Lessons from the Waterfront.

 

Families came from as far as Longdenville last night to show support. Photo courtesy Fixin’ T&T 

In as much as I am anti-establishment and mostly uninterested in displays of nationalism, it was telling that as we sang the anthem at the adjournment of the sitting of the Lower House at which the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 was passed just after 4.00 this morning, the UNCites didn’t see it necessary to stop their exit from the building to stand at attention. They kept walking, as if we needed any more proof of utter lack of respect for the country and the people.
Anyway, we’ll be back out in front of Parliament today at 3 p.m., recess or no recess and every day until the Senate sitting next Tuesday. Everyone needs to petition the independent senators. A document is being prepared that outlines why this Bill must not be made law to be distributed to people who want more information.
And to the people who are believing the media who asked a couple of red or yellow t-shirts that the people who were at the Waterfront from 9 a.m. to 4.30 a.m. in the rain, dew and sun were uninformed, ignorant, or a bunch of feters please come down there and see for yourself. If you too fraid then say so. If you like things just so then say so. But the cameras weren’t there for 90 per cent of the time. People talked, asked questions, challenged each other. A few other things:
- The police are on the side of the people. They came and said this to us on more than one occasion.
- HOWEVER: the police have been given a mission to infiltrate and destabilise any sign of resistance. If you come down to the Waterfront please be aware that they are making an effort to antagonise people by quoting repealed laws and saying things like ‘we could lock allyuh up yuh know but we giving allyuh a bligh’ so that at the first sign of vexation they can start to beat people and lock them up. Read Article Four of the Constitution. Don’t give them the opportunity.
- A member of the renta crowd positioned at the barricade to skin teet with Aunty Kamla slipped a media worker a note on a copy book page saying she couldn’t talk because she was a CEPEP worker.
- People came from all over Trinidad last night, including a woman who travelled home to Chaguanas to bade and feed her dogs but came back and spent the rest of the night.
- There was a steady crowd throughout the night, we pooled resources to make sure that everyone was fed and and watered.
- Hyatt have nice toilet.
- There are 10 CCTV cameras that are in plain view outside the Parliament.
- Aunty Kamla feel she smart but she needs to realise that Trinis will take and take and take and then make you eat the bread the devil knead.

The devil start to weigh flour last night.

All tied up

All tied up

I’ve worn head ties all my life, experimenting with shapes and colours and not just on bad hair days, haha!
In my teen years I was often laughed at for my head ties (the laughers were always as black as me) another manifestation of my outsiderness. The sting of derisive laughter has worn off but I remember it and I know the fear that those who laughed were harbouring.
In Nigeria I submit myself to the superior head wrapping skills of women who are artists of the cloth. Actually there’s a kind of effortless sense of style and awareness of the body that I admired in women both in Naija and Ghana.
But the body confidence exists alongside a paradoxical loathing of dark skin and natural hair. It weirds me out that this self-schism exists and I’ve been thinking of the ways that this affects me as a black woman living in the west.
It’s complicated and part of the uncomfortable conversation we need to keep having. When you see your reflection, are you seeing you or an amalgamation of your racial, historical and social complications?
Style is both personal and political and the negotiations black women constantly have to make are not always what you want to confront when you wake up to get dressed in the morning.

Chipping down the road of understanding.

Last summer in London I taught a few wining classes, and one of the moves I started off with was the chip.
Wining, as I told my students, is much more than a movement of the waist. Like most other rituals associated with Carnival, dancing in Carnival is not given any critical thought, and especially because of the continued dismissal of its African origins, we overlook its subtleties and ultimately it’s real purpose. Part of my real disgust with soca is the ‘instructional’ nature of many of the songs, which create a template for movement, but also to a certain extent, disempower women from really freeing up and expressing themselves and their bodies outside of the approval of the male gaze.
Anyway, now that I’m back in Trinidad and getting ready for Carnival, I’m reading and researching and arming myself with information.
I found this excellent quote in Under the Mas – Resistance and Rebellion in the Trinidad Masquerade written by dancer, Choreographer and scholar Prof Jeff Henry.

The basic calypso dance, ‘the chip’ is executed with a relaxed forward shuffle of the feet, knees slightly bent, with the balls of the feet and the heels continuously flat on the ground, as the weight is shifted from one leg to the other.
The body sways loosely from side to side in response to the change of weight in relationship to the shift of the body. This fundamental rhythmic forward propelling movement comes out of the Shouter Baptist rhythms as part of the physical expression and from the circular movement of the Orisha.
The movement is most noteworthy during the opening ceremony of a Shango meeting which usually begins with a salutation to Eshu. In the Spiritual/Shouter Baptist ceremonies, the movement back and forth accompanied by vocal sounds referred to as ‘doption’ also recalls the ‘chip’. The shuffle of feet flat on the ground has always been the signature of the Calypso dance and is still unconsciously done by masqueraders when they are moving from one place to another or are slowing down to contain their energy.

Durga meditation on an Oya morning

Today begins the Hindu observance of Navratri, a nine night celebration of the nine incarnations of the warrior mother goddess Durga.

It’s hard not to see the similarities between Durga Mata and Oya the goddess of the wind, whose sacred number is 9, who accompanies Shango in battle, who is the divine assurance of change.

My limited understanding of Hinduism is that the goddess is seen as the active manifestation of the masculine, the feminine is the energy that activates, urges the god into action.

As the wind blows outside my window this morning, I pay homage to all warrior woman energies and I encourage all my sister friends to tap into their Shakti power today and everyday.

Don’t ever apologize for being awesome!

And I’m so bored of all these Western feminists talking about how unnecessary men are. That is a pile of tata and if we don’t have a balance of masculine and feminine energies we will never progress as a civilization.

And to my brothers and male friends and lovers past, present, future, I ask that you not fear the power that women possess. Give us the space and love to embrace our wildest selves when necessary. There are too many other battles to fight for us to be engaged in battles in our romantic relationships.

I can live without a man, but I don’t want to.

We all need to just love each other a little more. Men women and women men. Love without the power tripping. Love of the community and the mission that stops the obsessive focus on one person.

Let’s not forget that the largest demon that Durga slays is the ego.

Durga Mata ki Jai! Iba se Oya!

Ase. Ase. Ase.

Foil Vedanta, Shakti revolution and other Wednesday morning thoughts.

 

Wake up, Murderer

“At 8am this morning Anil Agarwal was woken up at his £20 million Mayfair apartment by seven demonstrators with pots and pans and whistles. They shouted ‘blood on your hands’, ‘murderer’ and ‘Vedanta ka anta ho!’ meaning Vedanta should cease to exist, and held placards. One placard cited the communities in Zambia, Australia and India who are affected by pollution and ill health from Vedanta’s mines and industry. Another named two tribal activists – Sukru Majhi and Arsi Majhi – allegedly killed by Vedanta at their Niyamgiri mine project.”

Last summer in Babylon-don I had an amazing opportunity to take part in this protest in central London.  The occasion was the Annual General Meeting of Vedanta Resources PLC.

After my own adventures with the local anti-smelter movement, it was another chance for me to get involved in the global struggle against the aluminium monster, which is well documented in Out of this Earth written by Samarendra Das and Felix Padel.

All the Villains

I spent the day before with Sarbjit, part of the Foil Vedanta crew making posters.  It was also a chance for us to share stories of struggles and I was reminded once again of how important women are to protest movements around the world.

Sarbjit for all intents and purposes was a typically quiet Indian woman. She made me amazing chapatis in her kitchen while we talked about revolution and traditional expectations and love and other things that women like us talk about.

The next day, Sarbjit’s voice rang out clear and unrelenting ‘Arrest Anil Agarwal, criminal, criminal.’ She called out for hours, her voice vibrating along the street. I imagined her refrain making the people in the AGM upstairs increasingly agitated.

For murders and environmental crimes

The other person who stood out in this protest for me was Miriam a young English woman I met in Iceland in 2007 when Saving Iceland held their Summer Protest camp.  I consider that trip one of the significant events in my life for a number of reasons but mainly because I got to experience firsthand and with people from very diverse backgrounds that multi-nationals like to play the same dirty tricks wherever they are in the world.  And so the stories described to me from Orissa or Brazil or South Africa rang true to what I had experienced right here in Trinidad.

Without a doubt there are some amazing men involved in these global struggles for the environment, for people, for communities.

But women bring a truth to activism that is undeniable and pretty much uncelebrated.  If women aren’t involved as more than the back-up, then the movement will fail. This is why our labour movement is so weak and lacking credibility. Because it is not rooted to anything. To real people or real issues. All I can see is a bunch of men fighting over who can piss further.

More women need to understand their role in making a difference.  Beyond environmental struggles, activism among women needs to happen in terms of social interventions and taking back our communities from anything and everything that threatens to destroy them.

If we cannot change the notion of women as nurturers, life-givers, the primary source of life and living. Then we have to change the notion that women are somehow incapable of defending that which is closest and dearest to them.

All of which is to say, I’m missing my friends and sisters and brothers in London today.   And wondering how to cause a Shakti revolution up in this place.

 

Nail Polish Distraction

Dear Aunty Kamla
Believe it or not, I’ve recently developed a fondness for nail polish. This is a bizarre new world for me, since I haven’t been interested in nail polish since the nineties. It was one of the things I gave up in my more idealistic radical teenage vegan days.
You see nail polish, contains some rather nefarious chemicals and I couldn’t justify polluting Mother Earth just so that I could feel better about how my toes look in slippers.
Last summer in Babylon-don I briefly toyed with the idea of buying some organic nail polish, but it was £8 a bottle and again I couldn’t justify spending £8 on nail polish when I could use the money to save the earth by going off to another environmental protest.
But I digress.
My sistren Ria who is determined to make me cute, and doesn’t mind that she is fighting an uphill battle put some polish on my finger nails the other
night. It was so weird to have hands that look nice for a change. To have my freakishly long fingers come to a pretty end was kind of a refreshing
change from how they usually look. Which is writerish – short nails, fingers permanently bent in a qwerty direction. I stared at my hands all night but then took it off after a few hours because it felt too much like someone else’s hands. They looked cute but my hands are mine and I kind of like that they reflect who I am and what I do.
Anyway, Ria made another attempt with the nail polish on New Year’s Eve and this time I ended up with orange toes.
A week later, I still have orange toes and this is where I’m getting concerned.
Aunty Kamla, I kind of like it. My toes look so cute that I want to keep this look going for a while. But unfortunately Ria is not only my nail polish pusher but one of the brightest women I know and as such she has gone back to her big sawatee job in Babylon-don.
You’re probably wondering Aunty Kamla, why on Jah’s green earth am I confessing this to the nation’s Prime Minister?
Well I’m not really sure but I have a hunch that my new fascination with my orange toes is kind of like your not quite having come to terms with the fact that you’re really the Prime Minister and you’re so caught up in the trappings that you just can’t seem to get settled into actually doing anything.
And perhaps it’s sexist of me to use nail polish as an analogy for you and your government’s apparent incapacity to actually get anything done. I am falling into all the age old gendered ways of seeing women and their roles.
The point is, my orange toes are causing me a lot of distraction. I watch them as I walk. Sitting at my desk. I’m even thinking of buying proper shoes
in which my orange toes will be properly displayed. I want to go out and buy more nail polish, but a) I can’t actually put it on myself b) you can’t buy
organic nail polish in Trinidad and everybody knows the track record we have in terms of our landfills.
But I’ve figured out that the problem Aunty Kamla is that I, unlike Ria and my Didi and also my relentlessly fabulous mother, have not been able to master the art looking fabulous while being undistracted by my fabulousness.
But this is not a threat to the future of a nation.
Sometimes I see you, Aunty Kamla and I think you are suffering from I never thought. Which is an easy affliction to suffer from in Trinidad. Because we are so violently allergic to change and difference, when the change actually comes, we get terribly confused. We start to suffer from paralysis, a kind of analytical tootoolbay.
You see you very much look the part. But the look isn’t enough. To tell the truth, I’d be happy if you looked the way you looked before your campaign
image consultants made you over into well put together Prime Minister lady.
Because all the tweezing and teasing and trappings did not prepare you for how to deal with seven murders in four days. Or Ministers who’ve started to act like Animal Farm piggies. Or a coalition that is at best shaky.
I watched you a few weeks ago on the Promenade with Aunty Verna and Aunty Ella. I could sense you wanted to break away. To let the drums shake
you to your core. But that’s not Prime Minister-ly. So you smile and try and hold yourself together.
But this is not a time for women to hold themselves together. To separate themselves from their emotions. To be distracted by nail polish and hair
spray. We’ve had enough of that soulless leadership from the many men who have failed us.
And certainly if all the trappings and trimmings and girdling and high heeling distract you from the job then I say get rid of them altogether. I imagine I will grow bored of nail polish by next week. I cannot imagine that you will get
bored of looking like well put together Prime Minister lady any time soon. But please don’t forget the job is real. The people are real. The country is in real crisis and appearances will not, cannot save us.

Saturdays, Thankfulness and a Story for Rhea

Saturday night found me, despite my considerable lack of grace and coordination, I found myself sweaty and dancing at the Hindu Prachar Kendra post Ramdilla festivites. There is a way that dancing with children makes you feel alive and I was thankful for that moment of freedom.

On the way out, I confessed to Ravi Ji in the way that you can only confess to people to whom your mother may have complained in the not so distant past about your waywardness that I feel like I’m just not doing enough.  The children of this generation for whom so much was sacrificed, so much danger dodged, so many battles fought, we’re just not doing enough.

So in wise uncle mode, Ravi ji tells this story as told to him by his aja.   There was a man from a village who was very well known.  One day the man is riding through the village on his donkey and then for some reason the donkey takes off at a pace down the road.  The village pundit sees the well known, well loved, well respected man pelting down the road holding on for dear life and shouts after him something like ‘Jagdeo Maharaj whey yuh goin!’ and mr jagdeo responds ‘doh aks me, aks de donkey!’

I started writing this before I knew that Rhea Mungal had done the inconceivable and decided that she was ready to leave us.

But the moral of Ravi Ji’s aja’s story is, sometimes all we can do is hold on, even when life gets a little crazy and unpredictable.

Every story has a point.  Every tragedy has a lesson.  Every community has a Rhea Mungal.  But each of these you have to find and nurture and understand and pass on.

Mrs. Ashby used to say back in the days on the frontline in Chatham, a stupid man is bad enough, but a stupid woman mus dead.  Well right now I real vex because Rhea Mungal was by no means a stupid woman.  Yet we have to contend with a lot of stupid blasted men in this country everyday.  That is why Rhea fought. That is why Rhea did what she did.

I am thankful for Rhea holding on to this jackass called activism.  She held on and fought hard not just in her own community but for all kinds of movements, here and beyond. I am thankful because she found ways to laugh and keep fighting and keep hoping and holding on despite and in spite of.  I am thankful because she was one of those relentlessly amazing Trinidad women who hold on despite the sexism, despite the belittling, despite her commitments to family, despite her own personal struggles.  I am thankful  for all the women like Rhea who will never get to sit on a state board. Who will never get a national award. Who will never have a street in their name.  Who do the work the men will never do and then some.  Who are afraid of nothing but their own dissatisfaction.

I was writing this originally for Rhonda.  And then I checked my email and saw a message that Rhea Mungal had just died.

Now I am writing this for me.  And for everyone else who is worried about holding on for the wild jackass ride.

Hold on a little longer. Please.  If not for yourself, for Rhea.  For the women who hold on to nothing but ideas.

Hold on for all the Rheas who hold this country together.  Without them we would have nothing but jackasses running about.