By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 09, 2020
AFTER my article appeared in the Express last Sunday I received the following note: “Gd Mr Cudjoe. I have been reading your articles in the newspapers for a while and I want to invite to come and take a look at East Port of Spain where we live. My name is Aaron St John. I am 41 years old and was born in this city. It has not changed for all my life. It remains the same dirty, nasty undeveloped, unprotected and it’s only getting worse and more dangerous. Our lives are not improving and a deep sadness covers every home and everyone in and around the city.
“I want to invite you and also the media to come and see what we have been dealing with over 50 years—50 years of neglect. Our grandparents and parents some of them are already dead. They died of sadness, unhappiness, shame and bitterness. Please come and see for yourself and maybe they will listen to you or not but at least u would (have) done a great deed for your people, the children of slaves.”
I couldn’t ignore Aaron’s letter. I went to East Port of Spain to see things for myself. This is my modus operandi. The previous Sunday I referred to a report I did on Torrib Trace Presbyterian School in 2005 about the callous racial manner in which some teachers there treated black students. I spent about three days documenting conditions there. Lennox Sirjusingh concluded that black professionals, black children, and black parents and I lied about the conditions there because the “responsible Presbyterian Primary Schools Board of Education investigated and found no evidence of the allegation” (Express, February 29). Other people tell the truth; black people lie about their conditions.
I met Aaron on Wednesday. He painted a bleak picture of the area. He believed PNM failed to take care of its own. Other residents shared his concerns. He remembers two photos in his grandmother’s living room: Jesus Christ and Eric Williams. They were the twin leaders of his home. His grandmother kept a dried-up balisier in her home.
“It was wasting away, but she never throw it away.”
She never missed voting in an election.
He remembers: “When time come to vote she would rush to the polling station even though she couldn’t see very well. Such was her love for the PNM.”
Aaron believes his grandmother’s devotion was never reciprocated. They (the members of Parliament) never loved the people as the people love the party.
“Our parents should have fired them a long time ago. Our downfall in town is that we believe in the PNM so much that we accepted being deceived by them. For years, we have called evil good. But love has no colour, no gender, no race and the PNM does not show us that love.”
He continued: “We have four parliamentarians in Parliament (Fitzgerald Hinds, Marlene McDonald, Stuart Young and Adrian Leonce) but they do nothing for us. We don’t see them. We have no political clout in the party. Our schools (Success Laventille Secondary, South East Port of Spain Secondary and primary schools Eastern Boys’ Government and Eastern Government Girls’ are broken and under-protected. They are under-developed and under-performing.”
Aaron claims that the physical surrounding of these places leaves much to be desired.
He says: “The stench of faeces and urine around the school (South East Port of Spain Secondary) makes it undesirable for educating the young minds of the area. These schools have nothing going on for them. Homeless people walk around smoking crack. This makes things look hopeless.”
This neglect disturbs Aaron greatly. He pulls out a Sunday Guardian article from his bag which lists prominent men who came out of that area. They include Dr Alvin Hilaire, Central Bank Governor; George Chambers, former prime minister; and Clinton Bernard, former CJ.
Errol “Bush” Holder, a long-standing member of the community, says: “It hurts my heart to see what’s going on now…We can’t walk up Nelson Street now…because of the vagrants living in the river and we might catch a disease. It’s a shame to see how the place has become” (September 1, 2019).
This article reminds of what he considers a lost Arcadia.
I visited the area yesterday morning. I took a taxi to Duncan and Prince streets, walked across Prince Street, turned on George Street, turned on Charlotte Street and ended up in a Port of Spain secondary school. The stench on George and Cockton streets was suffocating but I persevered.
The friendliness, cleanliness and warmth within the school contrasted with offensive-smelling surrounding. Inside the school, I spoke with Dean Roger Martin, whose commitment to the school and his pupils are boundless. Colins Wason, a math teacher who offers his services freely to the children on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, says: “I come back to give something back to the country and the school.”
Another English teacher was studiously at work.
She attended to her students’ needs assiduously. She preferred to remain nameless.
I asked the dean what kind of assistance the school receives from its parliamentary representative.
I was told: “We haven’t seen Marlene in years. She has never come to this school and asked a question even though her office is on Piccadilly Street.”
I also asked what kind of assistance the school receives from its past students or members of the black community. The answer was in the negative. Representing one’s community faithfully or giving back seems to be a foreign concept to many of us.
Fortunately, the people within the school had other ideas of what constituted service. I will speak of those challenges next week.