By Raffique Shah
July 09, 2011
THE disaster that engulfed the Chaguaramas Peninsula last Sunday was a classic but toxic mix of skilfully marketed foreign “bull” and unmitigated local “dotishness”. That thousands of Trinidadians would knowingly subject themselves to torture, just to see other equally stupid Trinis “pilot” some crude “craft” that plunges into the sea in seconds, speaks volumes about our collective stupidity.
I imagine that those who found the event so attractive would point to the sponsors’ other “flugtags” having attracted even bigger crowds in countries as diverse as Austria, Britain, the US and Brazil. True. But are they suggesting that because stupidity is the lowest common denominator among fans of this stupid event, we too must bray because other donkey people do?
For the uninitiated, meaning all the smart people who stayed far from the madness in Chaguaramas, “flugtag” is an event owned and operated by the so-called energy drink, Red Bull. Competitors attempt to fly homemade, human-powered “flying machines” launched high off a pier or platform into the sea or a lake. Most crash as they leave the launch pad. Momentum takes a few beyond ground zero, and the “record” is said to be 200 feet.
Red Bull is a caffeine-and-sugar-laden concoction that is banned in several countries (Norway, Uruguay, Denmark, France, Korea and Germany, to name a few) because of health concerns. France was forced to lift the ban in 2008 (EU trade rules), but Red Bull had to exclude the ingredient “taurine” from drinks sold in that country. Owner Dietrich Mateschitz is not worried, though: last year his company sold 3.5 billion cans of “bull” in 143 countries, making him a very wealthy man.
But back to the “bull” that had thousands of donkeys trapped in hours-long traffic, and residents of districts in the west trapped in their homes most of last Sunday. Most officials in authority—the police, the regional corporation, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM), fire officers, Defence Force—claimed they were not informed of the staging of the event. I don’t know if they expected invitations.
I was informed. Hell, anybody who stays tuned to the media could hardly have missed the massive advertising campaign mounted by the event’s organisers and sponsors. The moment I learned of it, I warned all who cared to listen to stay clear of the West that day. At the time, I had forgotten about St Peter’s Day and Carenage, which is another traffic-horror-story that I fell victim to many years ago. For me, that was a punitive lesson in car-crawling that I never forgot—and never subjected myself to again.
But this is a free country, too free, I should add, and people can choose to engage in masochism, self-flagellation, death-wish, whatever, as they deem fit. When, however, their collective stupidity impinges on the lives and safety of others, that’s where the responsibility of those in authority comes into play. In this instance, residents from St James, Diego Martin and its environs, and those from Westmoorings all the way to Carenage, became hostages in their own homes.
The first agency that must have known about the event is the CDA. They would have had to grant permission to the organisers to erect platforms and other installations, and allocate them parking space. In the wake of the disaster that ensued, CDA Chairman Daniel Solomon boldly proclaimed the event a resounding success. I think this fella needs to have his head examined. He certainly is not Solomon the Wise.
How could the police not know when, days before, they issued a traffic order that there would be no parking or stopping on the Western Main Road between Glencoe and Chaguaramas? How could the chairman of the regional corporation claim or feign ignorance after the fiasco? And while the Defence Force camps are more widely dispersed today than they were decades ago, the soldiers and coastguardsmen stationed in Chaguaramas were severely compromised by the gridlock that rendered the entire west a “no go” zone for all of last Sunday.
As for those over-eager patrons who chose to “beat the heat” by boarding fishing pirogues, what can I say? I heard one victim complain about the vessels not having insurance or life vests. Is she from Mars? From what I know, fishing pirogues do not cater for passengers, so they are not obligated to have insurance. Indeed, if they do have life vests, these are only for the limited crews that man the vessels.
I sympathise with the families who suffered losses, especially those two young boys who drowned in their families’ desperate bid to reach the venue. They ought to have known better. But I guess when there is a madness to gladness, anything can happen. In this case, two boys paid the price with their lives. And the country moves on.
Bear in mind this massive gridlock came mere days after a traffic accident in Gasparillo paralysed one-third of the country. Those in authority also seem to be paralysed—stricken by their inability to forecast crises like the “flugtag mayhem”, grounded by their impotence to deal with them when they occur. And in the aftermath, they remain confident that the population would soon forget the fiasco as another one arises to capture our attention.
We move from crisis to crisis, most of them man-made, with consummate ease. Jah help us should nature decide to deal us a disastrous blow. Our mantra might well be: back to back, belly to belly, we don’t give a damn, we done dead already!