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Wine, Trini, wine

By Raffique Shah

LAST weekend, the City of San Fernando marked its whatever anniversary in a most unique, creative and celebratory way: it held a Carnival, complete with music trucks, Jouvert, thousands of gyrating bodies, barrels of alcohol, parade of bands—the works, if you get my drift.

The (pretend you have a lisp) city Mayor, young Navi Muradali, was so excited over the success of the two-day mas, he promised a bigger and brighter "Sando Carnival" next year.

Not to be outdone or outshone, Culture Minister Lincoln Douglas lent his full support to the Mayor's inspiring initiative, presumably meaning Government funding for yet another "wine-and-jam" street party.

As I watched video clips of the (insert lisp) City Carnival, knowing that Trinis need merely to hear the beat of a "big truck" to swarm the streets like flies, I sat in a chair and wondered: are these politicians for real? Do they think before they take action, before they conspire to spend public funds on wasteful bacchanalia? Does this country not have more than enough Carnivals, fetes, festivals, public holidays that, cumulatively, have a negative impact on its productivity?

San Fernando is a city only by proclamation. On the ground, it's close to a cesspool, with stinking streets and dirtier drains, a mishmash of modern edifices surrounded by derelict structures, a waterfront that could churn the stomach of seasoned fishermen. San Fernando does not need a makeover, it needs a renaissance. It requires radical surgery that would excise the eyesores and replace them with spaces and structures that would enhance its environment and refurbish its soul.

It takes visionary leadership to conceptualise such radical ideas, to begin the process of restructuring not just San Fernando but just about every community, every district in Trinidad and Tobago. Try to think of the oases that are pleasing to the human senses: they are few, almost exclusively upscale residential enclaves and a handful of heritage sites. Mostly, the rest of the country stinks— poor roads and poorer pavements, litter strewn everywhere, dog turds assaulting the nostrils, stray animals and derelict human beings at every turn....

I do not mean to come down on Mayor Muradali any harsher than I would chastise Port of Spain's Louis Lee Sing or other keepers of the gates of all our municipalities. However, I think he would have earned the respect of many in the society if he had used the anniversary to mobilise burgesses to clean up the city. He could have devoted one day to dispose of heavy junk from households and public places, and another to focus on litter collection and disposal.

True, such exercises would have hardly attracted the hordes that "wined and jammed" around the music trucks, but that's my point. If this country is to become a better place, productive, focused, minimal noise, citizens shaping a future that we see in some foreign lands, we must have visionary leadership that is strong enough to buck the "wine-and-jam" culture that has all but consumed us. Why must we have "big trucks" belting out ear-shattering noise (not music!) for everything we do?

This trend bothers me. I was a pioneer in putting people on the nation's roads to run— for healthy fun, fitness and competition. Young and old would run the 26.2-mile marathon in serene surroundings. Some years into that event, we introduced rhythm sections, tassa and pan music, at intervals, to showcase our culture (to foreign athletes) and to give tiring runners a boost of sorts. Similarly, in 10Ks and 5Ks, one could hear only the tramping of runners' feet and watch the determination in their faces. Nowadays, I note that several such runs or walks have "big trucks" thrown in, transforming healthy activities into mock Carnivals. Why do organisers feel they must add noise to every activity? Has some study shown that Trinis cannot function without "wining and jamming"? Must we introduce jamming at workplaces to enhance productivity, redefining the national work ethic?

Time was when a political meeting was an event people attended to listen to parties or candidates speak on their policies, programmes, plans and achievements. No meeting was worth it unless there were hecklers, often a lone, drunken voice, but sometimes, a nest of ants that stung the speakers. Hecklers are an extinct species. Nowadays, no political platform is attractive unless it has "feature artistes", tassa, rhythm section and not to add those annoying noisemakers that are distributed to big men and women who must make fools of themselves. The message, I guess, is in the noise.

Against this backdrop, the use of noise and wasteful expenditure to win popularity, Mayor Muradali was just going with the flow. Up north, in the Savannah, the Minister of National Security or the Commissioner of Police (one cannot tell the difference) staged a $4.5 million "family day" for the people of Laventille and environs. I don't know that the event served any useful purpose since few families chose to attend. Most residents had more important issues to address: putting food on the table, doing the weekly cleaning or getting their children ready for school.

Instead of inviting residents of the depressed communities to a fair-cum-fete, the ministry (or police) could have used the $4.5 million otherwise. For example, they could have mobilised 9,000 unemployed persons from all the districts in a weekend clean-up exercise, paying each one $500. That might have motivated them to have some pride in their environment that would be more enduring than two days or an outing in the Savannah.

I am not suggesting that the "Laventille problem" can be resolved with $500 in a few people's pockets or that one can work magic over a weekend. I argue that as Government, as a society, we must move past the Carnival mentality, not use it as a shackle that stultifies our productive potential.

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