At the crossroads: black eye peas and other new year considerations

It’s almost 1300hrs on New Year’s Eve and I am dithering with various things, while I steel myself for a mad dash to the shop around the corner for black eye peas.

Outside is the kind of cold that is unrelenting even through several formidable layers. Or at least I imagine it is so. In truth I haven’t left the house since Monday, prefering to watch from within the safety of double glazing the London winter go from mild one weekend to nasty the following.

I am considering what misfortunes may befall me if I don’t get my black eye peas on. In spite of my distance from Trinidad and from the mother I woke up this morning knowing that this task had to be completed by the end of today.

Black eye peas being symbols of prosperity we brought a sense of with us through the Middle Passage and beyond. They are also the favourite food of the Orishas who offer protection to the community. It is no accident that old people long time in Trinidad would ring in the New Year standing at crossroads and it was essential for you to eat black eye peas and rice. What led them to know to do this I don’t know. It’s as if Eshu himself, guardian of crossroads, trickster of great repute planted the seed in their heads.

Staying in us like ancestral memory. Like my father’s mother who died when I was two, who I dream every now and then; who dreamt me before I was born with her dead mother in yard of a house in Lucas Street in Grenada that I still haven’t seen.

I can’t say what prompted me to get up this morning with a desire to eat black eye peas. Like I can’t say what prompts my father to speak to me now of things he has never spoken of before. Of his life as a boy, of his father and mother and his childhood friends. Of Maurice Bishop’s father and how he felt the first time he held the pages of a historical record in Grenada documenting all of his ancestors who had been hanged for taking part in Fédon’s slave rebellion in 1795.

It is an interesting note on which to end this year. Going back in order to go forward, knowing what went to know what comes next. I can’t say I am sorry to see the end of this year. I enjoyed it enough to be thankful for all the lessons it taught me. Few tears for big disappointments, many smiles for major joys. For mango dawns and nights of fleeting bliss like pan carried on the breeze that give your dreams sweet rumbling soundtracks. For unsaid words and unspoken prayers for missing ones and found ones and lost friends and found enemies. For music and dancing and jouvay and emails from nephews. For grandmothers who come back to remind me of what is true and valuable. For a mother who brings you messages in dreams full of yellow green rivers. And a father who speaks in rumbling verse.

I laugh at all Eshu’s tricks. I imagine that the lesson the universe is trying to teach me is never ever ever lose your sense of humour. Even when the joke is on you.

But joke is joke, I have black eye peas and rice to cook.

Happy new year.

Sock and Awe

Yes I know my enemies
They’re the teachers who taught me to fight me
Compromise, conformity, assimilation, submission
Ignorance, hypocrisy, brutality, the elite
All of which are American dreams

Know Your Enemy, Rage Against the Machine

I want to hit him and I want to hit him bad.
I want to beat him like a Good Friday bobolee for all his crimes against humanity.
I want to pelt him with shoes, with books with flowers and with my words of anguish and grief for all the murder and mayhem over which he has presided.
Not that I have violent tendencies or anything. Nor do I have a particular love of shoes or playing online games.
Truth be told I’ve always found video games far too violent for my little pacifist hippy heart.
But I spent a fair amount of time this week trying to hit a smiling image of Dubya with a pair of brown loafers.
It took a whole ten tries but when I finally made contact with his virtual head I let out a laugh of such maniacal proportions, I kind of scared myself a bit.
The simply brilliant online game, set up by a young Englisher in response to that Iraqi journalist’s act of civil disobedience is a run-away hit among web liberals and idlers intent on spending bandwith on random nonsense.
Still pelting shoes at Dubya is a better way to spend a few minutes than watching who was in which Christmas fete.
At the time of writing this, 46, 182, 018 shoes had been thrown at Dubya, with the most pelters hailing from the United States of America.
I keep going back to the site every now and then, trying to see if I can best my score of seven shoes in a row. Until I begin to wonder at my own capacity for brutality. It’s just me egging myself on to kick a man while he’s down. To pelt shoes at him, like parents who’ve had a bad day beat their children for no other reason but that they are tired and frustrated and underpaid and powerless.
And perhaps I am all of these things. Like that Iraqi journalist who has seen his country crumble around him. Who has been shocked and awed by American might, by the swiftness of the transitions from mustachioed Saddam to a red-mouthed Ronald Mc Donald.
I hear the pain in his cry as he pelts his shoes, his last chance to say to this man, to the world, this is what you have reduced us to to. A nation of people so insulted and cowed by your weapons and your torture prisons that all we can do is throw our shoes at your big pseudo-dumb head.
And I know I can’t get back at Judas for betraying Jesus in the same way that I know I know that it’s symbolic, but the immense glee and warm fuzzy feelings I get is better even than eating fair trade vegan chocolate with bits of crystallized ginger.
The truth is that shoes can’t really do that much damage. It’s not like he was giving him some of his shock and awe dehumanization.
Or raping his women and children in front of his eyes.
A pelted shoe cannot bring back the 655,000 Iraqis who have lost their lives as a result of the bombing and occupation of Iraq.
A pelted shoe can’t compensate for the climate change that he has denied even as American companies have traversed the planet bringing their smoke stacks and toxic dump sites.
Under the watchful eye of the thousands of CCTV cameras all over London, in the heightened paranoia of terrorism times, I am trodding through Babylon-don reading Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, which documents the rise of disaster capitalism, starting with September 11, and continuing in various and very alarming forms in post-Katrina New Orleans and in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And I am plotting ways to pelt intellectual shoes, coming up with ideas on how to bobolise those who would seek to betray my land. Like how poets and playwrights and artists and calypsonians used to be, before they traded in their wit and vision for rum and a party card.
I am looking for allies, for a million shoe pelters who would willingly look their oppressor in the eye and then willingly submit to the blows afterwards.
Because it is a far better thing to pelt your shoe and take your licks than take your licks for nothing.

Babylondon calling

I know sun is shining
Somewhere across the sea
I know sun is shining
That’s good enough for me
No need to worry anymore
No need to worry cause I know
The sun’s gonna break through the winter haze

The Camel, Fat Freddy’s Drop

The instinct to hibernate appeals to me. In a way I suppose it shouldn’t for someone who was born in the sun and loves the feel of it on her shoulders.
The instinct to hibernate brings me to Babylon-don. To bleak skies and days so cold that I am rarely tempted to venture out. So I camp out in the kitchen warmed by jazz and bursts of cooking and listening to radio documentaries and dramas. My television is the kitchen door that gives me a view to the back garden, which is teeming with London wildlife: fat pigeons and kamikaze squirrels and the occasional fox. Funny that I have to come to a big noisy city to find some peace. To unplug from the haste of island life, the noisiness and the bright colours.
Even the rain whispers, like a conscientious nurse careful not to wake a sleeping patient.
Friends can’t quite understand why I’ve turned up now. In the midst of a bad winter, in the midst of a certain financial crisis. Friends who curse me for not bringing the sun in my pockets to lighten their days.
When the spirit moves me I leave the house to engage with the cold on my face, fighting its way through my layers of wool and cotton and the Tribe Called Quest I blast into my ears to steel my courage against it all. I am relieved to discover it isn’t as cold as I think it’s going to be.
It is the winter of discontent, the winter of few getaways. The winter of sales before Boxing Day. The winter of no new stylish winter gear, no ski weekend in the Swiss Alps. It is the winter of more men asking you for spare change on the streets.
I end up in Camden to check out a band called Spasm, a real callaloo of musicians from all over the place. They play a Kuti-esque percussiony funk with a good measure of Midnight Robber whistling from the lead vocalist, a Trini poet called Anthony Joseph. He bobs and weaves like a soca-soaked preacher man and sings a lament for his grandfather’s cutlass that was so sharp it could leave a mark in water.
Later a New Zealand reggae band with full brass and the most beautiful Maori man rock the Roundhouse. The sun is going to shine again, he sings in a surprisingly soulful voice that makes me so full of love for London. He sings into the middle distance for a place I know. He sings for all the exiles/ ex-isles in the crowd, white, black, indigenous.
He sings for me and my Londoner sistren, home and away, different and the same. Searching for meaning and feeling and purpose in a world driven to the brink by greed.
He sings for all the runners. All of us who have used our escape hatch. All the shape shifters, moving in and between forms like music moving from blues to dub to funk and everything in between.
He sings for all who can afford to run. Who can’t bear the stagnation that is familiarity. For the thrill seekers and the big thinkers who can’t be held in the box of their little islands.
I wonder on the bus back to Brixton, what would be my sanity level if I couldn’t afford to run.
If I couldn’t skate out when I got fed up enough and bored enough of state of things in Trinidad what would I do with myself?
Who would I be if I had to stay confined to an island for all the days of my life? Imprisoned in a way of living and thinking.
I feel no guilt anymore for running away. For riding out temporarily in the interest of my own sanity. For disconnecting from the BS in which I am so emotionally invested.
The thing you run from comes to meet you, greet you, shake your hand and squeeze your shoulders. On a bus in Babylondon blissed out on New Zealand dub and sweet Trini funk I can’t deny my own responsibility for the mess that Trinidad finds itself in.
My own mountain of questions for which I have no answers. My own insularity and lack of vision and my own inflated sense of rightness that stops me from really working with others.
It’s a relief in a way to have a chance to be critical of myself and my motives. It is not a luxury we allow ourselves on the island. We have too much invested in the mutual friendly society and then cut you down behind your back.
I return to warmth of the kitchen, staring into that midnight darkness of the back garden. Glad to return to my self-imposed exile, my self-appointed hibernation. There is no guarantee of sun, rain, snow or sleet here tomorrow and I find that unpredictability quite endearing.