Laventille, Then & Now #4 | My Perspective | San Diego Lee

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Part 4:  Laventille, Then & Now | My Perspective | San Diego Lee

Story by Sandiego Lee, written by Santiwah

I was wondering about the best way to close this segment about how life was on the hill 'back in the day; I decided that the following is the way to go. I had a dream last night and in that dream, there was this beautiful African lady sitting on a bench slumped over with the palms of her hands covering her face. When I approached her I realized that she was someone I knew when I was a child. Her name is Laventille and there she was crying and bemoaning how her friends have all given her such a bad name... a reputation that she feared could not be easily corrected.

She told me that she feared that the sickness that has tainted her friends and made them zombies of ill will forever ruin her reputation. She claimed that the reality of today was not the way it used to be, so many years ago, but most people thought that was the case. She was sad and sullen and even though I tried to console her I realized that her love for the hill and the life she lived, so many years ago, may have been lost forever. I woke up in a sweat and could not breathe. I felt Laventille's pain but I am lost regarding what can be done to save the name of a place that was once my childhood playground.

Laventille has a very bad reputation today; but did you know that is the same way people, who did not live in the area, thought about the people on the Hill when I was a child? However, that is not the Laventille I knew as a child. That bad reputation was so far away from the truth in those days. I am not stating this here today simply to make the Laventille of years ago look good. I am making the statement because it was the truth; to state it simply, Laventille was not different from any other area in Trinidad. The reputation and bad name that was given to the 'Hill' was not a reality during the period of my youth.

As an example, I can recall that on any carnival Monday or Tuesday (to emphasize the point) one could have walked through Laventille and realized that place was a ghost town! I bet ninety-nine percent (99%) of the residents were in Port of Spain frolicking and having a good time.  Do you think that homes were truly secured then? People were not worried about thefts or home break-ins. Normally, a few older folks were at home and a very few folks who didn’t give a 'blue-tooth about carnival carried on like it was just another day on the hill. The point is that everyone felt safe and was not worried about losing valuables; believe me, that is the way it used to be during that period.

I am not saying that the society was free of thieves or the odd fool who would commit a dumbfounded act but everyone knew the fowl thieves in the neighborhood. To be honest I am sure they were playing mass or in 'Town' (City of Port-of-Spain) drinking rum.  Yes, I know what you are thinking but the point I want to make is that there were no break-ins. Laventille then and today from what I have been hearing is like night and day. As a child, I knew of two killings in Laventille, one was a love thing and the other one was probably a disagreement between two guys.

There were people of all walks of life living on the 'Hill' from my recollections. As an example, we had neighbors who were cops, firemen, army men, postal workers, teachers, and nurses. As you can see there were people who worked with the government and people who were career-oriented.  The so-called badjohns never interfered with regular people. They gambled and had disputes amongst themselves. They had melees from time to time with their counterparts from other areas but never molested the villagers.  If as a kid you disrespected an elderly person and one of the so-called 'bad-john' was around you were guaranteed to get a 'tap' (on your head) and a warning to always respect 'your elders'.

The church was also central to life on the 'Hill'; about six months out of a year the Catholic Church in Laventille had a mass on the 13th day of those months.  Parishioners from all over the country participated in a pilgrimage up the hill to that mass. They accessed Laventille from all areas.   No one bothered those people.  In my experience, an accusation is worst than the truth/that which is a fact. Laventille was not what people thought it was, now it is and probably worst (just ask someone living there today). However, that's just the way it was in a lot of areas in Trinidad.

There are still many things to be said about my experiences growing up on the 'Hill'; however, those are stories for another day. Maybe I will find the time to write about the riots with a gang from the Tokyo (Steelband) strong-hold - that is an interesting story!

I believe after reading my story you may walk away thinking the following: Laventille was a normal neighborhood that was given an over-rated reputation for being a place full of badjohns and violence. One thing that you learned was that Desperadoes defended themselves and people when provoked.  How about the fact that Desperadoes in those days were two bands during the off-season, but became one united band for carnival. I will bet anything that there are residents in Laventille who do not know this! It was just a matter of time that the bands really separated. It happened and the upper half was renamed 'Serenaders'. I remember that during their first two years as an independent band they played sailor mass successfully and had large followings. When this happened, Desperadoes suffered as a mass band and were reduced in size for a few short years. 'Serenaders' was one of those bands that broke up and restarted several times.  However, Desperadoes became a force, an institution of the 'Hill' and on several occasions were panorama champions and triple crown winners to add to its many victories and storied existence.

I am sure that today that despite all the strife and tribulation and ill faith name 'Lady Laventille' can finally find something to be proud about... I wiped away her tears and reminded her that not everything is lost. There is still cause for hope because without hope there is nothing!

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