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Vaneisa: A matter of rights, responsibility, and respect for your neighbours

It was just after midnight, Old Year’s night, when fireworks pierced the roof and ceiling of my niece’s bedroom, landing on the bed where she slept. Fortunately, her baby son was not lying next to her as the noise and smouldering embers on her sheet woke her up, and no one was hurt.

Last year, on 4 January, I began my column with this paragraph:

‘At exactly one minute past midnight, as the new year was being ushered in with the ear-splitting sounds of fireworks, I heard a crashing noise by my back door. I investigated but could see nothing awry, until I looked down and saw wooden splinters on the floor. 

‘I looked up and there was a hole in my ceiling. A small part of the wooden slat was hanging loose, the rest lay at my feet. I still can’t tell what damage has been done to the roof itself, but it was clearly the result of fireworks.’

Image: A satirical take on the dangers of fireworks.

On Monday, in a letter in the Express (Page 14), DF Redmond wrote about the dangers and nuisance of fireworks in a way that went directly to the heart of the matter. I cite some of what was said:

‘[…] I am a retiree, I worked hard and paid my taxes for 41 years. My mom lives with me and she is 96 years old. I deserve to enjoy peace and quiet in my home every day. This is a simple basic tenet of existence that should be guaranteed to every citizen living in a country which prides itself as being civilised.’

The writer expressed frustration with the lack of any response from public officials.

‘Can anyone explain how could I have written about this issue two years ago to the Attorney General, the Minister of Health, the former police commissioner, the head of the Environmental Management Authority and not even got an acknowledgement?’

Asking for enforcement of existing ‘anti-nuisance’ laws, the letter ends: ‘This is my wish for 2021. Is anyone listening? Does anyone care?’

Photo: Fireworks can be traumatic for pets.

Every year, people lodge complaints about the air and noise pollution wrought by fireworks. Many have had their health compromised (my hearing was permanently affected by the noise from one Independence celebration in the neighbouring Aranjuez Savannah). Animals are endangered.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a pet owner, an elderly person, someone with an existing infirmity or a person with a low tolerance for the noise. This is what I think people do not appreciate.

What matters is that we all have the right to live without these infringements of our rights. This is not a matter that is restricted to those who complain; this is about all of us having rights, and it is about all of us having a corresponding responsibility.

It is what is at the heart of the headline—the absence of civility—and this is why I continue to raise my voice against this abuse.

What we see in our society is absolute indifference to the rights of our neighbours, the rest of the people who constitute members of our communities. Here are simple examples that are close to everyone’s home. 

Image: The noisy neighbour…

You live in a neighbourhood defined as residential, however humble it is. Someone sets up a welding and fabricating business and the entire street has to endure the sounds of grinding, drilling, sawing and hammering all day—often late into the night. What is your dilemma?

It’s your neighbour and you respect their right to earn a living; but it now destroys the peace and quiet of your home. You politely ask that some measure be taken to minimise the noise and the air pollution from filings blowing about. 

Promises are made, nothing is done, and eventually you realise you are being seen as unreasonable and that any attempt to seek relief is deemed hostile. You have become the nuisance.

Or you live on a street where men wash their cars daily, primping and polishing them while their sound systems rock your windows. It goes on at all hours, mostly at night. 

You ask politely that there be some consideration for the neighbours. Promises are made because you have asked politely, but they are not kept.

Photo: My home, my castle?

What do you do? You are made to feel discomfort in the one place that is supposed to be your refuge. Like DF Redmond, you have already complained to the EMA and the police about the bar on a parallel street that is also playing its music at deafening levels, with no response.

Over the years of useless complaints and polite requests, you come to the same conclusion that no one cares—not officialdom, not the people around you.

This absence of civility is what has come to characterise contemporary society. There is no care about the people with whom we cohabit. It is the thing that brings me the most despair about our space. 

I am aware that there are many powerful reasons why there is indifference and, even more disturbing, a rage against the tenets of respecting a civil society. The roots are evident in the question submitted by the letter writer: is anyone listening?

People feel if they are being ignored, they have no responsibility to contribute anything to the society’s development.

Image: The Environmental Management Authority (EMA) logo.
(Courtesy EMA.co.tt)

And when that anger is fuelled, it can descend even further into destructive impulses. Look at the US Congress. Anything can happen. 

Will someone please listen and act?

About Vaneisa Baksh

Vaneisa Baksh
Vaneisa Baksh is a columnist with the Trinidad Express, an editor and a cricket historian. She is currently working on a biography of Sir Frank Worrell.

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5 comments

  1. The permanent ” civil ” service and TTPS simply do not care about us the citizenry of our country.

    The Permanent Secretaries of the Ministries and the heads of places like the EMA and the Police seem to not be able to manage their people and hide behind the ” regulations ” as a ready made excuse for not doing their jobs in managing their people/staff.

    The authorities and most of all the top ” leadership ” of these various entities are not accountable to anyone and are luckily enthroned in permanent jobs and good pay for the jobs that they do and care not one hoot for the plight of the citizenry.. and the citizenry are so frustrated and worn out that they have given up in despair of most anything changing…not so?

  2. Vaneisa I agree 110% with your article, I would like add a foot-note to what your said I am originally from Gonzales P.O.S grew up in the 70″s I saw our neighbourhood change from a nice community with a lot of middle class people living there to want it has become today a Ghetto. In my time we put our garbage on the said days we supposed to played our music loud until 6pm. No one let there derelict vehicles on the street it was on there property and eventually carted away by POSCC. Around 1979 things began to change with people just showing up and buidling houses helter skelter on state lands . I clearly remember my grand mother saying why is the government allowing this, these people will devalue our property value ; at the time I thought that she was being insensitive for saying this. Years past I migrated my grand mother passed on. A few years later I would return for a vacation to Trini and visit Gonzales and low and behold the gravity of what my grandmother had said all those years before had finally opened my eyes and consciousness. The place was and eyesore derelict vehicles on the street, my old friends and neighbours live in a self in posed curfew. If there is a fire or natural disaster emergency vehicles would find it impossible to navigate the streets.
    Also there are the people who enable this as you said the guy with the mechanic shop, welding shop, the illegal bars when you report these people to the authorities .These people are quick to defend them and say “poor people more so black people not allowed to make a living” . No there is a right way to go about these things you can make a living within the confines of the law and not infringing on peoples quality of life. I often wonder how come there is so many bars within a certain square block of residential areas. Who is giving out these permits there has to be some accountability .

  3. Vaneisha, due to a neighbour’s construction I have had to endure many years of dirty flood waters flowing through my home during the rainy season.. We have spoken to every state agency there is including to DMRC, out MP , Ministry of Land and Rural Development and any and everyone else whom we felt might help. We eventually had to resort to applying to the Courts. Each court date gets cancelled and another date set. we have had to live through three more rainy seasons since beginning this process. So I completely agree that no one is listening and I have no respect for any of the institutions of this country and certainly the justice system is no better than any of the others.