Sacred Waters

To touch the river is to understand her divinity. You must walk the path of the river to pay your respect. You must experience the shocking coolness of the water in the early dawn, the sharp jab of stones, the yielding softness of mud. The sun barely peeps through the thick forest cover in those early dawn hours when the only noises are forest ones: raucous birds and a whispering river.

 

Excerpt from a short piece I wrote on the Hindu River festival Ganga Dhaaraa in the current issue of Caribbean Beat. 

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

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.

London is the Place

 

I still smile every time I come out of the Brixton Tube station and turn left, and it’s like being in Africa and Asia and the Caribbean all at once. The incense man outside the supermarket is really from Barbados, though he pronounces “incense” like a Jamaican. A car passes, blasting the latest funky house summer scorcher, the unholiest of combinations of high life’s easy groove, dancehall’s driving bass, and soca’s call to wine.

 

Piece I wrote for Caribbean Beat Magazineon my ongoing love affair with Babylondon.

 

Yes we can too

It’s been too hard living
But I’m afraid to die
Cause I don’t know what’s up there
Beyond the sky
It’s been a long
Long time coming
But I know
A change is gonna come
Oh yes, it will.
Change is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke

Yes we can. Yes we can. Say it like a mantra, because if you chant it enough you might actually begin to believe that it’s true.

In this cynicism time, in this hopeless time when I am tired and fed up and just about ready to give up on humanity, a source of possibility comes from the least likely of places.

Here in the shadow of the US, here where our resources are being used to fuel their excesses so that we can then afford to make them ours. Here where foreign men are given absolute power to make decisions about how we are to see ourselves. And conquistadors still think the natives will be fooled by their shiny trinkets.

And it’s not like I want to count egg in fowl bottom or anything, but someone like Obama as President of the US is almost too much for my radical heart to bear.

With little black boys falling like so many tears of so many mothers.

With Mugabe frothing at the mouth in Rome and Papa Patos smelterising on fertile soil that we could be using to feed ourselves.

Obama’s newness is enough to make you think that it really might be possible for things to start to change. And no, I don’t think that one, maybe two four-year terms is enough to repair 200 years of genocide and Manifest Destiny. One, maybe two four-year terms will not make me forget Grenada or Iraq.

And no I don’t want a black messiah. No, I don’t want another black man for us to make excuses for. I don’t want another jive-talking politician. And I don’t want to be a member of anybody’s fat-arse brigade.

I just want something else. Something different. Not another old white male fossil. And it’s not that there is anything wrong with old men per se. Jah know we need our elders now more than ever to remind us of what used to be good about Trinidad. What they were able to create in spite of enslavement and indentureship and war and oppression.

Not another big business, old money, barely literate liar like Dubya. Enough already.

In the same way, we desperately need something different here in the shadow of America. Not another old African/Indian male fossil. Spouting the same rhetoric. Bankrupt of ideas. Bankrupt of vision. Bankrupt of integrity. Making us feel that is the sum total of our potential. To become somebody else’s version of ourselves.

A society’s politicians reflect that society. So it’s opportune that Obama has arrived when he has in the way he has. Maybe there are more people in America now who want something different.

But if we are to take that same principle, what do our politicians say about us? And what does it mean about us if no brave souls with integrity and vision are willing to come forward and take a chance?

Down here in the shadow of America I have to say he’s as much my presidential candidate. All of us have to take an interest in what goes on for the next few months, because it’s as much about us as it is about them.

And I never thought I would find myself saying these words, but this is one time when we should be following America. This is one wave to become caught up in. This is one wave I want to arrive at our shores and wash away the apathy and the lack of political substance.

To relieve us of our extreme boredom with what passes as leadership in the Lower House. A bunch of bepping kicksers who have nothing new to contribute.

Yes we can too. We too can change our politics. We too can get rid of the old guard. Even if the new guard is to make mistakes.

Chant it like a mantra. Chant it until you too start to believe.