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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 October, 2004, 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK
Letter: Trinidad's Diamond Town
Port of Spain, Trinidad
Diamond Vale became the most desirable real estate in the area
Veteran journalist Therese Mills reflects on the changes she has seen in her neighbourhood near Trinidad's capital Port-of-Spain over the last four decades.

A once peaceful area has changed immeasurably with a dramatic rise in affluence - and an increase in levels of crime.

Forty years ago our family moved to a new housing estate called Diamond Vale, a mere 10 kilometres from Trinidad's capital Port-of-Spain.

This made it convenient for our children to attend school in the city, and for the working adults to get to their jobs.

Before the houses were built - as many as 2,000 of them - Diamond Vale was a vegetable garden.

On its 125 hectares of flat land, small farmers planted a wide variety of vegetables.

It was considered the city's food basket as its rich soil produced tomatoes, okra, eggplant, lettuce, spinach, beans and peas and peppers, both sweet and very hot.

Critical need

The change from vegetable gardening to housing was a decision of the Trinidad and Tobago government.

And it was made in answer to a critical need for accommodation for an increasing population of young families.

So the small farmers were moved to the hilly areas around and the valley was filled with houses.
Life in Diamond Vale was enjoyable. Calm, untroubled and serene.

Diamond Vale is a valley within a valley, so to speak.

It sits plumb in the centre of the wider Diego Martin Valley, which is regarded as one of the most beautiful areas in Trinidad and Tobago.

No matter where you stand in Diamond Vale, you enjoy the pleasurable sight of the mountains.

In the rainy season they are a beautiful shade of emerald green, broken only by nature's own exquisite design of large flowering trees, ablaze with the most glorious yellow and pink flowers you have ever seen.

At Christmas, the flaming red flowers of the poinsettia trees are a sight to behold.

Housing development

When we moved to Diamond Vale the houses were identical in design, size and shape, each standing on no more than 500 square metres of land.

The majority of houses were single storey with the usual three-bedrooms, bathroom, living/dining room, kitchen and front porch with open carport on the side.

There was only one street with two-storey buildings.

Our family's return from England - where my husband had been at university -coincided with the development of this estate.

The price was right for us - exactly $2,000 by today's reckoning. We were among the first families to move in.

We were thrilled to live in a street bearing the name Aquamarine Drive, which leads me to tell you something about the names in this place called Diamond Vale.

When Diamond Vale was a vegetable garden there was only one road that ran down its middle, crossing the river over two small bridges.

It was called Diamond Road. The origin of the name is not known.

There certainly are no diamonds mined in the area, nor for that matter anywhere in Trinidad and Tobago.

Neither is the area shaped like a diamond. However as the new streets were laid out the planners took their cue from Diamond Road.

Naming convention

They named all the streets after precious and semiprecious stones.

First time visitors to the area may imagine they are driving through a veritable treasure-trove, as they enter Emerald Gardens, Opal Drive, Ruby Crescent, Pearl Gardens, Coral Drive, Zircon Drive, Agate Drive.

My family and the other early arrivals in Diamond Vale quickly became friends, exchanging plants and fruit tree seedlings, helping out in times of need.

We were a very mixed lot. There were teachers, doctors, policemen, civil servants, businessmen.

The original $2,000 house could now fetch over $100,000
Among us was the pastor of a church who became known as the man who never allowed his children the freedom of playing with other children.

It was my suspicion that he considered his family of three girls and one boy better behaved than the other youngsters who enjoyed a freedom he clearly did not admire.

His girls peeped shyly out from behind curtains, emerging from the house only to go to school or church.

The boy sneaked away frequently to join in whatever game was taking place. I don't know if the pastor even found it but if he did he took no action that I know about.

Clearly, he was enforcing one rule for his daughters and turning a blind eye at his son's infringements.

Safe

Families were young and there were many children.

Although there are one or two small parks in the area, the children preferred to play cricket and football in the road.

Not a few window panes were broken and cricket balls confiscated. But the game went on rain or sun.

Life in Diamond Vale was enjoyable. Calm, untroubled and serene.

A young man driving into his garage on Citrine Drive was held up and shot in his leg in an attempt to steal his car
In the cool of the evening we relaxed on our front porches, chatting, talking, enjoying the sound of croaking frogs, that made their orchestral appearance at night.

We delighted in the frequent appearance of fireflies that turned their lights on and off at regular intervals. Then there was the moonlight - that big full moon rising over the mountains and covering the valley with its romantic glow.

And as the years rolled by Diamond Vale began to look very different - almost every family changed the design of the original house. They renovated, extended, repainted, so that today no two houses look alike.

For years the quiet competition went on and Diamond Vale houses became more luxurious, the most desirable real estate close to Port-of-Spain.

The original $2,000 house could now fetch over $100,000.

Crime wave

Flower gardens bloomed and the ambience of Diamond Vale became more and more delightful.

We were close to the city but we were living in the suburbs, where the air was clean and fresh.

Cocaine
The south-western coastline is an ideal shipment point for drugs
But alas, progress has its price and Diamond Vale could not avoid the crime wave that has affected the whole of Trinidad and Tobago.

Murders, robberies, kidnappings have today reached an all time high. In the last 10 years, the murder rate has grown to about 20 killings a month.

The gun is the weapon of choice and even when the victim does not die, serious injury usually results.

Most of the killing involves gangs of men in the cocaine and other illegal narcotics trade. Today the army and police regularly patrol the cities.

Trinidad and Tobago's south-western coastline is only eight kilometres from the South American mainland.

This makes it an ideal trans-shipment point for drugs from Colombia and other countries destined for North America and Europe.

Guns are an essential part of the drug trade, as gangs fight over turf.

Trafficking

The trade also offers an easy way out for the unemployed, of whom there are many in Trinidad and Tobago - despite its rich resources of petroleum and natural gas.

Many have turned to drug trafficking and there are a growing number of addicts who steal and rob to support their habit.

Another serious problem has been kidnapping for ransom, which has targeted the rich and the middle class.

Despite the crime and the way it has altered lifestyles, no one is moving out - on the contrary there are always eager house purchasers
Between January and July this year Trinidad and Tobago, whose population is a mere 1.3 million, reported 96 kidnappings.

Not surprisingly the thieves began to cast envious glances at the attractive houses in Diamond Vale.

They began raiding first the fruit trees and then breaking into the houses.

A young man driving into his garage on Citrine Drive was held up and shot in his leg in an attempt to steal his car.

Another resident who had nurtured and cherished his previous avocado pear tree to the stage where it was bearing its first fruit, opened his door one morning to the sight of a man boldly picking his pears.

There was nothing he could do because the thief had come with his own guards - two fearsome-looking pit bull terriers.

Invasion

I remember one morning I was standing in my kitchen preparing breakfast when I glanced out the window across the road to my neighbour's garage.

Something just was not right. His car was parked all right, but there was something unusual about the way it looked.

Then I realised that the car was sitting flat on the concrete. The four wheels had been stolen. Crime had come to Diamond Vale.

Car theft
Car crime has hit Diamond Vale hard
People became suspicious of everything and everyone, as the thieves grew more ingenuous.

One day around 3.00pm, a woman in Ruby Drive saw a van stop at the house opposite to hers.

The van bore the sign "Vehicle Repairs". Out of the van popped two men in overalls stamped VR on the back.

She saw the two men harness her neighbour's car that was parked outside his house to the van and saw them tow the car away.

It was only when the neighbour came out looking for his car that she realised she had witnessed a clever scam.

The vehicle repairmen were car thieves in disguise.

Climate of fear

Residents began covering their windows and doors with wrought iron bars. Most people put in burglar alarms and remote control gates.

Today pit bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans, German Shepherds patrol the premises. Several civilian crime watch groups are on duty at night.

But a sense of security in one's home has all but disappeared, and the presence of a police station in Diamond Vale seems to make absolutely no difference.

Diamond Vale has lost its innocence, though thankfully it has not lost its charm.

Despite the crime and the way it has altered lifestyles no one is moving out. On the contrary there are always eager house purchasers.

The children of 40 years ago have grown up. Though they are well aware of the increasing crime they accuse their parents of being paranoid, living behind wrought iron bars with burglar alarms that were unheard of when they were growing up.

Personally, I think they are in a state of denial about the place of their childhood.

But the reality is that thieves and robbers have never been able to resist diamonds and rubies and pearls.

Perhaps Diamond Vale is today paying the price for naming its streets after so many precious gems.


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