It is 3.50 am in Tobago. Someone is having a party. A man shouts into a microphone, voice reverberating throughout the environs as he strives to be heard over the dull boom-boom-boom of soca, dub, dancehall or whatever genre of music is pounding like a pre-dawn pile driver.
It clearly doesn’t matter that the area is primarily residential. So what if people are sleeping? It is Thursday, a typical workday; time for them to wake up – that is, if those in closer proximity to the high-decibel festivities ever got to sleep at all.
Suddenly I hear the all too familiar, loud, dreaded pop-pop-pop-pop of fireworks.
I recall a sales rep at a FireOne Fireworks stall in Scarborough telling me late one December, about four years ago, that “Tobago people are more into simple, old-time things like bussing bamboo and are not so interested in fireworks yet.”
I guess the “yet” has come.
I turn my attention to the preferred early-morning sounds of frogs, crickets and roosters – realising, a short while later, that they are all I am hearing now. The music and shouting have stopped.
Then, just as abruptly: “Boom!” More fireworks. About 20 rapid explosions end the party just after 4 am.
Noise – a signature of “we culture”; the louder the better, regardless of time or place.
Recently FireOne Fireworks issued a press announcement notifying the public that it proposes to “apply to the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) for a variation in accordance with the Noise Pollution Control Rules” for discharging fireworks for 20 minutes (from 8 pm) on August 31, at Queen’s Park Savannah, Arima Velodrome and San Fernando Hill.
Although the public was “invited to submit comments within five working days of the publication of this Notice to the EMA,” no e-mail address was given – a clever move, considering that the average lazy or too-busy citizen would not bother to look for the address.
The EMA subsequently issued a public “Update on Noise Variation Permits for Fireworks,” saying it had recommended a ban on traditional noise-producing fireworks, that approvals required for discharging fireworks do not fall within its remit, and that “effective immediately” it is no longer accepting noise variation applications for firework displays.
Several citizens, myself included, subsequently re-addressed/re-sent our e-mails of concern (re the firework displays) to the “Honourable Minister of National Security.”
In my letter to Minister Hinds I stated that I felt none of the proposed FireOne events should be allowed – and gave supporting reasons.
At the end of the letter I suggested that in the unfortunate event that the 20-minute displays are permitted, there must be full-page ads from FireOne Fireworks (in each of the three main daily newspapers), stating the start and finish times and locations, along with advice to members of the public on how to best secure their animals.
I added that while the securing of owned animals is the responsibility of their owners, street dogs and cats do not have that privilege of care. I would therefore recommend that in order to be allowed to discharge fireworks, FireOne Fireworks must agree to cover the veterinary bills presented to them by registered animal rescue NGOs whose members and volunteers will, as always, be collecting injured animals and carcasses from the roadways of our nation in the aftermath of the noise-driven celebrations.
Whether discharged for a duration of 20 minutes by FireOne Fireworks or for unlimited amounts of time by regular citizens, traditional noise-making fireworks (and even the so-called “silent ones,” which also make noise – Google it and see/hear) will have detrimental effects on many. The trauma, injuries and fatalities that occur as a result of their terrifying discharge are a grim annual reality.
This is TT, where, despite numerous public “Stop The Fireworks” pleas and petitions over the years, nothing has changed. Regular citizens can still purchase any amount of fireworks and release them with neither permission nor consequence in the event of mayhem and mishaps, in and near to residential areas and towns.
The very first “fireworks” (firecrackers) were inadvertently invented by the Chinese in 200 BC. When will TT evolve from dependency on that archaic mode of visual celebration? The 60th anniversary of independence (and other national events) could be more aptly marked in a forward-thinking, exemplary style with spectacular, silent laser light shows and/or awe-inspiring, innovative drone light displays.
Inspire us. Don’t traumatise us.