Wednesday 4th May, 2008

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Waiting for the rains

  • Remembering the rainy sea-sons of my boyhood.
  • Rain meant the end of the cricket season but also brought the start of the foot-ball season.
  • Much expectation for the rains this year.

I excitedly pushed the window of my study open last Wednesday morning when I heard the faint splatter of rain drops, saw the glistening roadway, made so by the rain.

In that kind of scary, surrealistic manner that twilight impacts on our senses, the same effect was had in the early dawn light.

The straw-coloured branches of the palm trees, fallen in the yard, contrasted sharply with the palm branches which somehow managed to retain some greenery through the long hot period. The brown of the branches looked so different, so out of place as the rain trickled down from on high.

Then the smell, you know the smell of rain, as it rushed through to my senses. Rain, I quietly screamed, notwithstanding my love for the dry season, is all about life, all about growth; it is renewal for the earth, parched brown and hard by the months of sun, unyielding to seeds in the ground, unwilling, perhaps incapable is the more appropriate term, of producing the food.

Then I felt this cool breeze coming down from the hills as if released by the moisture set loose by the rain. Isn’t rain wonderful? I remember the rainy seasons of my boyhood. The canals were flush with water, which meant jockey races with those slicked-with-candle-grease pieces of pallet sticks named after great horses such as Muskeetoon—which we of the 1960s never saw but just heard of—and Mentone, the great bay colt by Godiva’s Pink Flower, who ran the competition into the ground. But I am getting carried away.

But how could I not? June and rain meant the “Mid Summer” races in the Savannah. Yes the grand Savannah before it was denuded by the Philistines of this day with no concern for God and His creations. There I go again.

Nevertheless, June was the time when we trekked through the water and mud in the Savannah to scream ourselves hoarse for our favourites: Pepperpot, Water Lily, Solomon, New Moon, J’Ouvert, a sprinter trained by the Irishman Bobby Hardwidge to win the 1965 Derby over a mile with Nolan Hajal high in the saddle. The expert morning clockers were dumbfounded how this five-furlong sprinter could stay in front, making every pole a winning one for a mile.

The rivalry was intense with the Bajan-bred horses, not forgetting the Barnard Vincentians, the likes of Royal Colours and Match Point, and those great Grenadians, Starlight and South Star, and the occasional Jamaican, New Moon, already called, with a groom from Jamaica named Stanley Skeete, a colourful, hymn- singing man; the Jamaican duo adding Jim Lowe to the saddle.

I have to stop myself again from getting absorbed in one of the effects of rain.

Rain also meant, sadly, the end of the cricket season in the Savannah, but the continuation on wet, skiddy pitches—literally any piece of concrete available, none more so than those slabs of concrete down in the dry river by the Hilton roundabout.

Your bat speed had to be great to avoid the wet flannel ball skidding through to hit your stumps. Of course you had to also ignore the water from the ball in your face, the imperative being to keep your wicket in tact otherwise it could be a long wait before you get another knock.

However, rain also brought in the football season. Apart from the great games and competition in front the Grand Stand—there go the Philistines again, paving over sacred ground, now erecting stands on it—we had these great tussles amongst ourselves, with slide tackles in the mud being one of the high points of our lives. At least the forwards like myself enjoyed selling the backs a dummy in the rain.

Unfortunately, up to the time of writing, early Monday morning, the sprinkling of last Wednesday has proven to be a teaser. Yes, I am still feeling the cool breezes and looking to the, at times, overcast skies, hoping, but the rains have not yet come.

This year there is much expectation for the rains to reseed the culture of agriculture as the authorities have become, belatedly and only out of embarrassment, supposedly interested in planting the land again.

The ministerial seed trucks have moved around like circus caravans at the same time that agricultural lands are being cemented-over to facilitate the Government’s more imminent and popular home construction frenzy.

But I will remain unconvinced about the genuineness of the push to rehabilitate agriculture until the Government finds a means to quickly process the former Caroni lands and construct the infrastructure—irrigation, access roads, easy access to seedlings, to marketing arrangements, technical assistance to the farmers, serious police protection against those who would steel the crops of farmers, and all the other programmes of assistance needed by those who are committed to planting the land.

The big farms, demonstration, training and mass production, promised two years ago, almost, are the big-ticket items meant to have propaganda effect.

Unfortunately, romanticising about rain can no longer remain merely in the harmless idyllic. When a potentially disastrous hurricane season is twinned with just as portentous a phenomenon as climate change, we are shaken to reality.

With overheating of the atmosphere, referred to in the more gentle fashion as “warming of the planet,” we in the Caribbean, producing a mere one per cent of the greenhouse gasses disturbing the fine equilibrium of the atmosphere, are in serious harm’s way of rising sea levels.

The international climate change report does not use diplomatic language.

“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea levels,” states the report of the International Panel on Climate Change.

Environmental and meteorological sciences explain the interaction of these climatic phenomena involving increased releases of greenhouses gasses, wind, oceanographic currents, rainfall and the like and how they will impact on the planet.

“Sea level rise is expected to exacerbate inundation, storm surge, erosion and other coastal hazards, thus threatening vital infrastructure settlements and facilities that support the livelihood of island communities.

“By mid-century, climate is expected to reduce water resources in many small islands, in the Caribbean and the Pacific to the point where they become insufficient to meet demand during low-rainfall periods.”

I am sitting by my window and desperately hoping for the rains to come and to come in great quantities. At the same time there is fear and trepidation of what that will do to the flatlands of the Caroni plains.

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