Flambeaux in the Croisée

Now we know the truth
Yes we do
Find you
Wearing the boot
Of taking people’s business on your head, yeah
So might as well you be dead

Let the dead bury the dead now
And who is to be fed, be fed
I ain’t got no time to waste on you, no,no
I’m a livin man, I got work to do
Right now

Burial, Peter Tosh

Walk through the Croisee past flambeaux that line the streets to mourn a fallen soldier.
The flambeaux extend much further than you would expect.  All the way up the Presbyterian School on the corner of Mission Road.
Love and fear are strange bedfellows so you’re not sure if they do it because they know him and care or because they must.
On Don Miguel Road there are flambeaux too and young people in the streets celebrate with spirits for the spirit and a young man dares you to question his authority by planting a flambeau in the middle of the street.  Cars turn, not a horn blows.  Music blares and the young man saunters away.
Cross the Bus Route and enter the Croisee proper.
Past grimy roads and stinking drains.  Past barefoot singing Baptist women and graying crackheads lying splayed out outside the old cinema turned new church.
The Croisee that got new lights before the last election. So that San Juan people could clearly see the stinking streets. So that the decay was fresh in their eyes like the smell of fish and chicken guts in the drains.
Flambeau light the way for a man who the newspapers say was a Robin Hood.  A good bad man that did terrible things to some people and saved others and died a warrior’s death.
The newspapers read like some legend about a gruesome end to a thug life.
They say, the San Juan people who knew him, that they loved him.
As if their love could possibly take away the stench of a life that allegedly stank worse than the Croisee on a hot Saturday afternoon.
No one knows for sure.  In the same way that the police never know where to find the caches of guns or the druglords.  Well known, well connected druglords walk the streets without fear, because they can.
Flambeaux light the way through the Croisee but the darkness is real for so many. In the corners where rats and men freebase and young women rage at their young children. No flambeau can bring light to them.
You wonder if ever you saw him.  If perhaps there was some time in the past when you passed the good bad man in the Croisee.  If he once leered at you in the streets, psst family.
If you ever saw him without noticing.  Walking through the Croisee trying not to see or hear what was going on for fear that you would vomit up your disgust.
New storefronts all selling the same clothes.  New storefronts that make you think about what children used to call putting on perfume without first having a shower- stink and sweet.
The Croisee is a perfect mix of stink and sweet and in the morning the scent of the burnt flambeaux lend a new oily industrial smell to the otherwise familiar ones.
In the morning they are still there, the flambeaux.  Among the piles of rubbish, the rising crackheads, clutching their rotting manhood, scandalizing the Witness proselytizers.  Everything is as it should be.  And it doesn’t matter that the good bad man is dead.  Because his mark is still there on the Croisee.
Women weep and men wonder who will take his place.
In the absence of war, what should warriors do?  In the absence of leaders to whom can boys turn to learn how to be men?
In the glare of day, extinguished flambeaux line the streets like every life snuffed out, every mind lost, every mother that ever wept for a child gone astray.
The oily industrial smell of flambeaux mixes with the stink and sweet of the Croisee and you wonder if this is an end or a beginning.

Love Meggies and a Blog Redux – It’s Salman Rushdie’s fault

I wrote the following post on the old blog last year. Can’t quite remember the event that precipitated it. But perhaps it was around the time of the visiting and too beautiful for me to do anything but dream poet who provided a moment’s distraction from my otherwise boring activist life of men who don’t dare come near me for fear of my being (and I swear I’ve heard these descriptions too smart, too radical, too own way etc etc etc) It got a lot of flak from some of my male friends who saw the questions as justification for the fact that I’ve been persistently single since me and my Zurich love parted ways back in 2006. I have to concur that the questionnaire is not only essential but to leave getting to know a man to a man is like leaving Patrick Manning to run the country.
There are of course exceptions to every rule and I have had my own proof that straightforward sweet funny well adjusted men who are available actually exist. Kind of like UFO’s. They are out there. You just need to be in the right place, time and frame of mind to find them.
For reasons that I don’t care to divulge on account of my unavoidably Aquarian desire to be aloof and non-comittal about anything too personal, I’ve come to the conclusion that the questionnaire is crucial to save yourself from love meggies. I guess I’m re-posting here to remind myself to be vigilant, even as I try to be open to the possibility that the man for me is in fact a reality and not a cruel fiction of a universe out to have several entertaining false alarm laughs on my head.
Why is this in mind? Well of course Salman Rushdie is involved. As it happens, I’m reading his latest novel, the mangolicious Enchantress of Florence in which there is a king who has imagined himself the perfect wife. O, for such powers! What a man I would make…
“So, having survived the dire dating situation in Trinidad for the past year and bit, I’ve decided to come with a short questionnaire for all potential dates. This will take the form of a short quizz at the beginning of the trackulations, so as to avoid heartache, stress, stalking or late night non-returning of flaky text messages. I know some of the questions are a bit left field but it’s not so much whether you know but how you answer! Extra marks for the most creative responses…

1. Why are you here?

2. Are you an asshole?

3. Exactly how many of my friends/acquaintances have you
a) slept with
b) tracked
c) wined on inappropriately in a public fete

4. Do you have a girlfriend (if the answer is yes, thank you for your time, please turn in your questionnaire before you leave).

5. Seriously, though. Are you an asshole? And if you are, how long does it take for you to turn into one?

6. What exactly are you expecting (select one or more of the following)
1) Romance
2) Entertainment
3) Sex
4) A friend
5) A horner woman
6) A sugar mommy

7. Do you eat meat?

8. Do you harm animals?

9. Do you have Hot Wuk as your ringtone?

10. Have you eaten geera pork in the past 24 hours?

11. What did you say your girlfriend’s name was again?

12. What about trees? How do you feel about trees?

13. Please complete the following sentence
A carbon footprint is —-

14. Please write a short treatise on the works of Martin Carter/Kamau Brathwaite/John Coltrane/Nina Simone.

15. Which of my favourite revolutionaries do you think said this?
‘Words that do not match deeds are unimportant’
a) Winston Rodney
b) Gandhi
c) Che Guevara
d) Arundhati Roy

16. What is Track 7 on the Best Selling Jazz album of all times?”

Life is a Practice

But the tide of change is sweeping fast
Destruction everywhere
You gotta hold on to the lifeline
Let’s hold on together
You and me
Have no fear.
River Come Down, Andre Tanker

Life is a practice.  A wise hermit type fellar called Fingers told me that once many years ago in the bush.
It sounds cheesy, I know.
Life is a practice that so many of us don’t even get a chance to make a mess of.
Fingers the hermit type fellar’s fingers had been chopped off by some irate husband.  He spoke expressively and in spurts between pointed silences during which the sea roared a North Coast roar at us.
The stumps on his hands were as disturbing to me as seeing finally the precipices that I had walked past in the darkest of nights, surrounded by friends I trusted to lead me and my untrained city feet through the bush.
Fingers, I came to learn, had made every possible mistake in his own life, and I can’t remember the details but I remember the dreadness and the silence of his eyes.
I guess you get wise after you’ve spent many years in isolation with only your thoughts and nature’s rhythm section to keep you company.
Fingers’ words have followed me for a long time, haunting me to find a meaning for that.
It’s not the wisest thing I’ve ever heard or the most poetic.   But it makes sense in a way that only an old Rasta man with a nickname reminding of his loss can.
I remember Fingers’ words again standing in a river, my ankles being nibbled on by fish I learn are called cichlids.
Life is a practice and some of us don’t have a chance to put the lessons we have learned to anything good.
You try to find the reason for young couple to get washed away by a river.  Or a seventeen year old mother to be mowed down by a truck.  You try to make sense of these things and nothing is forthcoming.
But life is a practice and if we didn’t keep trying well, we better all just lie down one time.
A more poetic man called Martin Carter once put the same thought like this: death must not find us thinking that we die.
We might as well give up now, stop wasting our time to be better people, to be loved and happy and productive.
We might as well stop complaining about the country going nowhere if we are not prepared to do the work to take it forward.
I am still practicing to find my bush feet. I am still practicing to climb rocks and keep patient and believe I can do it.
I am still practicing to feel anything else but anger and powerlessness watching the news.
I am still practicing to not doubt my words even when I think they sound like some cheesy self-help corn soup for the early thirties soul book.
There is that moment of panic when you’re in the river and the water is rushing in your ears and your foot is stuck in a rock and you don’t trust that your brain can work it out for you to get your foot to the other side.  And you slide down and buss your toe and bruise up your boomsie and your elbows and your pride because you can’t believe how ungraceful you are.
There is a moment when nothing makes sense, when the vagrants don’t make sense and the tall buildings and the quarry scarring your view.  Nothing makes sense and you know you’re not the crazy one.
But life is a practice and at some point you learn that the answer is not to try to avoid the problem.  Wheel to come again perhaps, but don’t turn your back totally.
Life is a practice like learning the exact amount of starch mangoes you can eat before you make yourself sick.
Life is a practice and I learn more and more every day that the best way to protect the thing you love most is to know it as well as you know yourself.
From the colour of ripe cocoa pods to the temperament of rivers in a gorge in rainy season. From changing your traffic laws to knowing the names of fish that nibble on your ankles.  You have to know the name of every tree you want to save and the colour of the grief of every child you don’t want to end up a killer.  Life is a practice rushing at you, overwhelming you, tumbling you to your core.  Who is throwing you your lifeline?

A Sunday evening reason to love the internet.

It’s Sunday evening and because it’s raining I decide to fight my way through nineteen hundred unread email messages. To lighten the load I’m listening to Don Drummond, like I sometimes do when I’m feeling nostalgic for Kingston and my adventurous youth there. Suddenly the mother bursts into the room. Where you get that song? That’s not the original!! I’m like what, lady?

She insists that African Beat is not an original, and I mildly protest but this woman has a sickeningly amazing memory.

The mother recalls paying their neighbour the slightly more affluent teacher her few pennies for him to play the radio loud enough for her to hear, because her own mother couldn’t afford a radio. This is 1954 so she is less than ten years old at the time. I Google it and I discover that it was a German composer called Bert Kaempfert who did the original Afrikaan Beat which was then re-done ska style by the brilliant and short lived Kingston genius Drummond.

Anyway I get busy and soon I’ve downloaded the Kaempfert. The mother is covered in goosebumps and close to tears. She hasn’t heard this song in fifty or so years and she remembers every nuance of the music. She then starts recalling other songs she hasn’t heard in years. And soon I’m downloading like mad Les Baxter’s Poor People of Paris and Edith Piaf and the mother is waxing nostalgic for easier times, poorer times, family times in Santa Cruz.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that a lot of the music I enjoy now was introduced to me when I was small. Sundays were blast out the sound system days and the mother played everything from Beethoven to Ralph Macdonald to Buddy Miles. When I spent time with the male parental unit he was big on the jazz tip and Lucky Dube and of course Beethoven (he once called me long distance to tell me that he was reading a book that said that the old Ludwig died in the middle of a storm – at the moment of his death he raised himself off the bed and shook his clenched fist at the thundering heavens. ‘Dat is Shango self!’ was the father’s comment).

Anyway, it felt good to be able to provide such a service, given that the mother is an unapologetic techno peasant, it was like magic for her watching me find a piece of her history. But I am also struck by how much about this woman that I’ve known all my life I still don’t know

And also how much of my life now that I take for granted.

So Ashé Ogun for the internet. It’s trickier than Anansi but it’s always possible to learn something.

Farewell to a Fighter

Comes a time
when you’re drifting
Comes a time
when you settle down
Comes a light
Feeling’s lifting
Lift that baby
right up off the ground.

Oh, this old world
keeps spinning round
It’s a wonder tall trees
ain’t layin’ down
There comes a time.
Comes a Time, Neil Young

I was standing on the Shore of Peace feeling not very peaceful.
Watching the family of Grace Dolsingh prepare her body for cremation, the air heavy with the scent of flowers and camphor and death.
Grace Dolsingh, who I knew only as a vibrant, committed elder of her community who decided that she didn’t want a smelter in her back yard.
Grace Dolsingh who was at every meeting, every protest, articulating in a way that only sweet grandmothers can articulate their concern for future generations.
Watching huge grey clouds gather in the Gulf of Paria refusing to burst like all the sorrow I feel for home that doesn’t want to pour down my cheeks.
Watching other families put their loved ones to rest.
There are several cremations taking place on the Shore of Peace and it is such a tief head that these people were walking the earth a few days before.
I dislike funerals as much as the next human running from coming to terms with mortality.
I dislike even more when there is a possibility that death could have been avoided.  I resent it when death turns up unexpectedly, uninvited.  Death is inevitable but an unnecessarily prevalent reality in the lives of too many Trinbagonians these days.
Because I do think that some people know when it’s their time to ride out.  To leave aside this place and return to the big void or heaven or the vast nothingness of non-existence.
I don’t know if Grace Dolsingh was ready to go.  And I as I stood on the Shore of Peace talking with her family and friends, they say that they didn’t expect her to die.
This being modern times, civilized times when we exceed our expectations and make it to developed nation status ahead of our dear politicians projections, you would think that we would have the technology or the medical know how to ensure that people survive mild heart attacks.
But when Grace Dolsingh was taken to the Point Fortin Hospital and made to sit on a chair for 25 hours after having a heart attack, clearly someone was playing a sick little underdeveloped joke.
At the Point Fortin Hospital just up the road from those monuments to our industrialized economy, I hear women are still having babies on the floors.
At the Point Fortin Hospital, still devoid, after a century of commercial oil production, of a burns unit, maybe the doctors say prayers to God who is a Trini that we don’t have any real disasters.
I was standing on the Shore of Peace trying to come to terms with Grace’s death.  As if death is something you can come to terms with, when you’re sad and angry and powerless.
Watching the pundit’s assistant hit a flat brass plate with a tiny hammer.
Wondering about karma and reincarnation.  Wondering if politicians who can afford to send themselves away from treatment, when they eventually die, do they come back as their constituents that they show so much contempt?
Do they come back to live under the infernal roar of a gas flare with nothing but faith and mango trees to keep them sane.
No answers come in the constant drone of amplified prayers.  My eyes smart from the smoke and the camphor and the reality of my mortality.
I know from the hundreds of people who are turn out to say a final goodbye to Grace Dolsingh that she lived a good life.
I wonder if politicians hope for such noble endings.  Or do they, like young gangsters simply put aside plenty money so that they can afford an expensive suit and a blinged out coffin.
Signs of a life opulently lived, with no evidence of the terror inflicted on the lives of so many families.
Her face has a kind of peace that suggests a pleasant dream, which is what I imagine death to be.
I find that I have no tears for Grace Dolsingh or for myself.  But I hope that when my time comes, later rather than sooner, I am able to give as good an account of myself to my peers, my community, loved ones and country.
And not only for karma’s sake, I find that I want to keep fighting.

RIP Grace Dolsingh

Funeral pyre of Grace Dolsingh, anti-smelter activist

Went down south this weekend for the cremation of an old soldier from Cedros, Grace Dolsingh. It was a sad weekend for lots of various reasons but I feel like I’ll emerge from this fog of sadness stronger, lighter and more focused on my life and what I have to do.

Check out pics and post over at my much neglected Rights Action Group blog. At least I’m blogging there again….

Too rich to care

We’re on a road to nowhere
Come on inside
Takin that ride to nowhere
Well take that ride

I’m feelin okay this mornin
And you know,
We’re on the road to paradise
Here we go, here we go
Road to Nowhere, Talking Heads

I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this, but George Dubya Bush might actually be right about something.

It’s taken him just shy of eight years of barely literate speeches but here in our newspapers this week appears this most eloquent of statements. The man’s been more wrong than the fashion choices at a passa passa dance, but it might actually be possible that he got something right this time.

And it’s exceptional that the thing that he got right was something to do with T&T.

Outside of all the economic speak, the thing that stood out the most in the whole story in Wednesday’s paper was the statement T&T is too rich.

Too rich to get access to preferential trade. Now we have to fight up with all the countries that have centuries of experience in trading, wanton destruction, not to mention exploiting child and sweat shop labour.

But this is practice for 2020. When, hey presto, we will be developed. We will all of a sudden be civilised, whatever that means, and advanced and so rich from the fruits of our labours that it won’t matter if America is giving us preferential trade or not.

It is a mark of our rapid development that even Dubya can see that we’re too rich.

Pull the gas out of the ground faster than you can say environmental impact assessment and you’ll see that we’re too rich to protect our citizens from the industrialisation fall-out.

Put plenty police cars on the streets and as they blare and scream our wealth into the congested streets you might miss the howls of prisoners in overcrowded cells.

We are too rich for preferential treatment from America. We’re so rich we can walk over homeless people and not feel ahow.

We’re so rich we can more than afford the international embarrassment of a Prime Minister who goes to big conferences and speaks so movingly about sharing global concerns about global warming, cutting CO2 emissions and such like, but then comes back home and tells the citizens to put a smelter in they pipe and smoke it.

We’re so rich, the EMA can host nice conferences and sweet competitions for schoolchildren to talk about environmental protection.

Meanwhile a steel mill gets clearance in Claxton Bay in the middle of a community and in the middle of the rainy season they’re planning to destroy some acres of mangrove.  But we’re too rich to care about mangrove.

We’re so rich there’s a secondary school place for every child sitting the SEA. We’re so rich, I hear in a taxi that the children who pass for a junior sec beat up the one child that passed for a seven-year school.

We’re so rich, we don’t have to pave the roads, because everyone can afford to buy a truck with really good shocks so you don’t notice that you’re driving on an obstacle course.

We are rich enough to have a lot of tall buildings in Port-of-Spain to shade the vagrants and the pipers from the sting of the noonday sun.

And we’re too rich to have child protection legislation. And we’re too rich to have a good healthcare system. Why bother if everyone is rich enough to go away and get treatment?

What is perhaps jokiest about this whole being-too-rich thing is that this statement is made just a week after Papa Patos signed a US$400 million loan with the Chinese Government.

Maybe we should take this latest Bushism as a sign that we’re changing colonisers again.

After all, Chinese technology and sand and building blocks and sand and workers are being used for Alutrint’s smelter. Chinese labour is building our schools, our Prime Minister’s residence, our arts academy.

If we switch colonisers, it won’t matter whether Dubya thinks we’re too rich or not. It won’t matter if we’re rich or poor in America’s eyes.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who is the buyer when you are a sell-out.