Silence in the Land

Dey trying to blow mih mind
They want me to walk and wine
I cah take dis ting at all
They want me to jump and bawl.

—What’s Going On,
Mighty Shadow

Not a person in the Strand clapped. There were a few hundred people there although the opening night of Kaiso House tent was by no stretch of anyone’s imagination packed. They had clapped and called back twice for Marvellous Marva’s scathing commentary on belt-tightening. They had clapped and called for more of Sharlan Bailey’s brilliant Faking Evil, a thoughtful and humorous exposé on wannabe gangsters. But when MC Sheldon John called for a round of applause for the Government, the room was so quiet you could hear the ministers squirm.

Later that night I read more about the collapse of the Icelandic Government to the rhythmic sounds of pot hitting economists and tree huggers and about protests in France and excitement about the spreading tides of dissatisfaction that is bringing people into the streets. About belt-tightening the world over, even in Davos, Switzerland—where this week the world’s richest countries and companies gather to congratulate each other, under the glare of melting alpine glaciers—the mood is somber and those gathered are reported as saying the worst is yet to come. I remember the silence of the Strand and I wonder if that is a sign that perhaps Trinis are reaching a stage of fedupcy.

The artists have always been the most committed protesters. A few of them at least, not getting caught up with party cards and lucrative advertising deals. Those who have managed to stay true to their message are still ketching their nen nen, but remain dread and lovely. After the silence and the intermission the ministers slip out. They have done their ministerial duty and taken enough calypsonians pointing up in their faces that have that same expression you see on social people who come out to watch J’Ouvert only to get vex when a stinking jab jab comes and wines all over their nice pants.

Perhaps the calypsonians will give us our testicular fortitude back. Perhaps the next time we will not stay silent. Like we stayed silent on the deregulation of the quarry industry, or we stay silent on rapid monetisation of natural resources when the wise energy people say it’s worth more to us in the ground than dragging it out vie ki vie for every little Tom, Dick and Alcoa that comes around. Shadow puts his hands out and asks us, “what going on?” We jump and ray and love him for the sweetness of his voice. We take the question as rhetorical.

The answer comes two days later when I am rushed into a taxi by a big woman frantic in that laidback aggressive way that Trinis can be—as if what they have to do is much more important than the rest of us. Urging the driver to get going and not wait for one more passenger. It is a rainy Friday afternoon and the woman next to me is multi-tasking conversations. She chats on the phone about going to find out if her money is jumping up in the CL Financial collapse and the rest of the car comments. Shocked oh gawds fill the car as everyone thinks about their own two pennies they’ve been scrimping and saving.

The driver offers his own experience in the matter. He’s already taken in front and removed his own money from one of the big banks. Fear has come home and the far-off sounding credit crunch is circling like La Basse corbeaux. In-between the nervous laughter and the banter about money, the radio announcer breaks the monotony of the endless ads for Carnival fetes to say they’re waiting to go live to the Central Bank for a special press conference. Before the Governor has a chance to hold his press conference the woman has disem-barked.

In a show of solidarity, the driver sends her on her way although she can’t remember paying her $4. She goes into the rain and uncertainty, I can only imagine, her heart in her throat. I don’t know how much money she has saved, how she planned to use it, the dreams she has for her children. We fall silent. Silence is the only comfort we can find as the radio announcer cuts in again to say they’re still waiting for the Governor. A pregnant pause in a nation story. We fall silent because there is nothing to say that we haven’t all thought a thousand times.
The calm before the storm. I hear Shadow, plaintive and sweet. What going on? There is no one there to volunteer an answer.

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The Bacchanal Now Start

They cah stop the bacchanal

They cah stop the festival

Nutting cah stop the carnival

Because tis the season to wine

Hold someting and wine

Hold somebody and wine

I telling yuh

Wining Season, Machel Montano

Who needs to play mas when there are people playing it on TV for us? A big big mas. Even before Carnival Monday and Tuesday. This kind of mas is the one to beat all cockfight. This kind of mas is even more exclusive than all the bikini bands with rope around them charging more money for a miniscule piece of cloth than most Trinbagonians stand to make for the first three months of the year. Only certain people could play this kind of mas. Big, high people playing a big big mas they call the Commission of Enquiry. And the rest of the country like burrokeets, getting ridden through the badly paved roads. The rest of the country could only play a donkey mas while their money jumping up like so many soca fans in a big fete. But who needs Carnival in this place where leaders could play mas with democracy? Watch the whole thing unfold like a Minshall tableau on the now gone Savannah stage. Watch the whole thing move in slow motion with high falutin’ Pierrot speechifiying in big English accent. Watch lawyers carré, dance a big dance with your money. Hear the Professor dreaden them like a King Kootoo doing a bluest devil jook. This is a big big mas and you don’t even need the jackass costume they give you. All you need to do is sit down and watch. Because this is real mas in all it’s mind boggling shiny splendour. This is mas in yuh masses. And sometimes you have to look twice because you not sure if it is a masquerade or mass hysteria, or masturbation. You not sure if to laugh or cry at how your leaders wining down on your right to know what they do with your money. You not sure if this is serious or just more entertainment. You not sure if you’re supposed to get vex and start to riot or hold your head and wine down low, lower than the price of oil. You not sure if all this bacchanal and long reports on the nightly news is just to distract you from the fact that we now have a budget deficit and we not getting anywhere near the proper royalties for natural gas. This big mas and noise come like last Carnival when the big sequins band push the 90-year-old blind Midnight Robber out of the way. Because this mas is the mas to beat all cockfight. Meanwhile Alcoa reported a 929 million US dollar loss and pull up brakes on several of their smelter projects in Iceland. Environmentalists breathing a sigh of relief that the economic decline has saved them from more unnecessary destruction of Europe’s last remaining wilderness. Meanwhile they just laid off 250 bauxite workers in Jamaica, because the global price of aluminum has plummeted so drastically. Meanwhile Rio Tinto Alcan just announced the closure of their Angelesey smelter in Wales, the largest single energy user in all of Great Britain. 14,000 jobs gone there to reduce capital spending by £5 billion.Meanwhile a decision is expected in the case against Alutrint this month, which has been in court since October, without so much as a sideways glance from the media. But aluminum is just as much of a nice mas as Udecott. Definitely not as sexy. Environment and mineral resources and small communities being bullied off their land is not as sexy. It not ready for the big stage yet. Let that stay on the back burners. Let us focus on the bigger better, louder, shinier mas. Because this mas is much more important. This mas is affecting the bottom line of many people who thought they were going to be getting a lot more out of this government. This mas is about the elite—some black skins in white masks, some wild Indians, some foreign drunken sailors on shore leave looking for Jean and Dinah in the construction industry. And all of them want to protect their bottom line and their right to wine. Meanwhile the lack of investigative journalists means the government could continue to play mas with the global financial crisis and say what they want without anybody bothering to question their robber talk. The bacchanal now start. But from the look of things, this masquerade will never end.

The World is War Zone

defend gaza

I imagine the people of Gaza must be glad to know that people care.
That even as bombs rain down on their homes, even as they bury their children, there are people out in the world who condemn this madness, who add their voices to a global outcry against Israel’s criminally stupid attack on Gaza.
I feel a great sense of belonging outside Downing Street watching young Muslim women and old white lefties, and keffiah clad cool sorts hurl shoes over the police.
There are thousands there. Tens of thousands. Still coming up along Embankment, past Big Ben, up Whitehall and pouring into the heart of Babylondon.
The protestors chant a bitter sweet call and response – Israel: Terrorist, George Bush: Terrorist, Gordon Brown: Terrorist.
It is like the sweetest music to my ears and because it is nearly Carnival I am tempted to start put my hands in the air and shake my defiant boomsie in the face of those who are silent on Israel’s genocidal mission.
I imagine the people of Gaza must feel reassured that so many thousands of people around the world have taken to their streets demanding an end to the madness. I also imagine they are too busy trying to survive to give a damn about us standing out there being captured on film by the police photographers.
There is a smell of fuel in the air and before I know it five or six Asian youths have set fire to a replica of the Israeli flag. There is so much anger in their eyes I have to look away.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to live a life punctuated by war.
But standing in Trafalgar Square I am struck by the silence of all those thousands of people, listening to the various speakers, sharing food, leaning on placards, shivering in the cold.
It’s not often these days that I feel proud to be a human. Less often than feeling like I belong.
It is a constant source of confusion for me that humans can just be so downright mean to each other.
image000 When people come together to lend their voices to bring an end to the suffering of others, surely this is a much more powerful thing than sitting at home watching it all unfold on the television, mumbling your complaints into your living room.
I imagine that these mass outpourings of love and rage only ever happen when humanity comes under such threat that those of us who still hold on to some, have to find ways to manifest it.
Annie Lennox calls down shame and damnation on the Israeli government as Somali men perform ablutions before their prayers, right there on the Strand, in the shadow of Lord Nelson’s column.
It is too cold to do anything but stand there, shifting weight from one leg to another. Feeling angry that all I can do is stand there, in the cold, holding a placard.
It is too cold to talk but just being there is warmth enough. Not just because demonstrations are to activists what ecstasy pills are to ravers.
And as I reflect on the niceness of the feeling of being part of something, I remember the bitter taste in the back of my throat when so-called leaders accused people like me of being an outsider for taking an interest in what was going on in Chatham with plans to build an Alcoa aluminum smelter.
How Trinidad is a place where we have become as obsessed as our so-called leaders with carefully demarcated territories that must be controlled by the various competing patriarchies. About how difficult it is for us to express solidarity with each other, far less to care about what’s going on outside of our immediate community.
I suppose this is the case everywhere. Apathy thrives. Later I meet up with a bredrin from Iceland who tells me amazing stories about a whole country coming to the brink of collapse and how this has completely galvanized even the most complacent of the middle class to take to the streets, to take over town halls and cinemas to meet and confront their leaders who dare not treat them with the kind of contempt that is readily available for us here.
Too fantastic to imagine that this will ever happen in sweet and sour T&T. Too ridiculous to imagine that Trinidadians will ever care about anything enough to take to the streets in their thousands.
Apathy thrives, unless perhaps your wallet or your life is affected.
The world is a war zone whether blood is being shed or not. And those who want peace or security cannot resist the urge to try and fight for it.

For more information on how you can speak out against Israel’s crimes against Gaza and the Palestinian people click here

Here and now
You free as the wind
You de earth
You de fire
You de song that I sing
You the beat and the feeling
The living proof that we in.

Here and Now, Andre Tanker

In the countdown to the new year I am in the centre of Babylondon meeting up old friends with their new babies.
In a way it is the best way to ring out the year. In the company of little ones, eyes bright and dancing and hopeful.
It wasn’t so long ago that we all lived here and love and marriage and babies seemed like distant far off things.
On New Year’s eves past, in the bite of winter cold in Babylondon we would get together and dream big dreams.
And then some of us grew up and got married.  I remain an avid resistor of this fate, much to the delight of my friends who imagine that at some point I will give up and turn into super mommy with a little dread string band dragging behind me all over the place.
In truth Micaiah and Kimani are ovary activatingly sweet.  They regard us adults with wry smiles.  Like they’re thinking, look at them nah, they think they know so much.
For all our growing up we are still over-excited and loud.  Still making a scene, oblivious to the scandalized stares of the nice English people who can’t make sense of our banter.
We revel in the familiarity of our newness.  Knowing that children are the continuation of dreams, the fulfillment of a desire to bring hope into the world wallowing in extreme hopelessness.
There is a wisdom in babies that I feel I have lost somewhere along the way.  In the loss of innocence and wide-eyed wonder at the world’s shiny beautiful things and people, I guess I miss that way of the seeing the world.  A way that isn’t tainted by bitterness and cynicism and too much knowledge of the wickedness of people.  They know nothing of heartache and betrayal, Kimani and Micaiah.  They know nothing of credit crunch or climate change or the disappointments of a life not fully lived.
We skirt the politics and the uncertainties.   This is celebration time.  This is regeneration time when we put aside the weight of the world for a hot minute to remind ourselves of why it’s so important to fight in the first place.
We hope that the next generation only gets the good things from us. Not our neuroses and our short-comings.  Not our occasional self-doubt and our frequent frustration for the place that we love that sometimes doesn’t love us.
That we all run from but must all return to. Because what are we if not cascadoo eaters, who miss our mothers’ mango trees and streets that hum with our own sense of rhythm.
All of these things we discovered on endless troddings.  Alone and together.  With the music and laughter and the memories echoing in our half-frozen ears.
We are reunited in Babylon-don on our way back home.  Knowing that home is as much in us as it is in Trinidad.  Home is where you set down your georgie bundle.  Where you open your grip bursting with red mango and Sookeo’s whole channa.
The new year is fast approaching and for once for the night I don’t feel a deep and silent desire to have my own bright eyed popo.  Because joke is joke but a sleepy baby is not to be reasoned with.
Neither chick nor child means I can head on to more parties with more friends.
We say our goodbyes in the Underground surrounded by drunken yobs and stoned chavettes wearing pink shifts and feather boas.  I head uptown and watch as the madness takes hold.  Remembering Kimani and Micaiah and the certainty of newness, the inevitability of change.
Thankful that this new year meets me surrounded by love and light and that I am constantly reminded that I have the power to create what version of the future I want to live in.