Hope is Gone

8 year old Hope Arismandez

They say I’m hopeless
As a penny with a hole in it
They say I’m no less
Than up to my head in it
Hopeless, Dionne Farris

Hope is gone the headline says.  Hope is gone and again the country is plunged into shock and horror and distress at the death of another innocent.
Hope is gone and for a few days some of us will mourn.  Some of us will weep and wonder how this could happen.
We will not however, fly into a rage when we hear big hard back men suiting girls in school uniform.  Girls that could be their  daughters, their sisters.
Hope is gone and I am wondering how many more times we will have to face these headlines before our police service gets training in child protection.
Hope is gone and nobody sees the connection between sexual abuse in our homes and police officers who go skinny dipping with 14-year-old Colombian prostitutes.  And why a 14 year old would be a prostitute in the first place.
Hope is gone and in our homes we watch marathons of Law and Order Special Victims Unit, wishing the officers in a make believe American police drama would step out of our television sets and chase down the murderer of Akiel Chambers.  Try to figure out why those little boys killed Sean Luke.  Seek justice for Amy Annamunthodo.
Hope is gone and some of us have no more tears for dead children.  Some of us who are complicit in the abuse of our own children cannot weep.
Some of us who know of primary school girls and their taxi driver men will not be able to mourn.
Some of us mothers who are so busy hustling that we can’t begin to give power to our fears about what the man and woman watching our children is doing to them.
Some of us fathers who don’t know or don’t care to know how our children survive will not feel the pain of Hope’s father.
Some of us who struggle with our own pasts will have no tears for Hope or her mother.
Hope is gone but many of us have been hopeless for much longer.
Hope, for many people, has been gone a long time.
Hope dies everyday, in classrooms where the desperate acting up of troubled children is labeled as disruptiveness.
Hope dies everyday in the back seats of taxis, in the over-populated children’s homes.
Hope is the loved and highly favoured child.  The unloved and abused child.  Hope is the child that is not protected.  Hope is every child in Trinidad and Tobago, because every child in this country is at risk until we have real laws and until we get it through the thick skulls of our men that after 12 is not lunch.
Hope is gone but everyday a thousand new Hopes are born.
A thousand new Hopes to be preyed on. A thousand Akiels and Seans and Amys.  Thousands of children to fall through the open cracks of no child protection legislation.
Hope is gone and parliamentarians will fall asleep on the job and all the talk about laws to protect children will be lost in the noise of ole talk about various nonsensicalities.
Hope is gone and we will continue to shed crocodile tears for every child whose life is so brutally snuffed out but never put pressure on the people who can really begin to make a difference to protect all our children.
Save your tears.  Don’t cry too much for Hope.  Move on quickly.  File away that pain because you will have to reach for it sooner rather than later.
Put it somewhere you can reach it easily.  For the children in your neighbourhood.  For the children in your children’s classes.  For the children who curse and shout in the streets.  For the children languishing in homes and on the streets, surviving the only way they know how.  For your own children that you can’t always protect from the bullies, and the rapists and the seducers.
Hope is gone and with her our capacity to guarantee the brightness of our future.

Glutton for Abuse

Take it
Take another little piece of my heart now, baby
Oh, oh, break it
Break another little bit of my heart now, darling, yeah
Oh, oh, have a
Have another little piece of my heart now, baby
You know you got it, child, if it makes you feel good.
Piece of My Heart, Janis Joplin

Two hours into your day, you are tired.  Even though you’ve taken your vitamins.  You’ve done your sun salutations, breathing in positive, breathing out negative.  You’ve eaten sunshine in the form of a perfect Julie, just ripe enough to fill your veins with sugary goodness.  You’ve drunk your rice milk to make sure and take the osteoporosis in front.
You step into the world. You do all the right things. You say good morning to random people, because you believe that basic courtesies make life a little more pleasant for all involved.
The dirt clings to your shoes like children reaching out to be loved.
Mavado on the corner shouting, pleading to anyone who will listen ‘I’m special/so special/so special’.   Men mad from coke or rum or Trinidad are ranting and reeking on every corner.
The road bubbles liquid under your thin soles and you hope for decency’s sake to keep yourself from melting into the welcoming asphalt.
Jump in a taxi.  There’s a man on the radio.  His voice is shrill and desperate.  You do not want to hear his hysterical ranting this morning.  You do not want to listen to him spitting his hate at his microphone.  He is screaming about jammettes and a march and being bought out by Papa Patos.  You ask the taxi driver to turn it down.  The driver ignores you.  The fifteen-minute journey is unbearable.  The ranting continues, the passengers and drivers take the abuse in silence.
Exiting the taxi, put God out of your thoughts and make a parting comment to the driver about poisoning his brain. His response is swift and loud and abusive, echoing the same shrill almost emasculated tones of the radio voice.
You wonder if there is some special suit you can get. One that makes you impervious not just to the heat that makes you think you can hear your scalp sizzle.
One that helps you block out all the crappy things you hate about this place.  This place that makes you tired two hours into your day.
By the time you get home again your feet are dragging.  You are weak, you are not programmed to deal with this.   This place is sick and you are not a doctor.  You have no remedies to offer, no healing balms to give.
You want to lock yourself away and the back end of forever is too soon for you to want to venture outside again.
You understand now that perhaps people don’t drive around with their windows up not connecting with the outside because they are pretentious and materialistic but because they can’t deal with what’s going on in the real world.
There are days when the urge to stay at home is irresistible.
You willingly suspend interaction with the world. You create fabulous meals from the strangest of leftovers to avoid going out. You reach out only online on social networks.   To hug people and create wistful brilliant status updates to amuse your friends.
Sometimes you wish that you only existed inside your computer.  In your virtual world you can block out the things you don’t want to see or hear.  You create your own propaganda.
You could create a Trinidad that existed only in your imagination.  Where it is beautiful all the time.  Where eight year olds don’t beat up six year olds.  Where smelters don’t get built.  Where you don’t get cursed out if you suggest something to your taxi driver.
You know if this was a relationship with a man, you wouldn’t still be here.  You would never stick around and take this abuse.  Stay for what?  Because this is where you were born?  This is what you know?  This is the only place that understands you?
Your Trinidad tabanca has you peeping through your windows wondering if you have the energy to venture out.
Wondering what terrors await you outside and in.  What terrible fiction will become your reality today and what heaviest of straws will break your weakened camel’s back.

A tale to make you weep

We got to build a better nation
Clean up Jah creation
Or there will be no future for you and me

Fools Die, Peter Tosh

What good is a community without stories? What value is a society without storytellers? I mean beyond crick crack. Beyond the loss of douens to electric lights and Anansi replaced by the World Wide Web.

The carrier of the stories is the carrier of the wisdom and a sensibility that you can’t and never will get from the Red House.

The carrier of the stories is both the revolutionary and the peacemaker. Who shows the community its beauty and its dirt and its light.

A storyteller is a shape-shifter who uses every tool, every image, every sense to draw you in, capture your imagination.

So where the hell are our stories? Who is fictionalising our lives? Who is fashioning our superheroes?

All these questions plagued me before, during and after I went to see A Winter’s Tale, which everyone should see really.

Because in the absence of our own storytellers our children grow up in awe of someone else’s mythology.

Imagine in all my 30 years on this island, this is the first time I was sitting in Globe cinema to watch a local film.

And it might be set in Canada but I have to take ownership of those emotionally scarred men and the women shouldering too much weight of dying boy children.

And we have too many frustrated artists walking around this town to not understand that the loudness of our self-doubt has a startling ability to drown out our desire to speak our truths.

Aside from the embarrassment, aside from the frustration, I am so glad that A Winter’s Tale is being shown here and now.

And I’m glad too that they chose the Globe, in the heart of my beautiful stinking city, to show it, as opposed to going to that place in the murdered mangrove.

It’s not a pleasant film. It’s not a kicks t’ing. It’s not the loud, effects-filled, slap-stick foolishness that usually numbs our brains.

And this is not a review but a Winter’s Tale is bloody brilliant. Especially because you’re not going to leave the theatre feeling all warm and fuzzy.

And especially because you will weep for a fictional dead child in ways that you do not weep when you watch the news.

Frances Anne has all the marks of a good storyteller in that you will feel more sorrow for a place and time and people fashioned out of living truths.

Because everybody knows our men are in crisis. Everybody knows but who wants to take responsibility for finding or creating solutions?

The audience titters uncomfortably at inappropriate times. They steups at the gangsta boy who falls apart when the little boy dies.

They are scandalised at two beautifully naked bodies embracing in grief. They have a problem with the cuss words as if the F word is more obscene than a generation of boys who will never know what it is to be men outside of owning a gun.

We should feel more scandalised by the fact that we have a nation of children growing up absorbing somebody else’s mythology. Who do not know that they too can be superheroes, let alone be on a big screen, playing themselves with a depth and truth that is just plain shattering.

The procrastinating writer in me winces because there are so many other stories like this that need to be told.

And I hear a lot of talk these days about developing a film industry. And it’s important, yes, to industrialise the way we operate our creative potential. Beyond oil or gas or goddamned smelters, our creativity is our real nation-building potential.

But we also have to be able to see the value of the stories that we have to tell and train our storytellers wisely so that the films we make don’t end up looking like the Port-of-Spain waterfront. Tall and empty and bright imitations that are irrelevant to the landscape.

A Winter’s Tale is now showing at Globe, Cinemas 8, MovieTowne, Hobosco until Tuesday

Who Sets the Standards?

I no be gentleman at all
I be Africa man, original

Gentleman, Fela Kuti

I wonder if people objected to the term ‘wajang’ because it’s a pejorative or because they didn’t take well to the Prime Minister using a word from our creole to describe the behaviour of one of his ministers.

The prevailing notion is that wajang behaviour is not acceptable. But it’s interesting that we have actual words to describe patterns of behaviour that are peculiar to us.

Like tabanca, perhaps wajang behaviour is an indigenous expression of true emotion.

But it begs the question, who decides what is appropriate behaviour for us?

Who is creating a set of moral codes that refers to our specific Trinidad and Tobago cultural experience?

Is it that wajang behaviour is wrong or is it just that Papa Patos is so caught up with being something that has less and less to do with our true nature that he considers this behaviour unacceptable?

If we are a wajang nation, by all means, let us embrace it.

Wajang behaviour has been part of our history of triumph over adversity.

Wajang behaviour refers not just to emotive outbursts, but financial, political and cultural wajangness as well.

So who’s afraid to be a wajang? Who is afraid of showing passion for our country, for our money, for our environment, just because some stiff-necked fool says that that is not appropriate?

I mean, have these people ever listened to parliamentary debates from jolly old England that sound like an East London fish market? Have they not seen fights break out in Japanese parliament? Have they no sense that perhaps a parliamentarian is a warrior on behalf of his constituents?

Thing is, I personally would prefer an honest wajang to a polite thief.

I would prefer a loud rabble rousing anarchist who matched his or her words to action. I would rather a laugh than a fake skin-teeth.

I mean it took a piece of wajang behaviour for all these people who have been sitting quietly with information or suspicions about Udecott to finally come forward and start demanding that the company be investigated.

Perhaps if we all got in touch with our inner wajang, we might have a better grasp of what is valuable to us.

It takes wajang behaviour like blocking roads and burning tyres for people to get noticed. Wajang behaviour is crucial to the way we do things here, so let’s not deny it.

I wonder about our notions of civilisation. Who is carving out our own sense of civilisation from the sweat and frustration of all our various peoples? We want to be developed without fighting wars, without shedding our blood, without fighting to define who we are and what we stand for. We want to be developed without confronting our wajangness. This is foolish. This is impossible.

Every civilisation has its wajangs on whom it depended to set its parameters and values.

I would rather connect with my inner wajang than twist my mind, body and spirit into someone else’s notions of what is acceptable.

Which is not to say that I subscribe to the sentiment on the street, the anger always close to the skin waiting for the smallest slight to launch into a colourful and eloquent description of somebody’s mother.

But I wonder about this civilisation we are building, if that is what we’re building amidst all the concrete edifices.

Who sets the standards for our behaviour? Who decides what we can or can’t say?

And if you can’t be honest and open in your communication amongst your peers, where can you be honest and open? If you can’t express yourself in your own language, in the rhythm of your own tongue, then whose are you supposed to use?

Right or wrong or indifferent, who decides what behaviour is acceptable to us?

The rich people are too rich to care and the poor people have nothing to lose. So who are pretending for? Who are we trying to bend ourselves to accommodate? And more importantly, why are we trying to be who we aren’t?

It reeks of a slave mentality, a mimic man obsession with being like the other. It ensures that we stay underdeveloped in thought and deed, in spite of all the shiny new buildings.

World Press Freedom Day

It has to start somewhere
It has to start sometime
What better place than here
What better time than now
All hell cant stop us now
All hell cant stop us now
Guerilla Radio, Rage Against the Machine

It took me a long time to write this week’s column. I didn’t do my usual ‘type whatever came into my head’.

I mean, now that Robin Montano is making front page news saying that he wants to sue people for forwarding e-mails they did not author, I can only imagine what other interesting tortures they’ll come up with for people like me who like to think we live in a democracy.

But it’s like Papa Patos was saying the week before, it’s a question of behaviour. And not of what caused the behaviour. It’s like getting rubbed down by the Babylon because you have a bandit face or getting blanked from entry into a nightclub because you too ghetto black or too country Indian.

It’s a well-known fact that I’m not particularly fond of shoes and wouldn’t be caught dead in one of those power suit things. In other words I don’t have court clothes and so maybe I need to be a little more careful about what I say.

I hemmed and hawed a lot more than I usually do. Pacing back and forth, changing the music several times. Wondering if it were possible to write a column that didn’t cause offence to somebody powerful and mighty and capable of intimidating a poor defenceless little journalist like me.

Especially now that every time I pass the Prime Minister’s residence the security detail hails me out by name. But maybe I shouldn’t even be saying that, lest someone should possibly maybe perhaps construe that as some kind of anti-Patos-ness on my part.

It’s World Press Freedom Day today, and I guess some of us would love to boast at the fact that Trinidad and Tobago is the only English speaking Caribbean country to be in the top 20 of the World Press Freedom Index (we’re number 19). Even UK is number 24 and the USA is number 48.

I’ve been thinking about this number 19 status. How we ended up there. Do we really have press freedom or is it just that nobody takes the media seriously enough to think of anything that gets published or broadcast as a threat to their authority or their profit margins?

Maybe the media are as much of a pappyshow as all other institutions in this country, like the church or parliament. Toothless, useless. Maybe we’re all just going through the motions because we don’t know anything else or can’t do any better.

Maybe journalists are really just there to meet deadlines and fill space so that big business can make money off whatever is entertaining Trinbagonians the most that day.

Maybe this is why this is the only form of local television that most supposedly local television stations invest in. The news is information and entertainment enough. No need for police shows and comedy shows and dramas because all of these get played out every night in the news and the whole nation stops to take in the stories and watch themselves perform their best acts.

So if a dotish e-mail that reads like bad fiction could get that kind of rise out of our favourite economic hit-man of the day, I wonder what he would do if some journalist really started doing like everybody would like to happen and investigate the Udecott.

Or I wonder what would happen if someone were to really begin to investigate what the hell the EMA does, if they didn’t know that a 60-room hotel was being built right around the corner from their headquarters. I wonder when someone will really assess whether they have the capacity to manage our potential for a serious industrial disaster or even to protect the many communities in this country who are at risk as we speak.

And I wonder if I should feel ahow about wondering if even Zimbabwe could get rid of Mugabe why are we still stuck with PNM inefficiency. Oh yes, it’s that whole non-functional opposition problem.

Okay, so the truth is, the day I feel frightened to say what is on my mind is the day I die, but what really frightens me is that in the face of all that is wrong and given the studious lack of interest in the powers that be to set it right, where are the journalists who are willing to do the work to ensure that these stories get told? Where are the editors who will support them? Where are the camera people and the hackers and the bloggers doing the dirty work?

It’s the journalists who usually get the tootsy end of the stick first when democracy is under threat. Here they don’t get shot, they just get silenced with a big salaried corporate communications position. Which, for me, is an unfortunate fate far worse than death.