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

Nobody from a Nothing Place

I rather be a shadow in the dark
Than a big fool in spotlight
I’d rather be a dog without a bark
Than a loud bark without a bite

Shadow in the Dark, Ataklan

Maybe it’s all that peroxide that’s eaten through Nicki Minaj’s scalp and started affecting her brain.
Or maybe it’s just the contempt that all Trinbagonians have for their own. You know, the place that gives you so much, that all you can manage to do is bad talk it at every opportunity.
I’m not, as you might have guessed, a fan of Ms. Minaj. There is a lot of really good hip hop out there and she is not it.
In a moment of empathy, Ms. Minaj reached out to an American Idol competitor – a refugee from Liberia – to say that she was so happy that the two of them had made it alive out of their horrible countries and come to the earthly paradise known as the United States of America to have a shot at being human.
In one fell swoop she perpetuates the myth of the savage Third World and also the streets paved with gold that exist outside of these Third World hell holes.
You really have to wonder if Ms. Minaj has some sort of post traumatic stress disorder. But if she does, if she is yet to deal with the traumas of her childhood, she should see a specialist about it, instead of going on American television and describing her country, my country as ‘nothing’.
Also I am curious about the something that she says that she is now. I suppose having millions of dollars is success. It doesn’t matter if you get this money by acting like Oversexed Barbie. It doesn’t matter if you are part of a media machine that sexualises girlhood, that preaches bamsie shaking as the sure fire way to get attention. And if you’re a black woman of any kind of popularity you start to get progressively whiter the more famous you get.
It fits the mainstream world media agenda for us to continue to think that anywhere in the so-called Third World is backward and savage. Trinidad and Liberia are one and the same, although Trinidad has not had decades of civil war. Far from being an expression of solidarity with a fellow person of colour, she is spewing the same ignorance that lumps us all into one amorphous bunch of black savages who can’t help but kill each other.
Oh and by the way? Violence and poverty do not exist in Queens. Racism is a long past dream and we’re all just getting along and having a big old party.
There’s no space in Ms Minaj’s comments to make so-called First World governments and corporations accountable for the continued roles they play in destabilizing our societies, in the name of the free market. For the legacy of colonialism and enslavement. The suspiciously plantation nature of our society. The people who look like us and sign sweetheart deals with multi-nationals. All the money that passes through like a dose of your Granny salts at the end of the August holidays.
We think we have a democratic government but what we have is a bunch of puppets selling us out to the highest bidder. And sometimes they’re not really the highest. They’re just giving the nicest kick-backs.
The drugs passing through Trinidad are mostly going to satisfy the tastes of hipsters in London and New York but we are killing our own.
That feeling that Trinidad is a nothing place from which one must make all attempts to escape with one’s life has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We’re all looking for a way out. So that we too can have the bling without the accountability to anything or anyone. So we can go home and show off on all the people who never did anything for us.
The sickness that Ms. Minaj is showing signs of, is the same sickness that has police officers driving drunk and killing women and children. The same sickness that has politicians turning up at funerals with their own personal photographer. The same sickness that has us leaving the bodies of old women in cane fields. The same sickness that makes giving the army powers of arrest the worst and most dangerous idea possible.
Trinidad is nothing. Trinidad has no future. And enough of us believe that now to make Ms. Minaj the perfect ambassador for all of us.
We should all aim to escape this murderous nothing of a country and mask ourselves in someone else’s coskel cake. Until we are all like her, shucking, jiving, wining minstrels.
If that is what success looks like, I want no part of it.
I’d rather be a nobody from a nothing place. I’d rather celebrate my grandmother who worked as a domestic to ensure that her children could go to school. I’d rather give thanks for all the Trinbagonians who shine in spite of the dirt. Who see beauty through all the ugliness. Who see a reason to stay. Who love this nothing place like it’s something.

Published in the Trinidad Guardian March 2, 2013

Lambs to the Slaughter

What yuh see is just an illusion
Trapped in yuh worries
And your confusion
Your philosophy just a fusion
Of your illusion
Hallelujah Hallejuah
Jah gimme de strength
And I see right through yuh
Don’t think that I would submit
To the pressure
—Trials and Tribulations, Orange Sky
Sharpen your political cutlass he says. In a country where people kill each other for the slightest of slights. He is telling people to sharpen cutlasses. Political violence fill your city, yeah. Laugh and say ray as he sharpens his political cutlass to buss the throats of more of your children. To fight for political power endorsed and blessed by the Fat Arse Brigade. Blessed by mothers who have wept for their murdered sons. Wept for no water since they first voted for the PNM 50 years ago. He is sharpening his political cutlass on stones painted white by Cepep workers. Because every overlord needs peons to do his bidding, a willing and unenlightened mass easily entertained.
Sharpen your political cutlass he says. Sharpen it like the fangs of all the snakes in that there clump of balisier. Who, unlike the UNC who openly fights for power scraps, play the genteel games of a nouveau riche black elite digging out the eyes of their own. Not seeing the reflection of their grandmothers, and tanties, and great uncles. Those who worked hard and long and fought for their right to go to school and have a respectable civil servant work. Those who sold toolum and beat clothes on rocks for them to now become these insufferable stuffed-shirts who sneer at anything grassroots but are not averse to using them for political mileage. Like all the La Brea residents that Fitzgerald Henry used two years ago before he was MP of La Brea to support his pro-smelter rally outside Whitehall.
Back then when the political cutlass being used was the promise of jobs in their Alutrint smelter. Jobs that if anyone had read the Environmental Impact Assessment would have known didn’t actually exist. And now Fitzgerald Jeffrey speaks of being disappointed about the lack of jobs being offered to locals. Now it is not outsiders who block the streets of La Brea but the people who were promised the world for a smelter in their backyards. But they are sharpening. As people become more and more agitated, more nervous about job losses, more antsy about the recession that is bound to come in the wake of all this excess. They start to talk fighting talk. Planass talk. Chop-up talk. Political badjohnism fills your Parliament, yeah. As if this country were not violent enough. He encourages us to really turn on ourselves now. To really begin to feast on our own blood.
The father of the nation is “bloodthirsty” and he is cleverly calling out his army to do the work that will dirty his own hands too much. And you know that these are not idle threats from people who make deals that no-one in this whole nation of macos, picong masters and satirists has the cohones to question. The subtext of this call to arms is to ask the most important question on this force-ripe small island right now. And that is, which side of the cutlass do you stand? Are you the chopper or will you be chopped. Are you willing to dead stupid to prove a point? Or are you going to stand on the side of the wrong and strong. Like an area don he demands loyalty. Like a gangster defending his turf he gives his neighbours the most sinister of ultimatums. If you’re not for me then you must be against me. And I can’t guarantee you protection when things start to go haywire.
It is the hardest decision you will ever have to make. It is the difference between life that is livable and the one that you cannot even bear to imagine. Where the police see your mother and tell her that they’ve just seen you in town, just so that she knows they are monitoring your movements.
Where a seventy-something year-old man staging a placard protest outside President’s House gets threatened by police for exercising his constitutional rights.

Sharpen your political cutlass. Not to clear land to grow food. Not to clear a path to a nation of citizens who feel a sense of what or why this country is worth fighting for. Not to get rid of all the negative forces that lurk in our psyches. Not to create a new paradigm, a new vision, a sense of belonging. Nothing but endless violence. Nothing but endless bloodloss. He sharpens his political cutlass and we like willing lambs offer ourselves up to the slaughter.

Quick! Your Best Smile

Yeah, my layers are thick


And I’ve got bad attitude.


Yeah that knife in my back


Has fingerprints that belong to you.


Got a grudge, got a grudge


Got a grudge that I’m holding


For as long as I like


Cuz you lied, you lied


You lied to my face


And that’s something that I can’t forgive

—Fuel My Fire, The Prodigy

Quick! Let’s see how much of ourselves we can polish up in the next two weeks. This is an urgent assignment. This is like the whole country putting on its Sunday best to go and parade for all the neighbours to see how well its doing.

I mean, who doesn’t want to look nice for their guests? So hurry up and get with the clean-up programme. Come on man, it’s just three days. We can do it! Yes we can! We can make the whole city look like a million dollars. Oh no, make that 600 million. This is no time for sticking, T&T. These last 12 days are a grace period in which we can have a total makeover! It’s like a facelift and a tummy tuck for a bored housewife. We’ll worry on April 20 about the cause of the boredom or why the housewife let herself get fat and frumpy in the first place.

Quick! Look busy. Obama is coming. And we don’t want him to think he’s coming to a meeting on some mosquito-infested banana republic. Move a little faster! This is no time to question our own leadership. This is no time to be thinking about local government elections or possibly corrupt ministers or spending millions to build a stadium on sapatay. No, no. We need to forget all of that bacchanal and get focused on the two weeks left before an even better plundering of the national coffers than Miss Universe 1998. 
This is the biggest, best mas we will ever possibly have to play. So we better play it and play it well.

Imagine all the things we’ll get for our $600 million. We’re bound to see a return on our investment, because of course Fox and CNN will be walking in the streets singing wild praises at how much like Miami our waterfront looks.
And what else do we want but the nice white people from for-eign to think that we are advanced? I mean it says it all when our buildings are taller than coconut trees.

Imagine the jealousy all our small-island neighbours are going to feel when they see our Papa Patos standing there welcoming Obama to Trinidad. It takes a real man of vision to pull off such a brilliant move. How it go look if his vision is hard to see in the La Basse smog. Quick! Say a lot of prayers that these next two weeks don’t turn rainy. We wouldn’t want to be having the Summit under water. We wouldn’t want Obama to get marooned on his way to the meeting if it rains for ten minutes.

And pray too that the guntas take a killing holiday. Pray that they’ll just go away. Or better yet, maybe we should build a platform and put a couple containers and put them on some North Coast beach to make sure they’re not in the city that weekend. Quick, let’s try and get the place looking good before the Summit, so that after it’s finished at least people will have good memories and not notice if we have to devalue the dollar or that many more thousands are going to be on the breadline.

We’re going to have to pull out all stops to make it through this one. So we’ll need all hands on deck. No pesky protesters trying to make us look bad. No stinking vagrants, no cavernous pot- holes. Quick! Can you imagine what is going to happen when all those international media come here? And God alone knows they’re going to be looking for some dirt. Quick, quick. Put some ads with cricketers and soca stars in the papers so that people don’t make out that, actually, we have had no luck securing our citizens, we don’t have a clue how to promote human prosperity and our idea of energy security and environmental sustainability is to rapidly monetise natural gas and put up a smelter and a steel mill and some ports in mangroves.

Get those streets cleaned, chop chop. Clean up nearly five decades worth of dirt congealed on city streets. Hide the human filth in the closets. Put away the street children. Hide away anything that would suggest that we have screwed up priorities and should be spending $600 million doing the things we are paying lip service to in the Summit of the Americas declaration.
Let’s put on our best smile and hope the world doesn’t notice the holes in our teeth.

Pedestrian blues on a rainy Monday in Port of Spain

Stood in the rain today. Waiting for a car. Thinking about London, my toes making squishy noises in my sandals. Stood in the rain on Wrightson Road and the traffic snaked past. People in their nice warm cars filing slowly past me, standing in the rain, half my body getting more wet as the rain drops came faster and more slanted from the left. I can see their faces. They look at me from their warm cars. And smile. As if I am some kind of interesting spectacle to entertain them in the traffic. So I smile back, because there’s nothing else to do, standing in the rain waiting for a taxi.

I was coming back from the licensing office, went in to get a form to fill out so that I can renew my driver’s permit. The woman behind the counter was as surly as the last time I went in. She watched me over her glasses and a drop of water plopped very loudly from the ceiling onto the top of my head. Sigh.Five minutes pass. The rain is unrelenting. A van pulls up and the driver beckons to me. I jump in, wanting to weep with relief that someone has picked me up. Someone who isn’t so paralysed by the fear of living in this place that he is willing to rescue a half soaked pedestrian.

We chat about nothing much on the way to town. About the weather mostly and the traffic and the lack of public transport.  He says I looked un-phased by the rain.  Too cool to be washed out by some raindrops.  I laugh.  It’s my Babylondon training.  At least this rain is warm.  At least this rain leaves you feeling like a you took part in an upright Baptism.  Takes the edge off the heat.  Cleanses you of your weariness.
There is no talk about crime. No talk about carnival or economic crises. I don’t know his name or why he isn’t governed by the same fear or maybe snobbery that made all those other people pass me by. We part ways on Independence Square, as the clouds part to reveal a weak, bleak patch of blue.

Flambeaux in the Croisée

Now we know the truth
Yes we do
Find you
Wearing the boot
Of taking people’s business on your head, yeah
So might as well you be dead

Let the dead bury the dead now
And who is to be fed, be fed
I ain’t got no time to waste on you, no,no
I’m a livin man, I got work to do
Right now

Burial, Peter Tosh

Walk through the Croisee past flambeaux that line the streets to mourn a fallen soldier.
The flambeaux extend much further than you would expect.  All the way up the Presbyterian School on the corner of Mission Road.
Love and fear are strange bedfellows so you’re not sure if they do it because they know him and care or because they must.
On Don Miguel Road there are flambeaux too and young people in the streets celebrate with spirits for the spirit and a young man dares you to question his authority by planting a flambeau in the middle of the street.  Cars turn, not a horn blows.  Music blares and the young man saunters away.
Cross the Bus Route and enter the Croisee proper.
Past grimy roads and stinking drains.  Past barefoot singing Baptist women and graying crackheads lying splayed out outside the old cinema turned new church.
The Croisee that got new lights before the last election. So that San Juan people could clearly see the stinking streets. So that the decay was fresh in their eyes like the smell of fish and chicken guts in the drains.
Flambeau light the way for a man who the newspapers say was a Robin Hood.  A good bad man that did terrible things to some people and saved others and died a warrior’s death.
The newspapers read like some legend about a gruesome end to a thug life.
They say, the San Juan people who knew him, that they loved him.
As if their love could possibly take away the stench of a life that allegedly stank worse than the Croisee on a hot Saturday afternoon.
No one knows for sure.  In the same way that the police never know where to find the caches of guns or the druglords.  Well known, well connected druglords walk the streets without fear, because they can.
Flambeaux light the way through the Croisee but the darkness is real for so many. In the corners where rats and men freebase and young women rage at their young children. No flambeau can bring light to them.
You wonder if ever you saw him.  If perhaps there was some time in the past when you passed the good bad man in the Croisee.  If he once leered at you in the streets, psst family.
If you ever saw him without noticing.  Walking through the Croisee trying not to see or hear what was going on for fear that you would vomit up your disgust.
New storefronts all selling the same clothes.  New storefronts that make you think about what children used to call putting on perfume without first having a shower- stink and sweet.
The Croisee is a perfect mix of stink and sweet and in the morning the scent of the burnt flambeaux lend a new oily industrial smell to the otherwise familiar ones.
In the morning they are still there, the flambeaux.  Among the piles of rubbish, the rising crackheads, clutching their rotting manhood, scandalizing the Witness proselytizers.  Everything is as it should be.  And it doesn’t matter that the good bad man is dead.  Because his mark is still there on the Croisee.
Women weep and men wonder who will take his place.
In the absence of war, what should warriors do?  In the absence of leaders to whom can boys turn to learn how to be men?
In the glare of day, extinguished flambeaux line the streets like every life snuffed out, every mind lost, every mother that ever wept for a child gone astray.
The oily industrial smell of flambeaux mixes with the stink and sweet of the Croisee and you wonder if this is an end or a beginning.