July 18, 2022
Others thought I exaggerated wildly in my description of corbeaux and half-naked boys wrestling over discarded meat. I wonder if I had added to creatures I saw foraging for food the biggest hogs I had lain eyes on among the “gladiators” in that putrid “gayelle” that was the “La Basse”, what they might have thought of me: a writer whose imagination had gone wild?
No, friends. What glimpses I gave of the districts we now know as Beetham Estate and Beetham Gardens were understatements, those who know the area better than I do will tell you. As part of a vast wetland/swamp that ran along most of the west coast of Trinidad, this one closest to the capital city, its maze of canals, watercourses and sand banks making it a kind of mangrove jungle where only its inhabitants dared to venture.
So when, in the early ’70s, the government announced it was going to raze the shacks of Shanty Town, back-fill the swamp and establish a new community, Beetham Gardens, no less, trust me to open my big mouth in protest: no, you cannot house human beings in such sub-human conditions, certainly not close to the La Basse. Sure, they had chosen to live there in squalor, many of them salvaging waste that they could sell and earn money.
But no government should legitimise such co-habitation of man, beasts and solid and liquid waste, that had the sickly stench of a lake of untreated sewage, which, when combined with the equally foul stench from the nearby distillery at the eastern end of the relatively new Beetham Highway, was pure punishment to the thousands of commuters who must travel that route morning and afternoon and ordinary citizens who resided in their proximity.
Of course, Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams, who all but owned the voters who lived in the La Basse, and in other slums in districts such as East Dry River, Laventille, Water Hole, Cocorite, swatted me aside as if I were a pesky bum-bum-fly.
I argued that here was an opportunity to educate the people on the dangers of living in toxic environments. They sneered at me: you go tell them that, bellowed Cutty Joseph, Dr Williams’s numero uno pot-hound. They knew, and I should have known, that the lure of a free government-funded house was, for any slum-dweller, too attractive to decline, mattered not where it was built.
To access the city from anywhere in the East, where approximately 80 per cent of the country’s population lived, one had to use the Eastern Main Road, which was the main artery for many decades. There was, too, the Lady Young Road, which, in turn, relied on the Eastern Main Road for feed. And between 1949 and 1956, The Churchill-Roosevelt and the Beetham were added. Also, until the late 1960s, when the railway was withdrawn as a mode of transport.
By the time I got into a war of words with the PNM over the establishment of what was, in reality, a bricks, mortar and galvanise slum, what none of us noted—not government, not I, not the residents—was that from a national security standpoint, these slums were strategically deployed such that they controlled the Eastern gateways to the capital city, which were, in fact, the keys to the master-lock.
While the political romance between the new “Messiah” and the plebs had all the excitement of a Calabash Alley soap opera such that the lovers exchanged cuffs as much as they did kisses. But when it soured, when the government could no longer guarantee on-time payments and increased “chile” support money, and most of all after the “chile fadder” passed on and left such matters to a parade of step- and foster-fathers who never understood why that relationship was so important to the survival of the party, open warfare had erupted between the offspring of the many affairs, and the executors of the estate.
In other words, people, failure of the second- and third-generation party leaders to honour the unwritten agreements between the now-deceased generations of those unholy dalliances and, worse, the emergence of the “gangsta” culture that has descended on us all like a misguided missile from American gang-culture-gold-ropes-around-their-necks, fine coats that have no place in our hot climate, and their must-ride-expensive-wheels, their live-high-work-nowhere lifestyles, have combined to give unto the population the full fury and gross stupidity of what has been unleashed on the population in recent times.
Factor in displays of reckless lawlessness for the right fees and you end up with mercenary bastards who have no loyalties, no direction, no sense, common or capital, and you see the enemy that has come home to roost, and what we must fight, head-on… or die like cowards.