Dictators in our Midst

Many leaders as you see dem
Na different disguise dem dey, oh
Animal in human skin
Animal, he put on tie, oh
Animal, he wear agbada
Animal, he put on suit, oh
Beasts of No Nation, Fela Anikulapo Kuti

A dictator in the world is like the abusive father in the community that no-one wants to report.

Everybody knows what is going on. Everyone hears the screams coming from the house. Night after night. Everyone sees the state of the children. No one questions the father’s authority.

I for one am fed up of the unquestioned authority of the patriarchy.

Enough already. And in the same way that communities have to start speaking out against abusive fathers, I began to feel a huge sense of relief this week when Nelson Mandela finally publicly expressed concern about what is going on in Zimbabwe.

Dictatorship only becomes an acceptable word to think about, let alone utter in public, when the elders have given their blessing and/or used the word themselves.

So it only becomes okay to have an opinion about Zimbabwe now that the elders have spoken. Now that Mandela has expressed concern, all the fence-sitters can come out and say that they too think it’s time for Mugabe to step down.

Every ethnic group, every community has that pull and tug. The not wanting to let down the side. That would be like talking family business outside the family. At the end of the day, no-one wants to stand apart from the people they’ve always known.

Which is why I suppose it’s always so hard for children to accuse adults they know of abusing them.

So Morgan Tsvangirai, the abused child, has given up his fight against Mugabe and his Cepep-esque gangs. No child wants to question the authority of the father, especially when the father holds all the power. Power to cut your tail or your food or your access to education.

In a way, you can’t blame a dictator like Mugabe for his don’t-care attitude. I mean, even Dubya “stole” an election. Even Dubya fabricated a whole weapons of mass destruction fantasy to justify the invasion of not one but two sovereign states and now he’s spoiling for a fight with Iran.

In the land of the free and home of the brave, the President “steals” an election and scares his people being afraid of their own shadows. What’s the difference between Bush and Mugabe? Mugabe is using his own to kill his own. Bush is using his own to kill and be killed by others.

Besides, you really have to wonder if Zimbabwe had oil would Dubya be so resolutely uninterested?

If Zimbabwe had something the capitalists wanted to get their hands on, Morgan Tsvangirai might have had his own CIA-funded and trained Mujahideen.

And there is no doubt that in the fictions of the BBC and the CNN there is a lot of thinly veiled racism that completely removes the North from any responsibility for what is happening in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America.

There is no doubt that there still is a feeling among those people who took an active and vital role in our underdevelopment, that we can’t actually rule ourselves. Whether we are in Pakistan or Bolivia, somebody always wants to play big brother. Some blasted economic hitman is always coming in pretending to know exactly what is best for us.

And there is no doubt that we too believe that we can’t do it. We too get caught up in semantics. We too can’t trust ourselves to create our own structures, our own processes or own institutions without asking massa if it meets his approval.

That’s why Port-of-Spain looks less like a Caribbean city and our airport looks like it should be somewhere in middle America.

For the sake of keeping up appearances we betray our children. For the sake of keeping up appearances we betray our nations. We do a disservice to all human beings when we stand by and let dictators run roughshod over democracy.

Unless, of course, we imagine that they, like us, must obviously like the abuse we’re getting.

An Afro-Trinidadian can’t in good conscience criticise the PNM. An Indo-Trinidadian can’t truly criticise the UNC. We can’t possibly get anywhere with that in the backs or the fronts of our minds.

At some point the people—whether they live in Harare or Phase 4 Beetham Gardens—will figure out that the followers are the ones with the power. Without the followers the politicians have no chance. Without the followers the politicians are stripped down to their bare naked megalomania.

The thing that scares me the most is that I don’t know how much time I will have to wait for the elders in Trinidad to ever publicly condemn the abusers and dictators in government and opposi- tion and the private sector.

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
angels descending bring from above
echoes of mercy, whispers of love

Blessed Assurance, Fanny Crosby

It took me a few bars to identify the song. It took the other Phase II fans a while to catch on too. I guess it’s not the kind of song that you identify immediately, unless you are poto l’eglise or remember some older relative singing this sad sweet dirge of a hymn.

The young people had drifted away to Renegades or one of the loud bars lining that sacredly profane stretch of St James being celebrated by We Beat.

And even though I am an avowed pagan hippy type, I couldn’t help myself getting caught up in the nostalgia. I raised my own voice and hands in song even though I wanted to laugh at this sure sign that I am officially neither young nor cool. Our voices rose above the humidity, while I tried to reach through my brain’s cobwebs for the words to the song, substituting liberally with lavwey scats.

On Saturday night, or maybe it was already Sunday morning, I revelled in that moment of sweetness when nothing matters but keeping your feet dragging rhythmically on the asphalt, stepping out of beat, only to skip over a pothole or a piper scouring between our feet for beer bottles.

In that moment you can’t imagine how you ever wanted to leave this magically bizarre wonderful place where on a random Saturday night, or maybe Sunday morning, the streets can turn into a big party and rum-drinking retired matador women could pull off with startling dignity and piety singing in the same warbly old-lady voice of my grandmother.

I looked around at the faces around me—older faces, rich and poor faces, Indian, African, European faces. All sweating in the St James at midnight humidity. A man with his hands in the air turned to me and said Trinidad needs more of this. And I’m not sure if he meant the sweetness of the music that Phase II was giving us or the prayer we were singing into the night air.

Back at home, I couldn’t sleep and for once it wasn’t the now increasingly frequent and much louder crash of suicidal mangoes hitting the galvanise roof. The words of the hymn and the image of all those people and the echo of their voices stayed with me.

At dawn I was heading over the north coast to Blanchisseuse and then into the mountains to a bend in the Marianne River where Uncle Raviji’s Kendra were hosting this year’s edition of the Ganga Dhaaraa festival.

I sat on a rock high on incense and sleep deprivation. And endless old ladies like tiny Indian versions of my own grandmother, passed me by whispering pleasantly surprised Sita Rams, pressing various bits of fruits from their offerings to their Ganga Mai, who bears an astounding metaphysical resemblance to the Oshun of my own ancestors.

I walked through the river thankful for a different kind of sacred space, without the profanities of electric lights and pipers but perhaps with less of a chance of redemption. Because only the converted, the saved and the sanctified venture into the river and offer the fruits and flowers of their labours.

Blessed Assurance keeps playing in my head. I imagine if the man from the night before were here, he would say the same thing. Trinidad needs more of this. More silent days by the river. More cool water poured over our hot tempers. More offerings to the gods of our ancestors. If the technocrats at the EMA were to leave their air-conditioned offices in St Clair and seek out their reflections in the Marianne River, then maybe my grandchildren will be able to come to Marianne River and ponder their place in the world.

I imagine that while the peace of Marianne River with the sun making just the right pattern of light and leaves on your shoulders is where we find our peace, the heat of St James is where we find our humanity. St James is where we have a glimpse of another world being possible. Where Phase II can take us higher than a Bournes Road crack ball and help us transcend the emptiness and ugliness of city-ness.

Truthfully, I haven’t the attention span to be religious. Nor do I have the musical inclination to be a pannist.

And the blessed assurance of living in Trinidad is that you have a chance to experience and participate if you so choose. No boundaries except in your own head. And you can find yourself and your Trinidad in the most diverse of places. To sing your own story and write your own song. And praise your gods of music and rivers and sky wherever you please.

Port of Spain’s next top model…


Admittedly, I didn’t take much notice of the recently concluded Trinidad Fashion Week, aside from a brief storming of backstage…but I digress.

Sunday evening walking up Henry Street, I happened upon this gentleman outside one of the famous hawk and spit bars that populate that part of town.    He was stepping high down the street, oblivious to cars, scandalized onlookers and anything else that might distract him from working the asphalt like the hottest runway in Milan. The street was still wet from the late-afternoon showers and heat rose with every step he took.  I was also totally impressed with his sense of style and also the way he would occasionally shout out ‘Tyra Baaaanks!’

God, I love this place.

Yes we can too

It’s been too hard living
But I’m afraid to die
Cause I don’t know what’s up there
Beyond the sky
It’s been a long
Long time coming
But I know
A change is gonna come
Oh yes, it will.
Change is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke

Yes we can. Yes we can. Say it like a mantra, because if you chant it enough you might actually begin to believe that it’s true.

In this cynicism time, in this hopeless time when I am tired and fed up and just about ready to give up on humanity, a source of possibility comes from the least likely of places.

Here in the shadow of the US, here where our resources are being used to fuel their excesses so that we can then afford to make them ours. Here where foreign men are given absolute power to make decisions about how we are to see ourselves. And conquistadors still think the natives will be fooled by their shiny trinkets.

And it’s not like I want to count egg in fowl bottom or anything, but someone like Obama as President of the US is almost too much for my radical heart to bear.

With little black boys falling like so many tears of so many mothers.

With Mugabe frothing at the mouth in Rome and Papa Patos smelterising on fertile soil that we could be using to feed ourselves.

Obama’s newness is enough to make you think that it really might be possible for things to start to change. And no, I don’t think that one, maybe two four-year terms is enough to repair 200 years of genocide and Manifest Destiny. One, maybe two four-year terms will not make me forget Grenada or Iraq.

And no I don’t want a black messiah. No, I don’t want another black man for us to make excuses for. I don’t want another jive-talking politician. And I don’t want to be a member of anybody’s fat-arse brigade.

I just want something else. Something different. Not another old white male fossil. And it’s not that there is anything wrong with old men per se. Jah know we need our elders now more than ever to remind us of what used to be good about Trinidad. What they were able to create in spite of enslavement and indentureship and war and oppression.

Not another big business, old money, barely literate liar like Dubya. Enough already.

In the same way, we desperately need something different here in the shadow of America. Not another old African/Indian male fossil. Spouting the same rhetoric. Bankrupt of ideas. Bankrupt of vision. Bankrupt of integrity. Making us feel that is the sum total of our potential. To become somebody else’s version of ourselves.

A society’s politicians reflect that society. So it’s opportune that Obama has arrived when he has in the way he has. Maybe there are more people in America now who want something different.

But if we are to take that same principle, what do our politicians say about us? And what does it mean about us if no brave souls with integrity and vision are willing to come forward and take a chance?

Down here in the shadow of America I have to say he’s as much my presidential candidate. All of us have to take an interest in what goes on for the next few months, because it’s as much about us as it is about them.

And I never thought I would find myself saying these words, but this is one time when we should be following America. This is one wave to become caught up in. This is one wave I want to arrive at our shores and wash away the apathy and the lack of political substance.

To relieve us of our extreme boredom with what passes as leadership in the Lower House. A bunch of bepping kicksers who have nothing new to contribute.

Yes we can too. We too can change our politics. We too can get rid of the old guard. Even if the new guard is to make mistakes.

Chant it like a mantra. Chant it until you too start to believe.

In my solitude.

So last month when I got the Babylon-don jones really badly, I decided to sublet my loft at the commie commune I’ve been living in in St. Anns for the summer. But of course my life works out the way it wants to so I got offered some work that’s going to keep me in the region till the end of August so I’ve moved back in with the mother for a bit.  But she’s been in Cuba so I’ve been house sitting.   I think this is the first time in a long time that I’ve had such a long spell of solitary living and I have to say it’s been blissful.   It comes at a good time too, when I’m doing all this writing and thinking and feeling and other ings that require space and time.

The funny thing about my life is that it always seems to work out exactly the way it’s supposed to.  The bizarre and unplanned twists I know now I’m not supposed to resist.  Everything is as it should be…in my own life.  I cannot, however, come to accept that this is how Trinidad must be and will stay.  And I guess getting my own head and heart in order makes my role in the solution finding more clear.