I never thought


Everybody run run run
Everybody scatter scatter
Some people lost some bread
Someone nearly die
Someone just die
Police dey come, army dey come
Confusion everywhere
Several minutes later
All done cool down, brother
Police done go away
Army done disappear
Dem leave sorrow, tears and blood
Dem regular trademark
Sorrow Tears and Blood, Fela Anikulapo Kuti

Wednesday afternoon on Charlotte Street.  I hear something that sounds like a gunshot and I try to convince myself that it isn’t.
No one else flinches on Charlotte Street.  No one looks around.  Everyone continues about their business – selling, buying, cussing, raving, tracking, playing music loud enough to make your insides vibrate.
So I convince myself that it isn’t a gunshot and continue about my business.
A few minutes later, I hear the news that there’s a crowd gathered around the corner and the police have just shot a man.
By the time I get to the scene of the crime, the shot man has been whisked away in a police van, but the people are still gathered around, the splashes of the man’s blood making three deep red stains in the concrete pavement, while the shell from the single bullet fired at the man lies in the drain.
People walk through the crowd, commuters and pedestrians walk through the man’s blood on the pavement hardly even noticing.  The one uniformed officer on the scene does little to stop them from tampering with a crime scene.  The bag of groceries the old man stole from the shop is also on the pavement, the straps of the black plastic bag flapping non-chalantly in the occasional afternoon breeze.
They coulda give him case.  The women say.  They didn’t have to shoot him.  An old man.  They keep repeating.  He was an old man.
The crowd analyses why an old man would be stealing groceries.  A bag of groceries.  This is what poor people come to in this country.
The police too fat to run down suspects.  How fast could an old man run anyway?  Others say the man was already handcuffed when they shot him.
A man tries to make a joke about the man being shot in his backside.  But for once, no one is in the mood for kicks.  A woman issues a long watery steups in the direction of the joker and he immediately falls silent.
A young woman, looking the Babylon in his eye declares that she won’t go to the police for nothing.
If your man beating you, she says, they will tell you is not their business.   I have to protect myself, but they quick to shoot an old man with a bag of groceries.
A youth man is shouting over all the other voices.  He shouts about police brutality.  About being effing fed up about this kind of treatment.  About what would happen in this country if people were to turn against the police.  The Babylon on the scene tries to quiet him down.  He walks off trying to cool his head.  He probably has firsthand experience of the consequences of his hot mouth and the police.  But he continues.  And his sentiments are echoed by an older woman.  Too much police brutality on poor people.  The people ask if the police are there to protect them or to kill them.
What we could do, what we could do?  People ask me when I ask them what they’re going to do about what is going on.  They know that it can’t continue like this.
The youth man points accusingly at the crowd.  And allyuh want to vote for PNM?  He is a rahtid.  Like so many more.  A woman takes offence.  This have nothing to do with the PNM.
The youth man continues to shout.   Is the PNM fault, oui.
The crowd grows.  More police turn up.  Half hour after the man was shot and a few people walked through the evidence they string up a caution tape.  They tell the media people that we’re sensationalizing an incident that really wasn’t that important.
Meanwhile, uptown away from bullets, vagrants, heat, noise and streets sagging under the weight of poverty, Minister of National Security Martin Joseph admits that he underestimated the amount of work he had to do.
He, like the rest us, must be suffering from I never thought. I never thought Trinidad could get like this.   And I never thought none of us would know what to do about it.

Women under siege

I was feeling insecure,
You might not love me any more,
I was shivering inside
I was shivering inside

I was trying to catch your eyes,
Thought that you were trying to hide,
I was swallowing my pain
I was swallowing my pain.

Jealous Guy, John Lennon

What is more upsetting?  The killing or our powerlessness?  What is more disappointing?  The realization that we have to deal with five more years of a useless Minister of National Security or the fact that we get the government we deserve?
I like to say with all the surety of my mother and grandmothers and sisters and women ancestors going way back, that the man to hit me isn’t born yet and his mother is dead.
But the longer I stay in Trinidad, the more I think that maybe all women are at risk of some kind of violence and there is little we can do about it.
It’s not just that men strut about with a puffed up sense of self-importance.  It’s not just that we have a long tradition of sexual and physical violence that has always been an acceptable way of keeping women in check, in their place.
It never ceases to amaze me how acceptable it is for men to make jokes about slapping women.  So that when you see a man to slap a woman across her face on Broadway, you either do nothing or point and laugh.
It never occurred to me how dangerous it was for a mother to declare ‘when ah leggo mih cock, yuh better lock up yuh hen’ until this week when a mother and son were jointly charged with the murder of a young woman.
All those songs about the unattainable and highly desirable dulahin take on new sinister meanings when I read about young Indian women being openly threatened by black men on the streets and if I choose not to acknowledge the advances of random men on the street, clearly, I feel I white.
Meanwhile an abused woman cheats death while her estranged husband runs amok, doing a crime so gruesome you think that maybe they’re making it up.
And during the election the violence of crushing and flogging and destroying was all we could hear from these men that lead our country.
No wonder women like me who think we’re invincible, now walk the streets nervous about every step we make.  No wonder, even women like me are eating licks every day and night.  And having their spirits smashed under some two by four man’s heel so that they can fit into some socially acceptable coupledom.
The funny thing is that my bredrins feel as under siege as I do.  That to be a good man in this lack of Vision 2020 is to be an insurance policy, an easily controlled cash cow.
So I’m wondering which came first? Whose insecurities are to blame for all the violence, all the neediness, all the stalkers and the tabancas?
Who raised these men to make them think they could treat women in this way? And who is raising our women to believe that this behaviour is something they should take?
Meanwhile there are plenty of women in parliament.
And I don’t want to let down the sisterhood, but let’s see how much these women can do and whether Papa Patos hasn’t just put them there because he thinks they’re easier to manipulate and women are more willing to please.
I wonder if women really were in power in real ways if we would do the things that we really need to do.  Like really begin to address the ways that we raise our boys to be men and our girls to be women.
Who else can define what security is than those who feel the most unsafe?

Waiting for Papa Patos


I asked the policeman and said

How much must I pay for my freedom?

He said to me, son

They won’t build no schools anymore

They won’t build no hospitals

All they’ll build will be prison, prison

— Prisoner, Lucky Dube

“That is for allyuh young people to worry about.” The woman in Woodford Square who had fought for one of the few leftover chairs that were reserved for the invited guests behind the fence wasn’t interested in my question about constitutional reform.Old black woman with lined face and calloused hard-life kind of hands. A shameful stubby set of teeth and downturned sides of her mouth.

She wants to see her beloved Prime Minister and she’s chatting with her friends waiting for his arrival. Papa Patos is nowhere to be seen yet. I stand next to her, behind the six-foot fence separating the plebs from the nice people in their chic designer sunglasses protecting their eyes from the sharp glare of mid-afternoon sun.

Who would have thought that Woodford Square would have a VIP section? Papa Patos decided to throw a big show for all the party faithful but some party faithful are more worthy than others.

The woman sitting under an umbrella fanning herself from the mid-afternoon heat. Me sweating and fuming and feeling uncomfortable and upset.

In a sea of red and everybody happy like pappy.

Police and soldiers armed to the teeth looking hot and trigger-happy.

Another woman says she came all the way from the East to see Manning get his crown. She says it with such joy and pride I feel momentarily embarrassed and even a little jealous that I really don’t share her enthusiasm about Papa Patos’ return.

Not that the options were at all attractive.

I shared none of their joy as I ducked out of the way when the gates of Woodford Square were finally opened and they pressed their bodies up against the fence as if their lives depended on them being on the other side of the bars. I shared none of their joy as I watched them fight for the chairs left over from the VIP section and two heavily armed police officers passed by without as much as a sideways glance as a woman wrestled a chair out of a man’s vice grip.

Woodford Square still after so long named after some random English bureaucrat sent to see after the natives. Woodford Square where two generations confronted each other. Where some of us fashioned an idea of a nation in a time when to be a PNMite was to be something revolutionary.

Where perhaps at one time we thought ourselves to be something more than savages fit only to work for rich people for a few pennies. To spend our years toiling to make other people rich.

Here we are again. In Woodford Square named after a random English bureaucrat, 45 years after we thought that we were finally closer to some semblance of freedom. Talking about how wealthy we are.

From behind the fence the plebs watch their king receive his crown. Later they press and push to get a chance to touch his hand outstretched towards them with such piety that it could make you weep.

The people in the square are old. I search for younger people, people my age, my generation and I can’t find them, save a few in Cepep T-shirts.

They are old and poor. And if I had ever doubted it before, I know now parties like the PNM are built on the backs of poor old people who believe that something better is coming. Who have faith that if you look like them, maybe you might have their best interests at heart.

But maybe Papa Patos was right, if a little elitist, when he said the other day that we’re not politically mature enough to seriously contemplate constitutional reform. Like we don’t understand that development must come in the form of an aluminium smelter or that plenty buildings is a sign of progress even though you have to hopscotch through human waste to walk around this Athens of the Caribbean.

Watching them fight for chairs. Watching their rotten teeth. Watching their hopefulness and their fear masked in smiles wider that the gulf between the COP and Parliament.

If we lack this political maturity, it is because our politicians have willed it to be so. Uncle Bas and Papa Patos and all their little peons have aided and abetted a bankruptcy of independent thought and progressive living in T&T.

It is because the PNM has continued to enjoy the spoils of keeping their party faithful in blissful ignorance, staining their fingers for a party that would have them wallow in their own filth and the pollution of corporations unchecked by whatever puny environmental laws we claim to have.

Still I stand hoping that switch will flip and it will make sense to me why people would fight for a chair in Woodford Square but stand patiently on South Quay for two hours waiting for a car to take them home.

I don’t bother to ask the woman. I know she’ll give me the same answer.

Empty and disappointed

This is a warning
The winds are changing
The people shouting
The lighters sparking
The day is dawning
Dreads are bursting
Drums are beating
Spliffs are burning
Fires lighting
Starters bouncing
The ground it shaking
The trees awaking
The voices calling
The lion roaring
The lion roaring
Tief Head, Nicholai

In the absence of reason, intelligence or any suggestion that anyone is concerned about issues, I wish everyone would just shut the hell up.
Turn off the loud speakers, tone down the rhetoric and give us Trinbagonians a break from all of this.
The election season has left me feeling empty and not a little disappointed in what passes for leadership.
I wonder if they really think that we’re fooled by their antics.
Everyone is focusing on Election Day itself. Between the violence and vague promises, it seems like this election season has been a big exercise in distraction.
And I wonder what will happen on November 6. Will our lives change so radically or will it be the same khaki pants?
Certainly the anticipated victor will spend a lot of time preening and betty goaty-ing people.
Because I don’t have a party card and I didn’t sponsor anybody’s campaign, I’m not particularly moved by the elections. I feel no hope for November 6.
Boredom hit me like a slap in the face this week. I tried to listen to a couple of the broadcasts of political rallies this week and managed about five minutes each. I listened to the roars of approval from the renta crowds, jumping up and saying ray, regardless of what tata the person of the platform was saying.
It is Trinidad at its lowest. Stinking dutty tongue Trinis wining down low for a jersey, wallowing in filth spewing from the platforms. Possibly there are some who manage to say something vaguely intelligent. Who make an attempt to compensate for the empty promises and the economically unsound proposals in their manifiascoes.
But they get lost in the din. The new politics is really a microwaved version of the old. And the old is so backward, shortsighted and masculinist that even the women have to resort to mud-slinging and cock-fighting in order to be seen and heard.
The unfortunate thing about our unfortunate version of democracy is that the representatives we vote or hire to take care of our business, don’t necessarily have to answer to us for another five years.
I guess we’re all looking for something to believe in. We all want to believe that these people have our best interests at heart. Why else would they subject themselves to such scrutiny?
So we hold on to the words of politicians in the same way that women want to believe the words of smooth talking lovers.
Under all the lights, cameras and over zealous promises, there is such an astounding banality to the political landscape of this country, I want to weep.
I was wondering if this election would have been my first. If I would finally have done my civic duty and dipped my finger.
But I still have nothing and no-one to vote for. I still can’t trust myself to choose a leader from the three that have presented themselves.
What emerged at the end of the election season is that there really isn’t much of a difference between the three parties. They can say what they like but until we really begin to take ownership of Trinidad and Tobago with all its problems, complexities and challenges. Until political leaders take time to walk in communities whether or not they have cameras following them, they’re not really interested in building communities.
So maybe the PNM will win. And maybe the UNC will collapse under of the immense weight of it’s own pointlessness. And maybe COP will recoup and do the ground work necessary to them truly becoming a viable alternative.
But what happens to the rest of us who don’t have friends in high places or enough disposable income not to care or are so out of the system we have nothing to lose?
The rest of us: the artists, the workers, the activists, the frustrated students need to get a new understanding of democracy.
That regardless of who is in power we have a right to bun fire on the injustices that will continue on November 6.
The real work starts the day after. I hope we are all too exhausted by all the jumping and waving.