Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mourning has broken

No, I didn't have a spelling boo-boo, it's deliberate. This morning, as I walked up Coronation Street in St. James to the usual coffee pit stop, I had the distasteful experience of having to step over a human being lying like so much detritus on the pavement. It was distasteful on so many levels; that a man could be reduced to less than my dog, that as a nation stumbling towards what we call development, we still have not found a way to treat with our dispossessed. That this man, lying on the pavement, being studiously avoided by pedestrians disgusted by his scent or by his disheveled self; had lost his humanity. I thought he was dead, he didn't seem to be breathing, other people were parking their cars, averting their eyes and hurrying into the coffee shop. I stopped to check if he was breathing, hoping that I would not have to make the call to someone to say there was a dead man on the pavement. After what seemed like an age, his ribcage moved and so did I though I wanted to turn back and head for my car.

Walking up Coronation Street is like navigating a minefield many mornings, the outcroppings of human waste lying wait for the unwary pedestrian. If, like me you have permanent nasal drip and a resulting impaired sense of smell, the sharp odourous ammonia and shit smell clears it up like nothing else. I walk with my head down, looking at where my feet go, not where I am going. Hanging my head in shame that this is what we must resort to maybe.

Do I feel guilty paying for my almost twenty dollar cup of coffee and sometimes a bagel while my fellow man lives on the pavement? It is not guilt, more an abiding sense of weariness, that for all the talk, we as a country still do not get it right. The guilt is not because I buy expensive coffee, I have few other real vices and work hard for my money, I don't have to justify to anyone how I spend it; it is that I feel powerless when confronted with the reality of the dispossessed and wonder what more I can do. What I do to assist the dispossessed is no one else's business, it matters not how much of MY time or money is directed there, I do what I can.

When someone takes Government office, they enter into a social contract with the people, to look after the country's resources on their behalf and to provide services to them. It is not a paternal relationship but one based on an ideal of social responsibility. The definition of a developed nation is one that has regular supplies of water, electricity, adequate roads, schools and hospitals, social services to those in need, care of the aged and those incapable of caring for themselves. This is why we pay taxes, this is what Government revenue is supposed to do. And yet....

The proliferation of vagrants in St. James is not unusual, there are several who are "regular's known to businessmen and householders in the area. That they have been allowed to persist for so long is in itself mind boggling. Downtown Port of Spain has it's own problems, it hurts to see the homeless sitting on the pavement outside Greyfriars Church of Scotland, the sheen from their unwashed bodies staining the grey wall black. You avert your eyes though you cannot escape the smell. It is bad that when I walk from the carpark every morning, I must brave the uneven, broken sidewalks or that I am fearful when I return in the evening, the desolation and creepiness of the poorly lit floors, non-working elevators, fleeing up to the seventh floor to my car, afraid that I will be mugged by the young punk who's stared me in the face, calculating how easy a mark I might be. Dodging the piles of garbage waiting to be picked up and avoiding the homeless has become an added layer.

You find that in order to survive and not be constantly wracked by blind despair, despite yourself, you become inured and find yourself learning to turn a blind eye, but despising yourself for it because this is not who you want to become. Someone who does not care. And that is when you know.....

8 comments:

Gabriela García Calderón said...

As usual... very insightful thoughts from you. I am speechless.
And thinking.

Wuzdescene said...

Wallah ... leh meh tell yuh ... how vivid ... this piece is ... yuh had meh blockin meh nose ... while ah was readin it ....

it's sad tho ...

HPD said...

Excellent piece sister. It kills us inside doesn't it? Not being able to not think about it. And knowing we are powerless. We tinker around the edges and wish we didn't care. But it kills us inside knowing that we care and try and do the little we can. And having to make the choices that sometimes we can't and we have to step over the bodies. Aah sister... That's why we drink our coffee. Because it helps us bend down next time. It gives us strength beyond that first sip. It gives us strength to hang our heads and live another day. Never stop drinking that coffee. Never. Because you need it as much as that person needs breathing. It keeps you sane a crazy f.. world. I'm going to have a cup now and think about you.

AA

Marcus the Coffedude said...

Slightly off-topic but shows nonetheless the depths we have reached in our disdain for what could make Trinidad a beautiful place to live.
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/13/garden/13trinidad.html

N.B. Anyone who has followed Ncholas' crusade would be happy to see that he has gotten the recognition of a paper of no less stature than the NY Times.

Marcus the Coffedude said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marcus the Coffedude said...

sorry but the previous link was truncated. The .html was dropped.

this should work
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/13/garden/
13trinidad.html

Coffeewallah said...

Gabriela, it's easy to think too much, even when you don't want to.

"Scene, this is why I don't like to go out into Port of Spain

AA, more coffee please

'Dude -we fight to move forward a little every day.

ColinAlston said...

As a former minister of Greyfriars Church, now living in Australia, I am saddened that life in Port of Spain has become so much more difficult. The dilemma of dealing with such poverty used to face me every day, moving between Maraval or Federation Park and Laventille or Frederick Street was only heightened by the fact that as individuals we can help so little. Also we are all involved in the struggle to find a little comfort and beauty for our own lives at the same time. It was a privilege to work in Trinidad that I will never forget, and I forever admire the spirit of those who live there still and overcome with honesty and courage the challenges life poses you at every turn. Bless you all.