Coughing Spigots

(MENAFN- Caribbean News Global) By Johnny Coomansingh

Recently, I spent over 72 hours in Valencia, Trinidad without a supply
of potable water. The spigots coughed in my face! I cannot yet explain my anger. To free my mind of its dross, I decided to pen my thoughts on this often woeful waterless situation in Trinidad. Let me be clear, this article is not meant in any way to support a political bias. Nevertheless, as Bob Marley rightly said,“Who the cap fits let them wear it.”

On August 09, 2024, I would have arrived at the 70-year milestone. For many of these years, I lived with dry taps. In terms of climate, Trinidad is in the rainforest belt. The country soaks up a whopping 120 inches of rain in the town of Sangre Grande where I was born. With all that rain, at some point in time, there has always been a short supply
of potable water in many districts.

If some people have accepted and have become accustomed to the flagellation from the public utility known as the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) that's their business. I am in no position to make them change their minds if they ' it so.' I am not a party to that belief. I will digress a bit here. Josh, my elder son reminded me that the acronym WASA actually means 'Workers Against Smooth Asphalt.' With enough satire, he added that they are more interested in the 'Sewerage' aspect of their portfolio because the whole situation with a regular supply
of potable water stinks! WASA digs everywhere! I don't mind their digging, but they are known to leave massive potholes in their wake, much to the chagrin of commuters.

As a 'carrier of water,' I started at the early age of four. I was tiny but I struggled to carry a one-gallon paint can full of water that I fetched from a standpipe at the corner of Picton and Ramoutar Streets in Sangre Grande. I was a good boy and I figured that one gallon of water was plenty to help my mother with her laundry. When we moved to Adventist Street there were two public standpipes, one located about 50 feet west and one 500 feet east of us. Our little adobe house did not have indoor plumbing. Invariably, we had to tote water from the closer standpipe.

A functioning standpipe in Mission village, Toco [Photograph by Johnny Coomansingh]I was more or less, an insignificant part of the crowd that came to this faithful standpipe. Sometimes there would be long lines as we waited our turn to get a bucketful of the precious commodity. But then there was Ralph! He was our nemesis. Ralph would leave the standpipe at the corner of Good Hope and Roopsingh Streets to come bathe under“our” standpipe. Ralph did not care who was waiting to fill up. He just ignored all of us while he took his long-winded bath under the spigot. As we all know, 'every rope has an end' and Ralph's presence at this standpipe ended. My big cousin, 'who eh 'fraid nobody,' accosted Ralph during one of his baths. He told Ralph to leave immediately and don't come back on this block. We never saw Ralph again.

That was only one episode in the 'movie.' The line jumpers who were also big, bad, and arrogant were always present. Little guys like me had to just 'pull aside and park.' They pushed me aside to go first. I was too little to fight back. Waiting became part and parcel of the fabric of my mentality. In my childish reasoning, I could not understand why 'dey cut off the water' so often. I know now. WASA rations water, especially during the dry season. For the seven years I lived on Adventist Street there was always a lack of water at some point. After Adventist Street, we moved to Boystown (Upper Sangre Grande), then to Sukhram Village, and finally back to Oropouche Road where I was born. At all these locations, WASA remained unchanged with their locking-off activities.

My elder sister who lived in the southern town of Point Fortin actually 'ketch hell' without water every day. At that time in her life she had 12, yes 12 children, and without water, she had no end of trouble. About six o'clock one morning she saw a WASA officer, one that Trinidadians labeled as 'pipeman.' When she saw him turning off the water supply
she hollered:“It's you, that is making my life's you! Yuh should ded! Lo and behold, the motorcycle-riding pipeman died that very morning. He was knocked down by a vehicle and died on the spot.

Eventually, I grew up, got married, and became a father of two sons. Taking up residence in a newly built house in Allison Park, on the Southern Main Road, Sangre Grande was my next move. And O yes, we encountered water supply
difficulties there too. If I did not have a tank and a pump then my life would have been most miserable. I have always said that if someone wants to get rich really quick in Trinidad all he or she has to do is sell water tanks, pumps, and pipe fittings.

My story about WASA got worse. In 1990, I left my job in the Ministry
of Agriculture to take up a position in the Trinidad and Tobago Petroleum Company (TRINTOPEC). My job site was located in Santa Flora in the deep south of Trinidad. After a few days, as far as the water supply
was concerned, I realized that I had jumped from the frying pan into the fire. The potable water situation was even more terrible than in Sangre Grande. One homeowner in the village of Los Bajos told me that he waited for over 15 years for a drop of water to flow through his plumbing system. I guess that he is still waiting for a drip.

I first lived at Beach Road, Palo Seco then I moved to Santa Flora. The water problem remained the same. Leaving Santa Flora I came to live in Siparia. I moved again to Thick Village and nothing changed. Water supply
was always the problem. In one instance I found a running standpipe in front of the Fyzabad Police
Station. My two sons and I filled up our buckets and started bathing. What happened next was amazing. A female police officer left her warm desk, came to the fence and told us that we were breaking the law by bathing near to the standpipe. I told her that she is free to arrest us. She looked at me and walked away. My question is why should the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago be suffering for a reliable supply
of potable water? For crying out loud, we are blessed with a rainforest climate, a place where rain falls in abundance resulting in terrible floods that destroy property.

In 1995, I left the Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago (PETROTRIN). I studied in the state of Kansas for eight years and there was not one day that I heard a coughing spigot. Not one day! Kansas is in the rain shadow of the Rocky Mountains, a place that is arid, '...where the skies are not cloudy all day.' We even had a swimming pool in our backyard. The area of Kansas is 80,000 square miles. Trinidad is a dot on the map with 1841 square miles. It means that Trinidad could fit into Kansas 43 times. So why is Trinidad and Tobago in such dry and dire straits?

Because of career development, I moved from Kansas and then to Missouri, no problem with water. I went up to North Dakota, no problem. I am now living in Delaware and still no problem. I guess Trinidad and Tobago is now relegated to fourth or fifth-world status because of the unreliability of a daily supply
of potable water. Many would want to argue that our country is a rainbow country, a land of festivals, a location on the map where wining and jammin' is never in short supply
, and that 'God is ah Trini.' That's enough hoopla than we could take! I have come to terms with the eternal and everlasting problem. WASA continues to advertise, 'Take Shorter Showers.' However, if there is no water, if our spigots are constantly coughing, WASA should seriously focus on a“Do Not Bathe” policy.

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