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.

Songs and Memories

Been doing a lot of backing up and adding and deleting tonight. Listening to favourite songs and some songs I haven’t listened to in ages. Brings back really wonderful memories of my life and times, trodding through creation, meeting some wonderful people and maintaining ties with some lovely old friends. Some songs I can’t listen to anymore because they are so full of memories…some of them bring back a time when life was less complicated. But I am thankful for them all. I guess I’m documenting them in the unfortunate event that I forget how much these pieces of music and the times and the places and the people mean to me.

Billie Jean – Michael Jackson Early 1980’s George Lamming was staying at our house, working on something or another. My sister had just got a copy of the Thriller album and we set about playing it over and over. Uncle George declares to our great shock and horror ‘Who is this Jackson person?’ So of course we had to put on a whole concert for him, including Didi doing the moonwalk across the living room. At the end of the song, Uncle George declares ‘This is a funny sort of house’.

Inglan is a Bitch – Linton Kwesi Johnson – 1987 London The mother took me to an LKJ concert in London somewhere. I don’t remember the details because I slept through most of it, but at some point in the night I remember waking up to see this little black guy prancing around the stage singing in the roughest, loveliest voice I’ve ever heard ‘Hinglan is a beeetch’. Been in love with him ever since.

Everybody Wants to Rule the World – Tears for Fears – 1986 Watford. I was standing at the bus stop outside Woolworths with my sisters on the way to school. I was standing there minding my own business when this woman comes up and punches me in the face. Dry so!! Buss my lip and everyting. Not pleasant. This is the song that was playing on the radio when the Babylon came to question me about the woman after school.

Natty Dread – Bob Marley and the Wailers May 2000 Kingston. Went down to Trench Town to do some volunteer work at a community centre. They didn’t cater for the vegetarians so we wandered across the street looking for a vendor. Happened to wander straight into the yard where Bob used to live with his mother and Bunny Wailer. We sat in the shade of giant ganja trees and reasoned with rasta elders who gave us fruits and coconut water to eat. Bliss!

He Loves Me – Jill Scott – Winter 2003 England – Road Trip to Stone Henge with my very good sister friends Tonni, Tamara, BinghiNya and Gab. Nya was driving us to Bath and then she started to sing this song. I am so very thankful to have these womyn in my life!!

Here and Now- Andre Tanker – Winter 2003, China. I didn’t find out that Andre died a whole three days after… That day Tonni and I took a trip to the sea off Qinhuangdao. It was cold and the water grey. But it was good to be by the sea and I was glad to have a moment to whisper my goodbyes into the waves.

Fools Die – Peter Tosh- New Years Day 2004 London. Passed out at Skateboard Pete’s New Years Party, woke up at 6 am and this is the song Svenn was playing. A melancholy way to start a bizarre year that I was very glad to see the end of!

Shanti Om – Lord Shorty – Jouvay 2004 Trinidad We were just coming out of the Savannah. I think Shel Shok was the DJ. The sun was just coming up and they drop this song! Ooooh gouud…I was never so happy to be home as in that moment. By Ash Wednesday I was cured of that, though.

Natural Roots – Jah Shaka – Summer 2004 Me and Empress Jo in Finsbury Park at an all day Dub festival. The house in Turnpike Lane with the Hairy Fairies and food and reasonings and energy balls and falling asleep standing up in all night Jah Shaka dances in the Rocket in Holloway. The N29! D&G ginger beers and the best 24 hour snack shop in Trafalgar Square. Primrose Hill and vegan Thai buffet paradise for stoners. Sundays in Spitalfields market. Cheesy reggae Saturday nights in Camden! And that lovely Ethiopian bredrin, Yohannes was his name?

Water No Get Enemy – Fela Anikulapo Kuti – Autumn 2004 London – Svenn used to play this song at least twice a day. I don’t know why it became such an anthem for us, given that we were living in the middle of Chelsea with Ralph Lauren as our corner store, ha! Walking down to King’s Road we would spontaneously start singing the song together. Our merriment was frequently cut short by a burst of running to catch the Number 19.

One Day – Mungal featuring 3 Canal – New Years Day 2005 London – Me, Kassie and Nya talking about all our hopes and dreams and fears on the brink of a new day.

Zion – Maximus Dan – Summer 2005 – I was living in Zürich and getting rather fat. So every morning I would go for a run in a vineyard near the lake. It was mostly uphill and I would never really think I could make it. But just as I got to the top of the hill this song would come on and I would practically fly down the hill towards home, smiling maniacally with my hair flapping about in the breeze. Needless to say the neighbours stared at me like I just landed from another planet….

Anisiedad – Daisy Voisin Christmas 2005 Trinidad. I hadn’t been home since my grandmother died in 2003. The mother was in the kitchen making black cake and then this song came on and it made me think of my Ida and the fact that she was the original black cakist. That I would never again have the pleasure of her boofs, her smiles, her sarcasm, her pakchoi and rice! I hadn’t had a chance to cry for her in almost two years of travelling, working, loving, moving again, running away and trying to figure out where home was. But then Daisy came on and I got a full appreciation of all that I was missing and all that I had missed.

Live Good – Burning Spear- Carnival 2006 Chatham …the first time I went down to Chatham and met the women of the community and was so impressed by the concern and commitment that I was motivated to get involved in their struggle against Alcoa. When the meeting was finished we ate with them and then Samantha, the 8 year old daughter of our hosts, took my hand and walked with me around her yard. She pointed out all the different trees: mango, pomerac, zaboca, fig. And then she looked me in the eye and said ‘if Alcoa comes I not going to have this anymore’. Part of the reason I never went back to Switzerland…

Ee wa Obakoso – Ella Andall – Summer 2007 Iceland – We were driving up to Husavik right at the northernmost point of Iceland. At about 1 am it was still light and my anarchist friends decided that that was a good time to go check out a crater. It was so windy and cold I ran all the way. Got to the top out of breath with the wind howling in my ears and the crater’s gravel crunching under my hiking boots. I don’t know if I was crying because I was so cold or because I was so overwhelmed to be where I was for the reason that I was there. I had never felt so far from home and yet so close to myself. The wind blew my tears away and then everything got very still.

Naturally – Slow Train – Rainy Season 2008, Trinidad. Me and Kassie, joined by Jacob on a road trip to Toco. We practically wore a hole into that cd replaying that song speeding through the north coast.

Even After All- Finley Quaye- Many Many Nights 2008 The Republic. After party cleaning up. Svenn bepping on the day bed. Sheli listening to every note. Keshav singing and washing dishes. Makeda cooking, again. Me playing ten last songs. Daddy O recounting Amel’s birth. Lemongrass and ginger tea, chocolate tea and pongkin choka. Enamel cups and loud laughter.

Okay I’m going to stop there before this gets too cheesy….

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.

The World is War Zone

defend gaza

I imagine the people of Gaza must be glad to know that people care.
That even as bombs rain down on their homes, even as they bury their children, there are people out in the world who condemn this madness, who add their voices to a global outcry against Israel’s criminally stupid attack on Gaza.
I feel a great sense of belonging outside Downing Street watching young Muslim women and old white lefties, and keffiah clad cool sorts hurl shoes over the police.
There are thousands there. Tens of thousands. Still coming up along Embankment, past Big Ben, up Whitehall and pouring into the heart of Babylondon.
The protestors chant a bitter sweet call and response – Israel: Terrorist, George Bush: Terrorist, Gordon Brown: Terrorist.
It is like the sweetest music to my ears and because it is nearly Carnival I am tempted to start put my hands in the air and shake my defiant boomsie in the face of those who are silent on Israel’s genocidal mission.
I imagine the people of Gaza must feel reassured that so many thousands of people around the world have taken to their streets demanding an end to the madness. I also imagine they are too busy trying to survive to give a damn about us standing out there being captured on film by the police photographers.
There is a smell of fuel in the air and before I know it five or six Asian youths have set fire to a replica of the Israeli flag. There is so much anger in their eyes I have to look away.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to live a life punctuated by war.
But standing in Trafalgar Square I am struck by the silence of all those thousands of people, listening to the various speakers, sharing food, leaning on placards, shivering in the cold.
It’s not often these days that I feel proud to be a human. Less often than feeling like I belong.
It is a constant source of confusion for me that humans can just be so downright mean to each other.
image000 When people come together to lend their voices to bring an end to the suffering of others, surely this is a much more powerful thing than sitting at home watching it all unfold on the television, mumbling your complaints into your living room.
I imagine that these mass outpourings of love and rage only ever happen when humanity comes under such threat that those of us who still hold on to some, have to find ways to manifest it.
Annie Lennox calls down shame and damnation on the Israeli government as Somali men perform ablutions before their prayers, right there on the Strand, in the shadow of Lord Nelson’s column.
It is too cold to do anything but stand there, shifting weight from one leg to another. Feeling angry that all I can do is stand there, in the cold, holding a placard.
It is too cold to talk but just being there is warmth enough. Not just because demonstrations are to activists what ecstasy pills are to ravers.
And as I reflect on the niceness of the feeling of being part of something, I remember the bitter taste in the back of my throat when so-called leaders accused people like me of being an outsider for taking an interest in what was going on in Chatham with plans to build an Alcoa aluminum smelter.
How Trinidad is a place where we have become as obsessed as our so-called leaders with carefully demarcated territories that must be controlled by the various competing patriarchies. About how difficult it is for us to express solidarity with each other, far less to care about what’s going on outside of our immediate community.
I suppose this is the case everywhere. Apathy thrives. Later I meet up with a bredrin from Iceland who tells me amazing stories about a whole country coming to the brink of collapse and how this has completely galvanized even the most complacent of the middle class to take to the streets, to take over town halls and cinemas to meet and confront their leaders who dare not treat them with the kind of contempt that is readily available for us here.
Too fantastic to imagine that this will ever happen in sweet and sour T&T. Too ridiculous to imagine that Trinidadians will ever care about anything enough to take to the streets in their thousands.
Apathy thrives, unless perhaps your wallet or your life is affected.
The world is a war zone whether blood is being shed or not. And those who want peace or security cannot resist the urge to try and fight for it.

For more information on how you can speak out against Israel’s crimes against Gaza and the Palestinian people click here