Never sit on your laurels

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
June 13, 2024

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeIt was 2013 and the UNC (United National Congress) government decided to place a stadium and a swimming pool at the Orange Grove Savannah (now known as the Eddie Hart Savannah), a place that was used by “districkers” for recreational, health, and educational purposes for generations. Angry by this atrocity, the “districkers” of Tacarigua and the surrounding villages (Dinsley, Paradise, El Dorado, Trincity, and St Mary’s) took on government with all of its resources and prevented it from destroying one of the most idyllic areas in Trinidad.

Today, we are back to square one. The victory we felt we had won came back to haunt us under the guise of the PNM (People’s National Movement), the controllers of the Tunapuna-Piarco Regional Corporation and its immature chairman, Desell Josiah Austin, a self-styled “make-it-happen man”. Ironically, even the Minister of Finance, Colm Imbert, joined us in 2013 when we fought against the UNC government. Necessarily, this leads to the question: do these people lead on principles and conviction or by expediency and moral blindness?

Tacarigua has always been a disciplined, ethnically integrated and cohesive community. We might be one of the most diverse communities on the island. Africans live in St Mary’s Village; Hindus and Muslims live in Paradise and Dinsley villages. MP Alladin, one of Trinidad’s famous painters and a “districker”, describes Dinsley of the 1920s:

“There were 85 to 90 houses in the village with a population between 450 and 500…. Some 50 were Negroes and the rest, East Indians. Of the latter, about 30 were Muslims and the remainder Hindus, of whom no more than two dozen were of upper castes (Brahmins and Chartries.” —A Village in Trinidad

In the 1960s, the value of sugar dropped and the Trinidad Sugar Estates began to sell its lands. Home Construction Ltd, with a loan of just about a million dollars borrowed from Royal Bank, purchased the lands and started a building frenzy. Communities such as Beauliau, Trincity, and Paradise East and West sprang up, creating a semi-urban ambience within the village space.

Playing on the changing nature of the community, the government decided that it now “owned” the savannah and could do what it wanted with it. We thought otherwise. We fought and we won, thanks to the hard work of all the “districkers”. Initially, a few vendors sold their delicacies on Orange Grove Road, in front of the St Mary’s Anglican Church. Lack of sanitary facilities led the customers to urinate and defecate around the church. In 2016, discussions between Fr Anderson Maxwell, minister of the church, and Tunapuna-Piarco Regional Corporation officials led to the vendors moving to a parking lot on the southwestern tip of the Orange Grove Savannah to sell their wares.

What started with about 13 local (village) vendors quickly grew to 83 vendors, some coming from as far afield as Valsayn and Blanchisseuse. The corporation decided it was the “legal owner” of the savannah. Today, all sort of foods, mostly the fried foods, are being sold at the court. However, the corporation never took into consideration or provided for the proper disposal of food and its consequences. This has led to an increase in rats and the dumping of the oils into the most important aquifers in North-East Trinidad.

On Tuesday night, the “districkers” met to discuss these threats to our safety. Although chairman Austin was invited, he did not attend. Joyce Thomas, of Burnley Athletic Sports, a group using the savannah for over 75 years, said “the rat population has expanded greatly since the food court was opened on the Savannah” (Newsday, June 6). She has to fight the traffic and the vendors to train her athletes.

The Dinsley representative noted that the major challenge facing their club was people parking on their cricket grounds. In fact, on afternoons and evenings, the savannah looks like a gigantic parking lot.

Carol James, an eminent environmentalist, said “the savannah is being transformed into a disastrous environment”, whilst another representative from Pasea reminded us that “one litre of cooking oil can contaminate a million litres of water”. This is the greatest danger that threatens the savannah. Ten years from now, when the people of Tacarigua and its environs cannot get any water, they will only have their unprincipled leaders to blame.

Given the eloquence of the “districkers”, I only reminded them of words of Frederick Douglass, that gallant slave:

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.”

We may stand on the sidelines if we will, but Bob Marley warned us:

“When the rain falls, it don’t fall on one man’s house. Remember that!”

Our future is clear: constant struggle, constant agitation, and continuous community cohesion. It’s the only way to solve our problems as a society.

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