We know that mankind have one destination
Which is to fly which is soar
High above the trees
Be the king of all he surveys and sees
Mankind pushing out here
Struggling out here
With one breath of life
Searching for higher
Doh mind the road might be rocky or steep
We not going sleep
We not sticking
—Wrong Chord, 12
They call it Arrival Day but do we ever get there? When we get on the boat and cross the waters, leaving behind everything we know and love, what do we meet on the other end? When we arrive are we welcome? Do we have a right to belong here? Who decides that for us? And where here is, anyway? What is the place that we call home? Whose right is it to call here home? What of other Indians who were here long before Columbus got a case of wanderlust? Who celebrates this arrival? Who is happy to see more migrants? Who is willing to share what little they have. Who will learn to eat my food and sing my songs and dance the dance of my gods? Who will believe the hype that the other is bad? Who will go to great lengths to keep from mixing up too much?
We have arrived. At some place where some are more equal than others.
We have arrived at a time when the race paranoia should be dead and gone. Should be. If not for political manoeuvres and hand-outs so meagre that the almost forgotten sting of the $17 million pappyshow Summit opening gala comes back like heartburn from mother-in-law. We have arrived at some kind of purgatory where death stalks the innocent and the guilty with equal ferocity. Where smelter plants grow big and poisonous and those who were lied to about receiving nonexistent jobs come to confront the reality of ecological disaster on their doorsteps. We have arrived at a place of great sadness and shame.
Sadness for those who celebrate a day that others act like they greatly regret. Shame for those who look like me but do not act in my interest.
We have arrived like never-see-come-sees to the top of our interchange, to take pictures at how fast we can get to our uncharted destinations. We have arrived at nirvana. Where a temple would see no problem with cutting down a 184-year-old samaan tree, because not even for the pantheists is the earth sacred anymore. We have arrived at no integrity and no accountability and no solidarity. We have arrived at Presidents and priests close enough to God to absolve themselves. We have arrived at the conclusion that this place is not worth fighting for, so we devote all our energy and attention to far more important things like who wins the Champions League or which big lawyers are fighting over which young attorney.
We have arrived to a place where everyone is unwilling to ask the questions or seek the answers. We have arrived so we think the journey is at an end. That we don’t need to confront the past. The places that we came from, the place that find ourselves in now, what we will leave for children. We have arrived and now we get on with the business of living. Of loving and dreaming, of creating a whole new world. With old ideas that do not fit our present realities. We have arrived at institutionalised racism and a dictatorship that used to creep but must be having a Star Trek moment because by Jah it seems to be hurtling at warp speed.
We have arrived but for some it is time to leave again. To arrive at some other place, to reshape some other identity. We have arrived but don’t know the difference between legacy and longing. Between culture that lives and customs that change to suit the place, the climate. Where bhajans can be played on pan and Mama Osun hails Ganga Mai in the sweet waters that run through these hills. We have arrived but do not yet understand that douglarisation is as much intellectual as it is physical. That we celebrate Arrival Day because at some point we were all brought here. By force or by choice.
Nothing is an accident and perhaps the universe has conspired for these arrivals so that we can confront what we left behind and how we will build what we have here.
We are still arriving. This is not the end of the journey. We still have a long long way to go.
Is ah mental block
Dat hard to unlock
It hard like ah rock
an wid it yuh doh wuk
yuh go live wid illusion
Tryin to be another man
And if a man want to set
false standards for you
To he, wha yuh say?
—Blow Way, Lancelot Layne
Here’s the thing. I can’t say I’m a fan of the fellar. I can even safely say that I find his writing overbearing, condescending and other words ending in ing that I can’t be bothered to list right now.
Hell, I have a sneaking suspicion that if I were in the same position he would write a sarky column listing in brilliant detail why it was a good thing that a feminist, Africanist socialist—three strikes and you’re dotish—no longer had column space in a national newspaper. But the truth is I get no joy from the news that Newsday hasn’t run Kevin Baldeosingh’s column for the past three weeks, leading to speculation that he has been fired. You attack one, you attack all. And when the neighbour house on fire, Jah know you better start wetting your own. Or so it is in my book. Perhaps I am being presumptuous to imagine that this lumpy bumpy awkward thing called the media, when you get past the big business media house petty competition nonsense, well we have each other’s backs.
Perhaps I am wrong to think that I should be blasted vex at Newsday’s limp-wristedness. Vex at how they are taking the side of the wrong people. Not vexed as much as shocked at how it’s so easy for people to defend the indefensible. But perhaps it is wrong of me to think that the Newsday people are any different from all the other scared conservative people walking around Trinidad afraid to say boo to anybody. Who would rather hold their corner and hold a safe line instead of rocking the boat. At how integrity means nothing and those who stand up in defence of the truth are the ones who does get their throats buss. Time and again. I, quite frankly, am growing bored of it. My right to speak is something that I am prepared to defend with my life. And a threat to anyone else is an indirect threat to me. But this is unfamiliar territory in this country. This is why anti-smelter protesters can be labelled as outsiders if they don’t come from the communities that are being directly affected.
There is no solidarity among any other group in this country. Perhaps I have no right to use my own column space to speak out on behalf of another columnist. We are worlds apart ideologically but I imagine that we share one commonality. And it is that we who have opinions and are arrogant enough to believe that other people want to hear them, have a right to say what we have to say, in whatever way is pleasing to us. Well as long as it doesn’t involve borrowing from other writers. Part of the warm fuzzy feeling one gets from being a writer comes from the assurance, real or imagined, that someone out there is reading what you have to say and if not identifying with it, at least feeling something. Or so you hope. It is difficult to gauge what makes an impact and what doesn’t. It is difficult to know what has an impact and what doesn’t in this nation of armchair revolutionaries where everyone can speak eloquently about what the problem is but nobody actually wants to get up and do anything about it.
It’s not just about free speech. It is about undermining investigative journalism. Intimidating other journalists who might want to put God out of their thoughts and try to expose some injustice. It is a warning to others to not step out of line. Who wins, then? Who wins when voices are silenced? Who wins when a priest can get away with lifting some copy from another writer but teenagers are on trial for buying copies of exams? Who wins when a journalist gets fired from a newspaper for daring to challenge a holy man even as children’s jhandis are under threat at Barrackpore West? We have lost track of reality. We have lost a vital voice in our national conversation. We have lost our sense of perspective. Nobody wins. We are all losers in a race we are not yet equipped to run.
I can hardly wait,
To see you to come of age,
But I guess we’ll both,
Just have to be patient,
Yes it’s a long way to go,
A hard row to hoe
Yes it’s a long way to go,
But in the meantime,
Before you cross the street,
Take my hand,
Life is just what happens to you,
While you’re busy making other plans,
—Beautiful Boy, John Lennon
Pouis bloom with a suddenness that can be disconcerting. In poui season that comes just after the falsified beautification of Papa Patos’ summit pappyshow, the murder rate soars like made-in-China kites.
No zwill or mange. No old school razorblade badjohnism. This is straight up plastic-coloured murder. It is poui time and killing time. It is so hot you have to walk on tiptoe, lest the molten asphalt swallows your feet. The heat is an assault, a violent rage of tropical disgust at melting polar ice caps.
It is killing time and poui time in Trinidad. The days are so beautiful you think the gods themselves must sit in wonder at how, when the sun hits a poui tree at dusk, it sets the sky aflame. It is an astounding kind of beauty that catches your breath as you catch sight of the first one. And then another. Until the hills are alight with pink and yellow. One day they are a nonchalant green like every other tree. The next day, you walk past and the tree is like a whole new person.
The flowers drop as quickly as they appear. As if the beauty is too much for the tree itself to bear. The yellow and pink blossoms become squishy mulch under your feet. Poui flowers live and die endlessly here. You have come to expect this never-ending living and dying. But it is no less disconcerting.It is no less disturbing. You see poui’s transient beauty reflected in a boy named Adrian on the front page of your newspapers. His face smiles accusingly at you from the paper. Beautiful boy.
You remember his smile, somewhere between angel and 12-year-old trickster. Stand accused for doing nothing to save him from dying like a two-day-old poui blossom rotting on your hot pavements. His beauty is mulch under your feet and you don’t know what to do. He is gone. And for a day or so we wail. A mother’s belly churns for her boy child while politicians play at crime plans. And you know when poui time is over, killing time will remain. And every young man living in Laventille is a poui blossom blooming beautiful and bright for a minute and then falling to a quick death, a pulpy mangled mulch under our feet.
Beautiful boy, please forgive me.
I find myself tiptoeing around dying poui blossoms. I cannot save them but I cannot step on them either. They remind me too much of all that we have lost here. In the poui time that is also the killing time. Regardless of the season, regardless of new crime plan, regardless of endless inanities from ministers, we continue to gorge ourselves on the blood of our children. We build monuments to one man’s megalomania and those who have no access to these monuments worship his bling. Those that fall on concrete have no hope of legacy. Of coming to life again as some new young poui. Of living on as a stickman’s bois. Of growing tall and strong and invincible.
It is a disturbing thing too, because poui is supposed to be a strong tree. Big strong tree with flowers so fragile. Fragile like male egos in a society where manhood is not taught but fought over. Where to be a man is not to feel anything but anger. So do you try to save falling pouis. Death is inevitable. Death is the unquestioned assurance of living. Poui falling like Adrian and Sean and Akiel. Beautiful boys have mercy on us.
Poui falling like promises from from politicians’ lips. Like the price of oil and the funding available for projects in communities at risk. It is poui time. It doesn’t last long. Like so many of our young people. So many of them dying just as they begin to blossom. Just as they begin to radiate their Triniest of beauty. It is sudden and disconcerting how beautiful they are and how fast we let them go.
Beautiful boy, who will save us if all of you are dying so young?