You may say that I’m swimming against the tide
You may say that it’s just my sense of pride
But I still believe that no one can match our natural energy
Even though we seem to be running on empty
I still believe that we’re the land of plenty
I can still hear it in the sweet lilting way that we talk
Beloved, David Rudder
Red, black and white buntings flap in the rain. Red, black and white dresses in shop windows. Red blood spilt on black asphalt. White rain falls on my rusty galvanise roof and I wonder late into the night about people on the other side of the island whose houses are swimming.
It’s the week before Independence and the streets are hot with people bawling at the price of school books, even as sportswear outlets encourage parents to buy brand name shoes so that their children will feel good about themselves and therefore be more willing to learn.
The rain comes with as much vengeance as the heat, a sudden dread greyness descending on the city, sending shoppers, posers and commuters scampering.
In the shadow of red, white and black buntings, as Papa Patos flies around, trying to convince others to get together, hear people talking independence talk.
They are watching the fruit of their litterings bring floods to lap at their feet clad in too-expensive brand name shoes.
If the white people was still in charge, hear a woman say. If the white people was still in charge we wouldn’t have these problems. Say what you want about them, the white people know how to run a country. They put everything in place for us to run the country and what we come and do with it?
If the white people was still in charge we would of know our place in the world and it wouldn’t have floods to stop us from reaching home.
Even as New Orleans braced for another battering three years after Ms Katrina swept through to reveal that even white people in charge could run their countries inefficiently and with a startling lack of concern for poor people. Our leaders have learned well.
Red, black and white buntings flap in the rain and a pirate blasts songs about Laventille sung in a Jamaican construction. There’s a sound clash going on, between the pirates and the water rushing like Port-of-Spain is a big river.
Women in nice shoes shelter from the rain, talking loud above the din about who saw whose photos on Facebook, the most stylish mode of macoing for the upwardly mobile Trini. They talk their Independence talk about what fetes are on this weekend. What red dress they will buy to show how independent they are. They don’t need no man to buy nails for them. They are independent. They are free to shake their assets, free to spend their minimum wages, free to wear good hair made in China.
The rain eases up and people move on, returning to the regular Port-of-Spain beat. The more things change the more they stay the same. Square-jawed soldiers, big-armed with big arms, walking around, keeping the peace.
Endless jam session on the streets. The highway floods again and the Works and Transport Minister thinks it’s bizarre. He thinks it’s a man-made problem, blaming it on irresponsible citizens who denude hillsides and not at all on an irresponsible government deregulating the quarrying industry and rabid concretisation by big and small business.
Red, black and white buntings flap in the breeze like flags in a fete, and on Thursday night like the red, white and blue flags in a stadium in Denver where all eyes are on a wondrous sight.
And the man in the stadium in Denver speaks with eloquence and fire and spirit and a whole set of things that you wish you could get in more politicians.
The thing that stands out the most is when he says we can’t meet 21st century challenges with 20th century bureaucracy.
It’s the truest truth ever expressed about Trinidad’s failure to truly experience independence in these here times, even though it’s not about us.
Bunting flaps to the rhythm of our shortcomings, un-lived dreams and broken promises of fathers in dark glasses who leave us only words. Words that 46 years later ring hollow. Somebody else’s dream from somebody else’s time.
Surely we are more than red, black and white bunting. More than parades and fetes and changing the names of awards.
We are more than we can imagine in this Independence time. Bizarrely, all that is worth holding on to keeps being washed away in floods.