The end of Me and Mr. Sabga Newsletter.

I’ve been trying since Wednesday to find the words to say to make sense of this Guardian folly.
I’ve never felt like the Guardian was the bastion of free press, I’ve read enough of its archive to know that since its 19 Century inception, through Independence through to 1970, the Guardian guards not democracy but the status quo, the elite power structures that keep some of us as masters and the rest of us as slaves.
The key to running a morally and socially bankrupt society is to ensure that you have certain people and institutions that keep people in their place.
People like me find a space in newspapers like the Guardian, because it fits their profile to appear to fair and balanced.
Yet I’ve had several occasions during my time as a columnist when I have had my right to fair comment compromised or threatened.
I had a public spat at a media briefing organized by ALCOA with Anthony Wilson who accused me of being unethical for writing about the smelter issue while I was involved as an activist.
And then in 2009 when Obama was coming for the Fifth Summit of the Americas, I got a call from the then Public Affairs editor Arthur Dash saying that he had been advised to let me know that there was no space for my column the following day. It was only after I made a scene on social media that they miraculously found space for my column again.
I’ve kept my column because I feel like I have things to say about Trinidad, about who we are and who we hope to become.
Few of us have a clear agenda. And that’s okay because it’s only through open discussion and constructive criticism that we’ll start to refine what that agenda is.
But I’m not sure all the voices in the conversation are focused on creating a better country.
The media needs a lot of scrutiny. As much if not more than the government.
A free press and a functional government go hand in hand and it is becoming more and more obvious that we have neither.
And MATT is not the watchdog it should be. If it was, this country would have been shut down the moment Sheila Rampersad, Denyse Renne and Anika Sandiford-Gumbs decided to pick up their jahaaji bundle and ride out. Or when Fazeer Mohammed got removed from First Up. Or when Uncle Jack threatened Denyse Renne and Asha Javeed.
But I guess MATT and the media are made up of citizens like the rest of us. You know, who have a mortgage. And 2.5 children. And long hard days. And hours in traffic.
And if nobody else is willing to, why should journalists sacrifice themselves for the nation’s entertainment?
Just like the public sector and the private sector and the unions and the churches and mosques and temples and the education system, some of my colleagues put their political affiliations before country. And some of us eating a food like the same ones we want to point fingers at. And some of us just looking for bacchanal. And some of us have allegiance to nothing.
Selfishness has us where we are and selfishness will take us where we’re going: nowhere.
The question of who stays and who goes is not the question. The question is who is keeping all of us accountable to each other? And if one person falls on their sword who is going to put up money to make sure they can buy groceries at the end of the month?
The stress and confusion and the lack of the full story created in the last couple days has exactly the desired effect of distracting us what from is really happening and that is the looting not just of the Treasury but our bank of collective responsibility.
They, (and by they I mean we), are trying to keep us in a state of fear and self-revulsion and we are obliging them.
Fear sells papers. And security services. And burglar proof. Fear is big business and the state is acting like a corporate entity peddling garbage and treating its workers like animals.
Once at the beginning of my time as a reporter an editor told me my only role was to fill space and meet deadlines.
I couldn’t reconcile that with what I imagined a journalist to be. I’m reminded of that ridiculous speech when I hear Gabriel Faria, followed by the about turn by MATT three days after they claimed that freedom of the press was under seige.
What we are watching is a freakshow where freedom and excellence are trotted out and flogged by clowns like Mr. Faria the mouthpiece of ‘establishment’ who I’ve never heard in a media context until a couple days ago. I want to know if he ever get a boof from George John. He has neither the professional nor moral authority to have anything to say about journalism.
He and the rest of the GML/AnsaMcAL massas wouldn’t know what excellence is to a journalist if somebody hit them with a Thesaurus. But they get to shout jump and the newsroom must start to levitate.
A journalist is no use without an audience. A newspaper can’t sell without journalists. They need us as much as we need them but somehow the power relationship is skewed and the journalists end up feeling like media owners are doing them a favour.
I’d rather not write for a paper that makes me or my colleagues unsure of who is going to make you bend to their will or wine for your supper.
I have nothing to trade with the world but words. Words and my reputation. My reputation is that I say and do what I think is right. I have a conscience and this is what it has been shouting at me since Wednesday: No compromise. They are threatening people’s livelihoods and that is not just madness it is criminal.
No compromise. This is war and if all citizens aren’t prepared to fight we might as well lie down and dead.

Election bell ring, Ms. Democracy

Dem a di don, to di biz we av di key
put di don to di key and turn him inna donkey
—Ting a Ling, Shabba Ranks

The election bell ring. It wake up Democracy from a deep drunken sleep. She sit up and watch the clock and steups. A long watery one. The kind of special steups you save for when you in government office for an hour trying to do something that should take five minutes.
Democracy put on the radio to see who else dead in the night. She listen to the bacchanal. She switch and listen to the fearmongers.
She smile and shake her head at the callers. Near hysterics with the latest piece of stupidness that just get revealed.
She wonder if nothing else going on in this forceripe little island except for badjohns with guns and badjohns with seats in Parliament.
They coming for her just now. They coming to dress her up pretty and loud for a few weeks and parade her about like a trophy wife.
Democracy wish she could say half the things that in her head and heart to say. That could turn things around and make a difference to the lives of those who need it the most.
The ones who depending on the government or the opposition to actually represent them and engage them in creating a brighter future.
Democracy take a sip of her coffee watching the clouds gather on the hills. This is a sweet time of the day when the light is perfect.
The hills used to be so green. But is development, nah. Is development and the need for housing that have less trees on the hills and rivers on mud running down her street.
It had a time when she used to try and make a difference. She used to talk.
They say she is a trouble aker. They say she trying to make confusion. They say she trying to stop people from eating a food.
Democracy, hush yuh firetrucking mouth so I could make a lil kickback.
They don’t know who is me or what? Like they forget the meaning of my name. Like they forget that is because of me they reach anywhere in the first place.
She give up on fighting them now. She give up because the licks starting to take a toll. The emotional abuse starting to make her forget the meaning of her own name.
Democracy is good at hiding the bruises now. She learn how to do that long time. She eat so much licks in her time that she know how to turn her face so that when the lash pass it wouldn’t leave too big a mark. Not too bad.
Democracy go on Facebook. She watch her newsfeed and roll her eyes at the political blogs. She not really sure why she following them in the first place.
A set of idlers who like to hide behind they computer and pontificate about what wrong with Trinidad.
But if she were to call them and ask them to come and help her out, they woulda start to stutter and well, ahm in her ears and tell her how it eh really have nothing she could do.
See? We’re so free here. We give you a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea and you should be grateful for that.
She going to spend the next few weeks wining for rum and roti.
Democracy watch herself long and hard in the mirror. She not looking too bad. She could still smile and convince people that she is beautiful. She could still make a show that she matters and is of value.
The money they paying her to show up, well she could make a good living on that. She could go away every now and again. She could buy nice things and go on the Avenue and lime.
Democracy figure is compensation enough for her pains.
They coming for her just now. They coming to show her off in the papers. On the hustings. She getting some good gigs for the next few weeks.
Is like Carnival time when they does play local music on the radio.
After elections she going to disappear just like soca. Until next time.
The rain falling again.
The sky weeping tears on her behalf. Endless tears. The sky have more water than Wasa, that’s for sure. She can’t cry now. She smile at her face in the mirror. She skin her teeth and practise kissing babies. She swallow hard to get rid of the lump in her throat.
Now that the election bell ring. How it go look if Democracy looking bad?

From Home to Home

lookbeyond

Ah went away
Ah leave and ah forward home
Ah forward to stay
Ah must see mih way
—Forward Home, Andre Tanker

You know that move? The one when the pressure from the drumming gets to be too much. When you feeling like your spirit might separate from your body. You ketch the power of the rhythm and it’s like your spine can no longer keep your body upright. You are water and fire and moving air. You are one in a crowd heaving like jouvay morning when you on that Savannah stage and the sun coming up over your Laventille hills.

Your knees buckle and you dip. Your arms end up on top your head—you can feel all your chakras open and the kundalini rising like smoke from some sacred fire burning inside you. Your feet do steps you never knew you knew. Your bottom is a republic.

I am outside the palace of the Asantehene in Kumasi dancing with a couple hundred other people I have never seen before. It is the day before the funeral of someone I do not know. I was passing by and heard the music and the combination of a riddim section and sweet brass was too much to resist. It’s a telling moment in this my first visit to Africa. I submit to a bigger force that has drawn me here. I submit to what Africa has done to consolidate itself not just in a vague way in my imagination but in the front of my mind.

I’ve seen a few different Africas in the past three weeks. I’ve seen the Africa you see on television. The one they want us to believe is the only one that exists. I’ve seen the Africa that made me want to plead with the gods of personal hygiene and promise to never take indoor plumbing for granted again.

I’ve seen the Africa of my imagination. The one that looks like home. That feels like I belong here. That I blend into and don’t feel like an outsider. And people who don’t question why a little black girl like me should be interested in the things that I am interested in. I have seen more Christian churches than I can count. And the fear on the face of the woman who accompanies me to witness a roadside ceremony that marks the death of a powerful traditional priest.

I have seen the kind of wealth that would make my uptown London friends feel like paupers. And discovered another level of pan-Africanism that we forgot that out little T&T that has given the world. Speak the names George Padmore and Henry Sylvester Williams and CLR James and Kwame Ture in some quarters and the air starts to vibrate with the memory of the contributions.

I have met Ghanaians who want to know what scenes Trinis really on. They want to know how come the T&T Government acted so shady in signing the gas deal that eventually went to the Chinese. They want to know if Trinis don’t want to deal with Africans, if they really believe the fiction that black people not good at business.

They want to know if we know that it is because their past President Gerry Rawlings came to Trinidad for Emancipation that the Door of No Return at Cape Coast castle was reopened and that every year people come from all over the diaspora to walk through that door.

Ghanaians pick at their wounds too. We talk politics into the wee hours. E-mailgate rubs up against a court hearing on irregularities in their recently held general election. We laugh on the outside at the colossal stupidity of politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. But weep on the inside. At how we are still confronting the same post-colonial monsters.

We commiserate with the African Americans who have only recently discovered what we have known for 50 years—that because your leader looks like you it doesn’t mean that he or she has your best interests at heart.

I wish I could bring a few people from T&T to meet all the little black boys and girls I was hanging out with. The highly educated ones. The ones who do not feel the need to apologise for their blackness or don’t feel like you curse their mother if you call them African. Who understand that being sure of who you are isn’t a threat to anyone else’s identity. In fact, your surety puts you in a better position to contribute to forward movement.

When I regain control of my body and the music is just an echo, my spirit is dancing still. To the music of possibility. I wash off the last remnants of doubt on that same coast where my ancestors were taken away in ships. I left home to come home. And they welcomed me like I had never left. When I leave home to go back home, I hope the welcome will be as warm.

eintouandmecoast

Ghana in a Timing

RollinginGhana

Told you we ain’t dead yet
we been livin’ through your Internet
you don’t have to believe everything you think
we’ve been programmed wake up, we miss you.
they call you indigo, we call you Africa.
go get baptised in the ocean of the people
say reboot, refresh, restart
fresh page, new day, o.g.’s, new key

The Healer, Erykah Badu

 It’s as if I’m floating over my own body as this is happening. Like I’m not really here. In Accra, Ghana. In the heat and noise of an African night. Talking with Angela Davis. Yes, THE Angela Davis. Her afro still big and defiant, challenging the straight acceptance of weaves and relaxer. The words are tumbling out of my mouth and I feel jumpier than ten teenage girls in a Justin Beiber concert.  

 I am telling her the story of that time when I was in Cuba in 2000 and I met Assata Shakur who, like a runaway, had escaped to a freetown called Havana after the FBI decided that she was a terrorist. 

We bumped into her, Mariamma and I, on the last day of an international solidarity conference, the young people from all over the Americas seeking her out, hoping to get a glimpse of her. We were about to catch a train to go and see Che’s remains in Santa Clara and in looking for a quiet spot from which we could sneak out, ended up sitting right next to Assata, who smiled at us with the quiet dignity of one who is notorious and loved. I thought at the time and I think now: everything happens when it’s supposed to. 

Like this is the moment when I am meant to be in Ghana. In Africa. For the first time. Standing between my mother and Angela Davis. Two giants in the development of my personal and political consciousness. On the scale of life experiences and adventures, I think I would rate this moment in the top five. Second maybe to being born. I’ll allow myself this rather un-Aquarian exaggeration because I don’t know how else to process what I’ve been thinking and feeling and living for the past two days.

But it’s a wonderful confluence of life experiences against the backdrop of a conference hosted by the Organisation of Women Writers of African Descent at which my Eintou is presenting a pan. Yari Yari Ntoaso brings together women of African descent from around the continent and the diaspora to explore the individual and collective experiences of women as writers, as academics, as queer theorists, as troublemakers, midwives of a new era for young black women. 

In addition to the conversations on the panels and the conversations over lunch and on the bus to and from the conference, there are the moments with the volunteers. Young Ghanaian women. Who have the kind of beauty that you see on every street from Brixton to Kingston and everywhere in between.

 An unconscious kind of beauty. Hidden behind lace front weaves. Talking with them is what I enjoy the most. Their voices and their smiles and the spontaneous dance moves we break into at random moments in our conversations tell me that this is where I am supposed to be at this moment in my life. For no magical or mystical reason I am never going to be the same again. Places and people change you. Adding this experience to my life’s equation is no idle feat. 

I try to be reasonable about processing my feelings. Along the way I worried that I would have anticipated this too much and that it would either be disappointing or tragic. I cried with fear and nervousness and joy at every point of the journey from London, to Rome to Lagos and then to Accra.

When I finally got out of the plane and felt the heat and smelled the smells and heard the voices, I knew it was going to be okay. And a man behind me said “You are home.” And I looked about for the camera crew because it was just too much like a film moment to be true. There is no film crew following me but I know I really will never be the same again. 

Africa, this corner of it, far from being the home I thought it would be, is the place where I am even more comfortable in my state of being that unapologetic small-island Trini. An amalgam of things and people and ways of being. More than an African. I am a Steel Pan African. I am the product of survival. I am the reconfigured, reconstituted truth of globalisation. I am Anansi and Osun bouncing up Durga and Hyarima. 

Everything happens for a reason. And how it’s supposed to. In the right timing. African time. Not too early or too late. Just right. What else can I be but thankful.

First published in Trinidad Guardian May 18, 2013

Breasts of Iron

Peter yuh doh know
The pressure I undergo
From these mad man and woman
Ah feel the full weight of dey hand
They make they oppress law
They never care about the poor
Peter these people had they day
Well now is time for Stalin to play.

—Bun Dem, Black Stalin

 

I am a little girl again standing at a bus stop in England waiting to go to school. Studying the display of Sindy dolls in the Woolworth’s window. And then dry so, without warning, like cobo falling dead out of the sky, an old woman walks up and punches me in the face. No warning. No shouted threats. Just an old mad white woman coming up to me at a bus stop and punching me in the face.  

I have no frame of reference for such violence. My tears are not from pain but from shock and confusion at what I could possibly have done for an old woman to come up and punch me in the face. My sisters are beside themselves and when I get to school with a bloody nose my classmates form a protective shield around me and share their fish fingers at lunch time. Even the hateful Claire Sommers doesn’t call me chocolate factory worker that day. 

By the time I get home my mother is pacing like a caged lioness. Somebody is going to die. My nose isn’t bleeding and there is only a little split on my lip, but she inspects me like I’ve been at war. A police officer is at the door soon. She talks for a while, trying to calm my mother who is in angry hysterics. 

She explains that this is what happens when you cut back on welfare. Old mad women are turned out of homes. Old mad women who have probably seen two black people in their lives, get nervous and disoriented and violent. This is what happens when you have iron breasts that don’t know what is nurturing. She said there is no such thing as society and society died. But people didn’t die and some of them roamed the streets like zombies lashing out at anybody who happened to be too close. 

 My nose healed up—she didn’t hit me hard enough to cause permanent damage—and after a while I wasn’t terrified to death of standing at the bus stop. But it hadn’t occurred to me how much that moment still affected me until I was walking in a stush part of London one night last summer and clutched my bag cowering as an old white woman walked swiftly up behind me. 

 She looked at me with such absolute confusion, as if she couldn’t imagine what I, an almost six foot, wild-haired black woman could possibly have to fear. Thatcher’s England still echoes now. In the policies of this new Con Dem government, in the naked neo-liberalism and war-mongering of Tony the Phony. In the bulldozed housing estates and the bedroom tax. In the bounding and unbridled and unregulated behaviour of banks and the expectation that taxpayers will bail them out. 

There’s no love lost between me and Mistress Margaret. She of iron will and unwavering principles. Breasts of iron do not belong to women who are interested in building a future for their children. She is no role model to me and I’d rather not have female leaders if that is what they do.

Still, I can’t bring myself to go to a party to celebrate her death. I am relieved that I know better and I am not from a place that makes old people invisible and because of her terrible example of what it is to be human, I appreciate the people around me who are more in touch with their humanity. 

Thatcherisms ripple across the globe. Thatcherisms multiply like mosquitoes in a foetid pond of global capitalism. And the London Stock Exchange and the business district are what my activist friend from India calls a Paradise for Parasites built on a solid foundation of slavery money. I think of her dying in the comfort of the Ritz hotel. I wonder what happened to that lonely, frightened old woman who punched me in the face. If she died alone and cold. 

I can’t vex with the cobo for falling out of the sky on the day that Margaret Thatcher died. As if the cobo themselves could not bear the possibility of picking the flesh from those iron bones. I don’t believe in Hell but if I did Mistress Margaret would be in it, spending a million lifetimes to account for all her sins. And maybe then she might weep real tears and rust a hole through her iron breasts and maybe then her heart might hurt for all the pain she caused.

First published in the Trinidad Guardian April 13, 2013

The Economics of Fear

I’m crying everyone’s tears;
And there inside our private war;
I died the night before;
And all of these remnants of joy; and disaster.
What am I supposed to do?
I want to cook you a soup that warms your soul;
But nothing would change, nothing would change at all;
It’s just a day that brings it all about;
Just another day and nothing’s any good.

—King of Sorrow, Sade

The only people in Trinidad who seem to be getting more clever and using their smarts to get ahead is the bandits. While parliamentarians quibble about who should get guns, and how far down the slippery slope to police statehood we are going to descend in the next few months, the thieves are having a time. They are stealing not just dollars. They are stealing our sense of who we are, our sense of perspective on what is right, our compassion, our faith in humanity.

There’s no sense in blaming the teachers or the communities they come from. The fact is that we have prestige-school bandits walking around unmasked and unapologetic and thieving us blind, in addition to a complacent majority who remain blissfully unaffected by all of the many problems prove that we’re all in the same boat of not really caring about what happens to Trinidad.

The two most important organisations in the country—the Environment Commission and the Integrity Commission—are essentially useless. This speaks volumes about how we continue to perceive crime. While parliamentarians argue we are losing the right to live in safety. Who stands to benefit from precepted soldiers? Who is going to get a nice little contract from the Government to bring in the latest arms for us to kill each other with? Which multi-national corporation is going to benefit from our burning desire to kill each other?

What else could we do with the money that we’d be spending to train soldiers to intimidate communities? It’s also about the economics, baby. And somebody is making a lot of money off our fear. Meanwhile, we baulk at the revelation by Huffington Post that T&T is number eight in the world’s least friendly places for tourists. Forget tourists, Trinidad is one of the least friendly places on the planet for its own citizens. 

We have black gold and we don’t need white tourists. We have black gold to kill our fish and pollute our waterways and build big buildings and waste money on stupidness. As the bandits become more sophisticated and the Government gets more hysterical and the people who have things to steal get more paranoid and paralysed by fear, there isn’t much thought going on as to how to get the thieves to stop stealing and men to stop raping women and children.

The problem is not that there was maybe one house in St Joseph having a meeting about destabilising the country. The country has never really been stable. The country has been unstable since Hyarima times. The country is always on the brink of boiling over, of exploding with rage at one injustice or another. 

We constantly rhapsodise for a time when life was sweet in Trinidad. But there have always been people here eating the bread the devil knead, on the outskirts, staying alive through sheer will power and bad mind. There have always been people trying their best with the little they have. Finding joy in simplicity, planting their own food, hoping for better for their children. And those of us who have been untouched by the madness have been led to believe that if we continue to ignore it, it doesn’t matter.

But as long as there are people taking advantage of others, the country will continue to be unstable. Right now the war is on for the soul of our country and if we’re not, every last one of us, actively engaged and prepared to battle, then what is the point? What is the point of a Constitution that is only for some of us? What is the point of sitting down and waiting for somebody else to figure it out?

The problem is that all our houses aren’t having meetings to figure out ways to do something about the country and the Government. The problem is that we aren’t having nightly meetings in every house, hatching plots to assassinate the complacent, defeatist mentality of our families and friends and neighbours. 

Published in the Trinidad Guardian March 16, 2013

Not much to Celebrate

Everybody run run run
Everybody scatter scatter
Some people lost some bread
Someone nearly die
Someone just die
Police dey come, army dey come
Confusion everywhere
—Sorrow, Tears and Blood, Fela Kuti

Dear Aunty Kamla,
Not that you asked. But I’ll tell you, I’m not terribly happy about the state of my country right now. It’s not just the failed-state stench that’s hanging over us like La Basse smog on an early morning. It’s not the Flying Squad bacchanal or the out-of-control crime. It’s not even the vacuum of radical, fearless leadership that’s going to be left in the aftermath of Hugo Chavez’s death.

Give jack his jacket, he did things that successive governments have failed to do and will continue to fail to do—like using our oil wealth to lift certain segments of our society out of poverty. It’s my uterus, Aunty Kamla. She’s got a mind of her own and she thinks you need to get some vulvicular fortitude. March, they say is the month of women. Women making strides. Women doing wonderful things. Yippee you say. My uterus and I had a chat and we think there isn’t much to celebrate.

We’re still one of the few countries in the western hemisphere to have a woman in charge. Well, if you call what you’re doing being in charge. My uterus gets the sense that you aren’t, really. My uterus thinks that you are just as clueless as the rest of us as to just what the hell is going on and how to solve the many problems.

My uterus is shouting bloody murder because she thinks that this cluelessness will last another two years until election season comes around again and suddenly you will have all the answers to the many questions we have. Where, oh where is the gender policy? Where, oh where is the child protection legislation? Why is the Children’s Authority still non-functional?

To tell you the truth, I think my uterus is kind of bored of it all, Aunty Kamla. What about you? Are you bored as well? Bored of having to make excuses for your Cabinet? Bored of having to sidestep demands to probe the issue of the day? Are you bored, too, of columnists like me who don’t understand what it’s really like to run a country? The cautious anticipation I felt at the beginning of your time in office has become a dull and ever present headache. I keep waiting for you to come up with a cure.

You don’t seem to have one and that makes me terribly sad. Those who say you are the mother of the nation must have had the sorts of mothers that wail on television when their children behave badly. Those who say you are the mother of the nation must be needy orphans. My mother is a lot of things, including an excellent cook and a little mad. I know if I had a headache she would probably feel it before I had a name for the pain. She would also move mountains to ensure that I no longer had a headache.

My uterus is a little gun shy about producing any future Trinis because she thinks that the foundation that you are laying for a future T&T is no future at all. My uterus wonders why your government ministers are rushing to help one family when so many children are at risk, everyday, every minute, all over this country.

My uterus wonders if your prime ministership is more gimmicky than the national telephone company that spends endless money talking about how awesome their technology is but the frequency of dropped calls is faster than the speed of mobile internet access. My uterus wants you to know that she’s kind of pissed. And it’s not hormonal imbalances. It’s not misplaced angry black woman outbursts.

My uterus wants you to woman up and do your job instead of constantly reacting to situations. My uterus wonders if you remember your own birth pangs. Who was there to hold your hand? Who prepared you for that day? Why aren’t you holding this nation closer? Why aren’t you preparing us for what is to come?

My uterus is angry and weepy, Aunty Kamla. My uterus wonders if anyone, including you, will care. My uterus wonders if your uterus also churns with distress. My uterus wonders where the mothers are. The mothers who give birth to the abusers. To the killers. To the police. To the politicians. To the thinkers and doers and musicians and the artists. My uterus wonders what is going on in their insides.

She wonders when women will understand that without them change is impossible. Without them demanding it, instigating it, forcing it, pushing it, the change our communities so desperately need will remain an unfulfilled desire. Bleeding out of us and into our flooded drains. Like so many dead children. And so many dead dreams.

First published in the Trinidad Guardian March 9, 2013