The stench of ‘progress’

As if the stink of the uselessness of the building weren’t enough. As if there weren’t enough bacchanal surrounding this monument, that my dear Mr Uncle Minsh calls the copulating slugs, here comes talk that toxic fumes from the Performing Arts Academy are making people in the neighbouring buildings fall sick. Yes, this is progress at its best.

Students from Bishop’s going home with headaches, parents feeling ill from the fumes from a few minutes’ exposure when coming to pick up their daugh-ters. Lost days of school, in a country where education is allegedly so vital. Surrounding offices had to be evacuated in a country whose watch words are discipline and production. And no one knows what the problem is. Or perhaps they know and just don’t want to say. Work continues, the show must go on. One wonders what health and safety standards apply at this site and also, if people in surrounding offices know what’s affecting them. One wonders if when they say they have a situation under control that they really do. One wonders if slipshod health and safety standards are manifesting themselves at other work sites around the country.

I hear stage whispers about overflowing toilets and uncollected garbage. And you want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt but it’s hard to when it stinks anyway. When it’s suspicious and over-expensive. When it reeks of corruption and other nastiness. You wonder what ends they will go to achieve their vision. If they will compromise the health of their own children to bring their vision to fruition. One wonders if Papa Patos must think he is some kind of pharaoh mas and needs foreign slave labour to build monuments to his greatness. At least pyramids are metaphysical wonders. One wonders what is the point of a Performing Arts Academy for which no artists were consulted. And now it makes a big stink. And no one can stop the work. No one can stop the bacchanal. Like no one can stop the stink of the La Basse from permeating their pretty Hyatt walls. Like no one can stop the traffic jams and the killing and the flooding and the recession and the spending and the spending and the spending. No one knows where the off switch is for the natural gas. No one knows how to stop work at a construction site that is making children sick. Teenage girls. Future leaders, future parents. No one knows if these toxic fumes have permanent side-effects.

No one knows what the problem is but there’s no time to stop and investigate. There’s no stopping the bacchanal. Workers like ants in a Machel video. The stench in the midday heat, mingling with the stench of the fresh pitch being laid on Abercromby Street is unbearable noxiousness. As noxious as soca is uninspiring. Not a face mask in sight on the workers, like ants, scaling the sides of the copulating slugs. Town smells. In the heat like you’ve fallen head first into a vat of rotten oil. After the rain it smells like all Chacon Street early in the morning. No one knows what standards are. No one knows what will happen when they defy the court order and build their smelter. No one knows why Phillip Julien steps on the stage and announces that smelters don’t cause cancer, although the Medical Monitoring report recommended cancer testing every six months for Alutrint workers and every year for the thousands of residents who live within a two-kilometre radius of the plant. No one knows who is actor and who is audience. No one knows who is telling the truth or if they are reciting their lines. And not just whether they are capable of telling the truth but if they care enough to do so.

One wonders who they are planning for in the future if they don’t mind putting us at risk now. Any risk is too much. Any fume is too much. Any danger is unnecessary. Especially for a building that is probably going to be little more than a monument to Papa Patos’ penchant for big shiny buildings. The future of the nation. Those who will have to reap the 2020 whirlwind. I am begging for their forgiveness in advance. Like they never hear about make sure better than cocksure. Like they never hear about erring on the side of caution. The stink permeates the town. Blending in with all the other pollution. We act our daily roles. Trying not to notice the stench. It is a tragic kind of comedy, really. Shakespeare couldn’t have written it better and not even my dear Mr Uncle Minsh could have dreamt up such a bizarre tableau for the now dead Savannah stage. One wonders if this is a city or a cesspool. One wonders when or where the play will end and the horrific reality begin.

A whole lot of daggering

You know things are bad when it’s budget day and nobody in your taxi particularly cares to hear the speech.
It is no longer just good old Trini inertia.  The mere sound of the droning speech elicits a chorus of steups, long watery ones, too boot.

Your taxi driver is bored. The people in the taxi are nodding. It is Petit Carème heat in climate-change times. Sweat is everywhere. Your taxi driver switches off the drone. Switches to Busy Signal. Up in ar belly belly belly belly. The music is an assault. But you’d rather take the daggering from the dancehall than the daggering from the Government. The violence with which every decision stabs at your core. Sounds like noise in your ears. You try your best to understand what the hell they are saying. It is offensive. It is antiquated masculinity. It is a government gone man. Take your stabbing like a woman. Take your stabbing like you like it.  You can’t ask the Government for a refund if you think they’re doing crap with your money. You can’t ask to see their supporting documents, you can’t ask what possesses them to fund this and not that.

Up in your belly belly belly belly. Every point is a stab to your core. Leaving you weak and too tired to protest or even cry out in anguish. So what’s the point of the budget? What purpose does it serve when I have no say in one red cent of that money? What’s the point if it’s tagged to a future vision that is at the very least ill-thought and at the worst blind?
Busy Signal comes out ahead of Karen Tesheira. At least the music is seductive. At least there is some minor pleasure to be derived. Even if it disguises the ugliest sentiments. Even if it is a dirty, filthy object of mass media brainwashing.  You can have some emotional detachment to it. In another stewing traffic jam, in another endless waiting at the side of the road for the river that has come rushing down your city’s main street to subside so that you can get to the other side. At least Busy Signal is trying to entertain. The budget is like the Abu Ghraib of speechifica-tion.

What is the point of this pretense? You can see this dancehall vileness in a context. There is no context for the budget daggering. There is no sense in the inane table-banging by Red House yes men and women. There is nothing even remotely sexy about their wining on your future. Busy Signal is addling your brain. Busy Signal is making you crazy. You keep asking the driver to change the track. He doesn’t understand why you are so uptight. I mean everybody likes a lil daggering every now and then. Public or private is immaterial. You feel exposed. He turns on the radio again. It’s the budget again. And the dirty feeling remains. The assault on the ears never ends. It changes cadence and accent but there is that same familiar note of contempt in the delivery. The same disdain for your life, for your humanity. The same underlying threat that you better like it, or else.

Up in your belly belly belly belly. You want to run screaming from the two horrors. You want to turn off all the ugly voices, all the unnecessary platitudes about love and commitment spliced in between violence and fluff.
But you take it. You don’t want to be impolite. Again. You don’t want to get out and walk in this heat. Everything is just too much. Up in your belly belly belly belly. Everything is overdone. Everything is wibble wabbling nonsense. The music reflects the crass stupidity of the politicians and their daggering ways. The musician knows that this is madness. The people in the Red House would like you to believe that they believe that they are making sense. Who gives a damn. They do it because they think they have to. We endure it because we have no choice. Up in our collective belly belly belly belly. So take some more daggering. This is your lot in life. This is your destiny. This passa passa politics is all that we need. Up in your belly belly belly belly. Nothing but empty words. Bend over Trinidad and take your essential government dagger. Bend over Trinidad and take your standard issue stabbing from the roughest winer. Pon de edge pon de edge pon de edge of disaster.

No Justice for Angels

The strong get more

While the weak ones fade

Empty pockets don’t

Ever make the grade

Mama may have

Papa may have

But God bless the child

That’s got his own

That’s got his own.

—God Bless the Child, Billie Holiday

Somebody’s child. Born out of love. Carried for nine months. Dead on the front page. Too obscene to forget. Too callous to comprehend. Somebody’s child. Reminding us that some of us are editors and can choose to put other people’s dead children on the front pages of their putrid tabloid newspaper, and some of us are mothers who weep for our dead children and some of us consumers who allow newspapers to feed our blood lust. Turn your face away. It is too much to bear. Too much to fathom that your life and your child’s life could end up being on the front page of someone’s putrid little tabloid. A day’s worth of newspaper sales. Your child’s life, all her smiles, and her discoveries, every flutter she made in your belly, every moment you marvelled at the wonder of human creation.  Something that you made. Out of love. Reduced to a headline and a front page.

Turn your face away. Wish it could be for good. It’s not the first time. They’ve done this obscene, crass and indecent injustice to somebody’s loved one. You know if it were their child, they would want to mourn in private. They would not want thousands of fingers on the face of their child. Taken in such a brutal way. Will this stop people from buying their driver’s licence? Will this stop people from the road rage? What do we do when we can’t take it anymore? Boycott? Try to ignore them out of existence? So that no other family will ever have to confront their loved one laid bare on the front page of a putrid tabloid again? So that children can have dignity in life and death too? Defenceless ones can rest in peace too? Innocent ones can maintain their innocence without the stink of those who try to capi-talise on human tragedy, whose desire for profit removes them from any connection to their humanity?

Why do they think they can do this to us? Why do they think we will take it?
Maybe we like it so. Maybe we are so inured now. So cynical about life and death that a dead baby on the front page of a putrid tabloid is no scene. Number one newspaper indeed. Good news newspaper indeed. Number one may be an enviable position if it meant that you were confronting us with our ugliness as well as our beauty. Number one may be something to aspire to if it meant that truth was not in the gore of the wound but in the exploration of the wounding and the speed of trying to find the healing. Oh it is too much to bear. It is time for us to rethink what stories we tell and how we tell them. To ask who or what is truth and what right do we have to utter it?

Because every time you think there’s nowhere else below for us to go, the bottom falls out again and we descend further into our la basse of unfeeling. Every time you think it couldn’t possibly get any worse, that children couldn’t possibly be more of an abused and voiceless group, some adult is there to prove you wrong. You have to wonder if the devil is really real. If the devil busy in truth, just running about kicking Trinis in their backsides prompting them to do the most evil of acts, under the guise of truth-sharing. Who is wrong in this situation? Is it the mother for having the child in her lap out of a car seat, out of a seat belt? Is it the photographer for capturing the face of a dead child laying in the grass? The editor who thought it would make a great front page?

The child for being born in the first place? Somebody’s child, oh God. You turn away from her face. Her perfect cherub cheeks. But she stays with you. Haunting you, keeping you awake at night. There is no justice for angels who land in highway grass. There is no love for innocence in this gory time. Turn away, close your eyes. Try to forget her eyes forever closed. Like their hearts that cannot understand why this is wrong. Protect your heart from the hurt, because they think they are right and they in their putrid tabloid righteousness will do this crime again. And get away with it. Leaving us hurting, crying, grieving for innocence lost that can never be regained in the thousands of hands of their readers.