Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Trini Tuesday-Gyul, Yuh Have Real Belly
The lady on the right is Hazel Manning, first lady of Trinidad & Tobago. The primary school we worked with was having a graduation ceremony and the director had arranged for Mrs. Manning to participate. The school was a private school that made special effort to work not only with able students but also those with handicaps or disadvantages. Mr. Lime and I worked in a squatter's village and had managed to make arrangements for 4 students from the village to attend the school while we continued tutoring others at home.
Mrs. Manning gave a short address and passed out diplomas to the students. After the ceremony the school director wanted me to meet Mrs. Manning. So introductions were made, the director explains about the students from the squatter village and our work there. Now, it is important to note that while the squatters don't own the land they live on, nor do they pay any kind of rent, they've been there in peace for a very long time. Squatter villages generally spring up on land no one cares about, property that has passed down through a few generations of titled foreign owners who aren't even aware they own something or just some empty, lonely chunk of land no one has touched for decades. The government was looking to resettle the squatters from the homes they had built, with planted gardens and fruit trees, to some barren chunk of rock with barely a green thing to be seen (keep in mind this is a tropical island...lush...green....you have to WORK to find a place that isn't green). The government was also going to build permanent housing, which sounds generous and I guess it is, until you realize it was going to be block houses with concrete ceilings under metal rooves, row upon attached row. I've been in houses like that in Trinidad...here's the scenario....tropical sun beating down on the nice concrete house with little ventilation and no trees to shade anything....BONUS! You can fry your roti on the walls! People, it's UNBEARABLY hot.
Mrs. Manning shook my hand and said, 'On behalf of my husband, the Prime Minister, I'd like to ask you to deliver a message to the people of the village. Please tell them to accept our offer of relocation, in their own best interest.' I paused for a second and responded, 'Mrs. Manning, I can't do that. The people there have pride in what they've been able to build with their own two hands and while their homes are not secure, they maintaining them and they have a tight knit community there. Whatever money your husband would spend to build human ovens on a rock would be better spent improving the homes that already exist, helping folks find jobs (which is what most of them want more than they want handouts), and making sure the children can get to school. I suggest you and the Prime Minister go spend time in the village and talk to the people there.' Mrs. Manning gulped and then took on the somewhat strained expression as the camera clicked to take the picture above. She left and the school director laughed, 'Gyul, yuh have real belly talking to the PM's wife so.'