Walking the Talk

jouvaywillah

I come from the land of chance
Where man does do dey dragon dance
And cross the waters of destiny
Builders of a legacy
Out of nutting
They still dared and dreamed to be something
Shining bright for the world to see
Everyday we walk
Where these giants walk
Everyday we walk de walk
But still we can’t walk de talk
—Giants, 3Canal

It is midday on Carnival Monday and I am only just walking home from the best J’Ouvert ever. Hoping if I stayed out to wring all the possible enjoyment out of the morning. In the stark light of noon I imagine I look like a misplaced jumbie who has lost her way back to the other realm where no one minds if your face is a mosaic of mud and purple blue green. I am at my freakish best, but it’s Carnival and the road is for everyone now. I do not combust under the stares of the pretty mas girls who jiggle past me, their beads making shh shh noises. The mud and paint make a pasty moustache with the obscenely expensive coconut water. But I don’t mind. Because I have just had the best J’Ouvert ever and nothing else matters as I try to savour every memory of the hours before dawn.Walking into the sunrise and feeling that electric connection to everything and everyone. You forget fear and your uncrunched abdominal muscles.
There is no separation between sacred and profane. Everything is everything. A wine is still a wine and between your friends and the strangers and the tourists and the vagrants you find your humanity. You too drag in the canal. You climb walls and find your balance. You jump and spin and catch an old familiar power. You shout into the coming dawn. Look mih! You have no mirror to see your state. You imagine you look like the people around you. Absolutely stink. You fall in love with Trinidad and yourself again. It is perfect in its grossness. Like birth. Magical and horrible at the same time. Essential and unavoidable. It is midday on Carnival Monday and I am thinking already about how long I have to wait to be in this place of bliss again. And I wish I could do it all over again on Tuesday morning, but this is not to be so. More than one J’Ouvert might send the country more mad.

I walk through the Savannah. Listening to Carnival living around me. Past tired. Past happiness and misery, in a J’Ouvert state of mind. I am still thinking about Monday morning on Tuesday, on the streets, playing a protest mas. We are playing contemporary cow mas, walking on familiar roads with new swagger. My placard says there is too much at steak. We are enough to distract spectators and revellers from the endless waves of feathers, beads, silicone, high-heeled boots. We are enough to make people smile and want to take pictures with our absurd placards. We are going for the title of Best Unregistered Band because Carnival brings out our competitive spirit. We moo and stampede at will. There is no rope around us and we make our own music.  steak
We are liking ourselves in our little band. Because I guess we all end up playing ourselves at Carnival. A bigger, brighter version of ourselves. How we imagine we would be if we had the vision and the fortitude. It is the time when we actually manage to walk our talk. Walking across the Savannah on Tuesday night, past the traffic and the sound of Carnival dying all around, I am thankful for the opportunity to walk my talk. To take this idea of myself a little further. At midnight the silence comes, covering the Belmont Community Centre where Rasta bredrin and sistren begin to skank on tiptoe. No more frenzied feting sounds. No more pan sounds. No more late night speeding up the avenue hoping that no-one followed you home sounds. The Carnival is over and now the sleep that I was avoiding, does not want to come. So I lie in bed and I listen to the 3 am nothingness. Wondering how to walk my talk without having to wait another 365 days.

Carnival lives again

They don’t know their worth
Like they haven’t a sense of value
They don’t know their rights
Even that they cannot argue
Three quarter of a million people
Cannot get up and do something bout de struggle
But to plan the next holiday
To fete their lives away
And forgetting that they own the soil
Of which their foreparents toil
For the people who form constitution laws
For the oppressors and foreign investors
Trinidad is nice
Trinidad is a paradise

Trinidad is Nice, Brother Valentino

It is dawn on Carnival Friday and behind the bridge I watch the mother carré. The air is electric with a thousand bittersweet memories of mas and pan and fight and satire and wining. In this moment Carnival is everything it can possibly be. In this perfect moment before the light shines too bright on the pile of garbage to the left. Shines too bright on the rubble of houses rising up the hills behind me.

Carnival lives in this moment. In a state of suspended animation. Barely there but enough to keep you hopeful that somehow it will lift itself out of this non-being. Carnival lives. As both saint and sinner. Our last redemption and our worst imaginable flaw. I watch this Canboulay in the company of my Bishop’s Rasta sistren and my Mohawk Indian bredrin. We know all the songs. We remember these steps and these rhythms from other times. And solidarity is a thing that we live and not just allege to care about in public. The sky is getting light and I am thinking of Guadeloupe going through their own Canboulay riots now.

And how easy it is for us to ignore it. To not even know and understand or remember what it is like to fight for what you believe in. Where one person is dead and many injured. Peaceful civil disobedience since December turned into a clash between the people demanding fair wages and access to resources and the state. But we welcome the King of Spain and celebrate the fact that it was Spain that funded Columbus’ adventures. I wonder if anybody bothered to ask the local indigenous community how they felt about the King of Spain’s coming. If they were interested in demanding an apology for Spain’s past sins.

In Guadeloupe where the difference between French colony and French department comes into sharp relief with the rising cost of basic items, most of which are imported from France. Some sit back and watch their history played out before them. One man in the stands understands the desire to fight. He jumps up and starts to shout, “This is real! This is history!” In his mind, perhaps there is no difference between past and present. In truth it can be 1881 again. Fed-up people again. Oppressors in the governor’s ball again. Masqueraders being told they can’t harass the tourists for money, although what is the devil without his demand for tribute?

My mind is wandering in a way that reflects no sleep for 24 hours.
Because it is Carnival and it is time to keep vigil. To forget the caress of the cool side of a pillow on your cheek. Carnival lives in a way that, despite the feeling of drowning in a sea of bikinis and beads, I want to hold on to this electric revolutionary feeling. Sending Canboulay energy to Guadeloupe. To keep them strong and focused. To have victory over their oppressors, the ones that don’t look like them, and for us to have victory over our own oppressors, particularly those that look like us.

Carnival lives again. In spite of regulation and parameters. And if it is to survive, then it is up to the jamettes and the dispossessed and the too weird to be included to reclaim the Carnival. To bring back the underbelly. Bring back the resistance and defiance of the all-inclusive. To stage our own versions of Dame Lorraine balls and plan our own confrontation with our Captain Bakers. But it is Carnival Friday morning and before you know it, it is here and gone and you are left bruised and breathless and not quite sure what to do with yourself.

Flag Woman of Class

When yuh see she get that fever
Is plenty trouble
Whether youse a saint or sinner
You bound to wiggle
Aiya yai ayai ayai
—Flag Woman, Lord Kitchenertwflag2

I am standing in the middle of the street. Where the roads make a perfect cross. Marking the spot where I clear a path for Phase II Pan Groove to enter the Savannah. This is a piece of madness that is exceptional even for me. I am neither dancer nor sexy in that heavy T bumper kind of way nor do I possess any recognizable aura of Matador woman.

It is 15 or so minutes since I first held the flag. It is a red satiny one with zig zag letters, announcing the name of the band that I grew up listening to, committing whole arrangements to memory. I never wanted to learn to play but instead to drown myself inside music that is the sweetest pain. It has all happened rather fast. I go from hoping to get a bligh on the track, purely for documentary purposes to clearing a path for the band through the thousands of pan lovers gathered in this sacred space. It’s too late to turn back now.

To flake out or let the doubts that have been shouting at me all day lead me back home, chastened by the prospect of all those people judging my non-existent flag-waving skills. I am standing at the crossroads of fear and insanity trying to make a rational decision about the way to go. The regular flag man has a wild look in his eyes. He is concerned about my path-clearing skills. He shows me once. And then again. I am confused. He shows me again and I think I might have it. We start up the track. I hold the flag high over my head, my long arms coming to good use for once and all those months of warrior salutations finally paying off.

The flag is red, green and gold now. The flap of it in the light breeze is all that I can hear, as if my mind has managed to turn down the volume in the Savannah. I am clearing a path smooth and wide. People read the flag. They decide to stay a little longer. Linger on the track to hear the Panorama champs. Sister-friends hover close by. Offering water and words of encouragement. They still can’t believe that I am going to do this. In a way neither do I.

The truth is, this whole flag woman thing started off as a Facebook status update joke that spiralled wildly out of my own control. My inner jammette is at rest as I walk up the track. All day on Sunday I have been paralysed by various fears. Fears that I have neither the skill nor the gumption to do it. Fears that I will confuse liberation with objectification and end up with some convoluted radical feminist crisis of conscience that will spoil the whole damn thing. Really though, I am most scared that I will fall off the stage, drop the flag or the flag will get wrapped around itself and I won’t be able to get it flying again.

We press on, up the track, the moon full and daring me to keep going. The stage comes into view. NCC officials urge us forward. Next thing you know, I am walking onto the stage. The lights from the hills wink reassuringly. I was born to do this. The mother is somewhere in the audience. I smile as I remember how she likes to relate to me that I walked long after I was supposed to. But when I did, the first place I got lost was in the Savannah at Panorama time. The Boy gives me five and I am glad for the last bit of energy we exchange through our palms.

They are begging supporters to come off the stage. My inner jammette is preening, chipping, rolling up and out of me and I am not sure whether it is still me, me self there or some other woman. Someone surer of herself and her body. Someone more beautiful and poised and graceful. I use my flag-woman influence to push the crowds back. They smile and agree. The lights come up and Boogsie rings out a magic drum timing on the racks. I am pointer woman and path clearer. I am water and light and pure flag woman energy. Sure and strong and so happy to be in this magic moment.

Death of the Wine

What going to happen
What going to happen
When the rhythm stop?
Nobody knows
Nobody knows
Wham Bam, David Rudder
Wining is dying art. Dying in the same violent senseless way as all the people who have already lost their lives in a year so young and a time so uncertain. Wining, that last bastion of abandon and freedom, has become a thing of instructions. Like trying to get into a fete. You are barked at and corralled. Someone jooks their pelvis at you, like a riot police officer with a big gun. You better enjoy it. You are under duress to take a wine. Your boomsie is a war zone. You could get killed for wining on the wrong one. At least for those of us schooled in a finer time, when the wine had lost some of its rough jamette edges and came to be an acceptable expression of freedom, something to be proud of one’s level of skill.

It has never before struck me how much wining was a thing of beauty until I am confronted with its recently acquired ugliness. Or perhaps it’s only now that things seem to be falling apart, the smiling mask of Trini tolerance slipping to reveal a selfish, scowling grimace, that the loss of simple things seems so stark. Perhaps wining always had the potential to be violent. To be not liberating at all. At Wasa fete, I watch the people exercise their criminal wining machinations. I hear about girls jamming fellars to pick their pockets, men beating their women senseless for wining on the wrong man. I see them get the set-up from outside so that on the inside they have no choice but to behave like leggo beast. Outside the police officers patrol in their riot gear.

They arrange the crowd into tight knots of people, bark instructions like tuneless soca artists who have no creative recourse but 10,000 repetitions of wine, wave, jook and other brutish monosyllabic orders. Move, stop. What is that in your pocket? Take it out. Step aside. Raise your hands.  I watch the people skittish like sheep, excited to get to the feting. But I must not really understand what time it is because I find this all very disturbing. There is more than fete feverishness here. I am feeling something else that makes me want to not be in that crowd. The noise of these several thousand people makes me want to run in the opposite direction.

Watching them wining. Watching them enjoying themselves. This is a jumbie dem moment, I am out of body and they cannot get back to themselves. I am not sure if this is the colour of enjoyment, but nothing can stop this jamming. Nothing can stop this stabbing wine. This association between sex and violence. This death of love on the dancefloor. This co-opting of defiance to a bizarre anti-woman chain up. A wine is a fight. Who can out-wine whom. A wine is no means to an end but a race to the end.  Part of me wants to romanticise a time when there was an innocence about everything. When you could find an iota of sense in an Iwer George song. Anyhow you wine, a wine is a wine. Not so anymore. Now a wine is a competition.

And an inane wining song becomes the most appropriate theme song for fast food. A fast and largely forgettable experience. No this is not a sweetest boomsie wine. Not for this generation of stabbers and daggerers. Who would stab you in the middle of a fete. Or shoot you normal normal afterwards. Just for so. There is no difference between lover and fighter, because even between men and women a war is raging.And the women are freer and fatter and showing more of themselves. And in the abundance of water the fool is tusty. The sweetness has gone from the wine. What is left in its place is a rank and rancid thing. Forced into tight white pants. This above all else disturbs me. This loss of winery is a fate worse than financial collapse. Surely the death of the wine is a dire and desperate indication of the weakness of our collective Trini backbone.

Pedestrian blues on a rainy Monday in Port of Spain

Stood in the rain today. Waiting for a car. Thinking about London, my toes making squishy noises in my sandals. Stood in the rain on Wrightson Road and the traffic snaked past. People in their nice warm cars filing slowly past me, standing in the rain, half my body getting more wet as the rain drops came faster and more slanted from the left. I can see their faces. They look at me from their warm cars. And smile. As if I am some kind of interesting spectacle to entertain them in the traffic. So I smile back, because there’s nothing else to do, standing in the rain waiting for a taxi.

I was coming back from the licensing office, went in to get a form to fill out so that I can renew my driver’s permit. The woman behind the counter was as surly as the last time I went in. She watched me over her glasses and a drop of water plopped very loudly from the ceiling onto the top of my head. Sigh.Five minutes pass. The rain is unrelenting. A van pulls up and the driver beckons to me. I jump in, wanting to weep with relief that someone has picked me up. Someone who isn’t so paralysed by the fear of living in this place that he is willing to rescue a half soaked pedestrian.

We chat about nothing much on the way to town. About the weather mostly and the traffic and the lack of public transport.  He says I looked un-phased by the rain.  Too cool to be washed out by some raindrops.  I laugh.  It’s my Babylondon training.  At least this rain is warm.  At least this rain leaves you feeling like a you took part in an upright Baptism.  Takes the edge off the heat.  Cleanses you of your weariness.
There is no talk about crime. No talk about carnival or economic crises. I don’t know his name or why he isn’t governed by the same fear or maybe snobbery that made all those other people pass me by. We part ways on Independence Square, as the clouds part to reveal a weak, bleak patch of blue.