountability the way the Cascade/St Ann’s residents did that day.


Flashing points of a diamond in the dark.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur