Sunday, October 28, 2007

Stella Says…Guyana is experiencing growing pains

by Stella Ramsaroop

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 28 October 2007)

I can imagine that the new zero tolerance approach to traffic violations will be difficult for a few people to accept, especially since some have become accustomed to a reckless type of behaviour on the roads and now must learn to behave in a different manner.

Everyone knows this crackdown on the driving situation is long overdue, but that will not make it any easier to swallow for those who are used to blasting music, driving at incomprehensible speeds around pedestrians and overstuffing mini buses.

This new reality will be a harsh wake-up call for some and a sigh of relief for others. There will no doubt be letters of outrage in the daily newspapers from drivers who were pulled over by a policeman for speeding. This is to be expected as Guyana’s roads transition from a pathway to carnage to a more civil and orderly conduit to work and home.

It is easy for me – an independent observer – to look on at such major transformations in Guyana and conclude that the nation is just going through growing pains. Also, it makes it all the more easy to see these growing pains since the small city I just moved to a year ago in Texas is going through the very same thing.

When the census was taken in this city in 2000, the population was about 4,500 people. When the next census is taken in 2010, it would be no great shock if the population has doubled – or even tripled. Yet the governing body of my new city, which is very resistant to growth and change, has done very little to accommodate this population explosion.

The result is that one traffic light, which almost everyone in the city must pass through to get to and from the bigger city 20 minutes away, creates a line so long during rush hour that it takes several cycles before a driver gets through the light.

Traffic lights are another type of growing pain Guyana has been experiencing of late. I can imagine it would be difficult to sit through some of those new lights when recent memory pulls up images of intersection passage without the delay of lights. Although the new lights make everyone’s passage through that intersection safer, there is a price to pay for safety – and it is patience.

The crackdown on those who have been acquiring electricity at little or not cost is another way in which Guyana will feel the growing pains. Electricity is not a mango growing on a tree in the yard; it takes money and energy to produce electricity. So why should the electric company be expected to give it away for free?

There might have been a time when cheating the electric company may have been acceptable (though still not right), but the nation is growing up and it is time to realise that like any other developing country, anyone who uses electricity must pay for the usage.

The new “Stamp It Out” consultation paper being promoted by the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security to finally address the over abundance of sexual violence is another example of how much Guyana is growing up. The young nation is coming of age and starting to tackle some of the responsibilities of progressive society.

I remember an occasion of grocery shopping years ago when my oldest son was just a toddler. He was sitting in a cart (there was a section for a child to sit) as I did my shopping. An older lady approached me and, after cooing with my son for a bit, told me as she pointed to the store floor, “Never let his feet touch the floor.”

I did not understand what she meant, so I just smiled and accepted her advice like any young mother should respond to advice from an older woman. However, it was just a few weeks later that I allowed my son to get out of the cart while I shopped. He ran here and there and I quickly regretted letting him down.

I picked him up and attempted to put him back in the cart, which proved to be quite a chore since he now knew the freedom of the floor. Every time I went shopping after that and went to put my son in the cart, I found a tantrum waiting for me. This meant I had to take the time to discipline him every time, but I was the one who should have been disciplined for not listening to the advice from the older lady.

My point is now that certain drivers in Guyana have been accustomed to driving like maniacs – to the detriment of so many others – it will not be easy to put the genie back in the bottle and expect them to start behaving like decent drivers who care about the lives of others.

This is why such a crackdown is vital to rein in the mischievous motorists. It might mean that responsible drivers will have to be tolerant of the need for increased police stops, but in time the driving situation will become far more orderly and safer.

The focus on enforcing orderly driving is just one more growing pain for this young nation. The adjustment to traffic lights is also a growing pain. The effort to force people to pay for the electricity they use is a growing pain. And the campaign to keep the streets free from littering is a growing pain.

One could moan and groan that there are too many pains to deal with at one time, but the pains only last for a few short months and – as long as there is equitable enforcement of these expectations – the nation will fall into a new groove with traffic lights, clean streets, and orderly driving.

Email: StellaSays[at]

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