Lost in the Floods

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.

Power of the Spirit

We are immune to criticism
We know not grudge
We face the challenge
And harness the power of love
Now I see you want us to be like the rug
That way we can be saturated with all the mud
Dem a Wonder, Sizzla

It was as if Shango self had taken over and won that race, strutting and proud and invincible and every leg length to the finish line was crossing seas and continents to raise a whole nation from its knees.
It was fluke enough the first time he did it.  Shocking the American into third place.  And Richard Thompson making a good show of taking second.  But when lightning struck twice they had to take notice.
And the yardies I suspect, are saying that Trinidad will always be second to Jamaica.  In races and music and most definitely in the sheer arrogance and conviction that they are the fastest and the best looking.   For one moment we can put aside our small island paranoias and give Jamaica a moment of unmitigated basking in the fullness of their victory.
And everybody is making jokes about yam power and cassava as a Performance Enhancing Drug.
Meanwhile my bredrin Peter Dean in Kingston, says he expects first.  But in the anguish of victory and the frustration of another city strangling under the weight of hundreds of young potential Usains and Asafas, he posts pictures of the conditions the track team train under.
There is a grassy track and an overgrown sand pit. There are cracked mirrors in the gym and the equipment that looks like it couldn’t give you anything but tetanus.
It also begs the question what goes on in the mind of an Olympiad? What energy do they channel, what gods do they call on?  What terror of failure stalks them even as they convince themselves that they are good enough to be the fastest in the whole wide world. When Usain Bolt presses his fingers into that Bird Nest track what connects him to all he has learned, all his training?
I haven’t an athletic bone in my whole body but watching the games, watching the eyes of those runners and swimmers and gymnasts, there is something in them that looks like possession.
What they have in their eyes is something that transcends the colours of your flag and the slickness of your uniform.
We’re all so proud of them.  Well most of us. We all want to claim their victory as our own.   We want to celebrate their triumphs with the same level of emotion as some of us want to get rid of similar youths that could win the Robbing and Killing Olympics.
And even as we were claiming Usain as our own, and making noises about Caribbean runners, radio announcers were raving about political unions.
Raving about Trinidad having to carry the rest of the region, because we so rich and everybody else so poor.
Raving about fixing us first before we go tend to anyone else’s problems.  And I have to wonder when oh when will we get it?
There was a time way back in the day, when the Olympic Games was just a chance for a bunch of sweaty naked Greek aristocrats to demonstrate how manly they were.
It’s come a long way from that.  But I wonder if we have.  Our politicians can’t seem to figure out how to get beyond being a sweaty bunch of men (thank Jah for those suits though, the idea of any of those dudes naked makes me want to hurl), fighting for first place.
The pictures of the Jamaican track teams facilities haunt me.
But what they prove, perhaps is that all the high tech this, that and the other can’t take the place of the sheer power of the human spirit.
Or it could also suggest that maybe instead of building smelters we should be focused on building human potential.  Not because everyone is cut out to be an Olympiad, but because everyone has a right to have their potential explored, harnessed, pushed in the right direction.
There was a time when the idea of regional unity was for us to take bauxite from Jamaica and natural gas from Trinidad and make our own alumina.  Why can’t we apply that same philosophy to taking Jamaica’s sheer determination and marrying it with Trinidad’s open-ness to create not just world class athletes, but world class businesses, world class citizens.
You have to wonder if we have what it takes to produce a Usain Bolt and a Richard Thompson, how come so many of our people are being left behind in the dust?

Dengue Meg

Health Meg

In today’s Express there’s a photo of Health Minister Jerry Narace looking for all intents and purposes like he’s giving the people of Trinidad and Tobago a great big meggie.  Just yesterday Minister Narace was poo-pooing reports of a dengue outbreak following the death of an eight-year-old.  He was however not available for comment on the story of five cases in Sangre Grande.

I wonder if the meg means that he was only kicksing about there not being a dengue outbreak or that Trinbagonians deserve a big meggie for thinking they deserve a Minister of Health who actually has a clue.

Either way, I’m taking in front and stocking up on cockset.

Saving the Claxton Bay Mangrove

One of the things I’m always pleased about is when I see communities taking action to bring attention to their concerns, not just the environmental ones.

So today I want to send a big shout out to the Claxton Bay crew whose protests have finally borne fruit with the EMA refusing to grant a Certificate of Environmental Clearance to Essar Steel to build a port.

Their work is far from over however, and they still want the support of the people of this country and the world to put an end to the destruction of our precious mangrove not to mention the introduction of this new gas-guzzling polluter into their community.

Check out their online petition here

A different kind of action

Wherever the revolution begins
It’s there I want to be
Tell me, are you ready?
Ready for the revolution?
Wherever the Revolution Begins, Sheldon Blackman

I have been, like a good hippy environmentalist type, freaking out about various things happening with the world.
After years of privately being alarmed, it’s interesting that these concerns have taken hold in the mainstream.  Although you can still find the odd stiff necked business article talking about the melting of the Arctic shelf being a leftist conspiracy.
I can’t really see what the lefties are getting out of being able to say we told you so.
Because really it’s the capitalists who stand to benefit the most from heightened levels of eco-consciousness.  Every car company realizes that they have to actually look interested in alternative energy sources or make their cars gas sippers instead of guzzlers.
Even governments realize that they have to talk the talk, even if they aren’t walking the walk.  Even our own dear Prime Minister has to go about the world saying that he’s all for kicking the carbon habit even as communities here are being convinced that smelters and steel mills are the best way forward for them.
Maybe my hippy tree hugger sensibilities are making me have a skewed sense of priorities and right now I should be more concerned or rather, outright alarmed at the microscopic size of my account balance.
I suppose money is important as I am currently on the bottom end of rich and therefore cannot afford that ultimate utopian form of mass transit, the bicycle. Nor the hospital bills if one of the crazed drivers on the street were to decide they didn’t want me on the street anymore.
The good thing about big developed countries who have brought the world to the brink of destruction thanks to their century of industrialization, is that they can now afford to have bicycle lanes in the hearts of their cities and if they don’t, the lefties stage critical mass protests and thousands of cyclists reclaim the streets.
Sometimes I have hippy fantasies about no cars in downtown Port of Spain, about park and ride schemes and car pooling. And sometimes I even go all out and imagine how revolutionary it would be if our government would start by putting some EMA environmental officers to ride around the city and various other parts of the country monitoring things like emissions on our behalf.
At some point however I wake up from my hippy fantasies and the growing alarmishness and decide that I need to start taking a different kind of action.
So last weekend, I took my first introduction to permaculture workshop with artist/activist John Stollmeyer, and we all reasoned about global warming and peak oil and how much we’ll have to go back to all the things we seem to be actively trying to forget.  
Like gayaps and sharing the wealth of your yard with your neighbours and everybody minding two, three fowls and a goat and how all those things are multi-functional and interdependent.
The basic philosophy behind permaculture is as old as the hills and maybe older.  That everything has more than one purpose.  That you can eat your fowls but they also provide manure.  That when you prune your trees, you’re undermining the fertility of your garden by sending the cuttings to the La Basse.
The wise plan for lean times, for drought and flood and misfortune.  They don’t wait till the Caroni bursts its banks to start making provisions for the escalating prices of tomatoes.
Knowing how to feed yourself and your family is perhaps a far better life insurance policy these days.
But the wise also had better get wise to the fact that although the government is giving away seeds, my farmer friends say that many of our indigenous varieties of things like corn and cucumber have been breeded out of existence and now what we’re getting is the genetically modified varieties that have limited life spans that can’t be germinated unless some lab tech and not a bird or bee gets at it.
In my poor pedestrian state I walk about the city and marvel at all the empty lots, all the abandoned yards overrun with mosquito breeding bush, that could be transformed into what Johnny and other permaculturists call edible landscapes.
I’m thinking guerilla gardening and trees growing out of concrete edifices.  I’m thinking that every office should have some part devoted to growing things.  And every community composting its organic waste.  Funny how we have all these conveniences to make our lives easier but we still can’t find time to do things like learn to be self-sufficient.
Like digging your fingers into the cool earth, watching a seed you planted push up and take root and bear fruit for you to enjoy.
Maybe peak oil and all the disasters we have in our collective futures are not such a bad thing after all.  Some of us who have forgotten in our quest for shiny air conditioned convenience might have a chance to really learn what matters.

Spin and Molasses

There’s a story in today’s Express talking about the increasingly putrid smell that’s been hanging over the Beetham on the Priority Bus Route for the past two weeks. I’ve noticed it for a while now and spoke about it in my column this weekend

“A statement from Angostura disclosed that on July 19, 5,833 cubic metres of molasses spilled when the base of a tank ruptured.”

I’m wondering if there was nothing else that could be done to alleviate the smell and also the other impacts reported by Beetham residents.

“Adam Ramdany, who lives directly opposite Fernandes Compound, said two weeks ago he noticed the substance and the pungent smells.

“That smell is so sickening now, I feel as if I could die smelling that thing,” he said.

Ramdany, who claimed that the waste might contain some harmful chemicals, said he recently engaged in some agricultural activities and all the plants dried up.

One youth, who called himself Charles, said he dug a trench and the water which came up was the same dark colour as the water in the drain.”

The story in today’s Express claims that Angostura has been successfully able to clean up the spill. Huh? The smell is enough to make you gag. And of course they’ve been dumping that effluent into those drains for years now, in addition to whatever else is being dumped into that water. And everybody knows what excellent waste water treatment plans we have for domestic effluent.

It’s taken weeks for Angostura to make a statement. I wonder if their factory was in a different neighbourhood if they would have waited so long to engage their spin cycle, not to talk about cleaning up that blasted mess.

And of course, where oh where is the EM firetrucking A?

Some Kind of Freedom

Meanwhile yuh dancin to dis musik
And tryin to figure out these lyrics
Meanwhile yuh drinkin and havin fun
Watch out
de revolution a come
Betta be a part a de solution
Dis mite be di final confrontation
Betta awake to dis reality
Dis is no time to lose yuh sanity

Any Which Way…Freedom, Mutabaruka

The smell of rotting sugar hangs over the Priority Bus Route like a ghostly reminder of times past.

It mingles with the more industrial smells of cars and burning copper.

The drains are dark brown into dark green, into plastic shiny silver in the early morning sunlight. Depending on what pollution the companies on the right side of the Bus Route are kind enough to share with the people of Beetham Gardens.

Emancipation Day comes and the smell of rum hangs like the spirits of all those angry restless ancestors.

Freedom, it seems, does not extend to the ability for some sections of our society to be able to breathe clean air.

Freedom does not mean that you have a right to enjoy the fact that massa day is done. And the bush that once lured your ancestors away from plantations is yours to roam free in whenever you please.

One hundred and seventy years later I am still trying to make sense of freedom on the Emancipation weekend.

One hundred and seventy years is much more than people can begin to imagine.

In the immediacy of these times, in the up-to-the-minute news and readily available everything-in-the-moment technology, yesterday seems like a faraway time and place.

One hundred and seventy years could very well be prehistoric times to young people who don’t have a sense of the presence far less for the past.

It seems like all celebrations are doomed to lose sight of what they really represent the further away from the event you go.

So Christmas becomes a reason to drink and eat to excess and Emancipation becomes a day to spend a lot of money to look like a free person.

And while the celebration continues and a holiday is a day for enjoying the fruits of one’s labours, who is really considering what it means to be free?

And in the same way that political leaders take an opportunity to dress up and pretend they care, and companies who don’t bother to support education programmes, never mind Emancipation programmes, put on big sales to sell pretty African fabric made in China, you have to wonder who are we pretending this sense of freedom for?

Too besides, do we really understand what it is to have chain-free ankles? Who knows that massa day is done? Who has switched physical chains for enslavement to a job and a house and a car?

Doomed to fail, for sure. Doomed to be forever divided between an underclass that has neither motivation nor means to improve and a black elite so profoundly terrified of being thought to be black, whatever that is.

The complication now is not the chains on the feet or the amount of work to be done. But how to find the fine line between not black enough for the masses and too black to be socially acceptable.

So you resolve to enslave yourself to the things that now count as acceptable masters. To conspicuous consumption. To big gold chains or designer shoes. To a way of thinking and being that convinces you that you belong.

You have to wonder if freedom is some bizarre notion that only exists for some people and not for others. Because the way this society operates, it’s as if some people have more of a right to be free.

Some people have more of a right to enjoy this country while others feel they have a right to stop them from enjoying it.

They set us up that way and left it like that for us to wallow in our hierarchies and stereotypes forever.

Here every creed and race find an equal place but there is no solidarity. Only the Africans celebrate the fact that they are free. Only the Indians celebrate the fact that they arrived. What is the point of being cosmopolitan if we can’t even be bothered to share our triumphs and our failures?

What is the point of being happy for yourself and no-one else?

In the stink of my own rubbish and the stink of rotting molasses and the horror of buildings that say that I am better than I used to be, I wonder if it isn’t a Pyrrhic sort of victory, if a victory at all, when there are plenty who are convinced that you should still be in chains.