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'Mi sorry mi come back'

Elderly couple who lived in England for 50 years lament lack of piped water over the past four years

BY HORACE HINES Sunday Observer staff reporter hinesh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, May 11, 2014    

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GRANVILLE, Trelawny — Leonard Sterling and his wife Beryl spent more than 50 years in England working with one goal in mind -- to return home to Jamaica where they would enjoy their twilight years.

Just over nine years ago, the couple finally realised their dream and moved into their house atop the Maxfield area of Granville, overlooking picturesque Falmouth and nearby communities.

But now that dream has become a nightmare, and 78-year-old Mrs Sterling is regretting their decision to return home.

Why?

For the past four years they have been unable to receive a reliable supply of water.

"Mi sorry mi did come back," Mrs Sterling lamented in an interview with the Jamaica Observer. "You can't get water; a thing like that, and knowing where mi leave they would look after senior citizens. These here don't care whether yuh old or not, nobody bothers about that.

"Some of our friends... they think wi mad when wi said wi were coming back and when they now hear about the water, it worse."

Mr Sterling, now 81 years old, does not regret coming home. However, he admitted that the lack of water is making their lives difficult.

"We returned to relax, but a jus' the water, the water, man, it bad. What mi want is just the water, nothing more," he said.

His wife, who has been confined to a wheelchair after suffering a major stroke in January this year, said the difficulties associated with the absence of water contributed to her illness.

She lamented the fact that she is unable to assist her husband, who drives two miles to a standpipe to fill containers with water.

But regular lifting of the heavy plastic containers full of water is now taking a toll on his shoulders.

"I have to go out there, fetch it, carry it come and lift out the jugs. I'm 81 now and I have to do these unnecessary things. On account of this my shoulders ache," Mr Sterling complained.

And although he has employed someone to assist his wife, he does house chores, such as preparing meals every day.

"Her illness cause the situation to be worse because I have to look about her sometimes. I look about breakfast and everything and I have to go for water and come back. If the water was here, no problem. Three years, near to four years I am doing the same thing... tired now... I am an old man," the senior citizen lamented.

Mr Sterling pointed out that initially when they returned from Sheffield, England, the water supply was adequate.

However, the problem surfaced after the main which carried water to the area was removed.

Checks by the Sunday Observer revealed that National Water Commission (NWC) workers were allowed to lay the main pipe -- which transported water over a steep hill to customers at the top of Maxfield -- on private property.

However, after the owner, who allegedly gave permission, died and his widow was about to sell the property, she asked the water supply company to remove the water main from the middle of the land and run it to the side of the property instead.

After more than a month and her request was not met, the woman was left with no option but to get plumbers to remove the pipe.

When contacted, Julia Gordon, the NWC's community relations manager for the western region, said checks with her legal department revealed that there was no agreement between the utility company and the private property owners.

She noted that in a bid to return water supply to the affected area, the NWC ran pipes from another location. However, while customers at the lower gradient of the slope get water, the pressure is not strong enough to take the precious commodity to those premises further up, including the Sterlings'.

Gordon, who stated that the NWC is looking at implementing short-term measures to alleviate the problem, was, however, unable to provide a timeline for implementation.

In the meantime, the distressed Sterlings are accusing the authorities of being uncaring.

"Nobody matters. I go to the politicians, I go to Kingston to complain to the water commission and after four years they still not doing anything about it," Mr Sterling complained.

He said he was told by NWC personnel in Kingston that arrangements would have been made to fill the water tanks they have on their roof twice per week. But, he said, at times for months he does not see a water truck.

However, the Sunday Observer was told that there is only one water truck assigned to the parish, which not only services drought-affected communities in Trelawny, but others outside the parish. That truck, we were also told, has been down for nearly a month now.

In the meantime, one of the reasons that have caused the Sterlings such discomfort is the fact, they said, that while they were in England they were frequently approached by interest groups who influenced them to return to Jamaica.

"Every time they have meeting up there telling us to come back. They didn't have to tell me to come home because I was coming home if God spare me life. So we came back home, we built our home before we returned and it was all right," Mr Sterling said.

However, in addition to their water woes, Mrs Sterling said she is disappointed with the conduct of Jamaicans she has encountered since her return.

"People were loving and we used to respect our elders, and kind to each other, and look after each other's kids, but now it come een like mi come a different country. It come strange to mi," she said. "It's not like the Jamaica mi know when mi growing up. It's different."

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