I’m missing things. I’m missing people and a time in my life when i wasn’t trying to be a grown up. I’m missing my unborn children and balatas. I’m missing love and pre dawn kisses and my book of Martin Carter poems that I left in Zurich. I’m missing Darren Khan’s rare status updates, because he is dead, but he didn’t die on Facebook. I’m missing cold water on my locks-less scalp. I’m missing dairy free yogurt and Back Bay at dusk. I am missing having a dog. I am missing my grandmother’s sarcasm. I am also missing her pak choi and rice. I am missing lost time and walking in the bush in the dark.
I’ve been spending the weekend with the mother, on account of her recent self-inflicted while cooking knife adventures. Last night, after the pain killers kicked in she turned up the music. This being the only time of the year that she’s not blasting jazz, she put on one of those restored but still scratchy sounding albums of ‘no teet’ parang. The nephs were there too, dancing around the living room with her, thoroughly enjoying her high spirits, the first time for the week. It’s also a reassurance for them that there will in fact be black cake, sweetbread and sundry other sweetnesses. Usually I’m quite cynical about Christmas, but for some reason I’m enjoying this year’s preparations.
Nothing new left to say
Can be heard
Nothing helps me find my way
No more will I question why
What we feel
Nothing left to make me try
—Nothing, Nitin Sawhney
There aren’t many days that go by in this yes man town without me thinking about the value of civil disobedience.
It’s the only option you have when the house Negroes are running amok, unleashing their own scary brand of oppression. When class struggle is masked in imitation perfume and SUVs. Civil disobedience makes sense in a way that most things don’t.
It’s especially on my mind these days, with Christmas in the air and the story of that revolutionary fellar Jesus hidden under a mass of frou frou and folly.
From South Africa to India to Galilee. I read about these heroes of civil disobedience. Conscientious objectors. Tree huggers and rabble rousers. Elderly women in Niger engaging in a silent, naked protest against Shell’s involvement in the murdering of their men and the destruction of their land. I fill my head with their stories and pray to have even a morsel of their bravery, humility and ingenuity.
Whether you are an indigenous Indian in the Chiapas region of the Mexico demanding land rights or a Chatham resident protecting your land against the introduction of an aluminum smelter, making a statement is not just your right, it is your duty.
Civil disobedience in its most non-violent form is compassion in the form of respectful disagreement.
History offers us many examples of people who stood for non-violent protest, who stood for civil disobedience, who stood for regular people defending their right to justice, good governance and a peaceful sustainable livelihood.
So when I read that Basdeo Panday justifies as civil disobedience his childish little I’m going to wipe my hand and not say hello because I don’t like you, I want to ask him if he understands or remembers what that means.
Granted I would probably hesitate to shake Papa Patos’ hand too, but then again I’m not facing corruption charges.
It’s more glaring than that obscene waste of electricity on top of the KFC on Independence Square, that the UNC wouldn’t know civil disobedience if it came up and wined on them on J’ouvert morning.
Unfortunately for us, we are besieged by leaders and their foreign cohorts who still think they can come and tie us up with high tech terms and high falutin words. We’re supposed to be dazzled and mesmerized by any tata that they spew, provided it’s loud enough or accompanied with the appropriate amount of bells and whistles.
I wish Basdeo Panday for one moment would remember where he came from. Remember his days as a young lawyer with a social conscience, before he joined the parasitic oligarchy and started prancing around in a beret like some kind of ole mas on a Tuesday afternoon in the middle of Poison. I wish Basdeo Panday would remember or one of his party faithful would remind him that he stood for something once upon a time.
For this generation who have no benefit of first hand memory of when he was a serious challenge. I wish someone would tell him to get real and have a little more dignity. That the masculinist frothing at the mouth is so last century.
We have too many fossils parading as sacred in this country. Too many institutions that mean nothing to us that we’re supposed to show respect for. But that doesn’t mean that because Uncle Ramesh and Uncle Bas are nursing their school ground grudges and acting like spoilt children we’re all supposed to convince ourselves that they’re somehow right or justified.
Because if the UNC were serious about doing something about the political climate in Trinidad and Tobago, Basdeo Panday wouldn’t be the leader of the Opposition.
I wish politicians would wipe their hands clean of their own hyprocrisy. And wipe their hands of dirty politics and fear mongering. I wish they would all just grow and move on and let someone else have a go instead of dragging us through the drudgery of their same old hurts and their same old insecurities and their same old hang-ups. It’s not just boring, it’s out a timing and counter-productive.
The unedited version…
I feel like bombing a church
Now that I know the preacher is lying
Talking Blue, Bob Marley
Dear Father Rochard,
If I were a Catholic maybe I might be more predisposed to understanding. Maybe I would shrug off the shock of your incomprehensible statement.
Thank Jah I’m not a Catholic. I don’t have to turn my cheek. I will not leave you to God. I want you to have some kind of judgment here on earth.
And because I’m not a Catholic I don’t have a problem to say to you that you need to check yourself. And because I am not a subscriber to this fiction of a middle class white Christ poster boy for all that is right wing and rich I don’t have a problem calling a spade a spade and tata, tata. What you said was so reprehensible that I really can’t see how your vengeful God could resist smiting you.
So much for the church being a sanctuary. So much for all being welcome in the house of the Lord.
Pretty soon, church is going to get like certain night clubs where Africans and Indians are made to line up and beg to get in.
I guess there’s no real difference between the two. Churches and night clubs both have strict codes, to which rich people don’t necessarily have to abide.
Tell me Father Rochard, do you call out the names of all the men in your congregation who cheat on their wives? Do you know the names of the upstanding business people who exploit their staff? Do you publicly boof all the three and four car families?
Do you know the names of the young women who are rich enough to afford safe abortions and then come to the church to pray for their salvation? Do you know the names of those women who happen to miss out certain people when they’re making the sign of peace? Do you also call their names out in your church? And say that they are no longer welcome?
I think the saddest thing about what you said, Father Rochard is that you are in a unique place to stem the tide of selfishness that has taken over Trinidad and Tobago.
Instead of being a revolutionary Christ, you are Herod the murderer, you are Pontius Pilate the executioner. You echo the sentiments of the mob and start pelting stones even before the sentence is passed. You betray the ones you are charged to protect, love and serve. Christ should sue you for misrepresentation.
What your statement and the fact that you still have a job proves is what I’ve suspected for a long time. That the church, especially in this post-colonial incarnation is no place for challenging a system that has consistently undermined the upliftment of the whole. The empowerment of all. Holy mother church has failed us as much as you have failed to be a source of solace for a man who witnessed the murder of his friends.
Liberation theologist Paulo Freire once said “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”
Priests like you think that you’re doing something to save your eternal soul by giving a man a meal twice a week.
Priests like you convince people like me that religion really is the biggest farce ever perpetrated on poor people whether they are here in Trinidad or on the side of a mountain in South America or in a village in remotest Africa.
And I know you won’t apologise, because you don’t have to.
And I know I’m just a little heathen, but I hope that you never have to experience the terror that man must feel. That you never have to experience half of the terrible things that people in Trinidad and Tobago are living with. Everyday. Every moment. That maybe you will understand that church is not some chance to fill your coffers. That people like my grandmother sought refuge in the walls of churches like yours. That God is more than your four walls and life is more than protecting against those who don’t live like you, or think like you or love like you.
And we’ll all be stunned for a few days and forget this as we try to sift through all the other folly that fills our lives.
The sad thing is that you’ve given a legitimate voice to the ugliness that most, if not all of us carry in our hearts every day for fellow Trinidadians. Luckily for you, you have the opportunity and the callousness to speak your truths. Your lack of compassion is shameful but not surprising. Luckily for you, your church will protect you, like it protects your colleagues who molest their acolytes. I hope that man you’ve publicly ostracized is lucky like you.
Yo, it dont make no sense to me
Why fellas dont wanna act sensibly
You better re-check your identity
You better re-check how you speak
Hold Ya Mouf, Dizzee Rascal
It’s hard being a pacifist in Trinidad. Just when you think deep breathing and yoga three times a week is helping you cope, here comes Papa Patos to raise my hippy tree hugger blood pressure.
I read and re-read the reports from Kampala. And I suppose I should feel happy or something that he actually knows that there’s something called climate change. I suppose I should feel undyingly grateful that maybe one day we might actually start doing something about the Kyoto Protocol we’ve signed and all the other international conventions that haven’t made so much as a blip on our national consciousness.
But there is no relief for me that Papa Patos says his government is going to make climate change a priority.
I reason with my few green friends and we all conclude that he’s following a trend. So if everybody else is doing it, well we sure as hell will too.
With such sincerity too, he says that the government is considering the implications.
The same sincerity that he displays for a sickly Health system. The same sincerity for the eradication of poverty. The same sincerity for all the criminal abuse and the terror of rich communities who are targets for frustrated youths and the poor communities who are targets of police brutality.
The ambiguity of the statement is perhaps the most honest and open statement on our government’s policy on global warming, climate change, hell, anything else that is of lasting consequence.
We speak words everyday about what we care about without any kind of action to back it up.
And I feel again like I’m repeating myself, but when are we going to get to the point where we know what’s wrong and are also ready to make the steps to resolution?
I come to terms with the reality that it’s not the government’s fault. Papa Patos is not the one to blame for us not giving a damn about the environment.
And I’m bored to death and fed up of people emailing and calling me and coming up to me in the supermarket and telling me what I should do about this problem.
As if everybody can’t be an activist. As if everybody can’t make a conscious difference in their own head, in their own office, in their own community.
The problem is that there just aren’t enough people who care. The problem is that there are no green anarchists willing to go and chain themselves to buildings. No eco saboteurs and subvertisers. The problem is that if you dare to tell someone on the street not to litter they will probably tell you your family history.
Few graffiti artists and fewer radical artists who are willing to go out of sync with the norms of an abnormal and uncaring society.
We must have it too nice here. Our backsides must just be too happy wallowing in the stench of our filth. The problem is that all of us are complaining about the heat and the traffic, but none of us are willing to ride a bicycle to work. Or share our big empty cars with our neighbours.
So if we don’t care, how do we propose to impress upon Papa Patos that he should care?
And the few who dare are vilified or given a job at the EMA where they change from the concerned to the complacent. The technocrats who shrug their shoulders and say they’re trying.
Who would never want to rock the boat, because that’s not what technocrats do.
There’s no passion for anything here. No passion for life or living and therefore no passion for saving Trinidad and Tobago. From bandits or smelters and the savagery of road rage. Who will save us from these criminalities?
There is nothing that Papa Patos or anyone else in his band of yes men and women, worse yet for the jokey opposition, can say to convince me that they care about changing the direction of Trinidad and Tobago.
And what raises my hippy tree hugger blood pressure even more that Papa Patos’ callous disregard for our environment, is that I don’t know who, if anyone can help the rest of us reach to a point where we are ready to make the necessary changes.
It’s late afternoon in Port-of-Spain and I want to get home. But I don’t feel to fight. I’m saving my energy to try and process exactly what Papa Patos means by climate change is a top priority.
I tell myself it’s not that far. From Newtown to St Ann’s is doable, under the right conditions. It’s a spitefully clear day and the sun stands in the sky daring me to test him.
At the top of Maraval Road there are others waiting to go home. School children and office ladies. A construction worker who says he’s from Kashmir wants directions to town and then wants to know if I have a husband.
Cars whiz past as if I’m not there. It takes me ten minutes until some kind soul decides to slow down and let me cross. I don’t even bother to stand there waiting for a taxi.
Pedestrians are the casualties of a developing country still caught up in people have things. Taxi drivers make style on you. Maxi drivers want to mow you down. Every car that passes is carries one or two passengers. They speed past in their brand new aluminum cans, music loud, air condition on full blast.
My bag is heavy on my back but my granny used to say what you can’t carry you will have to drag. My steps are slow and deliberate but I am determined to get home by my own strength today.
I cut through by QRC, past polite boys who say good afternoon to me and I want to faint with relief that they don’t add ‘Miss’. Past coconut vendors and vagrants quarters. Past stylish young women indulging in the only socially acceptable way to be seen without a car in public, doing a walk and wine around the Savannah in that golden hour when everyone sees you and there’s a lot of stopping and how you doing.
To the left the Prime Minister’s office gleams white and untouchable. I wonder if he notices how hot it is these days. How much hotter Port of Spain is now.
When you get to the middle the din of hundreds, thousands of cars speeding past is barely discernible. The sky is that perfect shade of blue and the sun has graciously hidden itself behind the trees.
Football players and rugby players all around but I wonder how come there aren’t people just enjoying the Savannah. I guess it’s a weekday. But what better way to remind yourself that you live in a beautiful country?
Savannah is green for now. Before the rains stop and the hills start to burn. The hills of the Northern range are green. Well these ones here. But now that anyone can put up a quarry under 150 acres without having to apply for a CEC, I wonder how long it will be before all these hills start looking like the one up in Acono in Maracas St Joseph. But I guess these hills will be spared because a lot of rich people live there. They’ll put them further east, where the rich people won’t have their green vistas marred by brown scars being created to build more air conditioned townhouses.
I stop in the middle of the Savannah, facing east to take pictures so I can capture a few shots of my walk home. Point and shoot to the left and the green hills. Then look to the right at the buildings stabbing up at the sky. Exclamation marks of our hysteria to be developed. I swear the Savannah earth beats under my feet. Like a hundred steelbands mixed with the jumping feet of ten thousand masqueraders. The sun re-emerges for a las’ lap and everything turns gold. The Savannah shines like a heart of gold in a rotting city. I turn my back to the exclamation marks and quicken my steps towards the hills.
The grass is soft under the worn soles of my designer washicongs.
I wish I could do cartwheels, because I’m so happy to be in this heart called the Queen’s Park Savannah.
I’m relieved that I decided to walk instead of wait in the dust and fumes of traffic jams trying to get home.
I’m glad that in all the madness I can find one thing to make me sane again. To give a little space to think and work things out. To remember why Trinidad is worth fighting for. To pity people like Papa Patos who probably never have a chance to walk home so they can listen to the city’s heart.