Durga meditation on an Oya morning

Today begins the Hindu observance of Navratri, a nine night celebration of the nine incarnations of the warrior mother goddess Durga.

It’s hard not to see the similarities between Durga Mata and Oya the goddess of the wind, whose sacred number is 9, who accompanies Shango in battle, who is the divine assurance of change.

My limited understanding of Hinduism is that the goddess is seen as the active manifestation of the masculine, the feminine is the energy that activates, urges the god into action.

As the wind blows outside my window this morning, I pay homage to all warrior woman energies and I encourage all my sister friends to tap into their Shakti power today and everyday.

Don’t ever apologize for being awesome!

And I’m so bored of all these Western feminists talking about how unnecessary men are. That is a pile of tata and if we don’t have a balance of masculine and feminine energies we will never progress as a civilization.

And to my brothers and male friends and lovers past, present, future, I ask that you not fear the power that women possess. Give us the space and love to embrace our wildest selves when necessary. There are too many other battles to fight for us to be engaged in battles in our romantic relationships.

I can live without a man, but I don’t want to.

We all need to just love each other a little more. Men women and women men. Love without the power tripping. Love of the community and the mission that stops the obsessive focus on one person.

Let’s not forget that the largest demon that Durga slays is the ego.

Durga Mata ki Jai! Iba se Oya!

Ase. Ase. Ase.

Scars on the inside and on the Outside

Been together like school children,
Then you hurt me just in vain.
Lord, I’m your weary child.
Happiness, come back awhile.
Cause if you don’t come, I’ve got to go
Lookin’ for happiness.
The road is dangerous.
Well, if you don’t come, I’ve got to go
Lookin’, Lord, for happiness, happiness.

—I’m Hurting Inside, Bob Marley

I know this man. Not terribly well. But in the way I know a lot of people. I talk to him every now and then. Depending on the route I take to go home. He always struck me as a gentle soul. Willing smile that lights up his eyes and you don’t notice that he’s missing teeth. He’s too young to be an elder but too old to be a contemporary. So I listen to his jokes when I stop at his van and crack a joke or two of my own and he’s nice enough to laugh at them. He is the coconut vendor who occasionally gives me advice on my love life and my work and whatever is on my mind that particular day. I guess I like him because he listens without prejudice. We give each other glimpses of our very different lives and I am usually thankful that I took the time and unplugged myself from my headphones long enough to share with someone who is not part of my immediate circle of loved ones and friends.

This day is the first I have seen him in a few months and it is so hot that I harbour soucouyant fantasies of escaping my skin that I swear is sizzling like I have already turned into a ball of fire. The asphalt is melty soft under my feet and Maracas is too far to be an achievable goal at this hour. He smiles when he sees me and I ask for my usual medium jelly. The jelly he has is firm and so he waits for me to drink the water and then patiently scoops the jelly out for me, more concerned about me breaking my nails than I ever could be. It’s then that I notice that his skin on his right arm is singed. Pink flesh peeps through burnt black patches. It looks like it’s healing well. I watch his arm as he separates the jelly from the husk and I wonder if to engage my Trini maco gene and work this obvious scar into the conversation. I am suddenly shy and wishing that I didn’t notice. I fear that I don’t really want to hear the story.

I don’t know if he has noticed me watching but he offers an explanation. He says he got into a rage and burnt his car and himself in the process too. I try to make light of the situation. Why you do dat, boy? I try to disguise the horror in my voice behind my Trini tone of trivialisation. He says, rum nah. Matter of fact like.
It’s obvious that this is the answer. He tells me about his wife again and I remember him telling me a few months ago that you can be with someone and still be all alone. He says now that he wishes she would leave him alone after he’s had a long day and not come and bother his head with her own failures. I don’t know what else to do. So I stuff my mouth full of jelly so I don’t have to come up with a more reasonable response. And I give a noncommittal nod. Like I understand the need to be left alone sometimes. Like I am secretly relieved that he only burned his car and himself.

Relatively speaking his behaviour is reasonable. Domestic violence headlines haunt us every day. I am disturbed that I am relieved at this man’s self-harm. I don’t ask any more questions. I am not a counsellor. I try to listen without prejudice but find myself wanting to plead with him to get help from some place that I fear does not exist. I don’t know where to tell this man to go and get help for his rum problem. Or his anger that he is now wearing as a scar on his right arm. I eat my firm jelly and he looks off into the setting sun. It is still unbearably hot but the coconut water soothes me a bit. The streets blare with police sirens, shuffling piper feet, the cursing of some inebriated hawk-and-spit regular.

When I am finished swallowing my jelly and the tears I want to cry for a man I hardly know, he is upbeat. He says he is going to get back the car he burnt. I ask what he’s putting on the arm. He says he is monitoring it. Testing his healing by his capacity to feel pain. The day he stops feeling, he says, is the day to get worried. I am more worried about healing the other scars. I manage to ask him, so you done with that rum ting, right? Nah! His response is swift and backed up by evidence of his continuing habit, a bottle of something held triumphantly in his hand before he puts in back in the barrel at his side. Rum till we all die, amen. I make a parting plea with him to give up the rum ting. He smiles and says okay, he will try. I smile and say take care of yourself.

Even the gentle souls here brush up against the face of violence. And some of us carry our scars outside but there are many more of us carrying our scars inside. And the rest of us look on powerless to intervene except to give whatever extra love we have to spare, even as we try to love ourselves into healing our own wounds. Shocked that the people we know. Our neighbors and friends. Our lovers and coconut vendors, all have the capacity for violence. It’s not just the monsters in the newspapers. It’s not just the disturbed teenagers beating up their school mates on tape. It’s not just the sicko police man brandishing a gun in the middle of cricket to stop the dutty wining antics of pitch stormers. Violence is closer than we like to admit and growing to be so common that soon scars outside will be national emblems.

He smiles his gappy smile and I go home, even more acutely aware of how powerless we all are to confront the growing diseases of violence, anger and how those problems are heavily medicated with alcohol. Who will save us from our scars? Who will be able to tell where the scar tissue ends for the healing to begin?

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.

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.

At the crossroads: black eye peas and other new year considerations

It’s almost 1300hrs on New Year’s Eve and I am dithering with various things, while I steel myself for a mad dash to the shop around the corner for black eye peas.

Outside is the kind of cold that is unrelenting even through several formidable layers. Or at least I imagine it is so. In truth I haven’t left the house since Monday, prefering to watch from within the safety of double glazing the London winter go from mild one weekend to nasty the following.

I am considering what misfortunes may befall me if I don’t get my black eye peas on. In spite of my distance from Trinidad and from the mother I woke up this morning knowing that this task had to be completed by the end of today.

Black eye peas being symbols of prosperity we brought a sense of with us through the Middle Passage and beyond. They are also the favourite food of the Orishas who offer protection to the community. It is no accident that old people long time in Trinidad would ring in the New Year standing at crossroads and it was essential for you to eat black eye peas and rice. What led them to know to do this I don’t know. It’s as if Eshu himself, guardian of crossroads, trickster of great repute planted the seed in their heads.

Staying in us like ancestral memory. Like my father’s mother who died when I was two, who I dream every now and then; who dreamt me before I was born with her dead mother in yard of a house in Lucas Street in Grenada that I still haven’t seen.

I can’t say what prompted me to get up this morning with a desire to eat black eye peas. Like I can’t say what prompts my father to speak to me now of things he has never spoken of before. Of his life as a boy, of his father and mother and his childhood friends. Of Maurice Bishop’s father and how he felt the first time he held the pages of a historical record in Grenada documenting all of his ancestors who had been hanged for taking part in Fédon’s slave rebellion in 1795.

It is an interesting note on which to end this year. Going back in order to go forward, knowing what went to know what comes next. I can’t say I am sorry to see the end of this year. I enjoyed it enough to be thankful for all the lessons it taught me. Few tears for big disappointments, many smiles for major joys. For mango dawns and nights of fleeting bliss like pan carried on the breeze that give your dreams sweet rumbling soundtracks. For unsaid words and unspoken prayers for missing ones and found ones and lost friends and found enemies. For music and dancing and jouvay and emails from nephews. For grandmothers who come back to remind me of what is true and valuable. For a mother who brings you messages in dreams full of yellow green rivers. And a father who speaks in rumbling verse.

I laugh at all Eshu’s tricks. I imagine that the lesson the universe is trying to teach me is never ever ever lose your sense of humour. Even when the joke is on you.

But joke is joke, I have black eye peas and rice to cook.

Happy new year.

Friday Love

I found myself saying things I hated the other day.  And hate has always been a word that I’ve always, um, hated.  Been feeling a bit scattered but this evening as I sit here watching the sky change colours I’m thinking about things and places and people I love or have done in the past. How the things you think you feel can change in a heartbeat. How sorrow can become joy and vice versa and how important it is to allow yourself to fully feel the whole range of emotions and somehow not allow yourself to become so caught up in the moment that you are incapable of functioning in the next.  At least, that’s what my aloof Aquarian self says I should aspire to.  I’m also coming to the conclusion that there is no such thing as love lost. You can’t lose moments you never had, can you?  So cherish the ones that you have. In other words, as my late grandmother would have put it, don’t count egg in fowl bottom. Chances are that the chicken might decide not to lay or the egg you were waiting for gets taken by a rat, kyah kyah!!  So this evening, I’m making a love list, because I have so very much to be thankful for.

Okay, and that’s a cheese wrap for today.

Love Meggies and a Blog Redux – It’s Salman Rushdie’s fault

I wrote the following post on the old blog last year. Can’t quite remember the event that precipitated it. But perhaps it was around the time of the visiting and too beautiful for me to do anything but dream poet who provided a moment’s distraction from my otherwise boring activist life of men who don’t dare come near me for fear of my being (and I swear I’ve heard these descriptions too smart, too radical, too own way etc etc etc) It got a lot of flak from some of my male friends who saw the questions as justification for the fact that I’ve been persistently single since me and my Zurich love parted ways back in 2006. I have to concur that the questionnaire is not only essential but to leave getting to know a man to a man is like leaving Patrick Manning to run the country.
There are of course exceptions to every rule and I have had my own proof that straightforward sweet funny well adjusted men who are available actually exist. Kind of like UFO’s. They are out there. You just need to be in the right place, time and frame of mind to find them.
For reasons that I don’t care to divulge on account of my unavoidably Aquarian desire to be aloof and non-comittal about anything too personal, I’ve come to the conclusion that the questionnaire is crucial to save yourself from love meggies. I guess I’m re-posting here to remind myself to be vigilant, even as I try to be open to the possibility that the man for me is in fact a reality and not a cruel fiction of a universe out to have several entertaining false alarm laughs on my head.
Why is this in mind? Well of course Salman Rushdie is involved. As it happens, I’m reading his latest novel, the mangolicious Enchantress of Florence in which there is a king who has imagined himself the perfect wife. O, for such powers! What a man I would make…
“So, having survived the dire dating situation in Trinidad for the past year and bit, I’ve decided to come with a short questionnaire for all potential dates. This will take the form of a short quizz at the beginning of the trackulations, so as to avoid heartache, stress, stalking or late night non-returning of flaky text messages. I know some of the questions are a bit left field but it’s not so much whether you know but how you answer! Extra marks for the most creative responses…

1. Why are you here?

2. Are you an asshole?

3. Exactly how many of my friends/acquaintances have you
a) slept with
b) tracked
c) wined on inappropriately in a public fete

4. Do you have a girlfriend (if the answer is yes, thank you for your time, please turn in your questionnaire before you leave).

5. Seriously, though. Are you an asshole? And if you are, how long does it take for you to turn into one?

6. What exactly are you expecting (select one or more of the following)
1) Romance
2) Entertainment
3) Sex
4) A friend
5) A horner woman
6) A sugar mommy

7. Do you eat meat?

8. Do you harm animals?

9. Do you have Hot Wuk as your ringtone?

10. Have you eaten geera pork in the past 24 hours?

11. What did you say your girlfriend’s name was again?

12. What about trees? How do you feel about trees?

13. Please complete the following sentence
A carbon footprint is —-

14. Please write a short treatise on the works of Martin Carter/Kamau Brathwaite/John Coltrane/Nina Simone.

15. Which of my favourite revolutionaries do you think said this?
‘Words that do not match deeds are unimportant’
a) Winston Rodney
b) Gandhi
c) Che Guevara
d) Arundhati Roy

16. What is Track 7 on the Best Selling Jazz album of all times?”