Things I learned today while learning to ride a bike

Yeah so this about twenty years late, but better late than never, no? Well I figure if I really want to commit to this hippy life I should at least know how to ride a bike. This is a lot easier than it sounds, but to my surprise I didn’t suck as badly at it as I thought I would and I did manage to pedal a few times.  But it occurred to me as I wobbled along, picturing all the while that I was riding to Spitalfields Market (maybe this is why I was distracted and couldn’t steer straight) that life is a lot like learning to ride a bike. For the following reasons, in no particular order.

1. it hurts sometimes.

2. you need to find balance!

3. you will fall!

4. it really helps to have a boomsie (thank you, starch mango tree)

5. did I mention balance?

6. be patient with yourself, you will get it evenutally (I had a few Don Music moments)

7.  random men will think it’s okay to give you their (unsolicited) advice.

8. when you can’t make it up the hill, it’s always good to have a friend to push you, and steer you away from the potholes.

9. there are potholes and you seem to be attracted to them.

10. laughing helps.

11. everybody looks this stupid at least once in their lives.

12. brakes! don’t forget the brakes.

Anyway, my hands hurt from hours of over-zealous brake application so that’s about as much wisdom as I can impart for now.  all of which is to say that I’m glad that I got over my lameness and actually took the chance to try something new!

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.

It’s my write.

I’m not sure if I’m accustomed to it yet.  Not having a column to say what’s on my mind.

I gave up my column not for a lack of things to say, but because I put so much of myself into those 800 words every week that there was little else left for any other kinds of writing that I’ve wanted to do since forever.

The future is not as certain as I would like. Now that my flakiness is wearing thin and I realize that, oh shit, I haven’t a parrot on a stick…But the words, the words are there, still in my head.  Trying to find ways to come out.

A dear friend from India read my palm the other day and said I am due for some drastic change of direction in my life.  I’m looking forward to change, hoping that these movements take me closer to the clarity that all the words, all the words I have written in the past ten years have been reaching for.  I still feel that it (whatever it is) is just outside my grasp. I still feel that it is just beyond the next corner.

I guess I have no choice but to keep writing. Keep reaching.  Keep hoping that I get there.

Yesterday I got bored of Facebook.

It’s been interesting watching the responses from close friends to I guess my rather sudden deactivation of my Facebook account.  People want to know if I’m ‘okay’. As if coming off Facebook is some kind of sign of possible madness, depression or some other crisis of social exclusion.

Truly, I’ve always kind of questioned my sanity but not enough to seek professional help.  I mean, who needs meds when there are mangoes and meggies, right?

Anyway, for an addict I seem to be coping really well. Haven’t broken out in sweats or anything and my primary thought all day has to my relief not revolved around creating a witty, thought-provoking status update.  I’m still on Twitter, but it’s never really consumed my life as much as the ole crackbook.

I don’t know what prompted me yesterday to deactivate, maybe it was the full moon, but much like when I stopped eating meat, it was a thought that entered my mind and once it did, I didn’t second guess it or wait for the doubt to set in.

It was a lot easier too, after a week and a half partial fast caused by the sudden and untimely demise of my hard drive.  After the initial distress, I woke up the next morning and started doing the gardening that I’d wanted to do since the beginning of the rainy season.  In the hour that I would ordinarily have spent fiddling around with my page, I managed to sort out my compost heap and chop my way through some weeds, and set up a bed of tomatoes, pigeon peas, and peppers.

I was stunned and quite frankly ashamed of myself to discover just how much time I could waste. Time that I could never regain.  Scary.

When I got my laptop back it was easy to fall back into the same old pattern. It’s easy when it’s your news feed, your grapevine, your companion, your measure of yourself, your propaganda.

But I find myself these days desperately wanting to break out of familiar patterns and my FB addiction is a rather good place to start.

I realise now that I’m writing this that FB encouraged me to write more in sound bites.  Which is not really the best thing if you’ve got a book to get out of your head and you have a woefully short attention span anyway.  Of course there was also the immense element of navel gazing, people macoing, how many times a day can you check one person’s profile-ing.  Luckily for me I get bored easily.  I guess yesterday was the day I got bored with Facebook.  It remains to be seen how long I can sustain the fast.  I now have no clue about friends birthdays, haven’t bothered to check the news and I also don’t have a clue about what is happening in Port of Spain anymore.  I guess if it’s important enough somebody will actually pick up the phone or something.  But for the most part I am enjoying not being caught up in the noise of other people’s lives.

Rain down on Me.

The rain comes like a pleasant surprise on a Thursday night. And you forget the crushing heat of the day. The feeling that you would melt into a puddle of sweat and be evaporated, leaving behind a pile of hair and salt as the only reminders of your existence. When it gets that hot even the hummingbirds forget which way is up. Reason abandons you and all you want to do is think cool thoughts and then you turn on the radio and Papa Patos is saying something to make your brains sizzle.Your plants protest, the fever grass leaves turn into spears protesting that the morning’s offerings were insufficient to survive the day. The ground is dry again. The sun relentless. The ineptitude of politicians unchecked. The emptiness of your bank account consistent. But then the clouds gather because the universe takes pity on your helplessness. A breeze passes to cool your hot brains. The rain comes like a sigh of relief. Making you want to drop everything you are doing and retire to bed where, under the galvanize it sounds like the best possible symphony. Thunder rumbles and you resurrect the smells of my grandmother’s kitchen—chocolate tea with an oily film at the top of your favourite cream chipped enamel cup. The smell of cheese as it melts between a piece of bake.  It’s the simple things you conjure in the magic of night rain.

In the rain listen to a little Lata Mangeshkar, understanding what she sings only from the sheer pain in her voice. It is a love song no doubt, they are always love songs.  Love for God and man and the trees and all the other things that live in your ecosystem. Imagine your plants revelling in the wet earth. In the rain your can hear things growing and you are glad to be here and part of it. Things that set root and push out of the ground. Mangoes and manicous share the joy of the rain. And in the morning after the rain the night before, the pumpkin leaves are bigger and the peppers redder and the pigeon peas a little taller. Mint and tomatoes push purposefully upwards. And if you were a better farmer, you would plant people too. You would sow good politicians and men who love their children and their women. You would plant a crop of humans who would take root in the soil and nourish it. Hold on to it. Give to it and take from it in an endless cycle.

In the rain and the rumbling of thunder that vibrates your bed and the wood of your floor and your old windows and the beautifully rusting galvanize you are glad to live in the tropics. Glad that most of the time it is pleasant enough for you to wander about without having the fix your mind to be in confrontation with nature.  When it rains here, you can dance in it, catch rainflies, squish your toes and hope that some parasite doesn’t take up residence in your nails. The rain continues all night into the morning. Keeping you rooted there. You don’t have to get up to wet your plants. You don’t have a job to be reporting too. It is dark and warm like a womb must have been. You are glad for the extra time. When it rains here people stay home to hug up their loved ones, to find the warmth and love they thought they had lost, to dream dreams that sometimes are missed in the quest to beat the traffic, be productive citizens, join the rat race.

The rain slows us down to remind us of the things that perhaps are more important. The unnoticed things. Things growing and dying and living in our ecosystems that we might not notice in the hum of our electric lights in the concreteness of our jungles. And you hope the rain can wash away the thick film of stink that settles over everything here. You hope that the rain can wash away all the blood, all the disappointment, all the confusion and frustration. You hope that the rains will keep this gentle tempo and not rise into a rushing roaring torrent to punish us for our many many sins. You hope that this rain only brings good things. That this rainy season stays wet but not drowning. Delightfully moist but not too soggy so that the roots of your growing things drown from the excess. Drown before they bear fruit.  Are destroyed by the very thing that gives them life. The rains are tears that bring joy. A necessary sadness to bring new life and make you love the sunlight and the greenness of the hills some more.

Farewell to the King

Heartbreak enemy despise
Eternal
Love shines in my eyes
So let love take us through the hours
I won’t be complaining
’Cause your love is alright, alright
—Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough Michael Jackson

The first man any of us were in love with, notwithstanding Amitabh Bachchan on a Sunday afternoon. And now that they say he is gone I remember the eighties and long for that innocence again. When my big sister Didi was the coolest person alive. Because she could do the moonwalk and to add insult to injury allowed me with my annoying six-year-old self to lime with her and all her cool friends, not least of all, the boyfriend whose name was, oh sweet Lord, Michael. When Thriller came out and we listened to that record for hours and staged concerts in our living room for a scandalised George Lamming who had, to our own disgust, not yet heard of this marvel called Michael Jackson.
Back then, before the pederasty, before the plastic surgery, before Jacko became wacko, we loved him like a brother. Like a part of the family. He sang for us, for every black child wanting to be great. Wanting to be more than just skin and hair and nose. When those things became tangible talent, superstardom to take to you to moon and back, to soar endlessly. I laughed til I cried years later when Didi was in London and sent me a letter detailing her fainting as he came onstage at Wembley. By then he was thinner and whiter and stranger but still a star. Still worthy of causing my otherwise sensible sister to faint from the sheer emotional exertion of being so close to greatness. He was too great for this Earth. And so he became the joke, the freak show that we all are desperate to avoid. The non-belonging artist on the moon, far out in orbit, trying to get his fans to take the trip with him. No one is that amazing we try to tell ourselves. No one can be so great.
He soars higher still, but we decline the journey preferring to lose ourselves in the driving sex-soaked bass of dancehall and the frustrated realism of hip hop. None can deny though, not Sizzla, not Public Enemy, not Method Man, that the King is the King. His time is gone now, a sacrifice at the feet of superstar gods who demand the ultimate price for such genius. Madness haunts any who dare to fly so high. His face melted like Icarus wings and none of us held out our hands to catch him. And it occurs to me that the thing we robbed him of is the thing he represents the most to all of us. He gave us the happy childhood he never had, haunted as he was by genius madness and demands for those less talented for him to reach never-before-seen heights of superstardom.
He gifted us a less difficult time. A less complicated time when you could be in love with a superstar. When you could dance away your troubles. Back then when you didn’t know every awful gory detail of his life, you couldn’t hear the pain in his wailing. You couldn’t hear the loneliness in his high fragile voice. You could just see the moonwalk as a dance and not a man retreating to some far far place where none of the people who exploited his immense talent could reach him. I mourn not just a singer. I mourn a symbol of my own struggle to know and love myself. How many black people wished they had that Jackson money to change their faces into something that might be more beautiful by someone else’s standards.
How many want to rub out their reflections so that the nightmares do not stare back when they look into the mirror. How many fight demons every day. His heart broke because we didn’t believe in him anymore and I am sure he stopped believing too. Part of me wants to believe that he is not dead. Because he was meant to be immortal. He was meant to transcend this physical place because the Earth was far too puny a place for him. The King is not mere flesh that withers on the bone. The King is pure electricity now. Existing in our nerve endings, infectious and divine. The King stops time and space to make people forget their troubles and dance. Forget their sorrows and dance. Like the first time you heard Billie Jean and wondered what manner of man could make their spirit want to jump out of their skins, just so?
It is the power of music. In that moment of moonwalk nothing else matters. He walks on the moon alone. He trods the superstar road alone. He dies alone. Unrecognisable by those who came to know themselves through his music. Far more than any of us have wished for ourselves. Far more than any of us could have dreamed for him.

Love and Baigan – A Maticoor Meditation

Republic Maticoor

When Gab, my sistren from the year nought jokingly suggested that I organize and host her maticoor at the Republic a month ago it didn’t seem so odd. 

Given that I am a post modern Orisa/Rasta ecofeminist and Gab is a Rapso feminist activist, former Miss Mastana Bahar and her family is actually Muslim Indian via Afghanistan. AND she was getting married to an African man in Christian ceremony.

I engaged in the process the same way I engage in any kind of celebration, with wild abandon and excitement.

This was not to be a regular maticoor by any stretch of our imaginations.  It was less than rites but more than tradition.  But that is the Trinidad experience — creating new interpretations of old things, making culture relevant  and current and alive and vital.  

 It didn’t matter that I’m not Indian or Hindu or a family member.

In our reasonings about what we wanted the maticoor to be, Gab and I agreed that to call it a maticoor was to take the name with its local cultural and social significance specifically to women and make it our own.  

As women confronting this Trinidad landscape, claiming space, expressing views, thoughts, dreams, desires we know the restrictions on this freedom.  The maticoor then becomes that last chance for us to come together and surround our sister friend with all our light, all our hope and all our admonishing that this mouth called marriage doesn’t swallow her up, consume her so totally that she no longer is the person we knew.  A better stronger person perhaps. Because what is love if it doesn’t give you the energy to be an amplified version of yourself?

On the day of the maticoor I ended up in a shop in San Juan market with the mother.  I bought some coconut oil and wicks for the deyas I planned for Gab’s circle of light.  I stood there talking with the female shop owner, asking her about the various puja items on sale.  We chatted for a long time too about the similarities between Hindu rites and practices and Ifa/Orisa rites and practices.  About the late Orisa priest Baba Sam who often said his prayers in Sanskrit, of Ravi Ji who I call Uncle.

An Indian man,  a Jehovah’s Witness tried to engage me and the mother in a conversation about Christianity and why the Bible is the only truth.  There was a lot of snorting and steupsing from us at this point.  A few shoppers stopped their shopping to hear how the conversation was going.  Anyway to cut a long story short, the mother shouted at the man ‘Conversion is the worst crime perpetrated against people like us.  A lot of Indian people had to convert to Christianity, change their names and their way of life to keep their jobs, to send their children to school.  Orisa people used to have to run from police for playing their drums.  Pay respect to your ancestors who sacrificed so much for you to be here!’

In our circle later that night, after Burton had sung his ribald maticoor songs and then orikis to Orisa goddesses Yemoja, Osun and Oya and of course Sparrow’s Maharajin and we sat watching our mehendi’d hands dry, we all dressed as our personal sheroes – I am Phoolan Devi, in a circle of Parvati, Gaia, Winnie Mandela, Artemis, Athena, Yemoja, Osun… 

I spare a thought for the Jehovah Witness man who must still be scratching his head over the encounter with me and the mother.  I spare a thought for his version of the story which can only ever be one way.  That his worldview is limited by his belief system that says there is only one truth.  

We gather there in that circle giving Gab our love and advice.  The melongene comes out and we collapse into giggles.  Love and baigan are things that we all know. Experiences that we all share.  We give our best ideas and advice.

Trini men are special enough for us to try to figure out how to love them and demand that they love us in ways that are affirming, empowering, enlightening.

In a place and time when we presume women are disempowered, whether by marriage, religion or just the goddamn competing patriarchies that battle for women’s bodies and minds in this country, the maticoor then is a space of power for women where they can celebrate themselves, their femininity, sexuality freely.

 The maticoor is a moment of woman obeah.  To remind us of our power and how to use it.  That setting of a stage where the bride knows that the women have her back.  

Trinidad is such a subtle, nuanced place.  It’s easy to get it wrong. It’s easy to think that race divides us, which it does in bizarre ways.  That we succumb to the politics of nigger and coolie paranoia, which we do in the worst of times.  No mistake, there are a lot of people in Trinidad for whom that is a reality.  There are a lot of people in Trinidad who fully and committedly engage in the politics of resentment.  Who use difference as a dividing line.  

But it is never that simple.  So it is up to us who have had this upbringing that is all of the above: Indian and African and western and Baptist and Amitabh Bachchan on a Sunday afternoon and Viv Richards and pan to develop the capactity to deal with our cultural schizophrenia rather than try to disentangle it and try to construct some singular identity.  That’s not just impossible, it’s impossibly boring.

Maybe it is up to the women to lead the way to this easier understanding of this country’s complexities.  To an acceptance of how we mix and mingle and our sharp edges become softened by a constant rubbing against the Other. Until the other is yourself and you are the other.  And maybe a dougla maticoor is not the answer to all our problems.

 But surely love and baigan are key ingredients in any effort to bring us all a little closer.