This time next week, I’ll be in the midst of the bacchanal that is Jouvay. Jouvay is truth in a way that nothing else can be.
So as I get my heart and mind ready for this week, I’m reflecting on my Jouvay truths. My love for Trinidad and Carnival and art.

Our own rape culture

How yuh jammin so?
Like yuh feelin hot or what?
Mr, why grinin so
You come out to jump or not
Every time yuh swing yuh hand
Yuh bounce mih tot tot or mih butt
You behaving just like if you want to eat me
Right here on the spot

How Yuh Jammin so, Mighty Sparrow

The roar of anguish coming from the women of India echoes and ripples around the world. It took the death of a 23-year-old for some members of Indian society to sit up and begin to confront a situation that is tacitly accepted around the world, even by those of us who think we are all modern and progressive and cool about sex.

It is a double-edged sword that the filmi fantasies of the purity of love between Indian men and women that some of us in the West hold have been shattered by the savagery of the five rapists’ act. But it doesn’t mean that we are any closer to confronting the fact that rape culture is as pervasive as capitalism.

We will happily sign a petition demanding that they do something about rape in India. Meanwhile the broadcasting of the sexual abuse of an Ohio girl is not as much of a news item as Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy. It’s time for us to put away another myth about Indian women: that of the submissive, shrinking violet who accepts her fate meekly and quietly.

I see the images of women raising sticks against the police trying to stop their peaceful protests. I read the stories of Phoolan Devi the Bandit Queen. About the Pink Sari gang defending the environment. About the hundreds of women of Koondakoolam who have stood up to the Government and international corporations trying to build a nuclear reactor in their backyards and I don’t need any more convincing that Indian women are anything but passive.

The women who have taken to the streets are demanding not just justice for the late Damini but also a change in the perception of what it is to be a woman. The extreme positions of goddess or whore. Because women are not supposed to either enjoy sex or choose who they want their sexual partners to be or, heaven forbid, defy the demands of the man to whom she “belongs.”

To those of us who watch on from the West, all smug in our post-modern liberation, what are we going to do about rape culture in our own backyards? How have we sought to question the way that our own bodies are treated?

Who wants to have a conversation about dismantling patriarchy? Who wants to confront the fact that whether or not you think the Prime Minister is good at her job or not, the criticism of her is always bordering on disturbingly sexist and overbearingly sexual? Who wants to talk to their young people about sex? Who wants to change the warning issued by generations of parents: “when ah leggo mih cock yuh better tie up yuh hen”?

Who wants to take on the thinking behind the bizarre comments of the Deputy Commissioner of Police blaming teenage girls for the increase in sexual offences. I’m no longer willing to accept that rape culture is part of the burden women have to bear and surely somebody with a little bit of sense needs to tell Mervyn Richardson that the way to address sexual offences is not to start by blaming girls for filing reports.

I thought we’d come a long way from denying that young people are being abused. I thought we would be at the point where we would be trying to deconstruct the psychology of why young women are only able to value their sexuality as a commodity that they can trade to get the material possessions that this society says they need to have to matter.

Every Carnival we get a slew of advertisements and articles admonishing women about what to do to avoid being raped or attacked on the streets. Don’t go off by yourself, they say. Don’t accept drinks from strangers. Women are always expected to take responsibility for their actions. Where are the campaigns addressed to the men?

Where are the campaigns challenging backward notions of masculinity? Where are the boofs for men to man up and stop raping women? Why are we raising women to be victims and men to be aggressors? The idea of ownership of your body is perhaps one of the most radical ideas that a woman could ever have. And I don’t mean choosing to wear a wire bra to play mas.

Maybe one day we’ll stop seeing rape culture as somebody else’s problem. Maybe one day we too will take to the streets for all the Daminis in our communities who are too terrified to report their own sexual offences for the fear of being blamed by a society that is still to scared to talk honestly about sex.

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.

Silence in the Land

Dey trying to blow mih mind
They want me to walk and wine
I cah take dis ting at all
They want me to jump and bawl.

—What’s Going On,
Mighty Shadow

Not a person in the Strand clapped. There were a few hundred people there although the opening night of Kaiso House tent was by no stretch of anyone’s imagination packed. They had clapped and called back twice for Marvellous Marva’s scathing commentary on belt-tightening. They had clapped and called for more of Sharlan Bailey’s brilliant Faking Evil, a thoughtful and humorous exposé on wannabe gangsters. But when MC Sheldon John called for a round of applause for the Government, the room was so quiet you could hear the ministers squirm.

Later that night I read more about the collapse of the Icelandic Government to the rhythmic sounds of pot hitting economists and tree huggers and about protests in France and excitement about the spreading tides of dissatisfaction that is bringing people into the streets. About belt-tightening the world over, even in Davos, Switzerland—where this week the world’s richest countries and companies gather to congratulate each other, under the glare of melting alpine glaciers—the mood is somber and those gathered are reported as saying the worst is yet to come. I remember the silence of the Strand and I wonder if that is a sign that perhaps Trinis are reaching a stage of fedupcy.

The artists have always been the most committed protesters. A few of them at least, not getting caught up with party cards and lucrative advertising deals. Those who have managed to stay true to their message are still ketching their nen nen, but remain dread and lovely. After the silence and the intermission the ministers slip out. They have done their ministerial duty and taken enough calypsonians pointing up in their faces that have that same expression you see on social people who come out to watch J’Ouvert only to get vex when a stinking jab jab comes and wines all over their nice pants.

Perhaps the calypsonians will give us our testicular fortitude back. Perhaps the next time we will not stay silent. Like we stayed silent on the deregulation of the quarry industry, or we stay silent on rapid monetisation of natural resources when the wise energy people say it’s worth more to us in the ground than dragging it out vie ki vie for every little Tom, Dick and Alcoa that comes around. Shadow puts his hands out and asks us, “what going on?” We jump and ray and love him for the sweetness of his voice. We take the question as rhetorical.

The answer comes two days later when I am rushed into a taxi by a big woman frantic in that laidback aggressive way that Trinis can be—as if what they have to do is much more important than the rest of us. Urging the driver to get going and not wait for one more passenger. It is a rainy Friday afternoon and the woman next to me is multi-tasking conversations. She chats on the phone about going to find out if her money is jumping up in the CL Financial collapse and the rest of the car comments. Shocked oh gawds fill the car as everyone thinks about their own two pennies they’ve been scrimping and saving.

The driver offers his own experience in the matter. He’s already taken in front and removed his own money from one of the big banks. Fear has come home and the far-off sounding credit crunch is circling like La Basse corbeaux. In-between the nervous laughter and the banter about money, the radio announcer breaks the monotony of the endless ads for Carnival fetes to say they’re waiting to go live to the Central Bank for a special press conference. Before the Governor has a chance to hold his press conference the woman has disem-barked.

In a show of solidarity, the driver sends her on her way although she can’t remember paying her $4. She goes into the rain and uncertainty, I can only imagine, her heart in her throat. I don’t know how much money she has saved, how she planned to use it, the dreams she has for her children. We fall silent. Silence is the only comfort we can find as the radio announcer cuts in again to say they’re still waiting for the Governor. A pregnant pause in a nation story. We fall silent because there is nothing to say that we haven’t all thought a thousand times.
The calm before the storm. I hear Shadow, plaintive and sweet. What going on? There is no one there to volunteer an answer.

The Bacchanal Now Start

They cah stop the bacchanal

They cah stop the festival

Nutting cah stop the carnival

Because tis the season to wine

Hold someting and wine

Hold somebody and wine

I telling yuh

Wining Season, Machel Montano

Who needs to play mas when there are people playing it on TV for us? A big big mas. Even before Carnival Monday and Tuesday. This kind of mas is the one to beat all cockfight. This kind of mas is even more exclusive than all the bikini bands with rope around them charging more money for a miniscule piece of cloth than most Trinbagonians stand to make for the first three months of the year. Only certain people could play this kind of mas. Big, high people playing a big big mas they call the Commission of Enquiry. And the rest of the country like burrokeets, getting ridden through the badly paved roads. The rest of the country could only play a donkey mas while their money jumping up like so many soca fans in a big fete. But who needs Carnival in this place where leaders could play mas with democracy? Watch the whole thing unfold like a Minshall tableau on the now gone Savannah stage. Watch the whole thing move in slow motion with high falutin’ Pierrot speechifiying in big English accent. Watch lawyers carré, dance a big dance with your money. Hear the Professor dreaden them like a King Kootoo doing a bluest devil jook. This is a big big mas and you don’t even need the jackass costume they give you. All you need to do is sit down and watch. Because this is real mas in all it’s mind boggling shiny splendour. This is mas in yuh masses. And sometimes you have to look twice because you not sure if it is a masquerade or mass hysteria, or masturbation. You not sure if to laugh or cry at how your leaders wining down on your right to know what they do with your money. You not sure if this is serious or just more entertainment. You not sure if you’re supposed to get vex and start to riot or hold your head and wine down low, lower than the price of oil. You not sure if all this bacchanal and long reports on the nightly news is just to distract you from the fact that we now have a budget deficit and we not getting anywhere near the proper royalties for natural gas. This big mas and noise come like last Carnival when the big sequins band push the 90-year-old blind Midnight Robber out of the way. Because this mas is the mas to beat all cockfight. Meanwhile Alcoa reported a 929 million US dollar loss and pull up brakes on several of their smelter projects in Iceland. Environmentalists breathing a sigh of relief that the economic decline has saved them from more unnecessary destruction of Europe’s last remaining wilderness. Meanwhile they just laid off 250 bauxite workers in Jamaica, because the global price of aluminum has plummeted so drastically. Meanwhile Rio Tinto Alcan just announced the closure of their Angelesey smelter in Wales, the largest single energy user in all of Great Britain. 14,000 jobs gone there to reduce capital spending by £5 billion.Meanwhile a decision is expected in the case against Alutrint this month, which has been in court since October, without so much as a sideways glance from the media. But aluminum is just as much of a nice mas as Udecott. Definitely not as sexy. Environment and mineral resources and small communities being bullied off their land is not as sexy. It not ready for the big stage yet. Let that stay on the back burners. Let us focus on the bigger better, louder, shinier mas. Because this mas is much more important. This mas is affecting the bottom line of many people who thought they were going to be getting a lot more out of this government. This mas is about the elite—some black skins in white masks, some wild Indians, some foreign drunken sailors on shore leave looking for Jean and Dinah in the construction industry. And all of them want to protect their bottom line and their right to wine. Meanwhile the lack of investigative journalists means the government could continue to play mas with the global financial crisis and say what they want without anybody bothering to question their robber talk. The bacchanal now start. But from the look of things, this masquerade will never end.

And then came Machel

 

get someting and wave

 

Sean Paul is on stage and I’m still in the line trying to get in, because when you go to a fete through general admission, you really need to prepare for at least half hour’s worth of standing in line.

I think I’ve been through faster and easier security checks at Heathrow just after a terrorist alert. And although there’ve been more murders than there are days in the year, I wonder who we’re trying to protect ourselves from.

If there are terrorists in your midst, should you be feting? Should you be wining like you never christen, trying to deny that we are an angry, frightened little nation?

The guard dogs on the periphery bark and flail, with spittle dancing on their jowls, ugly reminders of our crime statistics and the fact that we now need to protect ourselves from ourselves.

The line moves slowly and patrons grumble as the just comes try and muscle their way in.

In the line there are all sorts. The uptowners and tourists who I guess can’t be bothered to pay the exorbitant VIP entrance fee. The young girls leaving little to the imagination. The fashion dreads and the really interesting weaves. The gold lame tops and the skinny jeans and fur lined boots.

I’m getting claustrophobic in the press of bodies. And I’m hoping the man jammed up behind me doesn’t think I’m trying to cop a feel every time I reach for my back pocket to make sure my camera is still there.

The women’s line moves as slowly as the men’s. There are butt cracks galore up ahead as women bend over to detach themselves from their shoes.

It’s good that there is now equal opportunity searching and women are considered as much of a threat as the men. Finally we have some real indications of advancement for women in this country. It’s definitely up there with having so many women in parliament. When it’s finally my turn at the top of the line, the only thing the nice lady in the uniform who asked me to take off my washicongs didn’t ask me to do was naked star jumps.

It’s a First World airport moment for real. Like I’m begging to enter this promised land but first I have to strip down to my bare soul and smile and say the right things in order to be deemed worthy.

I hop away on the damp grass, washicongs in hand feeling a little criminalish, relieved to be finally in the fete but not sure if I can enjoy it anymore.

Police in riot gear stalk through the fete, unmoved by the criminal machinations of the waists of women, looking for the bad behavers. But how can you tell who is behaving bad from who isn’t? And who determines what is good bad behaviour? I mean, isn’t that what we’re here for? To get on bad, dutty, crazy, delirious?

They say Carnival is about freeing yourself of your inhibitions, about letting go of every day worries. But if you come here to forget, why are there so many reminders?

I guess because badjohns like to fete too and I don’t suppose they have an off switch for their badness.

I take my mind off the unbelievably boring performance from Sean Paul by meditating on my other fears.

I’m scared that some woman in those murderous looking spike heeled boots will damage my toes.

I’m nervous about the level of the music and what havoc I’m wreaking on my hearing.

I fear that there is nothing about Carnival that is liberating anymore.

And then Machel comes on and the fears that have kept me arm-folded and barely moving seem to disappear.

The people around me are transformed and I get the sense that they too are forgetting the police and their tight shoes and the fact that these days you could spend more in a fete than most people take home in a week.

What manner of man is this that can command a crowd and make them do exactly what he wants them to do without holding a gun to their heads?

Maybe they should hire him as a consultant for the Ministry of National Security.

Who is protecting us?

Zombie nah go kill
Unless you tell am to kill
Zombie nah go stop
Unless you tell am to stop
Zombie
Go and kill
Go and die

Zombie, Fela Kuti

Not that I’m a fan of the British royal family or anything, but it was quite interesting to note that Prince Harry son of the soon to be King, was being sent to Iraq kill.
It’s heartening, at least, for all those mothers now mourning their dead sons that it’s not just poor people’s children being sent to kill other poor people’s children.
Of course the fact that he’s so high profile makes him and his Blues and Royals regiment even more of a target for the insurgents.
It would be the ultimate scalp really.  Anti-West fundamentalists around the world would rejoice.  Kind of like I would if EMA would actually grow some balls and turn down Alutrint’s Certificate of Environmental Clearance.
But I digress.
I wonder what the delightfully melancholy Princess Di would have said about her boy child being sent to kill people.  After she devoted so much of her life to being a poster girl for clean white folks in well-starched safari outfits embracing the unclean, the maimed, the fly ridden children of the world.
Only for her son to become a certified killing machine.
I guess that’s the chance you take as a parent.  You don’t make their minds, no matter how well you try to shape them.
I mean, who watches their sweet powder smelling popo and says, ah yes, this one’s going to be one hell of a killer?
My verdict is still out on how I feel about soldiers.  On one hand they are state paid strong men.  On the other hand, perhaps a soldier also plays an important role as freedom fighter.  But that all depends on who is giving the orders. And whose version of freedom we’re going for.
I feel the same way about the police, security helicopters, the blimp and all the other accoutrements the state has come up with to supposedly protect us.
But it seems like our soliders engage in more dress up and grand charge than defending our patrimony.
This month marks another anniversary of the 1970 Black Power Revolution which climaxed in a mutiny of members of the Defense Force after the original Big Daddy Eric Williams declared a State of Emergency to deal with the revolting natives.
Come to think of it, that mutiny was probably one of the most noble things ever to be done by the protective services in Trinidad and Tobago.
I see soldiers in City Gate and I wonder if they’re there to protect me or kill me if I get out of line.
And from reading the blogs of Iraqis, I get the feeling that they have the same questions about whether the Allied Forces are there to free them or simply to make it possible for Dubya to get his grubby hands on their black gold.
So the Commissioner of Police will act all pleased with himself that the Carnival was incident free.  And everybody will jump up and say ray.  Well allow me to lead the chorus of boos.  Because I saw lots of incidents.
I saw lots of incidents of Trinidad protective services intimidating regular citizens, strong arming people who were trying to enjoy their Carnival.
Between the annoyingly ever-present blimp and security helicopters hovering like a bad dream, I didn’t feel safe.  I felt like I was in a war zone.  Where the people are the insurgents and the police and soldiers are trying to protect us from ourselves.
This is not the kind of security we need.  And I feel like a stuck record saying again that homeland security is not about how many soldiers and how many jails and how many blimps.
Homeland security is defending your nation against marauders of all kinds.
Prince Harry speeds off in his Spartan armoured recon vehicle to defend the rights of the free world but who protects the regular men women and children of Iraq?
While the blimp is busy watching for crimes in progress, who is watching how to stop them from starting at all?

Has Carnival lost its mojo?

I’ve been standing here
On Green Corner
Everyday of my life
I’m watching the masquerade
All them pretty colours
Them like soldiers on parade
So tell me why
Should I change my life
When everyday is a Carnival
Why should I rearrange
When everyday is a festival
Could you picture me in another place
When I’m in the heart of the bacchanal
Would you feed my fire
Would you my flame
The story goes on
Again and again and again and again
It feels good
This comfort nice
Carnival, 12.

It’s been that kind of Carnival. That I could have missed completely.
Everywhere I’ve seen people and they’ve said similar things.  They just weren’t feeling the Carnival feelings this year.
I don’t know what it was about this year that made me so completely uninterested in taking part in the festivities.
I guess it’s an overall disappointment.  Disappointed by the music, by the costumes, by the void left by Mr. Uncle Minsh that no one has bothered to fill.   Disappointed by the hurried paving of roads for masqueraders and promises of heightened security.
Excluded from the exorbitant all inclusives.  Left peeping over the fence at so many events that are ram crammed with people spending money that I don’t have.  Way too unsexy to dare put on a sparkly bikini.
I guess I must be really over Carnival.  It’s as if the greatest show on earth has been exposed to be little more than a five cents play in a badly lit community centre.
But maybe it was always like that I never bothered to notice.  I guess being in foreign you tend to exaggerate the value of something, pump up its brilliance in your own imagination as you try to find that thing that makes you special.
Funny I could be at home and feel like I’m in another part of the world.  A world where soldiers play a gun mas in down town.  And the noise of security helicopters disorients the jumbies.
For real, this Carnival has been an out of body experience.
I could be nearly in the heart of the bacchanal, pan and mas and fetes coming live and direct to my ears from the Stadium and not feel it take possession.
I felt something of the old excitement in Princes Town market on Wednesday night in the crush of people circling a gayelle.  There was something in the eyes of those stick men that made me know that I am still alive.
Back in town, St. James is lively under the film of stink.  Cockroaches dance round food vendors flanked by sleeping crackheads under the feet of drunk drivers.
Another Carnival, another string band of Carnival babies to hope for better.  To boost our population but not our potential.
Because we give birth to the same old newness everyday.
We enjoy this cycle of predictability that isn’t necessarily about upholding traditions.  It’s not about subversion or resistance or self-preservation.  It’s about added value to the lowest common denominator. Even those of us considered to be cutting edge settle into a comfortable pattern of outspokenness.  So even the resistance elements become formulaic and pandering to American phD students and French film crews and avant garde Japanese artists.
I’m seeking truth here, somewhere and find it lacking.  Everybody playing a mas, everybody in their section trying to keep up appearances.
It’s as if Carnival is a phantom limb.  A bit of our beauty and wholeness that’s been cut off but we still think it’s there.  We still go through the motions, for reasons of image or enjoyment or economics.
And we find a million ways to up the ante.  To make it bigger and brighter and louder.  Pave roads so that bad drivers can play midnight robber.  Convince ourselves that it really is the greatest show on earth.  Well I guess that’s what Trinis do best.  Show ourselves.  Play ourselves in front of the camera, skin our teeth and shake our Dexatrimmed backsides and our newly bought breasts.  Revel in the stench of our mediocrity, because what else do we know?  What else is possible?
The Merry Monarch steupsed and stalked past me. Left me standing on Green Corner hoping for a last minute reprieve. In the heat and silence of my aloneness, I’m not looking  forward to the walk home.