Despite the late hour, she walks the dusty road. She is searching, looking for her next opportunity to free herself, even if momentarily, from the shackles of the poverty in which she lives, even if it means resorting to the temporary escape from reality the smoke of a joint brings.
Her name is Mary, and she is a resident of Plastic City, looking for a way to get high.
Plastic City is nestled among the mangrove trees on the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean, just 200 feet past the seawall in Vreed-en-Hoop, on the West Coast Demerara. More than two decades ago, many poor people who could not find a place to squat, eventually resorted to using the waterfront as their abode.
When the first few settlers established their homes there, the construction was of a few sticks of bramble forming the support posts, and plastic was utilised as walls. Since then, not too much has changed, but some of the homes have managed to acquire wood and people have built much more stable structures.
Almost camouflaged by the gusts of wind from the nearby Atlantic Ocean, Mary’s voice is a little more than a whisper, as she told her tale of her life in poverty, and her constant search after the intoxicant that she says helps to numb the pain of poverty.
“I started to smoke cocaine a few years ago,” she explained, citing her pressured family ties as the primary reason she took to drug use.
She said that before she had been smoking marijuana occasionally, but one night she was given a joint and she did not know that it was laced with cocaine. “It let me go,” she said, “it took me far away from Plastic City, and I liked it.”
Since then she has been a regular drug user, and oftentimes when her lack of money does not allow her the freedom to purchase the narcotics she requires, Mary turns to alcohol. She explained that even as a 54-year-old woman, nowhere as pretty as she once was, she has little problem convincing patrons of nearby rum shops to buy her a drink.
“I drink,” she said, “but I prefer smoking (cocaine).”
Within Plastic City, drugs are not hard to find. In the surrounding areas of Crane and Best Road, drugs are also not in any short supply. Mary said that two ‘hits’ of cocaine could be had for $1000. With these words, she stopped a passing figure and gave him the money, instructing him to collect some ‘stuff’ for her.
She told him that she would be waiting for him. And so she did. Even though she said that she trusted the man who had gone to buy her drugs, she instinctively kept on looking over her shoulder as if she was expecting to see him running away with her money.
It proved that even though members of the community are well known to one another, there was no real honour to be expected. She later confirmed this, when she said that the man she had asked to buy her drugs had been known to rob people.
Similarly, she noted that strangers do not wander deep into Plastic City, or even up to the seawall, because it is simply not safe for them to do so. “This area is safe, but only if you are from around here,” Mary said.
The security concern is of no concern to outsides, as simply as Mary put it, “Why would an outsider want to come into Plastic City? There is nothing here.”
Effectively her words were true; not many outsiders venture into Plastic City.
Even though not many other people venture into the area, there has been some governmental intervention to try to help the squatters cope with the poverty that is rife in the area. The interventions have been few and far between, but help is usually accepted whenever it is given.
In July, 2007, the Minister of Human Services and Social Security Priya Manickchand, had visited the area near Plastic City and had distributed uniform vouchers, an effort geared at providing assistance to parents to help ensure that their children stay in school.
Housing and Water Minister, Irfaan Ali too visited the area around Plastic City earlier this month, to update the squatters of the Ministry’s plan to regularise the squatting settlement.
This, however, may not affect the Plastic City squatters anytime soon.
While there have been some interventions, not much has been done to help curb the effect of drug use on the population.
Concern has also been raised over the reciprocal growth in crime that drug use usually brings into an area. Mary had also explained that even the police hardly venture into the Plastic City area anymore, as if it was a forsaken area, not worth the effort to police.
Police sources have said that they plan to make interventions concerning the crime rate in Plastic City, but no word has yet been heard as to when these interventions will begin.
While efforts are constantly being made by members of the Plastic City populous to move out of the area, into a more suitable area, this is not always easy. One resident, Ramesh Ganga, said that he had previously approached the authorities for a legitimate house lot before, but he was put off by the price.
“It might not sound like a lot to some people, but to a man like me who works for a small salary, it is difficult to find that kind of money to pay for a house lot and take care of my family…If I could get a (house) lot and work and pay, that would be nice, but that is not the case,” he said.
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