Clean Hands, Please

Nothing new left to say
Can be heard
Nothing helps me find my way
Empty words
No more will I question why
What we feel
Nothing left to make me try
Nothing’s real

—Nothing, Nitin Sawhney

There aren’t many days that go by in this yes man town without me thinking about the value of civil disobedience.

It’s the only option you have when the house Negroes are running amok, unleashing their own scary brand of oppression. When class struggle is masked in imitation perfume and SUVs. Civil disobedience makes sense in a way that most things don’t.

It’s especially on my mind these days, with Christmas in the air and the story of that revolutionary fellar Jesus hidden under a mass of frou frou and folly.

From South Africa to India to Galilee. I read about these heroes of civil disobedience. Conscientious objectors. Tree huggers and rabble rousers. Elderly women in Niger engaging in a silent, naked protest against Shell’s involvement in the murdering of their men and the destruction of their land. I fill my head with their stories and pray to have even a morsel of their bravery, humility and ingenuity.

Whether you are an indigenous Indian in the Chiapas region of the Mexico demanding land rights or a Chatham resident protecting your land against the introduction of an aluminum smelter, making a statement is not just your right, it is your duty.

Civil disobedience in its most non-violent form is compassion in the form of respectful disagreement.

History offers us many examples of people who stood for non-violent protest, who stood for civil disobedience, who stood for regular people defending their right to justice, good governance and a peaceful sustainable livelihood.

So when I read that Basdeo Panday justifies as civil disobedience his childish little I’m going to wipe my hand and not say hello because I don’t like you, I want to ask him if he understands or remembers what that means.

Granted I would probably hesitate to shake Papa Patos’ hand too, but then again I’m not facing corruption charges.

It’s more glaring than that obscene waste of electricity on top of the KFC on Independence Square, that the UNC wouldn’t know civil disobedience if it came up and wined on them on J’ouvert morning.

Unfortunately for us, we are besieged by leaders and their foreign cohorts who still think they can come and tie us up with high tech terms and high falutin words. We’re supposed to be dazzled and mesmerized by any tata that they spew, provided it’s loud enough or accompanied with the appropriate amount of bells and whistles.

I wish Basdeo Panday for one moment would remember where he came from. Remember his days as a young lawyer with a social conscience, before he joined the parasitic oligarchy and started prancing around in a beret like some kind of ole mas on a Tuesday afternoon in the middle of Poison. I wish Basdeo Panday would remember or one of his party faithful would remind him that he stood for something once upon a time.

For this generation who have no benefit of first hand memory of when he was a serious challenge. I wish someone would tell him to get real and have a little more dignity. That the masculinist frothing at the mouth is so last century.

We have too many fossils parading as sacred in this country. Too many institutions that mean nothing to us that we’re supposed to show respect for. But that doesn’t mean that because Uncle Ramesh and Uncle Bas are nursing their school ground grudges and acting like spoilt children we’re all supposed to convince ourselves that they’re somehow right or justified.

Because if the UNC were serious about doing something about the political climate in Trinidad and Tobago, Basdeo Panday wouldn’t be the leader of the Opposition.

I wish politicians would wipe their hands clean of their own hyprocrisy. And wipe their hands of dirty politics and fear mongering. I wish they would all just grow and move on and let someone else have a go instead of dragging us through the drudgery of their same old hurts and their same old insecurities and their same old hang-ups. It’s not just boring, it’s out a timing and counter-productive.

Dear Father Rochard

The unedited version…

I feel like bombing a church
Now that I know the preacher is lying

Talking Blue, Bob Marley

Dear Father Rochard,

If I were a Catholic maybe I might be more predisposed to understanding. Maybe I would shrug off the shock of your incomprehensible statement.
Thank Jah I’m not a Catholic. I don’t have to turn my cheek. I will not leave you to God. I want you to have some kind of judgment here on earth.
And because I’m not a Catholic I don’t have a problem to say to you that you need to check yourself. And because I am not a subscriber to this fiction of a middle class white Christ poster boy for all that is right wing and rich I don’t have a problem calling a spade a spade and tata, tata. What you said was so reprehensible that I really can’t see how your vengeful God could resist smiting you.
So much for the church being a sanctuary. So much for all being welcome in the house of the Lord.
Pretty soon, church is going to get like certain night clubs where Africans and Indians are made to line up and beg to get in.
I guess there’s no real difference between the two. Churches and night clubs both have strict codes, to which rich people don’t necessarily have to abide.
Tell me Father Rochard, do you call out the names of all the men in your congregation who cheat on their wives? Do you know the names of the upstanding business people who exploit their staff? Do you publicly boof all the three and four car families?
Do you know the names of the young women who are rich enough to afford safe abortions and then come to the church to pray for their salvation? Do you know the names of those women who happen to miss out certain people when they’re making the sign of peace? Do you also call their names out in your church? And say that they are no longer welcome?
I think the saddest thing about what you said, Father Rochard is that you are in a unique place to stem the tide of selfishness that has taken over Trinidad and Tobago.
Instead of being a revolutionary Christ, you are Herod the murderer, you are Pontius Pilate the executioner. You echo the sentiments of the mob and start pelting stones even before the sentence is passed. You betray the ones you are charged to protect, love and serve. Christ should sue you for misrepresentation.
What your statement and the fact that you still have a job proves is what I’ve suspected for a long time. That the church, especially in this post-colonial incarnation is no place for challenging a system that has consistently undermined the upliftment of the whole. The empowerment of all. Holy mother church has failed us as much as you have failed to be a source of solace for a man who witnessed the murder of his friends.
Liberation theologist Paulo Freire once said “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”
Priests like you think that you’re doing something to save your eternal soul by giving a man a meal twice a week.
Priests like you convince people like me that religion really is the biggest farce ever perpetrated on poor people whether they are here in Trinidad or on the side of a mountain in South America or in a village in remotest Africa.
And I know you won’t apologise, because you don’t have to.
And I know I’m just a little heathen, but I hope that you never have to experience the terror that man must feel. That you never have to experience half of the terrible things that people in Trinidad and Tobago are living with. Everyday. Every moment. That maybe you will understand that church is not some chance to fill your coffers. That people like my grandmother sought refuge in the walls of churches like yours. That God is more than your four walls and life is more than protecting against those who don’t live like you, or think like you or love like you.
And we’ll all be stunned for a few days and forget this as we try to sift through all the other folly that fills our lives.
The sad thing is that you’ve given a legitimate voice to the ugliness that most, if not all of us carry in our hearts every day for fellow Trinidadians. Luckily for you, you have the opportunity and the callousness to speak your truths. Your lack of compassion is shameful but not surprising. Luckily for you, your church will protect you, like it protects your colleagues who molest their acolytes. I hope that man you’ve publicly ostracized is lucky like you.

A Heart of Gold

 

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It’s late afternoon in Port-of-Spain and I want to get home. But I don’t feel to fight. I’m saving my energy to try and process exactly what Papa Patos means by climate change is a top priority.

I tell myself it’s not that far. From Newtown to St Ann’s is doable, under the right conditions. It’s a spitefully clear day and the sun stands in the sky daring me to test him.

At the top of Maraval Road there are others waiting to go home. School children and office ladies. A construction worker who says he’s from Kashmir wants directions to town and then wants to know if I have a husband.

Cars whiz past as if I’m not there. It takes me ten minutes until some kind soul decides to slow down and let me cross. I don’t even bother to stand there waiting for a taxi.

Pedestrians are the casualties of a developing country still caught up in people have things. Taxi drivers make style on you. Maxi drivers want to mow you down. Every car that passes is carries one or two passengers. They speed past in their brand new aluminum cans, music loud, air condition on full blast.

My bag is heavy on my back but my granny used to say what you can’t carry you will have to drag. My steps are slow and deliberate but I am determined to get home by my own strength today.

I cut through by QRC, past polite boys who say good afternoon to me and I want to faint with relief that they don’t add ‘Miss’. Past coconut vendors and vagrants quarters. Past stylish young women indulging in the only socially acceptable way to be seen without a car in public, doing a walk and wine around the Savannah in that golden hour when everyone sees you and there’s a lot of stopping and how you doing.

To the left the Prime Minister’s office gleams white and untouchable. I wonder if he notices how hot it is these days. How much hotter Port of Spain is now.

When you get to the middle the din of hundreds, thousands of cars speeding past is barely discernible. The sky is that perfect shade of blue and the sun has graciously hidden itself behind the trees.

Football players and rugby players all around but I wonder how come there aren’t people just enjoying the Savannah. I guess it’s a weekday. But what better way to remind yourself that you live in a beautiful country? dsc03922.jpg

Savannah is green for now. Before the rains stop and the hills start to burn. The hills of the Northern range are green. Well these ones here. But now that anyone can put up a quarry under 150 acres without having to apply for a CEC, I wonder how long it will be before all these hills start looking like the one up in Acono in Maracas St Joseph. But I guess these hills will be spared because a lot of rich people live there. They’ll put them further east, where the rich people won’t have their green vistas marred by brown scars being created to build more air conditioned townhouses.

I stop in the middle of the Savannah, facing east to take pictures so I can capture a few shots of my walk home. Point and shoot to the left and the green hills. Then look to the right at the buildings stabbing up at the sky. Exclamation marks of our hysteria to be developed. I swear the Savannah earth beats under my feet. Like a hundred steelbands mixed with the jumping feet of ten thousand masqueraders. The sun re-emerges for a las’ lap and everything turns gold. The Savannah shines like a heart of gold in a rotting city. I turn my back to the exclamation marks and quicken my steps towards the hills.

The grass is soft under the worn soles of my designer washicongs.

I wish I could do cartwheels, because I’m so happy to be in this heart called the Queen’s Park Savannah.

I’m relieved that I decided to walk instead of wait in the dust and fumes of traffic jams trying to get home.

I’m glad that in all the madness I can find one thing to make me sane again. To give a little space to think and work things out. To remember why Trinidad is worth fighting for. To pity people like Papa Patos who probably never have a chance to walk home so they can listen to the city’s heart.

 

 

I never thought

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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
Several minutes later
All done cool down, brother
Police done go away
Army done disappear
Dem leave sorrow, tears and blood
Dem regular trademark
Sorrow Tears and Blood, Fela Anikulapo Kuti

Wednesday afternoon on Charlotte Street.  I hear something that sounds like a gunshot and I try to convince myself that it isn’t.
No one else flinches on Charlotte Street.  No one looks around.  Everyone continues about their business – selling, buying, cussing, raving, tracking, playing music loud enough to make your insides vibrate.
So I convince myself that it isn’t a gunshot and continue about my business.
A few minutes later, I hear the news that there’s a crowd gathered around the corner and the police have just shot a man.
By the time I get to the scene of the crime, the shot man has been whisked away in a police van, but the people are still gathered around, the splashes of the man’s blood making three deep red stains in the concrete pavement, while the shell from the single bullet fired at the man lies in the drain.
People walk through the crowd, commuters and pedestrians walk through the man’s blood on the pavement hardly even noticing.  The one uniformed officer on the scene does little to stop them from tampering with a crime scene.  The bag of groceries the old man stole from the shop is also on the pavement, the straps of the black plastic bag flapping non-chalantly in the occasional afternoon breeze.
They coulda give him case.  The women say.  They didn’t have to shoot him.  An old man.  They keep repeating.  He was an old man.
The crowd analyses why an old man would be stealing groceries.  A bag of groceries.  This is what poor people come to in this country.
The police too fat to run down suspects.  How fast could an old man run anyway?  Others say the man was already handcuffed when they shot him.
A man tries to make a joke about the man being shot in his backside.  But for once, no one is in the mood for kicks.  A woman issues a long watery steups in the direction of the joker and he immediately falls silent.
A young woman, looking the Babylon in his eye declares that she won’t go to the police for nothing.
If your man beating you, she says, they will tell you is not their business.   I have to protect myself, but they quick to shoot an old man with a bag of groceries.
A youth man is shouting over all the other voices.  He shouts about police brutality.  About being effing fed up about this kind of treatment.  About what would happen in this country if people were to turn against the police.  The Babylon on the scene tries to quiet him down.  He walks off trying to cool his head.  He probably has firsthand experience of the consequences of his hot mouth and the police.  But he continues.  And his sentiments are echoed by an older woman.  Too much police brutality on poor people.  The people ask if the police are there to protect them or to kill them.
What we could do, what we could do?  People ask me when I ask them what they’re going to do about what is going on.  They know that it can’t continue like this.
The youth man points accusingly at the crowd.  And allyuh want to vote for PNM?  He is a rahtid.  Like so many more.  A woman takes offence.  This have nothing to do with the PNM.
The youth man continues to shout.   Is the PNM fault, oui.
The crowd grows.  More police turn up.  Half hour after the man was shot and a few people walked through the evidence they string up a caution tape.  They tell the media people that we’re sensationalizing an incident that really wasn’t that important.
Meanwhile, uptown away from bullets, vagrants, heat, noise and streets sagging under the weight of poverty, Minister of National Security Martin Joseph admits that he underestimated the amount of work he had to do.
He, like the rest us, must be suffering from I never thought. I never thought Trinidad could get like this.   And I never thought none of us would know what to do about it.

Empty and disappointed

This is a warning
The winds are changing
The people shouting
The lighters sparking
The day is dawning
Dreads are bursting
Drums are beating
Spliffs are burning
Fires lighting
Starters bouncing
The ground it shaking
The trees awaking
The voices calling
The lion roaring
The lion roaring
Tief Head, Nicholai

In the absence of reason, intelligence or any suggestion that anyone is concerned about issues, I wish everyone would just shut the hell up.
Turn off the loud speakers, tone down the rhetoric and give us Trinbagonians a break from all of this.
The election season has left me feeling empty and not a little disappointed in what passes for leadership.
I wonder if they really think that we’re fooled by their antics.
Everyone is focusing on Election Day itself. Between the violence and vague promises, it seems like this election season has been a big exercise in distraction.
And I wonder what will happen on November 6. Will our lives change so radically or will it be the same khaki pants?
Certainly the anticipated victor will spend a lot of time preening and betty goaty-ing people.
Because I don’t have a party card and I didn’t sponsor anybody’s campaign, I’m not particularly moved by the elections. I feel no hope for November 6.
Boredom hit me like a slap in the face this week. I tried to listen to a couple of the broadcasts of political rallies this week and managed about five minutes each. I listened to the roars of approval from the renta crowds, jumping up and saying ray, regardless of what tata the person of the platform was saying.
It is Trinidad at its lowest. Stinking dutty tongue Trinis wining down low for a jersey, wallowing in filth spewing from the platforms. Possibly there are some who manage to say something vaguely intelligent. Who make an attempt to compensate for the empty promises and the economically unsound proposals in their manifiascoes.
But they get lost in the din. The new politics is really a microwaved version of the old. And the old is so backward, shortsighted and masculinist that even the women have to resort to mud-slinging and cock-fighting in order to be seen and heard.
The unfortunate thing about our unfortunate version of democracy is that the representatives we vote or hire to take care of our business, don’t necessarily have to answer to us for another five years.
I guess we’re all looking for something to believe in. We all want to believe that these people have our best interests at heart. Why else would they subject themselves to such scrutiny?
So we hold on to the words of politicians in the same way that women want to believe the words of smooth talking lovers.
Under all the lights, cameras and over zealous promises, there is such an astounding banality to the political landscape of this country, I want to weep.
I was wondering if this election would have been my first. If I would finally have done my civic duty and dipped my finger.
But I still have nothing and no-one to vote for. I still can’t trust myself to choose a leader from the three that have presented themselves.
What emerged at the end of the election season is that there really isn’t much of a difference between the three parties. They can say what they like but until we really begin to take ownership of Trinidad and Tobago with all its problems, complexities and challenges. Until political leaders take time to walk in communities whether or not they have cameras following them, they’re not really interested in building communities.
So maybe the PNM will win. And maybe the UNC will collapse under of the immense weight of it’s own pointlessness. And maybe COP will recoup and do the ground work necessary to them truly becoming a viable alternative.
But what happens to the rest of us who don’t have friends in high places or enough disposable income not to care or are so out of the system we have nothing to lose?
The rest of us: the artists, the workers, the activists, the frustrated students need to get a new understanding of democracy.
That regardless of who is in power we have a right to bun fire on the injustices that will continue on November 6.
The real work starts the day after. I hope we are all too exhausted by all the jumping and waving.