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Finally... a bridge over troubled water

End of swimming across river by St Mary South East residents

BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
Staff reporter
hendrickss@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Only against the backdrop of the growing climate problem can one fully appreciate Jamaica's pristine rural landscape. The scenic ride to Chesterfield, St Mary last Wednesday, for the official opening of the newly erected Chesterfield Bridge was cause for reflection on the need for sustainable development in Jamaica.

In the current scheme of things, rural communities are especially considered underdeveloped. And indeed, they are!

Fourteen months after Prime Minister Andrew Holness visited Chesterfield and promised residents that a bridge would be built to relieve them of the vagaries of the Wag Water River, which meanders through the community, the people rejoiced that the well-needed infrastructure was finally in place for the first time in over 50 years.

“A di best thing happen to wi inna St Mary,” one resident, Neville Lee, told the Jamaica Observer.

“Over these years, there was no bridge and wi haffi walk through water fi cross the river. Now that the bridge is there, people can drive and park them vehicle and the schoolchildren can cross safely,” Lee said proudly.

Downy Whyte, one of the elders in the community shared his excitement with the Sunday Observer. “I've been around for 72 years now and mi glad fi live fi see this bridge here. We respect the prime minister. Anyone that does good we have to praise them,” said Whyte.

Meanwhile, David Hunt, another resident standing close by, struggled to find words. “I feel so good I can't even talk. “We used to haffi swim when river come dung fi cross. Nuff time people get wash weh, di river gone wid them,” said Hunt, donned in his green 'politics' shirt with the face of St Mary South East Member of Parliament (MP), Dr Norman Dunn printed on the front.

“Regular mi have people pon mi back a carry them through the water. The prime minister come cross and see how we a try. We feel so good about Andrew Holness,” he added.

Before the ribbon-cutting ceremony, residents, some from the neighbouring Castleton Gardens community, gathered around a makeshift platform, where the various stakeholders addressed the crowd.

Dennis Edwards, president of the Chesterfield Citizen's Association, also sang the praises of MP Dr Dunn and the prime minister, for making good on their promise, underscoring how long he had waited to see a bridge in his community.

“This was my whole aim and objective from I was a young man, and now I am old and grey. This bridge was one of my only thing to see in Chesterfield because a lot of you know what we have been through without a bridge. This is a historical monument that plant here in Chesterfield,” said Edwards.

“The history came in 2016 when the history man, Mr Norman Dunn, came across. From 2016 it was all over, but it never all over yet, until the big man come, Andrew Michael Holness. Give the prime minister a round of applause,” he signalled to the cheering crowd.

Meanwhile, Dunn, himself a native of the parish, gave an emotional address, referring to the residents as his “friends and family”.

“No longer do you have to remove your shoes, roll up your pants, or stay with a family member when it is almost time to have your baby. Now you can walk, run or drive into your community and beam with pride. Now you can speak about your community with confidence, and when you are taking a taxi or bus, you can say 'dung a Chesterfield bridge, let mi off',” Dunn said to a rousing audience.

The MP underscored the fact that the bridge was just the first in a number of infrastructural and other forms of development needed in the area.

“Our intention wasn't just to build a bridge so that people could cross or avoid crossing the river. Our ultimate goal is to provide the basic infrastructure that will enable residents of Chesterfield to build and develop your community, so that you business can grow and expand, so that young people can attend school to get a quality education, to find a job, build your house on your own land and not by the river side, to park your car in your driveway and enjoy the benefits of prosperity sweeping across Jamaica.

“The building of this bridge is now done and the work of development must now begin,” said Dunn.

The smoke from wood fires carrying the scent of goat head soup (mannish water) and other treats was clear indication that residents were in a festive mood.

Farmers who spoke with the Sunday Observer recalled years of having to wade through the river carrying loads of produce on their head.

One lady, stoking the fire under a pot of curry goat shared vividly that “crocus bag wid breadfruit, and plantain, and banana nuh easy fi lift cross river”. Marcia Hunt, a native of Chesterfield spoke of the trials that farmers faced over the years with a river separating them from the main road.

“We are going to be doing more farming and more selling now that we have the bridge. Vehicle can drive in and come to the farm to pick what we plant,” said Marcia. “Before, we had to struggle to get across the river with the goods that we produce. It was difficult to get across when the river came down. We have to be swimming and struggling through the water,” she added.

Schoolchildren as well, though accustomed to navigating the rugged trails, spent many a rainy day away from the classroom because there was no way to cross the roaring Wag Water River, and the only other way out was a three-mile trek to the neighbouring Castleton community.

Jamaica, afterall, is a developing country. Its lush hillsides don't match up to the glamorous metropolises of the north where it so desperately wants to go, and the majority of its lives are far from convenient.

But how ironic is it that the preservation of the natural environment is the direction the world needs to take in order to constrain rapid change of the climate. Small developing States like Jamaica are way ahead of the game when it comes to sustainable development, not because of intentional government policy, but a mere result of its history.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness alluded to this history in his address to an adoring crowd of Chesterfield residents, noting that the ad hoc manner in which communities have sprung up across Jamaica over the past 100 years, without Government intervention, cannot continue.

“That has been a feature of Jamaica for the last century or more; that communities have just emerged. That cannot be the way that Jamaica develops going forward,” argued the Prime Minister.

“You are typical of many communities across Jamaica. You have found land. Some of you have family land and you have decided to build your communities in some of these areas, quite without any Government assistance, without any Government planning, without any Government regulation. You had to find your way for your own shelter and survival,” Holness reasoned.

Jamaicans, especially in the rural parts, have lived sustainably for years, fed and watered by the earth's natural resources as required, yet as a people we endeavor to have the trappings of the developed world, essentially heading in the opposite direction of sustainable development.

The prime minister raised a profound point but failed to make the historical connection to the fact that after Emancipation, the white colonial state never made any formal arrangements for the ex-slaves to own land to begin with. Our ancestors had to settle on the 'what-left' parcels, forming their own communities and free villages, their only assistance coming from the Baptist Church at the time.

During his address, Holness was joined on stage by Angela Davis, the woman to whom he made the direct promise on his first visit to Chesterfield.

Her words took the proverbial cake for the evening:

“Yuh mek di promise dat when yuh come back, you will be coming on di bridge. And I can take my two eye and see yuh dis evening,” said Davis as she pulled on her bottom eye lids for emphasis. “Wi glad today and for di rest of our lives. The river can always come down now. If di river come down we can tell di river goodbye,” said Davis, motioning with a wave to a cheering crowd.