This evening at WEB Du Bois’ compound

eintouandjudith

Went to WEB Du Bois’ compound for an open forum with Angela Davis and Ama Ata Aidoo, the grand dame of African women’s writing. Looking for a seat, this woman sees my mother and says ‘you look familiar’! Turns out she was in Trinidad a few times for Emancipation, but hasn’t been back for several years. She say she coming back this year!
She’s finding us molasses and honey for Eintou to do her rituals when we go to Cape Coast on Monday to walk back through the Door of No Return….
They also spoke about how many Caribbean people came and lived in Ghana thanks to the efforts of early Pan Africanists like Garvey, CLR James, Henry Sylvestre Williams and George Padmore. It’s all a bit overwhelming, to be honest. So I’m going to do like a good Trini and find a fete so I could dance out all that I’m feeling and trying to find names of feelings for. Ase!

Ghana in a Timing

RollinginGhana

Told you we ain’t dead yet
we been livin’ through your Internet
you don’t have to believe everything you think
we’ve been programmed wake up, we miss you.
they call you indigo, we call you Africa.
go get baptised in the ocean of the people
say reboot, refresh, restart
fresh page, new day, o.g.’s, new key

The Healer, Erykah Badu

 It’s as if I’m floating over my own body as this is happening. Like I’m not really here. In Accra, Ghana. In the heat and noise of an African night. Talking with Angela Davis. Yes, THE Angela Davis. Her afro still big and defiant, challenging the straight acceptance of weaves and relaxer. The words are tumbling out of my mouth and I feel jumpier than ten teenage girls in a Justin Beiber concert.  

 I am telling her the story of that time when I was in Cuba in 2000 and I met Assata Shakur who, like a runaway, had escaped to a freetown called Havana after the FBI decided that she was a terrorist. 

We bumped into her, Mariamma and I, on the last day of an international solidarity conference, the young people from all over the Americas seeking her out, hoping to get a glimpse of her. We were about to catch a train to go and see Che’s remains in Santa Clara and in looking for a quiet spot from which we could sneak out, ended up sitting right next to Assata, who smiled at us with the quiet dignity of one who is notorious and loved. I thought at the time and I think now: everything happens when it’s supposed to. 

Like this is the moment when I am meant to be in Ghana. In Africa. For the first time. Standing between my mother and Angela Davis. Two giants in the development of my personal and political consciousness. On the scale of life experiences and adventures, I think I would rate this moment in the top five. Second maybe to being born. I’ll allow myself this rather un-Aquarian exaggeration because I don’t know how else to process what I’ve been thinking and feeling and living for the past two days.

But it’s a wonderful confluence of life experiences against the backdrop of a conference hosted by the Organisation of Women Writers of African Descent at which my Eintou is presenting a pan. Yari Yari Ntoaso brings together women of African descent from around the continent and the diaspora to explore the individual and collective experiences of women as writers, as academics, as queer theorists, as troublemakers, midwives of a new era for young black women. 

In addition to the conversations on the panels and the conversations over lunch and on the bus to and from the conference, there are the moments with the volunteers. Young Ghanaian women. Who have the kind of beauty that you see on every street from Brixton to Kingston and everywhere in between.

 An unconscious kind of beauty. Hidden behind lace front weaves. Talking with them is what I enjoy the most. Their voices and their smiles and the spontaneous dance moves we break into at random moments in our conversations tell me that this is where I am supposed to be at this moment in my life. For no magical or mystical reason I am never going to be the same again. Places and people change you. Adding this experience to my life’s equation is no idle feat. 

I try to be reasonable about processing my feelings. Along the way I worried that I would have anticipated this too much and that it would either be disappointing or tragic. I cried with fear and nervousness and joy at every point of the journey from London, to Rome to Lagos and then to Accra.

When I finally got out of the plane and felt the heat and smelled the smells and heard the voices, I knew it was going to be okay. And a man behind me said “You are home.” And I looked about for the camera crew because it was just too much like a film moment to be true. There is no film crew following me but I know I really will never be the same again. 

Africa, this corner of it, far from being the home I thought it would be, is the place where I am even more comfortable in my state of being that unapologetic small-island Trini. An amalgam of things and people and ways of being. More than an African. I am a Steel Pan African. I am the product of survival. I am the reconfigured, reconstituted truth of globalisation. I am Anansi and Osun bouncing up Durga and Hyarima. 

Everything happens for a reason. And how it’s supposed to. In the right timing. African time. Not too early or too late. Just right. What else can I be but thankful.

First published in Trinidad Guardian May 18, 2013

How Anansi Bring the Drum

Last Saturday at the UNESCO offices in St. Clair I watched the mother for the ten millionth time, mesmerize a group of young people with her stories.  I guess I took her story-telling skills for granted, like I take my mango trees and guava tree and zaboca tree for granted. It’s there, right.  It is expected.

The truth is that not everybody has a mother like Eintou. It’s a matter of privilege really, to grow up in a house where you are routinely, almost ritualistically informed about who you are.  I watch these young people their eyes opening wide at the information being offered to them.  There are immediately noticeable changes.

This is the kind of work that we used to do in at risk schools in Morvant and Laventille. Schools that are allegedly the breeding grounds of future (and some present) criminals.  The work of cultural transformation is no joke. It’s been proven for years

These programmes were stopped by the new Minister of Education Dr. Tim Gopeesingh, pending a review of so-called extra-curricular activities at all schools across the country.  At the launch of a new book on Leroi Clarke last week at NALIS, Dr. Gopeesingh claimed that he was willing to work with people like Eintou to transform the education system.  I hope he calls soon. I really do.  In light of recent developments – Movie Towne, Flugtag, Vybz Kartel – all of which I suppose have their purpose, I hope that cultural workers and community activists get a chance to do the work they need to do.

The forty or so young people who are involved in How Anansi Bring the Drum are a lucky bunch. They get to learn history that is not part of their curriculum.  They get to learn cultural forms that are not part of their curriculum.  And they get to interact with Eintou who, and I’m not even being biased here, is a real national treasure.

On April 21st, 1970

Trinis have a funny funny way of forgetting…Brother Valentino’s song echoes in my head as I watch the March/April bound copies of the Trinidad Express from 1970. I open the hardcover and the first image I see is one of my father.   I wonder if what I see is my own self-consciousness. I imagine that what I see is someone, who like me, is hoping against hope that what he is doing, what he is saying, what he is feeling are the right things.

It’s forty years today. 21st April marks forty years since Eric Williams declared a state of emergency after months of protests against the institutionalised racism, against the Independence promises unfulfilled, against the colonials being replaced with the neo-colonials, against the jaycees perpetually white carnival queens…. It was also the day that the soldiers mutinied, preferring to stand in solidarity with the people than shoot them down.

Yesterday I went to the library, seeking answers to questions that I can’t ask  the parental units.   I put on the gloves and turned the pages slowly, hoping that I would see something that would make the whole thing make sense.

There is nothing that can explain it.  What makes regular normal people wake up one day and think they can change the world.  But I suppose these people are neither regular nor normal. They are not.  They are bizarre. They are probably crazy.

There were many of my days in Babylon-don when my father talked about those times.  Days like that I kind of felt like a confessor as he talked about jail, about the marches. About behind the Bridge. About his mother going to berate Karl Hudson Philips’ father.

He gets angry a lot. Like my mother. Who still can’t speak in complete sentences.  She cries a lot still for people who died. For things I dare not say here.  For her lost youth.  For her mother’s distress.

There are so many disjointed stories. So many incomplete memories.  I don’t know where to start to ask questions, or even if I should.

I am looking through pages in these newspapers. Looking for the other side of the story.  For what the people who were against them had to say.   For the letters to the editor and the commentaries, from the business owners and the downpressors.

There is an image of the meeting in Shanty Town, which was subsequently moved and called Beetham Gardens. There is an image of town burning. There is an image of a black cloth on St. Peter in the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception. There is an image of Archbishop Pantin calling for sanity.

I know these stories.  I know these images as if I was there and alive.  But like the holes in the papers caused by decay and disintegration, there are things missing.

Even though they are both writers, I think I have inherited this trait from them. This inability to tell the fullness of the story.  To leave out bits. That may be too personal or painful. There are many things that I still don’t know. That they will probably never let me know. At least I imagine it is so.  I can only imagine the things they did.

I feel like something is missing.  I don’t know how to fill it.  The hole is bigger and hollower still because it is election season.  Because of mountain of shit that is going on in Trinidad right now.

It’s also a year since the Drummit to the Summit.  It’ also a year since Adrian Richards’ murder.

It is the transition to rainy season. And the time when I mark the dawns with both terror and hope.

Who are the true members? Who are the real warriors? How do I find them?  When is the time to write poetry and when is the time to pelt Molotovs?

My father still has the same afro, grey now, but the sides still pat down and the front pointing forward.  My mother is still a warrior queen who would stop at nothing to defend her loved ones, the neighbour down the road, random children, some girl she see that look ahow….  They have no intention of taking off their boots.  I fear that I will get locked into their love for the struggle, when what I want to do is win so that I can engage in random tree-hugging, be a dj and practice my headstands with my nephews.

Perhaps most disturbing is that I have inherited my parents’ inability to sleep between 2 am and 6 am.  From San Juan to Brixton, we wake to watch the night together, alone, in silence or with some haunting piece of jazz as a soundtrack to waking nightmares, shattered dreams of a more hopeful dawn for a promising nation.  There is so much to see and hear.  In this darkness. In this silence.  As for me, I have no idea what I am looking and/or listening for.

I hope they do.

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.