Who will review Our Legacy?

Well, we know where we’re goin’
But we don’t know where we’ve been
And we know what we’re knowin’
But we can’t say what we’ve seen
And we’re not little children
And we know what we want
And the future is certain
Give us time to work it out
Road To Nowhere, Talking Heads

The sting of the pepper in the aloo pie numbs my nose to the stench of gas and the wall of heat coming from the road. I wonder how many pollutants I’ve eaten with my snack. School is just finished and the crowds at the roadside stalls in Debe are filling up.

There are two endless lines of traffic on the main road. It is hot and bothersome and the threat of rain makes the heat more intense. There are no trees on the main road. It is noisy and lively and bustling. Off the main road the community is quiet. In Gandhi Village—one of the communities that is supposed to get moved to make way for the government highway—few people are home yet.

I can’t imagine that if I lived somewhere like this I would ever want to leave. But the truth is that traffic makes me uneasy. I dislike it a lot and go to great lengths to avoid it; including spending most of my working life avoiding doing a job that would require me to get to work at a time when everybody else is rushing to get to work too. Not everyone has that luxury or that tolerance for brokesness. So I understand why most people just suck it up and deal with it.

At the top of the hill in Gandhi Village, the air is cool and fresh, the breeze is perfect. The community recreation ground is unoccupied, overlooking one of the highway construction sites. There isn’t much work going on there, from what I can see.

Workers are liming under tents. Some are digging trenches. But there isn’t a typical construction buzz. I’m relieved because I don’t want Dr Kublalsingh’s efforts to be in vain. I don’t want the attempts of the JCC to be wined on by callous contractors and an even more callous Government. Who skin their teeth in your faces and then do what they want to do regardless of what they have promised.

But down on the main road in Debe, where there are no trees and no fresh breeze, the people are saying they want a highway. The people say they need a highway. The people say Wayne Kublalsingh don’t know what he talking about. The people say, if the price was right and they were getting a nice house in Westmoorings, they would give up their land too.

The people say that they believe what the Government say that this is the price we have to pay for development. Because our idea of development remains concretisation and destruction. Trees are counter-development. Wetlands are counter-development. Community is counter-development. And all the multi-million-dollar improvements made in the past ten years have had lasting impact on the traffic situation, right?

And wider roads are a guarantee of less traffic, right? And less traffic will change the laissez-faire attitude to timeliness that is so much a part of our culture, right? And all the cars we have make our lives easier, right? One wise woman comments: everything has a positive and a negative. One wise woman ponders what will be the lasting impact. One wise woman wonders what the social impact would be if she had to pack her jahaaji bundle and move somewhere else.

Tanty Kamla is concerned about what generations to come will inherit. I wonder if Tanty Kamla considers that in the future, when the oil runs out and we can’t afford to spend hours in traffic on wide roads that we can’t afford to maintain, if our great-great-great-grandchildren will not say, hey, what about a functioning public transport system?

I wonder if our great-great-grandchildren will not judge us harshly for not using some of the oil money to investigate sustainable energy sources that are so readily available here to run a mass transit system on the existing roads?

Meanwhile, on the other end of the highway, on the La Basse end, the people are saying that they want development too. The people are asking why they continue to be ignored. The people are asking why they are treated like a problem to be managed rather than a question that starts a conversation that leads to a lasting solution. They are not going on hunger strikes. They are not prepared to die. Maybe they are prepared to kill.

Education that doesn’t teach us to be good citizens. Tall buildings that are empty of motivated people. Highways leading to nowhere. What a legacy we are leaving to the future. Who is going to do an independent review of that?

Published in the Trinidad Guardian December 8, 2012

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